St Olga's birthplace : respect still strong in Vibuty, near Pskov

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St Olga's birthplace : respect still strong in Vibuty, near Pskov

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In honor of St Olga's Day, falling on a Sunday this year, some background about her earliest days :

On the Church of the Prophet Elijah in Vibuty

Interview with the resident Priest Fr. Mikhail Butsenka

"Here, on the left bank of the Velikaya River, there once was a village named Vibuty. The river makes a sharp bend here, forming a short and very shallow section called the Vibuty Rapids. From here, it’s a short way down the river to Pskov—just seven-and-a-half miles.

The village is long gone. All that’s left is the cemetery and the adjacent Prophet Elijah Church.

This place wondrously combines a wealth of historic and modern factors. Tradition holds that the future Princess Olga, wife of Igor from the Rurik Dynasty, was born in this area. Moreover, they even met for the first time here—at the Vibutsky Rapids crossing. It’s believed that it was Princess Olga, the first among the rulers of Rus’ to become Orthodox, who ordered to erect a wooden church at the local cemetery. The current Prophet Elijah Church dates back to the fifteenth century. There was definitely another church here earlier, as evidenced by the fact that the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow has an icon of the holy Prophet Elijah from the church in Vibuty dating back to the thirteenth century.

The church in Vibuty was badly damaged during [ WW II ] and restored in the 1950s.

And the Vibuts are closely associated with the 76th Guards Airborne Division stationed thereby... The paratroopers provided invaluable assistance in restoring the church and cleaning up the surrounding area. After all, the Prophet of God Elijah is their patron.


The Prophet Elijah Church in Vibuty

—Fr. Mikhail, tell us about the church in Vibuty, please.

—It’s a wonderful church. We talk about how it’s from the fifteenth century, but as a matter of fact, there was an older church here before. It was probably wooden. This is the birthplace of Princess Olga, and she surely couldn’t let her homeland go without a church. We have a copy of a thirteenth-century icon. The original is currently in the Tretyakov Gallery, but we have a copy of this icon, and it’s kept in this holy church. Therefore, it can be argued that Princess Olga probably built a wooden church here. Now there’s a church of the fifteenth century that we—myself as rector, and other interested people before me—have restored. Everyone contributed. There were no rich donors or huge funds or anything else. Everyone pitched in, because they understood that the homeland of Princess Olga should have a church worthy of her name—because without her, we simply wouldn’t exist.

—That is, you maintain then that she hails from this area? There are other theories, as far as we know.

—It’s completely unimportant to the people who come here. They come here because this is where she was from. They get help from her because she was a wise woman and a wise ruler. She ruled so wisely that any ruler we have now hopes, I think, to be equal to her.

—And who are your parishioners?

—Well, they should rather be called the “out-of-towners.”


As for the parishioners, they’re all here, lying side-by-side. There’s a cemetery here. Ever since the time of Princess Olga, the land has been divided according to churchyards, similar to districts today. But nowadays, these churchyards are simply cemeteries. All of our parishioners are the people buried here. Their relatives visit their graves. There are, of course, the out-of-towners who understand what a special kind of place this is. There’s a lot of them. We hold services regularly, every week, and sometimes more often. We serve Liturgy here. We prayed here all week in the first week of Great Lent. I emphasize that we were here, because I’m also assigned to another parish church. People have difficulty getting to that other church on workdays. But we prayed here in the first week in complete silence, with only the sound of the flowing river. It was very special...


We began the services at 6 AM. It’s a special feeling when you see the sun rising and nature awakening before your very eyes. It’s simply amazing! That’s why our parishioners are actually out-of-towners. They come to experience the special atmosphere pervading this place thanks to the figure of Princess Olga. They don’t come to see me as rector, or any former rector. No—they come to Princess Olga.

—There’s another church on the territory here. Could you tell us about it as well?

—We’re sitting next to the Prophet Elijah Church right now. There was once a side chapel to St. Nicholas. It hasn’t survived to our day, but there are photos, probably from the 1950s or 1960s, where the walls still remained. In 1993, the church was transferred to the hands of Archpriest Oleg Teor, our famous batiushka. He put things in order here, with the help of the Division... the Division Commander S. Y. Semenyuta decided to erect a church to St. Nicholas here, in this holy place. All the guys who helped to build it, who took part in the construction of the church, and who later went on to fight in the [ next ] campaign returned safely. It’s a miracle. It’s truly a miracle, so anytime the military comes here, we always tell them about it. They keep coming here. You know, the Division is still based in the area. So they come here because the Prophet Elijah is their patron saint. The city holds a festival on the feast of the Prophet Elijah. Of course, they don’t meet at the church, but after the festival, they all come here to venerate the saint, their Heavenly benefactor."
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