July 29 – Bogolep; Olaf

Bogolep the Child Schemamonk (1660–1667) was baptized “Boris” in Moscow, but spent most of his short life in Chorny Yar, where his father was voevoda (military commander). He was a devout infant, refusing to nurse on Wednesdays and Fridays (here, any mom who’s ever nursed says, “Ouch”), and crying inconsolably if the church bells rang and he wasn’t at the service (it’s quieter inside the building). He also, alas, went from sickness to sickness with some regularity. During one of his illnesses he met a schemamonk, was struck by his magnificent raiment (it really is something to behold—google it), and knew that if he, seven-year-old child though he was, were made a schemamonk, he would be healed. The priest agreed, and sure enough, as soon as he received the schema (as Bogolep, “similar to God” (really)), his illness was gone. True to his nature, however, he immediately caught something else, and three days later, he died.

When, not long after, the rebel Stenka Razin (“stinking raisin”) (or is that too obvious?) was going about Russia destroying cities and killing people and generally making himself unwelcome, he sent a contingent of soldiers to destroy Chorny Yar. When the soldiers approached the city, however, they saw a child schemamonk walking on the city walls. “Get lost,” he said. “This is my city.” “Pshyaw,” they said (пшя), but Bogolep activated the shields (so to speak), and when the attackers attacked, an invisible force repulsed them. Somewhat later the Kuban Tatars (“Havana Spuds”) (even cheaper, I know) also attacked Chorny Yar, but Bogolep appeared to them on a white horse, and they were frightened away.

In 1695 a nearly-blind priest some miles away prayed for healing, and received a visit from Bogolep. “Paint my icon,” the child said, “and you will be healed.” “I’m blind,” the priest (whose name was John) complained. “How can I paint an icon?” “Just do it,” said Bogolep. John began to write the icon, and as he progressed, his eyesight slowly returned. He was almost finished when he laid aside the project, presumably figuring his eyesight was good enough. After a year his eyesight failed again, and his eyes became diseased. Bogolep reappeared, saying, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” This time John finished the icon and had it taken to Bogolep’s grave in Chorny Yar, and his eyes were healed for good.

Olaf (995–1030), son of a Norwegian jarl (earl), became a Viking mercenary, fighting for both Richard of Normandy and Ethelred II of England (although not against each other, that’s crazy talk). While he was in France he dropped by Rouen and got baptized. At the age of twenty he returned to Norway, and tried to unite the country under his rule and under the Cross of Christ, importing priests from England, Normandy, and Germany to baptize and instruct the people. His methods were conventional, perhaps, for Vikings (or Green Bay Packers), but not nearly as Christian as one might hope. Among his weapons were bribery, ruthlessness, and the sneak attack. His Christianization of Norway was not a huge success.

The nobles put up with this for a time, but finally became revolting. In 1029, they sent an engraved invitation to Canute (Knut), the Anglo-Danish king, asking him to help them overthrow the obnoxious “Olaf the Fat” (as they called him, in part due to the fact that his name was Olaf and he was fat). Olaf fell back to Russia, gathered an army, and returned to Norway, but was killed in battle. A year later he was saintified by Grimkel, and by 1075 the shrine of his incorrupt body was a pilgrimage destination. He did more in death to unify and Christianize Norway than he ever did in life, and he is known as the Liberator and patron saint of Norway. He’s also popular in (parts of) Britain, for even less scrutable reasons.