Behind every great man stands a woman

July 13, 2015

“Behind every great man stands a woman,” goes the saying. In a real sense that was true of Volodymyr, Prince of Rus’ (present-day Ukraine). Credited with Christianizing Ukraine, Byelorussia and Russia, Volodymyr was following in the steps of his Grandmother, Princess Olha of Kyiv, who attempted the task earlier and can be given partial credit for preventing the region from turning Islamic.

Olha, became regent for her son Svyatoslav in 954 upon the assassination of her husband, Ihor I, Prince of Kyiv. His costly wars had brought Rus to ruin. She immediately had his murderers punished and ruled for the next twenty years, implementing fiscal and other reforms throughout the principality. Possibly already a convert to Christianity, she visited Constantinople and was baptized there in 957. She returned to Kyiv with a Christ-like desire for the salvation of souls and attempted to lead her people to Christianity. Howevver her own son, Svyatoslav, led the pagan nobles in resisting Christ and her efforts failed. Svyatoslav himself almost converted to Islam, except for Olha and Byzantine missionaries’ influence. Certainly she had created a political faction which was interested in seeing Rus Christianized. Olha died in 969. Her pagan son allowed her to have a Christian burial. She is recognized as a saint throughout the Church of Christ. Her feast date is on July 11th. Her grandson Volodymyr, alas, began his reign as a cruel playboy. He was, however, wise enough to recognize that a common faith would help unite his country. According to legend, he sent messengers to investigate the three great faiths of the Mid East: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in its Western and Eastern forms. Volodymyr thought Judaism and Islam, were overly strict with their many restrictions on food and drink. He found Roman Catholicism "too plain." But his messengers persuaded him with their report of the ritual they witnessed in Byzantium. Speaking of the worship they saw in the Holy Sophia Cathedral they said, "We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth. It would be impossible to find on earth any splendor greater than this… Never shall we be able to forget so great a beauty." Volodymyr embraced Byzantine Christianity and wed Anna, sister of the Byzantine emperor. After his marriage and conversion he is reported to have changed direction, to have put away former wives and to have become kinder. At any rate, the Christianity Olha had tried to transplant to Rus now took root. Volodymyr's subjects decided to accept his new faith. In time the whole of Northeastern Europe and North Asia was Christianized. Evangelization and conversion of heart sometimes takes longer than we would like. St. Olha died not knowing what would become of all her efforts… but her grandson, influenced by her, eventually became a great saint “equal-to-the-Apostles”! His feast is on July 15th.

Holy Eucharist Parish Bulletin, 5 July 2015

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