Olha-Helena Saint

X pageKyivan RusPrincely times Saints

Saint Olha-Helenа (ca 890–969; christened as Helena) – Equal to the Apostles, outstanding state figure of the 10 th c.

The wife of Grand Prince Ihor of Kyiv. Her origin is not known with certainty, as well as the chronology of her life, only the date of her death fixed in the church chronicle is unquestioned. The Tale of Bygone Yearsgives 903 as the date of the marriage of Olha and Ihor. During the first years of her reign (ca 945) she spent great effort to avenge her husband’s murder by the massacre of the Drevlians, and abolished Drevlianian tribal reign. She was a regent (until the late 950 s) for her son Sviatoslav, the underage heir to the Kyivan throne. She changed the system of tribute gathering and organized local administrative centres; in her foreign policy Olha preferred diplomacy to war.

Olha’s position at the Kyivan court was exclusive: she had a court of her own at Vyshgorod, her envoy took part in negotiations with Byzantium along with ambassadors of “High Princes” from local dynasties.

During her visit to Constantinople, probably in 957, she concluded a treaty with Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos and was baptized as Helena. Having returned to Rus, she in every possible way promoted the spread of Christianity and contributed to church construction. She tried to convert Sviatoslav but failed (he “gave no heed to this”).

The chronicle states that in 964 Sviatoslav came of age and began to rule on his own, which can evidence Olha’s withdrawal from state affairs.

However, when in 968 the Pechenegs invaded Rus lands and Sviatoslav was at Pereslav on the Danube, Olha had to organize Kyiv’s defence.

Revering his mother’s memory, Sviatoslav allowed burying her in accordance with Christian ritual. And the Princess’s grandson, Saint Grand Prince Volodymyr Sviatoslavych, Equal to the Apostles, translated her relics to the Tithe Church. According to written sources, her relics remained incorrupt, “shined like the sun,” and numerous miracles and healings took place near them during prayers of believers. The official canonization of Olha took place probably in the mid-13 th century. Her feast day is July 24. She is considered the patroness of widows and catechumens.

The sarcophagus of Princess Olha found by archaeologists is kept at St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv.

Portrait (imaginary) of Princess Olha.

By V. Hanotsky. Oil on canvas. 213×140. 2008