Today is remembrance of the Holy and Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olha
In Ukraine, on July 24, the new style, the Holy Princess Olga, grandmother of St.Volodymyr the Great is commemorated. After the death of her husband, Prince Igor († 945), Olga had ruled for many years the Rus state on behalf of her underage son Sviatoslav. Princess Olha adopted Christianity.
“Princess Olha, says historian Myola Chubatyy, “really stands at the crossroads of religious and cultural history of Rus-Ukraine” (History of Christianity in Rus-Ukraine, V. I, p. 186). Historian Natalia Polonska-Vasilenko wrote: “Our chronicle has devoted to any of the rulers as much attention as to Olga, who for two decades had acted in the areola of female wisdom and charm” (History of Ukraine, V. I, p. 101).
Olha’s baptism date is not known for sure. The chronicle says that Olha was baptized in Constantinople in 955. Greek sources that describe in detail her life in Constantinople in 955-957, make no notice of her baptism. They would hardly have passed over in silence such an important event as the baptism of the ruler of Rus. Most historians believe that Olha was baptized in Kyiv in 954-955 and was then received with great honor in Constantinople as a Christian.
In general, Ukrainian Christianity was known since apostolic times, and it was in our lands that the first Pope Clement suffered martyrdom. Even in times of Askold and Dir, and later of Prince Oleh Christian Vikings were in Kyiv and Rus, and during Prince Ihor tenure, they had their own church of St. Elias in Kyiv. In this church, Christians warriors, signing a peace treaty with Byzantium in 944, swore to Prince Ihor, Olga's husband.
Professor Mykola Chubaty about Olha’s motive to adopt the Christian writes as follows: “There is no doubt that her innate intelligence and the ability to contemplate the world around Rus and its relations with Christians, which were numerous in Kyiv, particularly the Vikings, brought her slowly on the path to Christianity” (Op. cit p. 174).
The Christian faith affected Olga’s personal life. Some documents state that it was allegedly Olga who built St. Sophia church in Kyiv and gave money to build the Holy Trinity in Kyiv in Pskov. In 959, she sent messengers to German King Otto I. Western chronicles say that the princess asked him for bishop and priests.
The efforts of Olha to convert her son Sviatoslav to Christian faith failed. The Tale of Bygone Years reads: “Olga, when living with her son Sviatoslav, instructed him the need to be baptized, and he neither observed it nor listened to it ... Olga often said: “My son, I got to know God and I am happy and I rejoice, and I’m waiting for you to know him and rejoice. “He paid no attention to that, saying, “How can I accept a new law? And my wife will be laughing at it.”
Olha’s last will attested to her Christian life as she asks to be buried according to the Christian tradition and no pagan feasts to be celebrated at her tomb.
She died in 969, at the age of about 75 years.
Saint Volodymyr the Great, grandson of Princess Olha, who introduced Christianity in 988 as the state religion in Rus, moved Olha’s body to the newly built Tithe Church during the tenure of Kyiv Metropolitan Leontius (992-1008). Monk Jacob wrote that in the coffin there was a window through which you could see the incorrupt body of Olha.
During the Mongols attacks, Olha’s relics were hidden under the ruins of the Tithes Church. Metropolitan Petro Mohyla, when rebuilding in 1635 a small church in the place of the Tithes Church, discovered the relics of St. Olga. They remained there until XVIII century. By decision of the Rus Church Synod they were hidden again, but no one knows the place.
Princess Olha had not been canonized for long time after her death, as there had been no wonders on her tomb, which is a prerequisite for canonization. Neither the chronicler, nor monk Jacob ever mentioned the remembrance of St. Olga, though both say that during the transfer of her relics in Volodymyr the Great’s reign, her body was incorrupt.
The cult of St. Olha and remembrance of the day of her repose had existed before Mongolian invasion. Obviously, back in the pre-Mongol times there had been wonders through her mediation because her name had been was placed in the list of saints around XII century. We may learn about the celebration of Olga’s memory in the pre-Mongol timefrom the three surviving Serbian Prolog manuscripts of XIII-XIV century. The manuscripts were copies from the Bulgarian text that was in turn copiedfrom a Rus original. They presented biographies of the saints of Kyiv region whose feasts were established even before the Mongolian invasion. Among the life of saints, there is a biography of Princess Olga, which ends with the words: “Oh Olha, cease not to pray to God for those who honor the day of your burial.” Said Serbian Prologue mentions the day of Olha’s repose as 11 July (July 24 - New Style).
In the book titled “Know your rite” Fr Yulian Katriy, notes that we cannot definitely say whether a separate service in honor of St. Olga was already performed in pre-Mongol times, as no documents of that time survived. The current office of her feast dates back to the middle of XV century.
In 1557,Moscow tsar Ivan sent to Constantinople Patriarch Joasaph a large commemoration book of great and crown princes. It does not contain Olga’s name among princes and princesses who are commemorated at the prayer services, but it was witnessed among the names of those who had to be remembered at the memorial service.
The worship service of the feast, the Holy Princess Olha is eulogized as follows: “Like the sun shone us thy glorious memory, O divinely wise Olga, mother of Rus princes ... You are our greatness and praise, O divinely wise Olga, for through you we have been delivered from idols’ delusion ... Strong as a lioness, vested with power of the Holy Spirit ... Chaste mentor of law and teacher of Christian faith, receive praise from unworthy servants and pray to God for us celebrating the feast of your memory.”