Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Saint Olga, the First Russian Saint

Saint Olga, the first Russian saint represents many aspects of Russian culture in general and of our women in particular.

As a young maiden, one of astonishing beauty, she married the grandson of Grand Prince Rurik, Igor I. Igor became ruler of Kieven Rus after his father's (Oleg's) death. Brave in battle, Igor conquered the neighboring tribal kingdom of the Derevlians, extracting a heavy tribute. Igor's greed got the best of him and he apparently returned alone to seek out the Derevlian's hidden treasure. He was caught and murdered, being tide to two bent trees and ripped apart. His remains were buried near the Derevlian city.

On hearing the news, Olga was in great mourning for her husband. She was also regent of Rus, as her son, Svetaslav, was to young to rule. Her heart burned for revenge.

As was customary at the time, the Derevlians sent a party of men, in a boat, demanding that Olga marry their prince Mal. At this point, the Russian craftiness comes into play, as well as the rage of a widowed Russian wife. Growing up in a tough neighborhood of warring tribes, invading nomads and raiding Norseman, Olga made her many phased revenge so blunt and potent that few dared again trifle with this iron princess.

The Derevlian emissaries insisted that they should be carried in their boat to be presented to Princess Olga. Olga received these arrogant men, who were paraded past her and without stopping, and to the men's own shock, were dumped into a deep trench, boat and all. At this point Olga had them buried alive.

Part two: Olga sent emissaries to the Derevlian city asking that the nobles and elders should come for her, if they wanted her to leave Kiev. Such were sent and presented themselves. Olga stated that the men were to uncouth and dirty to be presented to a princess and ordered them bathed. They entered the bath house, only to find themselves locked in and the building burnt around their ears.

Part three: Olga sent more emissaries stating that she was coming with ther retinue and all others would follow shortly. She asked that a great feast be set up, but first she wished to mourn her husband.

At her husband's grave, her retinue built a great mourn. After this laboured task, they submissively began to serve the huge Dervlian crowd at the feast. After the Derevlians were good and drunk, Olga's men fell upon them with swords and slayed some five thousand. The rest, the majority, fled into their city and watched as Olga's army arrived to surround their walls.

The Derevlians pleaded for peace, offering any tribute. Olga asked for only three pigeons from each house. That night, her soldiers tied strips of burning cloth to the birds' legs and let them loose. The pigeons returned to their roosts, burned the city down. survivors were rounded up as slave.

Olga's vengeance were excessive, though very creative and sparred the lives of her own men. Two things must be remembered: Rus was always in a rough neighborhood and this insured that no one would mess with Olga for the rest of her regency and two, as a pagan, she did not yet know the moderation of Christ.

In the summer of 955 AD, Olga came to Tsargrad (Constantinople), the city where she found Christ. She spent a long time in the Imperial court, conquering it with her charm, beauty, wit and intelligence. She so charmed the Emperor that he decided to make her his wife. First Olga had to be baptized and she did this willingly, as she had found Christ and loved Him.

She was baptized by the Patriarch Polyeutus adn the Emperor Constantine the Bagryanorodni became her God father, saying unto her "Blessed art thou amongst Russian women because you have left darkness and loved the Light. You will be revered by all future Russian generations." After this, in answer to the Emperor's request of marriage, Saint Olga answered "art not you now my father? Thus this is prohibited in the Christian Faith".

The Emperor's only recorded response was "You have out witted me". He heaped gold and treasures upon Olga, who shortly returned to Rus to raise churches and spread the Faith.

The first of her works was the construction of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. In Pskov, she built a church that became the first building of that city's kremlin. She built it on the site of where she saw a beam of heavenly light hit the ground and s;oit into three, thus marking the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Olga's greatest failure was her inability to bring her son Svyatoslav to Christ, he was the last pagan ruler of Rus. Her greatest success was her ability to influence in life and after death, the faith of her grandson, Saint Prince Vladimir, the Christianizer, who baptized Russia to Christ and the Orthodox Church.

Saint Olga spent her remaining days feeding and clothing the poor, providing for the destitute, orphans and widows and fulfilling the Will of God.

She fell asleep in the Lord in 969. Her body did not decay and was kept in the Desgatinnaia Cathedral, until the Mongols destroyed Kiev and her remains disappeared from history.

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