St. Olga is the grandmother of St. Volodymyr, the baptiser of Ukraine. She was born around 890; some sources suggest that she was born around Lviv.

She died on 11th of July 969 in Kyiv. She ruled Ukraine for 18 years. Her husband Ihor was killed and her son Svyatoslav was too young to be the ruler so she was in charge for a while. All accounts indicate that she was a ruthless leader and did a lot to unify the country.

Around 956 she converted to Christianity. She did that it seems in the Byzantine tradition as the record of her baptism is preserved in Constantinople. They record that she took a Christian name “Yelena”. It seems that her conversion was sincere. She rejected the local sun worshipping religion of the day. She could not take it seriously and took instruction from Greek missionaries who were known to have been in Ukraine at the time.

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Religion in those days was a matter for the state and under the protection of the state. Ukraine was officially pagan. Records indicate that she tried to educate her son Svyatoslav but he was set in his pagan ways.

She had a big influence on her grandson Volodymyr. She definitely introduced Christianity to him.

She was the first ruler of Ukraine to convert to Christianity but it was a private matter. Her son did not convert and it seems was not happy about his mother’s choices.

History does not speak of Olga’s reaction but she was by then an old woman and could do nothing about it.

Olga, while she was ruler in 959, had very good relationship with Otto 1, the Holy Roman Emperor. He was of German origin and was in charge of Europe. Olga wanted, as Ukraine still does today, good relationships with Rome and Europe. She also wanted Ukraine to become Christian. The trouble was that she was no longer in charge. Her son was.

She asked Otto 1 to send a bishop and a number of priests to Ukraine to convert Ukraine, to baptise it. Otto 1 sent a Roman Catholic Bishop and a group of priests. The bishop was St. Adalbert of the city of Magdeburg. As it happened, when they reached the country of Rus, Svyatoslav’s agents stopped them and told them to go home. So they did. History does not speak of Olga’s reaction but she was by then an old woman and could do nothing about it.

She was the first ruler of Ukraine to convert to Christianity but it was a private matter.

So why did she go to the Roman Catholics and not to the Greeks? In my mind it was simple. It was a political decision. Besides one cannot forget or deny that then the church was united. The schism came much later in history. Even the word “orthodox” was not used until many hundreds of years later.

This is interesting because if she had succeeded in her plan, Ukraine and Russia might have been Roman Catholic from the beginning.

We all know that Volodymyr fulfilled the dreams of his grandmother in 988. He went back to Constantinople because as history tells us he was very impressed by the religious expressions of the Greeks.

God does work in mysterious ways!

Bishop Peter Stasiuk C.Ss.R. AM

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