In a society where we are often quick to judge others for the way they look, they way they talk, where they come from, or sins they have committed, we would do ourselves a great justice to remember that the Faith Hall of Fame contains terrible sinners who became saints.
Although St. Augustine is most often associated as the sinner who became a saint, his sins pale in comparison to many others. Let’s take a quick look at 6 of the worst sinners who became servants of God and what we can learn from them.
1. St. Olga of Kiev
A murderer and cold-hearted torturer turned-saint, St. Olga is venerated as the saint of widows and converts. While she was the first canonized Russian saint, she certainly was not the type of person anyone expected to become a saint.
Olga was once a princess, and the first documented female ruler of Russia. Her husband, Igor I, was the prince of Kiev, and was assassinated in 945 by those serving under him. Because their son was still a minor at the time of Igor’s death, Olga became the regent of the grand principality of Kiev.
Seeking revenge against those who killed her husband, Olga had Igor’s murderers captured and scalded to death. But she would not stop there. She went on to execute hundreds of people who were members of the same tribe as her husband’s murderers. She is also said to have ordered the execution of nearly 5,000 men at a feast held in her honor.
After being touched by the majesty and awe of the liturgy, St. Olga converted to Christianity and was baptized between 945 and 957, despite her pagan son’s disapproval. After her son took control of the country, Olga requested the appointment of archbishops and priests, however the Holy Roman Emperor refused her request, accusing her of lying and trickery.
Despite this, Olga secretly kept a Catholic priest near her at all times, and when she died in 969, her son granted her a Christian burial rather than a pagan celebration. Her grandson, Vladimir, would later take control of Kiev and make Christianity the official religion of the nation in the 980s.
Lesson: Despite how ugly our past may be, how many people we have hurt, or when we have chosen to let anger, vengeance and retaliation guide us, God can touch even the hardest of hearts.
2. St. Vladimir the Great
St. Vladimir is the patron saint of Russian Catholics, and the grandson of St. Olga. When civil war broke out between his half-brothers, Vladimir was forced to flee to Scandinavia; but he did not stay long. He put together an army and returned to Kiev to capture and murder his own half-brother to regain power. His mission was successful, and after defeating his brother, Vladimir became the ruler of Novgorod. He went on to consolidate the Kievan realm from modern-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to the Baltic Sea.
As a ruler, Vladimir was known for his barbarism and immorality, much like his grandmother. He had a temple built to worship a false god, and even ordered the sacrifice of a father and son for the temple’s consecration.
Originally a follower of Slavic paganism, Vladimir eventually became interested and impressed by Christianity because of its progress and growth. After his conversion in 988, he changed his life and became devoted to Christianity, even trading in his 7 wives for a single Byzantine bride. He brought Greek missionaries to Russia, led people to Christianity, established charities and ultimately sought to unify his country under Christianity.
Lesson: Even those who have abused authority, lied, and done horrific things to gain power and control can still turn and follow God. In fact, they can be some of the greatest portals through which God uses to spread Christianity to others.
3. St. Matthew the Apostle
Although Matthew, one of the Apostles, was a Jew, he worked for the Roman government as a tax collector. Tax collectors were notorious for charging citizens much more than they owed to allow the collectors to take a share for themselves. Often, these tax collectors would bully and threaten individuals in order to collect the money they wanted. In those days, tax collectors were among the lowest, most despised individuals in society, viewed as traitors.
However, that all changed dramatically when Matthew met Jesus and became one of the original 12 apostles to carry the good news of Jesus all across the region. He is also author of one of the four gospels.
Lesson: Even those we label or see as the lowest of low in society are important to God and can be used to spread the Word of God.
4. St. Paul the Apostle
St. Paul is one of the most recognizable and notable figures in the Bible, but before he was Paul, he was Saul of Tarsus.
Prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a terror to Christians. He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the first martyr, to death for proclaiming Jesus. In essence, he was an accessory to the martyrdom of Stephen. He vigorously sought permission from authorities to gather up Christians, thrown them in prison for blasphemy, and have them killed. But when Paul met Jesus, everything changed.
“Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” was the question Jesus asked him; the very question that turned Saul into Paul, and a sinner into a saint.
Lesson: The greatest plans God has may include the worst of sinners, even the enemies of God’s people. Never the allow fear of someone’s past cloud your attitude toward them and the hope they will come to Christ.
5. St. Mary of Egypt
St. Mary, the patron saint of penitents, ran away from home at the age of 12 and became a prostitute. She took so much delight in seducing men, that it is said she didn’t even charge for her services most of the time. After 17 years of living this lifestyle, she took an “anti-pilgrimage” to Jerusalem where she said she wanted to find more men to seduce.
An unseen force is said to have prevented her from entering into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and it was this event that caused her to realize her sins and was struck with remorse at the way she had been living. As a result, she prayed for forgiveness at a statue of the Blessed Mother and promised to give up her sins. After this, she tried to enter the Church again and was permitted to enter. She later received absolution and Holy Communion, and to this day has become associated with fallen women, much like Mary Magdalene.
Lesson: Those in sexual sins are loved by Christ and He seeks to love them, change their lives, and use them.
6. Blessed Bartolo Longo
Although raised in a Catholic home, Bartolo turned away from the faith and became a satanic priest in his 20s after attending séances. He became involved in drugs and began encouraging others away from the faith. He publicly attacked and ridiculed the church while rising in the ranks of Satanism. As a lawyer, he was ordained as a priest in Satanism.
Because he was so heavily involved in Satanism, Bartolo became depressed, was paranoid, and nearly had a nervous breakdown. All throughout his struggles he clung to Satanism as his “faith”. However, his family never gave up on him and despite him being an enemy of God and the Church, they continued to pray for his return to the true God.
Their prayers were later answered, and Bartolo returned to the faith he had abandoned, leaving behind the practices of Satanism and becoming devoted to the Lord Jesus. Instead of drawing people away from the faith, he began seeking to bring people into the faith.
Lesson: No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness. Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have in helping others come to the faith. Never quit praying.