Memory Eternal: Fr Michael Oleksa

I, together with several of my friends, attended a lecture given by Fr Michael some twenty years ago when he visited St Antony’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Tulsa. 

It was a serendipitous event in that several of us who attended were just starting up a mission here in town.  Maybe we could pick up some pointers so to speak.  After all, if the Russians could set up missions in Alaska, then so could we do the same here in the Sooner State.

Anyway, within no time we forgot about our own ideas, so enthralling was his lecture.  Fr Michael proved a wealth of knowledge.  If nothing else, we walked away with a deep appreciation for Alaska and its people.

Fr. Michael reposed in the Lord.  Memory eternal.



  1. Memory Eternal to Fr. Michael

    I had the honor of meeting him in Anchorage on more than one occasion, he was always cheerful. He had a pectoral cross that was gifted to him that contained the relics of St. Innocent, St. Juvenaly, St. Herman and St. Peter the Aleut that he allowed all of us to venerate.

    May they intercede on his behalf.

  2. Memory eternal

    So sad – I was deeply moved and affected by reading his book “Orthodox Alaska” about 15-20 years ago.

    • FTS, one of the things that impressed me about his speech was how he was loaded for bear against the Protestant academics who constantly trashed the Russian Mission.

      • Yep.

        To be brutally honest, “Protestant academics” seem to be never driven by love, but almost always by ideology and deluded logic.

        That’s a critical difference between Protestantism (and Western Christianity) vis-à-vis Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Christianity is *always* driven by love. In fact, if there’s no love present, it is not Christian Orthodoxy. Other types of Christianity, not so much. Fr Alexander Schmemann characterized American protestantism as too often being “cold and heartless.” He was right on the money.

        It’s fascinating to compare the native American/native Alaskan experience of the Catholic missionaries in California vs the Orthodox missionaries to Alaska. The native Americans in California almost uniformly despised the Roman Catholic missionaries – the Catholics looked on native American culture with disdain and often expressed it as such. The Spanish Catholics in California were there to “enlighten” those inferior to them, even if that required brutal tactics. There’s also the St Peter the Aleut story.

        By contrast, in Alaska, the native Alaskans loved the Russian Orthodox missionaries. The missionaries learned about Alaskan culture, absorbed it, loved it, respected the people as those made in the image of God. St Herman of Alaska was and remains incredibly loved by native Alaskan Orthodox Christians. Most of the time, the Russian merchants in Alaska had more conflict with St Herman and the Russian Orthodox missionaries in Alaska than did the native Alaskans….. So much for the tired trope that the Russian Orthodox Church is merely a religious/political arm of the state….

        The disrespectful, oppressive Protestant “missionaries” in Alaska and their harsh approach to the native Alaskans reminds me of these sections from one of the Akathists to the Theotokos.

        Ikos 9:
        Eloquent orators we see dumb as fishes before you, Mother of God. For they are at a loss to say how you remain Virgin, yet are able to give birth!…..
        Hail who show lovers of wisdom to be without wisdom; hail who prove those skilled in reasoning to be without reason.

        Memory eternal, Father Michael! We will miss you.

        • Ronda Wintheiser says

          Hey, FTS. You are so right.

          When Alaska was first acquired by the federal government in 1867, St. Herman and the other monks from Valaam had evangelized Alaska long before, of course. (You can read about what a perfect “receptacle” for Orthodoxy native Alaskan culture was in Fr. Michael’s book.)

          After the sale of Alaska, the Russian Orthodox Church still maintained educational programs in the Aleutian Islands, Southwestern Alaska, and Sitka. There were 50 Russian supported schools, mostly Russian Orthodox. They gradually closed; in 1887 there were only 17 left.

          Then in the 1890s the federal government essentially divided the state up into regions and contracted each region out to different Protestant denominations. Native Alaskan children were forced to leave their homes and subsistence villages and were housed in regional dormitories . They were prohibited from speaking their native languages, from practicing the Orthodox faith, and from practicing their own subsistence lifestyle. They were forced to learn to speak English and adopt whatever Protestant form of Christianity they happened be subject to. The purpose of this forced education was to “civilize” the natives.  Forcibly! 

          (At one point, six children in Sitka sued over the question of “Whether or not the persons in question have turned aside from old associations, former habits of life, and easier modes of existence; in other words have exchanged the old barbaric, uncivilized environment for one changed, new, and so different as to indicate an advanced and improved condition of mind, which desires and reaches out for something altogether distinct from and unlike the old life… ”   The court rejected their plea; “In rejecting the children’s plea, the court considered that ‘civilization . . . includes . . . more than a prosperous business, a trade, a house, white man’s clothes and membership in a church.’”)

          Eyeroll. 🙂

          Leaping forward in time, I and my 5 younger siblings attended one of these schools.  My parents were public school teachers, and we lived in Bethel, a commercial fishing village on the Kuskokwim River. (At that time, Mother Olga was a well known personage in Bethel; Kwethluk where she lived is only about 10 miles from Bethel.) 

          The area around Bethel had been assigned to the Moravian church to proselytize/educate; and in fact, as a Protestant family, the Moravian church in the village was the church we attended as a family when we lived there.  

          There IS an Orthodox church in Bethel — St. Sophia.  It was founded in 1968.  I don’t recall it being even on my radar; I don’t remember knowing it was there.   Ironically, my name saint happens to be St. Sophia.   🙂 

          I was actually baptized by a Protestant missionary to Alaska when I was 4 years old. I asked to be baptized, and at that time we were living in Nondalton, on Lake Iliamna. My mom and dad ran the one room school in that village of about 200 Athapaskan Indians. Again the irony is that there was/is an Orthodox church in Nondalton; St. Nicholas, founded in 1890. I remember my mom going to a Christmas Eve service once and coming home to say rather wryly to my dad “I don’t think these people need missionaries.” 🙂

  3. This really saddened me. I’ve listened/watched his lectures so many times on YouTube I almost felt like I knew him. I have such a veneration for the Alaskan Saints because of him.

    One thing I find is interesting is his repose coming so soon after St. Olga’s canonization. Fr. Michael often told stories about her and how important it was to see her officially glorified. Then it happened exactly 3 weeks before he left us. It’s almost as if God was keeping him here for that and then took him home.