One thousand years ago Western Europe was faced with a choice: to remain faithful to the Church of the Christian Roman Empire, whose capital was in New Rome (later known as Constantinople), or to follow that part of its power-loving elite which wanted to revive the pagan Empire of Old Rome, renouncing the Church, the Christian teaching on the Holy Trinity, and the authority of the Christian Roman Empire.
One of the last figures among the ruling elite to follow the former course came from the Western European periphery where faithfulness was stronger. This was St Olaf (Haraldson) of Norway. On 19 October we commemorate the thousandth anniversary of his baptism in Rouen in Normandy in France, where his holy relics are present for veneration and French and Norwegian choirs are performing in concert.
Born in 995, after his baptism he was accompanied to Norway by the Anglo-Viking bishop and later saint, Sigfrid, and proclaimed King. He ruled from 1015 to 1028. During his reign he did much to baptize and enlighten his people, quelling civil strife and was killed in 1030 in a battle with divisive aristocrats. He was canonized in 1031 ‘with the agreement of the whole Norwegian people’.
In his homeland the sainted king, who united Norwegians, is celebrated as ‘the eternal king’. He was one of the last Western Europeans to become an Orthodox saint and churches in Russia were dedicated to St Olaf, notably in Novgorod and in Staraya Ladoga, where he lived for several years. It comes as comfort to know that on the site of his last battle, at Stiklestad, a Russian Orthodox chapel has just been built, where Norwegian and other Orthodox can ask the prayers of St Olaf.
Holy, Right-Believing King Olaf, Pray to God for us!