My dear friend and beloved sister in Christ, Anne Marie Harrison (aka Mother Olga) passed away last night at 10 p.m. Pacific Time.
Anne Marie moved to Memphis from the Nashville area in 1997, where she had been a member of St. Ignatius Orthodox Church in Franklin, Tennessee. In Memphis, she was a parishioner at St. John Orthodox Church, and we bonded soon after she arrived. We shared Mississippi roots and together we chased down some similar personal demons as we pursued Christ’s healing in our lives with an almost monastic zeal. I say “almost” because that’s what it was for me. I remember being with Anne Marie on at least one of my numerous visits to Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan, between 1997 and 2004. During those years she and I spent quite a bit of time together, and our family “adopted” her at times for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and other holidays when she would have otherwise been alone. I’m sure others in the parish did this as well.
Anne Marie’s zeal became more than “almost monastic” when she moved to California to become a nun in 2004. She was given the name Sister Thekla at St. Barbara Monastery in Santa Paula, California, where she served until 2009.
Sister Thekla labored with the sisters at Holy Assumption Monastery in Calistoga, California for the last decade of her life. I regret that I never visited her there, but our parish was blessed to have her Abbess, Mother Melania, travel to Memphis to speak at one of our women’s retreats, and I loved her spirit and was happy that my friend had found a spiritual home there. A few years ago Sister Thekla’s health began to fail, and the sisters at the monastery stepped up to care for her. Shortly before her death, she was given a higher tonsure as a stavraphore nun, and her name was changed to Mother Olga, in honor of Beloved Olga of Alaska, who was especially known for her care of women who had been abused or neglected.
Sister Thekla called me back in July of 2013—when I had just been in a life-threatening car wreck—and offered (with her Abbess’s blessing) to come to Memphis and stay with us and help my husband nurse me through part of the semi-invalid stage of my recovery. Many parishioners at St. John were helping us, and our daughter came from Denver for some of this time, so I thanked Sister Thekla and asked her to help me with her prayers instead, which I believe she did, and continues to do even now.
This Sunday the clergy and parishioners at St. John here in Memphis and at her home parish of St. Ignatius in Franklin, Tennessee, will be serving Memorial Prayers for her, and I’ll be making the traditional koliva (boiled) wheat, which we will share afterwards in remembrance of Mother Olga’s death. In John’s Gospel we find this quote, “Christ said, ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’” (John 12:24) This is why we cook the wheat. But we sweeten it with honey and raisins because death no longer has a sting. As Orthodox Christians we honor the memory of our deceased beloved ones with these prayers for the souls of the departed, which are also a way to help us heal from the death.
I love you, Anne Marie/Sister Thekla/Mother Olga. May your memory be eternal.