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July 11, 2014

Saint Olga, Equal to the Apostles, as a Model for our Lives

St. Olga the Equal to the Apostles (Feast Day - July 11)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Church has given the very prestigious title of "Equal to the Apostles" to those saints whose lives and struggles "for the Gospel" were like those of the Holy Apostles. The Apostles, after Pentecost, journeyed to "teach all nations" and baptized whoever believed "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" and taught them how to apply the divine commandments.

Saint Olga, when through Baptism and Chrismation became a member of the Church and experienced her own personal Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit in her heart, "journeyed" to teach her own nation. She was the Queen of Russia in the tenth century and made superhuman efforts to evangelize the Russian people. According to the sacred Synaxarion: "It is difficult to describe her tireless efforts for the Christian enlightenment of the Russian people. She did everything for the Russians to come to know the truth of the Gospel of Christ and during this struggle she gave her last breath on the 11th of July in 969." After Baptism she was named Helen, but in the list of saints and in the hymnology of the Church she remained Olga.

Having furnished thy mind with wings of divine knowledge, thou didst soar far above visible creation; and seeking God, the Creator of all, and finding Him, thou didst receive rebirth through baptism; and delighting in the Tree of life, O ever-glorious Olga, thou remainest incorrupt forever.

Her God-pleasing life, which reminds one of Constantine the Great, gives us the opportunity to record the following:

First, one of the tragic results of the ancestral sin is the human tendency to justify our wrongs and omissions, and the mindset to want to load them onto others or the devil, who, to say parenthetically, despite all his malice and wickedness, in some cases is not involved, since sometimes human "ingenuity" and cunning far surpasses his own. Having, therefore, this mindset we want to justify both our laziness and indifference for the spiritual life, saying that these things aren't applicable for today, or that these things don't apply for everyone living in the world, because we face great temptations and many problems. Daily reality comes to our refutation, since there are very many others who walk among us and are insignificant to the world, but they carry a great tradition and whose greatness of life interiorly we cannot understand, since their lives are "hidden in Christ with God". These people, and I believe there are more of them than we think, despite whatever difficulties, keep with exactitude the spiritual life. Once a Hieromonk from Mount Athos confessed a man who had many children, he was a driver by trade, commonly called a trucker, who despite the difficulties and problems he faced at times he acquired the gift of unceasing prayer of the heart. Do you think Saint Olga didn't also live in the world, didn't have a family, faced various distresses, as well as responsibilities her high office held? Yet she succeeded in becoming a saint as well as a guide and support, and a bright example for all people.

Second, the author of her life in a way emphasizes very much the spread of the Gospel in her vast homeland. With clarity and without many words, he emphasizes her significant contribution, her great and difficult labors. Although she was a queen and could have lived in comfort and delight, she preferred suffering for the glory of God. In other words, just like the God-seer Moses, who preferred "to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time." For our times this may sound rather strange. For one to avoid parties and good times and to run around, labor and work and not sacrifice one's self for others night and day, why wouldn't we do this? This is another ethos, a foreign, unintelligible and absurd materialist mindset, foreign to the Orthodox tradition.

Olga the Equal-to-the-Apostles "carries" a great tradition and preserves an ethos of leadership and sacrifice. A way of life that finds enjoyment in suffering and offering to others, and "blessed rather are those who give than receive". She was not afraid to exchange the royal purple for linen, nor riches and glory for deliberate poverty and humility. Who found her nourishment in continence and good times in ministry. Who considered wounds for the love of God and others as her most valuable decoration and loot.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΙΣΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΣ ΟΛΓΑ", July 2000. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.