Friday, November 10, 2023

Matushka Olga is canonized by the OCA, the First American Woman Saint to be canonized

St. Olga of Alaska - To be commemorated on November 10th, along the the Sunday of All Saints of America (source)

The Proclamation of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America on the Glorification of the Righteous Servant of God Matushka Olga

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

To the beloved Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America

God is wondrous in His Saints

November 8, 2023
Chicago, IL

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America has heard the petition of The Right Reverend ALEXEI, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska, expressed in his November 2, 2023 letter to His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, concerning the glorification of the Servant of God, the Righteous Matushka Olga.

In this letter, His Grace Bishop ALEXEI states: “I am writing to Your Beatitude with respect to the departed handmaiden of God and faithful Orthodox Christian, Matushka Olga Nicholai of Kwethluk, known by the pious peoples of the Kuskokwim as Arrsamquq.  Her humility, her generosity, her piety, her patience, and her selfless love for God and neighbor were well-known in the Kuskokwim villages during her earthly life.  Her care for comforting the suffering and the grieving has also been revealed after her life by grace-filled manifestations to the faithful throughout not only Alaska, but all of North America.  The first peoples of Alaska are convinced of her sanctity and the great efficacy of her prayers.  For this reason, after prayerful consideration, I, Alexei, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska, am hereby making the formal request to Your Beatitude as the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America to begin the process that, if it be in accord with God’s will, would lead to her glorification.”

The Holy Synod, having prayerfully reflected upon this petition and having observed and acknowledged the sincere devotion among the faithful of Alaska and beyond, has unanimously determined that the time for the glorification of Matushka Olga has arrived, fulfilling the hopes and prayers of pious Orthodox Christians throughout Alaska and the entire world.

THEREFORE, meeting in Solemn Assembly in Holy Trinity Cathedral, Chicago, Illinois, under the Presidency of The Most Blessed TIKHON, Archbishop of Washington and Metropolitan of All America and Canada, We, the Members of The Holy Synod of The Orthodox Church in America, do hereby decide and decree that the ever-memorable Servant of God MATUSHKA OLGA be numbered among the saints.  With one mind and one heart, we also resolve that her honorable remains be considered as holy relics; that a special service be composed in her honor; that her feast be celebrated on November 10 (October 28, old style) and the Feast of All Saints of North America, the Second Sunday after Pentecost; that holy icons be prepared to honor the newly-glorified saint in accordance with the Canons of the Sacred Ecumenical and Regional Councils; that her life be published for the edification of the Faithful, that the name of the new saint be communicated to the Primates of all Sister Churches for inclusion in their calendars; and that the date and location of the Rite of Glorification be communicated to the Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of our Church in due time.

St. Olga of Alaska (source)

FURTHER, we entrust to the Canonization Commission of The Orthodox Church in America, under the Chairmanship of The Most Reverend DANIEL, Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest, with the honorable task of assisting The Right Reverend ALEXEI, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska, in preparing for the celebration of the glorification by providing an authorized Life of Matushka Olga for the education and edification of the Faithful, with overseeing the painting of holy icons of her, in keeping with the canonical iconographical tradition of the Church, with the composition of liturgical texts to be sung at the Divine Services in which she will be commemorated, and with assisting in the uncovering and recognition of her holy relics, and in promoting her veneration among all the Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of our Church.

We call upon the faithful to remember Matushka Olga at Memorial Services or Litanies for the Departed when appropriate until the day of her glorification.

Through the prayers of Matushka Olga and of all the Saints who have shone forth in North America, may the Lord grant His mercies and blessings to all who seek her heavenly intercession with faith and love.  Amen.

Holy Mother Olga, pray to God for us!

Given at Holy Trinity Cathedral, this 8th day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, 2023.


The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America.

+ TIKHON, Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada
+ NATHANIEL, Archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate
+ BENJAMIN, Archbishop of San Francisco and the West
+ MARK, Archbishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania
+ ALEJO, Archbishop of Mexico City and Mexico
+ MELCHISEDEK, Archbishop of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
+ IRENEE, Archbishop of Ottawa and the Archdiocese of Canada
+ MICHAEL, Archbishop of New York and New Jersey
+ ALEXANDER, Archbishop of Dallas, the South and the Bulgarian Diocese
+ DANIEL, Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest
+ ALEXEI, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska
+ NIKODHIM, Bishop of Boston and the Albanian Archdiocese


St. Olga of Alaska (source)

Orthodoxy has been around in Alaska since the 18th century. It was brought here by a mission of the Russian Orthodox Church. The mission’s monks preached among the local indigenous people and translated the Scripture and liturgical texts into the local languages, bringing many to Christ and educating the local clergy.  Some prominent preachers of Christianity in Alaska were Holy Venerable Herman of Alaska and Bishop Innocent. At the end of the 19th century, Russia sold Alaska to the United States, and gradually, Protestant missions came to prevail in this land. However, Orthodox life has continued there to the present day, with around ninety active Orthodox parishes.

On 3 February 1916, a girl named Arrsamquq was born into an indigenous Alaskan family of Yupik origin. The presence of the Russian mission in her community helped spread the faith among the local people, and she was among the first to be baptised as an infant. At baptism, she accepted the name Olga. From a very young age, she lived with the love of God. She was hard-working and prayed a lot for her family and her fellow villagers. By her teenage years, she already knew multiple liturgical texts and hymns in the church Slavonic and Yupik languages.

She married a man from her village. It was an arranged marriage. Her husband was adept at fishing and hunting. He established a general store and opened the first post office in his village. However, he was not a particularly churchly man. During the first years of their marriage, they had a troubled relationship filled with strife and arguments. But Olga did not despair. Instead, she prayed vehemently for her husband and her non-believing neighbours. Through her prayers, After a time, her husband — baptised with the name Nicolay — began to attend church. He brought six other men from the village with him. They all became readers. Nicolay Michael went on to study at so called “Aleut School”, similar to those that were founded by Saint Innocent with the support of the Russian Missionary Society, in Sitka. He studied under the direction of Bishop Amvrossy (Merejko). After graduation, he was ordained into the priesthood. From 1963, he was a priest for Kwetluk. He was the second priest in his village Kwetluk and became greatly beloved by his people. Incidentally, throughout the lifetime of Saint Olga, the great majority of the students who went this School came from her tiny village.

The couple’s married life changed significantly after Nicolai’s ordination. As a priest, Nicolai Michael travelled extensively to twelve surrounding villages to conduct services and occasional offices. Travel between the villages was done on rivers, by boat in the summer or by snow machines or dog-driven sledges in the winter. Matushka Olga, who was the only able midwife around, accompanied her husband to assist the women in childbirth and ailments. Olga gave birth to thirteen of her children without a midwife. Five of them did not survive to adulthood because of illness and a harsh climate.

Matushka Olga Michael worked hard keeping house, raising children, making vestments and baking prosphoras. Despite her busy schedule, she would also go to the homes of others to cook and clean for them. With word and deed, Olga showed people the example of Christian life according to Lord’s commandments. Not only did she help others with their housekeeping, but she also made boots, parkas, socks and mittens to distribute among the parishioners. For her acts of charity, she was nicknamed the new righteous Tabitha. She was particularly mindful of the troubled women who suffered from domestic violence. She would often ask women in her village to take a steam bath with her, where they could not hide the physical and spiritual scars of the abuse done to them. She counselled the women and said words of reassurance to each. Her compassion and sensitivity struck many as if she had lived through the same situation in her life.

As she was growing older, her daughters were assuming more of her workload. The hard-working Matushka Olga had more time to travel with her husband, help the people from the surrounding villages and teach midwifery skills to younger women.

Eventually, however, Matushka Olga began to feel weak and ill and lose weight. Her concerned family persuaded her to go to hospital. The specialists there diagnosed terminal cancer which they said was beyond treatment. Her children received the news with much grief and prayed vehemently at the local holy places. As for the Matushka, was not resigned to her bed rest. While her daughters were away, she continued to go outside, hauling buckets of water from the village well.

In the last days of her life, she prayed a lot and left her last instructions to her family in preparation for her peaceful repose. On 8 November 1979, she partook of the Holy Sacraments, crossed herself and departed peacefully to God. She was buried in her wedding gown, which she had kept throughout her life.

Her death coincided with the feast day of Archangel Michael (the Old Calendar) whom she revered. The people from her village remembered her standing under the icon of Archangel Michael at church.

The Church of Saint Nicholas in Nicholas in Kwetluk
The icon of Archangel Michael at the church

The first miracle attributed to her was reported on the day of the saint’s interment. In Alaska, the month of November is the height of the winter season. By the time of her death, the rivers had already frozen over to preclude travel by boat, but the ice was still not strong enough to support a snow machine. Many people lamented not being able to bid their last farewells to their beloved Matushka. The Lord heard their prayers. On the day of her funeral, there was a thaw. The ice on the river melted, enabling many people to come to Kwetluk by boat to attend her funeral. As her body was being carried to the grave, summer birds were hovering over the procession. Even the soil in the graveyard had softened. On the next day, the cold weather returned and ice covered the river. Winter was back.

She also continued to intercede for needy women. A woman from her village saw the Matushka in her dream. She told her that her mother had a terminal illness and reassured her that her mother was departing to heaven. The woman saw her mother before her death and helped her prepare for her peaceful repose.

A woman who suffered from the trauma of sexual abuse reported another miracle with Matushka Olga. One day as she was praying, she began to have an intense flashback of her sexual abuse as a child. She pleaded with the Mother of God for her help. Little by little, she went into a trance and saw herself walking in a forest. A gentle wave of tenderness began to sweep through the woods followed by a fresh garden scent. She saw the Virgin Mary, dressed as she was in an icon, but more natural-looking and brighter, walking toward her. As she came closer she was aware of someone walking behind her. She was one of the indigenous people of the North. The Mother of God said that it was Saint Olga. Saint Olga gestured for the woman to follow her to a little hill that had a door cut into the side. Mother Olga helped her up on a bed and rubbed something on her belly. It looked five months pregnant (although she was not pregnant in reality). Mother Olga pretended to labour with her. She pushed out something like an afterbirth, and she was filled with wellness and a sense of quiet entered her soul. As the woman recalled, Saint Olga’s eyes spoke with great tenderness and understanding. It was the kind of loving gaze from a mother to an infant that connects and welcomes a baby to life. Only after this did Holy Mother Olga speak. “The people who hurt you thought they could make me carry their evil inside of you by rape. That’s a lie. The only thing they could put inside you was the seed of life which is a creation of God and cannot pollute anyone.” At the end of this healing time, they went outside together. The sky was all shimmer with a moving veil of light. At that moment, the woman heard in her heart that this moving curtain of light was a promise that God can create great beauty from complete desolation and nothingness.


St. Olga of Alaska (source)
Troparion to St. Olga of Alaska in Tone Four
By your righteous deeds, you were revealed to the world as an image of the perfect servant of the Lord in Alaska. By your fasting, vigil and prayers, you were inspired in your evangelical life. You fed the hungry, and you cared for the poor. You served as a midwife, and you brought babies into the world. You nurtured children, and you clothed all those in need. Now, O Holy Olga, you stand at the right-hand of Christ the Master, and you intercede for our souls.

St. Olga of Alaska (source)

Akathist to St. Olga of Alaska here.

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Mother Gabriela, the Ascetic of Love, is canonized (Gerontissa Gavrielia Papagiane +1992)

St. Gabriela, the Ascetic of Love - Commemorated on March 28th (the day of her repose), and July 18th (the day of the translation of her relics) (source)

Gerontissa Gabrielia (Gavrielia) was born in Constantinople more than a hundred years ago on October 15, 1897 to Helias and Victoria Papayanni and was the fourth and last child of the family.

Gerontissa means further than an older nun, supervising the youngers, a spiritual person, who guides others with wise advice and knowledge given from God, in prayers. Her life is a trail of wonders.

She grew up in Constantinople until her family moved to Thessaloniki in 1923. She went to England in 1938 and stayed there throughout the Second World War. She trained as a chiropodist and physiotherapist. In England they honored her for her services during the war and after.

In 1945, she returned to Greece. In 1954, March, her mother died and it changed her life. Sister Gabrielia left Greece and traveled overland to India, where she worked with the poorest of the poor, even the lepers, for five years. She worked with Baba Amte and his family, who built and organised village-communities for the lepers of India. She kept no penny in her pocket. Just trusted herself in His hands.

In 1959, she went to the Monastery of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Palestine, to become a nun. When she arrived, she asked Fr. Theodosius the chaplain for a rule of prayer. Fr. Theodosius was somewhat surprised to find that she could read even ancient Byzantine Greek. Therefore, for her first year in the monastery he set her to reading only the Gospels and St. John Climacus.

She was three years in Bethany. In April 1962, Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople sought to send an Orthodox monastic to Taize in France. Sister Gabrielia went from Taize to America.

In 1963, she was back in Greece. The Gerontissa was tonsured to the Small Schema by Abbot Amphilochios (Makris) on Patmos in the Cave of St. Anthony under the Monastery of Evangelismos just before she and the nun Tomasina left again for India. Elder Amphilochios was enthusiastic at the idea of a nun, who would be open to the active outreach in the world. In India, she was for three years in Nani Tal in Uttar Pradesh, where Fr. Lazarus (Moore) was the priest and where he consulted the Gerontissa in his translations of the Psalter and the Fathers. Between 1967 and 1977, Gerontissa traveled in the Mission field of East Africa, in Europe, including visiting old friends and spiritual fathers Lev Gillet and Sophrony of Essex, again to America, and briefly in Sinai, where Archbishop Damianos was attempting to reintroduce women's monasticism.

She traveled extensively, with much concern and broad love for the people of God. Some of her spiritual children found her in Jerusalem beside the Tomb of Christ; others found her on the mission field of East Africa. In the 50s and 60s, she used to have a few thousands of spiritual friends from all over the world! She used to pray for everybody day and night!

In the year 1977, she lived hidden in a little apartment, the "House of the Angels" in Patissia, Athens, in the midst of the noise and smog and confusion of central Athens. In 1989, she moved to Holy Protection hermitage on the island of Aegina, close by the shrine of St. Nectarios. There she called the last two of her spiritual children to become monastics near her, and there she continued to receive many visitors. At the start of Great Lent in 1990, she was hospitalized for lymphatic cancer. She was forty days in the hospital, leaving during Holy Week and receiving communion on Pascha. And to the puzzlement of the doctors, the cancer disappeared. It was not yet her time.

Gerontissa finally withdrew to quiet. With only one last nun, she moved for the last time in this life, to the island of Leros. There they established the hesychastarion of the Holy Archangels. Only in this last year of her life did she accept the Great Schema at the hands of Fr. Dionysious from Little St. Anne's Skete on Mount Athos. He came to give her the Schema in the Chapel of the Panaghia in the Kastro on the top of Leros.

Gerontissa Gabrielia reposed on March 28, 1992, having never built a monastery. Her biography and collected writings were published in Greek in 1996, through the work of her last monastic daughter and the contribution of many, many others, who held the Gerontissa dear.

Anyone, who knew the Gerontissa realized that God has not left us without His saints, even down to the present day. The few words recorded here scarcely suggest the clarity and love of her soul. Words are only the tools of this world; the wonder of Gerontissa was wrapped in the mystery of the silence of the world to come. She was humility and love incarnate.


See here for a recent feast on the 22nd anniversary of the translation of her holy relics.

St. Gabriela, the Ascetic of Love (source)

On October 3rd, 2023, she was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (source)

Selected Quotes

Two things are very important… “Love one another,” and “Fear not, only believe.”

We become a reflection of Heaven by saying: ‘Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven’.

 If you have love for all the world, the whole world is beautiful.

If you do not get rid of “No” and “Tomorrow” from your life, you will never get to where the Lord wants you, Who grants you everything. He will give you the bodily strength when you answer “Yes” and “Now”. The prophets, the angels and the saints all said, “Behold here I am… Let it be according to Your word.”

Truth and light are synonymous.When you follow the truth you are in the light, you are with Christ.

True prayer always reaches heaven. The angels carry it to the right place and the answer comes. Its basis is Truth, and “Not My will, but that of the Father Who sent me.”

Say prayer-ropes also just with “Thank you”. 
 The angels always come. You should have continual conversation with your guardian angel. About everything. Especially in difficulties and when you cannot get across to someone. He always helps.

 When it is in God’s programme for you to go somewhere, you will go. That is why I am generally quiet in life. I have observed that even if a person does not want to, God moves him.

Never expect anybody to understand you. Only God.

When one is alone with God, the time passes unimaginably quickly. More quickly than when you have companionship… And yet even within the world one can remain united with God. How? When whatever he is doing he directs his thoughts to Him… when whatever good comes his way he gives Him glory… and whatever testing he meets, he gives Him thanks.

Love means to respect the freedom of the other.

You must not talk about persons who are absent.

 Love is always on the cross. Because Christ is on the cross.

If coal is not “beaten”, can it become diamond?

The Lord allows those who love Him to be tested, first, so that their faith in Him may grow stronger, and second, to set an example for those around.

Some people want to go to the Resurrection without passing by way of Gologatha.

The sermon on the mount and the epistle of Saint James. Every day! What a pity that we do not hear them more often…

My wishes: may the grace of our Christ, the love of the omnipotent Father and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit be with you! May your example be the life of the Mother of God, who will lead you at every step with her archangels and angels as your heavenly mother; that you love your mother who brought you into life and brought you up, and may you give love and joy first to her, and then to all who come near you.

Nun Gavrilia (1999). Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love. Athens: Ekdoseis K. Papagiannoulis Tertios & Sia. (source)
Another interview on the Saint here, and writing here.
St. Gabriela, the Ascetic of Love (source)

Apolytikion (Plagal of the Fourth Tone)

In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ,and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlookthe flesh,for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal.Wherefore, O righteous Gavrilia, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.


"My heart will burst from Love" - About Mother Gavrilia - Orthodox Christian Talk (Nov 30 2019), Speaker: Heiromonk Michael of St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Perrysville, Ohio - Recorded Nov 30 2019, In this presentation Fr Michael will offer reminiscences of Mother Gavrilia of Leros, "The Ascetic of Love," and her five languages of Christian living. Given at the St John the Baptist  Ukrainian Orthodox Church Oshawa Spiritual Retreat (Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church Oshawa) (source)

The first liturgy celebrated in her honor at the Metropolis Chapel of St. Sophrony on Leros, before her Holy Skull, celebrated October 4th, 2023 (source)

The Metropolitan of Leros chanting her Megalynarion for the first time during liturgy on October 4th, 2023 (source)
Icon depicting Sts. Maria of Paris, Matrona of Moscow and Gavrilia (source)

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!