Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Baptism of St. Olga

From World History Connected:
It is a strange historical twist that the first "Russian" woman to be canonized in the Orthodox Church was a Viking warrior princess who spent much of her life as a pagan. Olga earned her sainthood by becoming the first member of the house of Riurik, the dynasty that ruled European Russia and parts of Ukraine and Belorus for more than seven centuries (860s – 1598), to convert to Christianity. But the role of this battle maid in the spread of Christendom to the eastern Slavs is only part of her remarkable contribution to the history of Eastern Europe. 
     Olga is the only woman for whom we possess significant biographical details in the written sources for the Kievan Rus period of Russian history (860s – 1240). In contrast with Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire, medieval Russian women did not participate in literary culture aside from the occasional inscription or letter of the type found on birch bark in the excavations of medieval Novgorod. The laws of the period reveal that women enjoyed few legal protections compared with their male peers. Women could inherit property from their parents or husbands, but only in the absence of brothers and sons. If the sons were young, the widow managed the family's estate until the sons reached their majority.

     Olga is in this way typical of the free elite women of Kiev.1 For nearly two decades (945 to 962) Olga ruled the rapidly expanding kingdom of Kievan Rus,2 which received its name from its capital Kiev on the middle Dniepr River, as regent for her young son Sviatoslav. And she did so in stunning fashion despite significant obstacles. Olga assumed power at a time when the realm was shaken by tribal violence and administrative disorder. She bloodily pacified rebellious tribes and replaced tribute taking with a regular system of taxation. Olga's decision to convert to eastern Christianity instead of Catholicism was also a fundamental step in the spiritual and political alliance of Kievan Rus with the Byzantine Orthodox world rather than with Latin Christendom. In short, it took the will and perspicacity of a barbarian widow to begin the transformation of the Rus lands from a loosely knit pagan chieftaincy into a more stable and centralized Christian kingdom. (Read entire post.)

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