Passing: Archpriest Michael James Oleksa

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Russian Orthodox missionary Archpriest Michael James Oleksa died in Anchorage following a stroke while in Nanwalek (English Bay), a village at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula that accessible only by boat or air. Medevaced to Anchorage, it was there that His Grace, Bishop Alexei, with family and clergy gathered, prayed over Father Michael the last rites and anointed him with holy and sacred oil.

Bishop Vladyka Alexei asked the entire Church of Alaska to keep Father Michael and his family in their prayers during this time.

Fr. Oleksa was born in Allentown, Penn. on March 16, 1947 and moved to Alaska in 1970, after attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. He was assigned to Old Harbor on Kodiak Island and was a Russian Orthodox priest for many small communities in the area. In 1972, he moved to Kwethluk and met his wife, an Alaska Native. He worked as a village priest along the Kuskokwim River.

In 1988, Oleska graduated from the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Presov, Slovakia with a doctoral degree, emphasizing Alaska Native history.

Later in life, he lived in Anchorage, taught at the University of Alaska and Alaska Pacific university, and was the recipient of many awards for his work with Alaska Native people. He was featured in a PBS series, “Communicating Across Cultures.” and authored books such as “Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission,” “Everyday Wonders: Stories of God’s Providence,” “Alaskan Missionary Spirituality,” and “Another Culture/Another World,” and others. He served in Alaska for 35 years.

The Orthodox Church in America announced services:

All services will be held at Saint Innocent Cathedral, 401 Turpin Street, Anchorage:

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.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I remember him from my elementary day when he was an invited speaker during Cultural week which really was Indian Studies week. It was before todays time when Cultural week in Alaska was learn about Alaska Native arts, stories, dances, and people. After that he was iconic figure no child forget meeting him if they seen him out in about. He was a real. There was nothing phony nor angry nor critical about the man why the children could like him. Just like Don Young, Father Micheal was another modern iconic Alaskan giant- They unintentionally stand out from the crowd, easily recognizable.

  2. He touched me and my family with his great words of wisdom, love And knowledge of the holy scriptures. he is one of the only men that has ever had the opportunity to study in the Russian archives in Moscow. I truly believe there is no man that has lived in Alaska that had more knowledge of Russian native relations then Fr Michael. May his memory be eternal. God bless

  3. As I recall Mr. Oleksa also used to write a column in ADN before they sucked. That would have been about 20 years back or so. An interesting and insightful man.

  4. I had the opportunity to chat with Oleska a couple of times over the years, both in Juneau and in Anchorage. He was the embodiment of his faith, comfortable and never pretentious. A perfectly civilized human being with a heart for people which flowed from his love of God.

  5. I got to spend a couple of days with Fr. Michael this summer when he came out for a lecture. It was the best two days I ever spent. He’s going to be greatly missed.

    Memory Eternal.

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