Visit of Fr Michael Oleksa to St Aidan's in Cranbrook

March 29, 2019 to March 31, 2019

As an Orthodox priest for the last 45 years, a recognized elder with the Alaskan Federation of Natives, the husband of his Yupik wife Matushka Xenia, speaker of Alaskan traditional indigenous languages, an author of many books and articles and a widely acclaimed PBS series, and a doctor of cross-cultural communication, Fr Michael Oleksa visited St Aidan of Lindisfarne in Cranbrook, BC and presented an engaging analysis of indigenous spirituality and the connections with the Orthodox church.

The four sessions were:

  • “The Spiritual World of Traditional Cultures”
  • “The Orthodox Church as the Fulfillment of Orthodox Spirituality”
  • “The Legacy of St. Innocent and St. Netsvetov”
  • “Matushka Olga and Today’s Alaskan Indigenous Orthodox Culture”

Fr Michael is of German and Slavic ancestry, he married into the Yup’ik Nation more than 40 years ago and is recognized as an Elder by the Alaskan Federation of Natives. He spoke on how “the indigenous people for thousands of years have embraced the environment and derived most of their spirituality from this experience; and how the Orthodox missionaries of the late 1700s and early 1800s celebrated this spirituality and presented the Christian gospel as the fulfillment of this world view. They partnered with rather than denigrating the native culture and spirituality they encountered.

Fr Michael shared many traditional stories from the indigenous people of Alaska, demonstrating how God had prepared them with their traditional stories and understanding for the message of the gospel of Christ in their “pre-contact” spirituality. When the Orthodox missionaries arrived in Alaska in the late 1700s, Christianity was presented as the fulfillment of this spirituality, rather than the replacement of it. Indeed the frontiersmen that had preceded the missionaries by 50 years had already done much to introduce Orthodox Christianity into the culture. The Alaskan indigenous culture was celebrated and accepted and there was no requirement to assimilate into a foreign culture to become Christians. Fr Michael presented some amazing encounters with wise Shaman Elders and demonstrated how the local population embraced education and literacy and became leaders in their communities in all areas. This was in the early 1800’s, before the sale of Alaska to the Americans and the disaster of the residential school system and associated cultural destruction that came with it. The pre-sale Alaskan people soon had their own indigenous Orthodox priests, and now have recognized indigenous Christian holy people and saints such as Saint Peter the Aleut, Saint Jacob, and Matushka Olga.

In his four lectures, Fr Michael developed his message of seeing the presence of God in all of creation and that we can learn from the respect the deep love each indigenous group has for their land, and join in supporting their strong determination to protect it. Fr Michael blessed us with wonderful icons of some of the Alaskan saints, and brought his beautiful enamel icon cross with the relics of four of the saints enclosed within it. Through the grace of God there have been many healings associated with this cross, and it was a great blessing to have Fr Michael and his blessed cross with us for the weekend.

Videos of the event are available by contacting Fr Andrew Applegate.