Memory Eternal: Archpriest Orest Olekshy

March 28, 2017

The servant of God, the Archpriest Orest Olekshy of Melville, whose many years in Christ’s vineyard in western Canada endeared him to many, fell asleep in the Lord after a brief illness on March 28, 2017.

Orest was born on April 11, 1939 to Stefan and Evdokia (Fuhr) Olekshy, descendants of pioneers in the Calmar, Alberta area. Both of his grandfathers were founders of early Orthodox parishes. The Fuhr household was blessed with visits from Bishop Tikhon (Belavin), who was later canonized a North American saint. Calmar’s proximity to Edmonton with its strong Orthodox presence brought opportunities to visit many churches, which, together with Orest’s early work and travels with the Ukrainian Orthodox Youth Mission, CYMK, gave him a broad base of understanding of his faith.

Fr OrestIn 1959, he was called to his life’s work in the Orthodox ministry, enrolling at St. Andrew’s College, Winnipeg and graduating with a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1963. During those years, he met the dear love of his life, Oksana Onufriychuk, and they were married in the fall of 1965. A talented opera student and performer, Oksana was studying Interior Design and later Library Science at the University of Manitoba. Orest was ordained to the Holy Diaconate and then to the Holy Priesthood in 1966 by Metropolitan Ilarion (Ohienko) at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Winnipeg.

Many points of pastoral service followed, including national work for CYMK, rural parishes east of Winnipeg, being an assistant-priest at Holy Trinity, Winnipeg, and nine rural parishes near Willingdon, Alberta. Together, the Olekshys were a vivacious, hospitable couple, who served faithfully wherever they lived. It was in Willingdon that their daughter, Ilaria, was born.

In 1970, a transfer to Saskatoon brought service at All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church, then meeting at the St. Petro Mohyla Institute. Many of the young students at Mohyla enjoyed hours of theological discussions about modern issues with Father Orest, who could meet them where they were at in a warm and practical way. The Olekshys’ zeal and concern for spiritual things led them to reach out to non-Slavic people with the gifts of the Orthodox faith, including the use of the English language in services.

In 1975, a young mission began in Saskatoon, Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, under the Ukrainian Orthodox Diocese in the USA (Metropolitan Andrey Kuschak). An active, Christ-centered, caring community grew. It was a parish family made up of persons of Slavic-Canadian ancestry, combined with many of non-Orthodox backgrounds converted to Orthodox Christianity; over the years, newcomer immigration brought Ukrainians, Russians, Romanians, Ethiopians and Eritreans to the church. The Olekshy home was open, not only for prayer meetings, but for anyone in need. Many people found the dignity of true personhood through their nurturing love in their beautiful domestic atmosphere of plants, art, pets, music and faith.

In 1986, the parish transferred to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Father Orest was blessed to wear the Gold Cross and became an Archpriest after twenty years of steady pastoral service. Under Father Orest’s guidance, a remarkable number of parishioners entered the ranks of the clergy, including at least six priests (and one Church Chancellor), and many deacons, sub-deacons and readers. Father Orest was instrumental in establishing “Windows to the East”, an annual public lecture series in Saskatoon, bringing together leaders and members of Eastern-Rite churches at the University of Saskatchewan. He participated in many local ministerial groups in which he represented the Orthodox faith and was a local supporter of the St. Vladimir’s Institute (educational lecture series) in Saskatoon.

In the broader sphere, Father Orest served for many years on the Archdiocesan Council and was Dean of the Manitoba/Saskatchewan Deanery and in 2003, became the Dean of Saskatchewan. Holy Resurrection Sobor, under his leadership, hosted the Assembly of the Archdiocese of Canada in 2004.

Life was not without its trials for him, including Matushka Oksana’s fragile health and his own maladies, the main one being regular bouts with painful kidney stones. Matushka Oksana’s passing on March 2, 1997 left an indescribable ache in Father Orest’s heart. In his bereavement, he continued to comfort others in their problems, providing the wise and practical counsel for which he was known, as well as serving the full yearly cycle of services.

Father Orest retired from active service, moving to Melville to be near his daughter, Ilaria, and her husband, Lucien Bissonnette. Retirement, however, was not in God’s plan for him, as he was asked to serve a number of rural parishes along the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border. It brought a new chapter of pastoral life for Father Orest, one he deeply cherished, and another church family that mourns him deeply today.

What can be said of this dear, personable, humble man of God, whose journey of faith from his earliest years to his end, brought joy to so many hearts? He taught us all so many things about the fullness of life in God. He left behind a wealth of wise and comical anecdotes in English and in his perfect Ukrainian.

He was a priest who left the higher tables of the banquet hall to meet the lowly, a bandager of wounds. He was equally loved by children and the elderly. A small touch of his earthy humour let you know that everything was all right. Once, when a parishioner commented on how busy he was and just when would he take rest, he responded: “When I am gone, make sure you put a good pillow under my head. I will rest then.”

The Archpriest Orest leaves to mourn his most beloved daughter, Ilaria, his dear son-in-law, Lucien and the joy of his later years, two grandchildren.

He will be dearly missed by the many hearts he touched over the years! Memory Eternal, Father Orest.

Funeral Services

Prayers: Monday, April 3, 7:00 p.m. – St. Elijah’s Parish, Lennard, MB
Funeral Service: Tuesday, April 4, 10 a.m. – St. Elijah’s Parish
Prayers: Thursday, April 6, 6:30 p.m. – Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, 2202 Lorne Avenue, Saskatoon
Divine Liturgy: Friday, April 7, 10:00 a.m. – Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church
Interment: Woodlawn Cemetery, Saskatoon