St. Olga of Kiev Was Brave and Good, But She Wasn’t ‘Nice’

God wants us to love our enemies. He doesn’t want us to pretend that we don’t have enemies.

M. Nesterov, “Princess Olga,” Vladimir Cathedral, 1892
M. Nesterov, “Princess Olga,” Vladimir Cathedral, 1892 )

Here’s a tale you’ll never believe but are duty-bound as Catholics to accept it.

But, before you judge St. Olga, be grateful she’s on our side. When it comes to Olga, watch your P’s. Watch your Q’s. Watch your back. Watch your front. Watch your eternal soul, and remember: no one puts Olga in the corner. 

Olga was born either in AD 890 or 925. She was the daughter of Oleg Vershchy — the founder of the state of Kievan Rus. Considering her name, she probably wasn’t Ukrainian or Russian, but rather, Varangian — a descendent of the Vikings who had invaded Ukraine and Russia in the 8th and 9th centuries. She was born in Pskov, a city in the northwest Russia.

We know very little about Olga’s life prior to her marriage at the age of 15 to Prince Igor I of Kiev. Igor became the ruler of Kiev after the death of his father King Oleg in AD 912, and was an able statesman. His empire spread across parts of European Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. However, the neighboring Drevlians decided to stop paying tribute upon Oleg’s death. In 945, Igor marched with his army to Iskorosten to force them to cough up the missing moolah. Their leader, Prince Mal, gave Igor everything he asked for. On the way back to Kiev, his advisers started grumbling about the amount the Drevlians offered. Igor stopped his army and he and a small contingency of ambassadors and soldiers marched back to Iskorosten. Once there, Prince Mal had him murdered.

The Drevlians then sent negotiators to Olga to inform her that her husband was dead and to relay Prince Mal’s marriage proposal. Olga wrote back to Mal agreeing with his requests but added an odd proviso: “Return now to your boat, and remain there with an aspect of arrogance. I shall send for you on the morrow, and you shall say, ‘We will not ride on horses nor go on foot. You must carry us in our boat.’”

The Drevlians returned the following day to Olga’s palace and yelled exactly as she had instructed them to do. However, to their surprise, the citizens of Kiev didn’t take kindly to their blustering and attacked the Drevlians.

The Drevlians responded by laying siege to Kiev. Olga handily won the war and set the invaders packing. She immediately led her army to Iskorosten and laid siege to it for an entire year, resulting in the eventual defeat of the people who murdered her husband.

As St. Olga shows, the saints aren’t always kind and gentle. St. Jerome was a notorious curmudgeon. Sts. Bernard, Catherine of Siena and Francis of Assisi all endorsed the Crusades. 

Even Jesus wasn’t kind and gentle all the time. He overthrew the moneychangers’ tables at the Temple, ruining their businesses (John 2:13-16). He was harsh to the adulterous women’s accusers (John 8:1-11). He warned the rich young man that it wasn’t going to go well for him unless he gave up his obsession with money (Luke 18:18). Regarding those who scandalize children, Jesus said, “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2).

Jesus told us he didn’t come to bring peace, but rather, the sword (Matthew 10:34). Those who support him will be handed over to those who oppose him (Luke 14:26). Do you recall the time Jesus told his disciples to shake the dust off their sandals if they visited a city which rejects the Gospel (Mathew 10:41)? He didn’t mince words when condemning Satan (Matthew 16:23). Jesus berated the Pharisees and called them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33).

Jesus described the suffering of souls in Hell many times (Matthew 5:22, Luke 12:5). He allowed a legion of demons to possess a passel of passing pigs which subsequently threw themselves in the ocean and drowned — remember, those pigs belonged to someone (Luke 8:33). In Matthew 7:21, Jesus ruthlessly denounced those Christians who gave only lip-service to him, saying, “I never knew you!” At the Final Judgment, Jesus will condemn to Hell all the “goats” who refused to assist the poor (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus even decried Judas, saying it would have been better if the latter had never been born (Matthew 26:24).

God wants us to love our enemies. He doesn’t want us to pretend that we don’t have enemies. Avoiding confrontations isn’t the equivalent to peacemaking. Jesus is good. He’s not “nice.” Why would St. Olga need to be?