Feast Day: 11 July
“Equal-to-the-Apostles”, “Viking Saint Queen of Russia”, “Missionary to Ukraine”, “Scourge of the Drevlians”: all titles this famed warrior women held. To say that Saint Olga of Kiev lived a colourful life may be quite the understatement. Born to royalty, she became queen of one of the most powerful countries of its time, Kievan Rus (Nowadays Ukraine and part of Russia).
As queen married to King Igor she may have faded into obscurity if not for the revolt of the Drevlian tribe a few years after the birth of their first child. Igor was killed, leaving his infant son as heir and Olga to become the new ruler until her son came of age.
Enraged by her husband’s death, Olga avenged him in an extremely harsh manner, slaughtering Drevlian ambassadors and nobility, burning their capital of Iskorosten to the ground and leveling other towns. After having decimated the Drevlians, Olga took all their land to further expand the kingdom of Kiev and sent a bloody message to the other vessels of her kingdom that she was not to be messed with.
It’s at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if you were seriously questioning why Olga has the title “Equal-to-the-Apostles” or is in fact a saint at all! The reason begins around ten years after the bloody affair that had just happened.
On a visit to Constantinople, she was incredibly inspired by the Christians she met there and soon after converted to Christianity. This was groundbreaking for many reasons. The most insane being how hostile to Christianity her own country, culture and religion were all staunchly set. By converting to Christianity, Saint Olga was embracing a completely different ethics code, belief set and culture.
But Saint Olga of Kiev didn’t stop there; still Queen of Kievan Rus, she used her power and wealth to begin missionary efforts in where we now know as Ukraine. She would set up hospitals and welfare for the poor and use her public announcements to teach people about the Christian faith. During her time of rule, and even after her pagan son had ascended to the throne, St Olga’s efforts to heal the violence in her realm and spread Christianity were unmatched. By the time of her death, Kievan Rus was a far more Christian nation with a effective and simple care support for the poor.
Why is St Olga of Kiev Inspiring?
A reflection from someone in our young Catholic community
Saint Olga’s story shows the depths and heights of human morality. Every person is capable of both great evil and great love and Olga shows both of these at their most extreme. She also shows the drastic and necessary impact faith has on someone’s life. What is beautiful is that her story shows there is always a road to redemption for everyone as long as we are willing to die to our own pride and make amends for the wrongs we have done.
But St Olga is more than just an example of why we need God. It is also the story of a woman who clearly had a will of iron and was not going to be forced to conform to what her society said was right. She was clearly also very humble as when she realised that the way she had lead her life was wrong she wasn’t afraid to admit it and seek to make a better world thereafter. Lastly, to have been able to convert so many to Christianity in a place so opposed to it speaks volumes about her role as a leader and guide for her people.
While Kievan Rus still remained a pagan kingdom for some time after her death, it was down to her remarkable laying the foundations that lead to her grandson being able to officially finish the job of bringing the joy of the gospel to the lands of Russia and Ukraine.