We live in a time when all Christians represent a diminishing minority and in which we, the Orthodox, are a small community, both among Christians and among the secularised world. And how shy, how shy we are of being what we are, of standing daringly in the face of a world that is alien to us and to Christ Who is our God, our Saviour, our Lord, and our brother in humanity. How shy we are to declare our faith, how shy we are to live according to the clear dictates of the Gospel; to proclaim not only the words but also through the whole of our life that we are in the world but not of the world, that we are a vanguard of the Kingdom of God, people sent into a world to conquer it for Him, not by overpowering it, but by giving our lives for it.
And the life of Saint Olga, whose memory we keep today should be to us both judgement and inspiration. She was a Christian two generations before the baptism of Russia; she was a Christian alone in the court of her husband who despised Christianity as a faith for the weak, who laughed at it, who derided her and her faith, together with all his warriors. And she stood alone, and she never faltered; she always proclaimed herself for what she was and proclaimed her faith in the only and one God Who is the Lord of lords, the King of kings, but also the Saviour of this world.
What a lesson to us! We live in a world which may deride us at times and which at times may behave as though all the values of the Gospel meant nothing any more; but we are in no danger! There are countries nowadays in which to be a Christian is a danger; not so many years ago to proclaim oneself as a Christian in Russia could spell disaster to oneself, to one’s family, to one’s friends – and yet people stood up, and believed. And following the example of Saint Olga, it was the women who stood, it was the women who saved the Church in Russia by their heroic courage and their readiness to suffer and to give their lives for it, for Him.
We should reflect very seriously on our own timidity, on our own cowardice and ask ourselves: Where does it come from? Is it that we are so timid? Is it because fear is built-in in our bones to such an extent? Or is it that we have not yet understood? Or that we have forgotten Who the Lord Jesus Christ is for us? Is He in the background of our life, but not at the core of it? Is He enthroned as Lord and God in our hearts and minds, and indeed, in our lives? We must ask ourselves, what does He mean to us that we can be so afraid of a smile, of a jeer, of cold-shouldering – because that is all we risk in the world in which we live.
Do we behave that way with regard to people whom we truly love when they are laughed at, when they are reviled? Do we just stand silent, do we join the crowd and leave them alone, those whom we love? Are we prepared to hear the name of our mother, or of our bride, or of our husband or wife, or of our closest friend spoken in derision, coupled with rude and humiliating jokes? We wouldn’t. I hope at least, that no one could endure this! And yet, we endure it so easily when it is Christ, when it is God with His truth, with His way of life, proclaimed to us! Then, does it mean that so many people and so many things mean to us infinitely more that the God Who has so loved us that He called us into existence in order to give Himself to us; and that when we turned away, individually, collectively, all of us, He came into the world to share all our destiny, to live and to die for us and together with us …
Let us reflect, because impressive is that image of Saint Olga, alone, alone in a world of pagans; not in a world which is already like ours, leavened by the Gospel, in which we possess so many things in common with the unbeliever. She stood alone, and did not falter; and because she stood, she could transmit to her grandson a vision that never left him, that never left him at peace until he had found the answer. She revealed to him a dimension of humanity and called out in him a hunger for things greater, truer, holier than the false gods which his father and his followers worshipped. Because she had been able to stand up amidst the laughter of the court, of her husband, her grandson opened himself to the discovery of God in Christ, and opened by his faith the hearts of millions of people since his own conversion, and opened the gates of this vast country of Russia to the lordship, the dominion of Christ the Saviour.
Let us learn from this frail woman who proved stronger than all men, as the Mother of God had proved stronger than all fears, all temptations; let us learn to stand alone, and proclaim our faith – not in words, words no longer convince anyone any more, one has heard too many of them, lying words, smooth words – but by the way in which we live as Christ’s own people!