The icon of Matushka Olga is by the hand of Bess Chakravarty.
Matushka Olga Michael died on November 8, 1979.
That means that, when the bishops finally get around to glorifying her, her feastday will be November 8. Today.
And already, there are people who honor her as a saint. (The Orthodox system for canonizing saints, if you’re not familiar with it, is bottom-up rather than top-down. The bishops follow the veneration of the people, rather than the people following the designation by the bishops.)
Because she’s remembered as Matushka Olga, I always thought she married young and spent her whole adult life as a priest’s wife. But I was wrong. For most of the years they were married, Nikolai Michael ran the post office and general store in the tiny Alaskan village of Kwethluk. Matushka Olga, before she was a matushka, was a midwife. She and her husband had 13 children, but only 8 lived to adulthood. Of the five who died, I could find no information. I wonder if some or all of them died because there was no one to serve as a midwife for her.
Few Native Alaskan men could afford to attend the Orthodox seminaries on the east coast of the United States. Although Nikolai Michael had served the church as a reader, it wasn’t until St. Herman Orthodox Seminary opened in 1973 that he could study for the priesthood. He was then 60 years old. And Matushka Olga died just 6 years later. She was only briefly a matushka.
A Mother Who Never Yelled
But that’s how we remember her. I think it’s more than the fact that she was a priest’s wife when she died. In many ways, she lived her life as a matushka, a mama. Her kindness and her strength showed first in the way she treated her own children. She never yelled at them. She never, under any circumstances, raised her voice towards them.
When my children were young, I yelled. Sometimes I told them that I yelled because I cared. And that was true. But it was also true that I yelled because there were times I didn’t know what else to do. I had done everything I knew how to do, and it wasn’t working, and so I yelled. I knew at the time that it was stupid, ineffective, wrong. God doesn’t treat us that way. The Theotokos certainly never screamed at her Son. But I needed help. I needed to learn better ways to take care of my four rather challenging children.
And Matushka Olga — she had eight children, and she knew how to take care of them without yelling.
A Mother to All Who Needed Her
And it wasn’t just her own children that she took care of. She was able to tell when a woman was pregnant before the woman had even missed a period. Because of that, she could give them the care they needed from the very earliest part of their pregnancy.
She spent a great deal of time, through her whole adult life, making warm coats, mittens, and boots for people in need. When she noticed that a child was lacking adequate clothing, she would give the child her own children’s clothes. In such a small village, it was inevitable that her children would see other children wearing what had been theirs. Matushka Olga told her children never to notice it, never to say anything. She understood that it was as important to protect the children’s hearts from embarrassment and shame as it was to protect their bodies from the winter cold.
And she took care of women who had been assaulted or abused. She understood the grief and shame that they felt. And they understood that she was a safe person to turn to for help. And if they didn’t turn to her, she would know, just as she knew when a woman was pregnant. And she would invite them to go to the steam bath with her. In the privacy of the steam bath, she was able to offer kindness, acceptance, and healing. She was able to deliver the women of the grief and shame they carried.
And the veneration of the blessed Matushka Olga is spreading throughout the world. Especially among women, and among those who have suffered from abuse.
Verses from the Akathist to Matushka Olga
Father Lawrence Farley has written an akathist to Matushka Olga. Today, on the anniversary of her death, it is an especially appropriate day to offer the akathist. If you don’t have time to pray the entire akathist, you might offer just the concluding verses, given here.
In your maternal love you continue to care for us, Matushka Olga, praying for our souls and granting peace through your holy icon. Thankful to God for your miracles among us, we offer up the doxology: Alleluia!
Those abused from childhood know you as a mighty healer, O blessed matushka. You appeared in a dream to one undergoing counseling for abuse, leading her through a forest, massaging her like a midwife so that all her years of painful trauma poured out from her, leaving her restored and joyful in spirit. Exulting in your healing love, we offer you these praises:
Rejoice, companion of the Theotokos, granting us maternal protection!
Rejoice, heir of St. Herman, shining forth from Alaska!
Rejoice, you that straighten the tangled cords of the darkened past!
Rejoice, you that give to the hurt and fallen a radiant future!
Rejoice, for you dry the tears of children!
Rejoice, for you drench us with the joy of Christ!
Rejoice, peace for the traumatized!
Rejoice, wholeness for the wounded!
Rejoice, Matushka Olga, healer of the abused and broken!
O blessed Matushka Olga, accept these songs of us who trust in you, and in the compassion which you have always shown us, rescue us from distress, pain and despair. Fill us up with the light of Christ, so that we may sing with you to God the eternal hymn of victory: Alleluia!
You laboured in the far north as a new Tabitha, making clothes to shelter the poor from the cold and warming their souls with your love. We who endure the icy winds of this age also find shelter in your heavenly intercession and offer you these praises:
Rejoice, you that provided boots and parkas for the bodies of those in need!
Rejoice, you that still provide God’s grace for the souls of the afflicted!
Rejoice, for your ceaseless labour clothed many throughout your village!
Rejoice, for your glorious praises are sung by many throughout the world!
Rejoice, strong consolation of peace for widows and orphans!
Rejoice, invincible tower of defence for the crushed and despairing!
Rejoice, haven of peace in the tumultuous world!
Rejoice, silent witness to the eternal Word!
Rejoice, Matushka Olga, healer of the abused and broken!
Our God who makes the moving curtain of the northern lights made you as a living light, shining in the far north and lighting up the desolate with His great beauty. Beholding this radiance, we your children lift up our voices and sing: Rejoice, Matushka Olga, healer of the abused and broken!
Prayer to Matushka Olga
O blessed Matushka Olga, hear our prayer as we lift up our hearts to you, trusting in the power of your ceaseless intercession. Even as you spread the warmth of your maternal love over the souls of the needy, abused and broken, so warm our souls also, healing our pain and bringing us the love of Christ. Through your prayers, may we walk in the paths of peace, pleasing our Lord and glorifying His Name, and so finally fail not to enter into the joy of His eternal Kingdom, praising our God forever before His throne: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
The Emerald of God, St. Euphrosyne of Alexandria: St. Euphrosyne’s father chose a good husband for her, and got the blessing of the abbot for the marriage. But St. Euphrosyne had other plans for her life. Plans that didn’t include a husband.
St. Irene and the Apples of Paradise: St. Irene would have married the empress’s son, but he married someone else first. So she became the abbess of Chrysovalantou, which is what she really wanted.
King Island Christmas: A Review: When a freight ship arrives at King Island, Alaska, bearing a new priest for the village, high winds make it impossible to get the priest off the ship. If the villagers can’t get their priest off the ship, he will have to leave and return in the spring.
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These delightfully diverse books provide disability representation (Elizabeth, one of the main characters, is an ambulatory wheelchair user). They also give Orthodox Christian children the rare opportunity to see themselves in books, and children who are not Orthodox the chance to see cultural practices they may not be familiar with.
FINALIST IN THE 2015 USA BEST BOOK AWARDS
Catherine doesn’t like vegetables. She doesn’t like naps. She doesn’t like it when her mom combs her hair. She loves hot dogs, chocolate cake, and her best friend, Elizabeth. Most of all, she loves Pascha! Pascha, the Orthodox Christian Easter, is celebrated in the middle of the night, with processions and candles and bells and singing. And Catherine insists that she’s not a bit sleepy.
The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
Shoes or stockings? Horse or sleigh? Does St. Nicholas visit on December 6 or on Christmas Eve? Will a little girl’s prayer be answered? When Elizabeth has to stay at Catherine’s house, she’s worried about her grandmother, and worried that St. Nicholas won’t find her. The grownups, though, are worried about snow.