Read Between the Lines

Today the church remembers one who is considered to be the first Christian ruler of Russia: Olga, Princess of Kiev, Confessor and Ruler.

Saint Olga is the grandmother of the first “official” ruler of Russia who confessed the faith. Her grandson Vladimir gets the “official” title because of patriarchy, but in actuality Olga was the first official Christian to rule the nation.

Born in the late 9th Century, Olga married Prince Igor and, after his death in the year 945 A.D., officially ruled in his stead until her son came of age.

She was known for being courageous, “sticking it to the man,” instituting reforms that her husband was unable to carry out regarding financial and administrative changes, and had been an early convert to the faith through the Scandinavian missionaries who traveled down the river system from the East.

In the year 957 A.D. Olga visited Constantinople and some say that is where she was officially baptized, though others claim that she had long been an adherent to the faith. Regardless, her personal faith did not indicate a change of heart for her country, and her son who came to rule after her was not a confessor.

Olga is remembered in Eastern Orthodoxy as the “Blessed Princess Olga,” and is honored in the Ukrainian and Russian branches of the church. She is remembered as being witty and brave. The story goes that when she went to be baptized in Constantinople, the Emperor saw her beauty and asked her to marry him. She replied, “First I must be baptized,” and then followed it up with, “and I need a Godfather. Will you be mine?”

The Emperor agreed and, following her baptism, returned to the invitation of marriage. The bright Princess replied, “We are now family through baptism, and never has a father married a daughter, even amongst the heathens!”

Knowing he had been outsmarted, he gave Olga his blessing to return to Russia with the faith.

She died in the year 969 of old age.

Saint Olga is a reminder for me, and should be for all the church, that too often the female saints amongst us don’t really get their due because, well, patriarchy is hard to eradicate and we must always keep in mind the author of histories and, well, read between the lines.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-historical notes gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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