Meeting the Lord in His Temple: The Two Olgas
At this time of the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, I’ve managed to piece together an inspiring story of struggle against persecution that’s less than a century old, and is strikingly poignant.
While preparing information on the feasts in the week beginning February 7, the week of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, something caught my eye for February 10: ‘Virgin Martyr Olga, (1938)’. I was intrigued – I hadn’t noticed so many sole female new martyrs so I felt it was quite unusual. I scoured the internet and found some machine-translated English giving details of an Olga Koshelev – the dates weren’t quite the same, but I assumed I had found my saint. Some further searches in google-translated Russian yielded an icon (see the picture). As it turns out, it was the right icon for February 10 (Olga Vasilievna Evdokimova) but the biography I’d found concerned another Olga – unfortunately I’ve been unable to find an icon - or even a picture - of her.
Their stories, as you’ll see, are remarkably similar.
Here’s a summary of the information I’ve found:
The Olga who fell asleep in the Lord in a labour camp on February 10 1938 was Olga Vasilievna Evdokimova. The daughter of a forester, she was born in July 1896 in a village in the province of Moscow. Married in 1905, she had two children and her husband died in 1921. She was a parishioner of the church of St. John the Baptist in her village of Novo-Rozhdestvenskoye. She was arrested on September 4, 1937, along with the priests, a psalmist and the head of the church, apparently for objecting to the closure of the church, imprisoned in the Taganskaya prison in Moscow and interrogated on the same day. In the course of the questioning, she stated that it was her own decision to speak out against the action of the atheist Soviet authorities for their actions in closing the church. On October 17, 1937, the NKVD (Soviet state security) sentenced Olga Vasilievna to ten years in a forced labour camp, where she reposed about four months later. She was buried in an unknown grave.
Olga Koshelev - Olga Semyonovna Kosheleva - was also born in July, but in 1874 and in the village of Nizhny Beloomut, Zaraysk district, Ryazan province, into a peasant family. She was also married – to Andrei – and lived with her husband and children in Moscow, not far from the church of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gonchary, where she was a parishioner for many years. She was reported to the authorities by a secret informant for ‘counter-revolutionary activity’; the fact that she was an active churchgoer was hardly in her favour. She was arrested on October 27, 1938 and, like the other Olga, imprisoned in the Taganskaya prison, and, like her, showed courage under interrogation: “the Soviet government innocently arrests the clergy and believers. Churches are closed without the consent of the faithful, which is a persecution of religion and clergy”, she stated. Members of the church council at the Dormition church testified that she had spoken publicly before them of those very things, but didn’t level any accusations against her for expressing terrorist sentiments, which the informant had denounced her for. The informant, who remained unnamed, was believed by the NKVD, however. Olga Semyonovna reposed on March 6, 1939 in Taganskaya prison and was also buried in an unknown grave.
The Holy Trinity Orthodox Calendar also records a ‘Virgin Martyr Olga (1938)’ on March 6, but it should clearly be 1939. Furthermore, both Olgas were married. Incidentally, they both married men who worked in factories.
So here we have two very humble women who, in their testimony, stood up to a mighty and brutal state apparatus for its action against the churches, which were being permanently closed. In these times of the Covid pandemic, some of us have only had to suffer the temporary closure of our churches for the sake of public health and it’s been hard enough. Let's hope that, when this time of torment is over, the two Olgas are an example to us - because of their willingness to defend churches: like Symeon and Anna, they recognised the Lord on meeting Him in the temple.