In Memoriam: Archpriest Michael Oleksa

Fr Michael Oleksa

With faith in Christ and hope in the resurrection, we share the news of the repose of Archpriest Michael Oleska (M.Div. ‘73), who fell asleep in the Lord on the morning of November 29, 2023, after suffering a stroke. His Grace Bishop Alexei of Sitka and Alaska anointed Fr Michael with holy oil and administered last rites in the presence of his brother clergy and his family.

Fr Michael Oleska is well known as a missionary priest and student of Native Alaskan culture who dedicated decades of his life to the Orthodox Church in Alaska. He served as a priest in over a dozen Native Alaskan villages over the years. During his last 35 years in Alaska, he also served as a university professor and consultant on intercultural relations and communications, and authored several books on Alaskan Native cultures and history. A 1969 graduate of Georgetown University, he went on to receive a Master of Divinity degree from St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) in 1973. Fr Oleksa earned his doctoral degree in Presov, Slovakia, in 1988. 

Fr Michael was a prolific speaker and church educator. His four-part PBS television series, Communicating Across Cultures, has been widely acclaimed. He recently joined Fr Nicholas Molodyko-Harris to speak about the recent canonization of St Olga of Alaska.

The recipient of numerous awards from local, state, and federal agencies, as well as the Alaska Federation of Natives, Fr Michael taught on all three main campuses of the University of Alaska system and at Alaska Pacific University as well. 

Fr Michael authored two books published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission and Alaskan Missionary Spirituality; he also contributed many articles to St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly.

Ted Bazil, planned gift officer and senior-most staff member at St Vladimir's Seminary, attended St Vladimir's as a seminarian with Fr Michael Oleksa in the early 1970s. He wrote the following reflection on his memories of Fr Michael, a lifelong friend.

“Fr Michael was destined for missionary work. During his first year as a seminarian in 1970, Fr Michael jumped at the open request of Metropolitan Theodosius, at the time the OCA diocesan bishop of Alaska, for any student from St Vladimir's Seminary to come to Alaska for the summer and work as a catechetical instructor in an Alaskan Native village. Fr Michael was assigned to instruct and lead the children and adults in Three Saints Orthodox Church in Old Harbor, AK, on Kodiak Island, where I later joined him.

Photo 1 Fr Michael

Fr Michael's arrival in Old Harbor

 Name Photo 2 Fr Michael

Fr Michael teaching Old Harbor children

Photo 3 Fr Michael

Fr Michael in Three Saints Orthodox church with children

Photo 4 Fr Michael

Fr Michael leading a service for the blessing of the fishing boats in Old Harbor

Photo 5 Fr Michael

Photo taken during the canonization of St Herman in 1970 in the old chapel of Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam on Spruce Island, after the first visit to the Island by OCA Metropolitan Ireney (Bekish) and Archbishop Paul of Finland, with clergy and pilgrims. Fr Michael is pictured on the far right, next to Ted Bazil; during the canonization, they were given liturgical and protocol assignments.

“These photos are merely a small snapshot of Fr Michael's first summer in Alaska. It was by divine providence that Fr Michael took up the fire and zeal of his faith after participating in the canonization of St Herman of Alaska at the end of the summer before returning to his studies with new-found exuberance and purpose.

“His example was followed by many other seminarians in the following years who went to Alaska to serve as diocesan missionaries and teachers at St Herman's Seminary in Kodiak. What distinguished Fr Michael is that he returned and stayed in Alaska until his repose, using his God-given talents to defend the faith and boldly lead others into the mystery of the Orthodox Christian Church.

"Fr Michael brought knowledge and joy to all who knew him. He was an inspiration to the people that he served and loved.”

At the time of his repose, Fr Michael was residing in Anchorage with his Yup’ik wife, Xenia, his daughter Anastasia, and one of his three grandsons.

All services for Fr Michael will be held at Saint Innocent Cathedral, 401 Turpin Street, Anchorage, AK, according to the following schedule:

Monday, December 4
3:00 PM Panikhida and viewing

Tuesday, December 5
10:00 AM Funeral Service

The burial will take place following the Funeral Service at Saint John Antiochian Cathedral in Eagle River.

May the memory of Archpriest Michael Oleksa be eternal!

Article adapted from orthochristian.com, froleksa.org, the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska Facebook page, and oca.org.