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Key Points about the Baptism of Rus by Grand Prince Vladimir the Great

Prince Vladimir and the Baptism of Rus' in Questions and Answers

Prince Vladimir and the Baptism of Rus

V. Vasnetsov. Sketch of the mural of St. Vladimir's Cathedral in Kiev. Baptism of Russia. 1890

Why did Prince Vladimir decide to embrace Baptism?

The ancient Russians occasionally practised human sacrifice, killing war captives. Sometimes however the victim could be chosen by drawing lots.

In 983, after a successful campaign against the Yotvingians, Prince Vladimir Sviatoslavich intended to offer a sacrifice to the idols in a pagan temple in Kiev known as the Perun's Hill. The lot fell on the court of the Varangian Christian Theodore, and the pagans demanded his son John as the sacrificial offering. In response, Theodore bravely refused, denouncing the pagan gods as mere wooden pillars and affirming the existence of the one true God, the Creator of all things.

The pagans, angered by his defiance, cut down the porch upon which Theodore and John stood, resulting in their martyrdom. This act of sacrifice, along with their unwavering faith and courageous confession of the true God, deeply impacted Prince Vladimir, leaving an indelible impression on his heart and ultimately leading him to make the momentous decision to embrace Christianity.

Ivan Eggink. "Grand Prince Vladimir chooses a faith"

Ivan Eggink. "Grand Prince Vladimir chooses a faith". 1822

Why did Prince Vladimir prefer Orthodoxy over other religions?

The rumour spread quickly that the prince was discontented with the pagan faith and contemplating a change. According to the Tale of Bygone Years, ambassadors began to approach the prince, urging him to embrace their respective religions. The Volga Bulgars were the first to arrive, advocating for Islam.

Having learned about their practices of circumcising babies, abstaining from pork, and forbidding wine, Vladimir rejected Islam.

Next came the Catholic German delegates from the Pope, presenting their faith as “the true light”. However, Vladimir responded, "Go back, for our ancestors did not accept this."

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Following them, the Khazar Jews approached, explaining their heritage and the circumstances that led them away from Jerusalem, leaving their land to the power of Christians.” In response, Vladimir questioned, "If God rejected you, how can you teach others? Would you have us suffer the same fate?" The Jews departed.

Subsequently, a Greek philosopher arrived in Kiev who, through his eloquence on Orthodoxy, made a profound impact on Prince Vladimir. The philosopher imparted knowledge about the Holy Scriptures, heaven and hell, and highlighted errors in other faiths. He concluded by showing Vladimir an image of the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgement. Struck by the depiction, the Grand Prince exclaimed, "Blessed are those who stand on the right, and woe to those who stand on the left." The philosopher proposed, "If you desire to stand on the right side, then be baptised."

Remembering the courageous examples of Saints Theodore and John, who suffered martyrdom for their faith in Jesus Christ, as well as his grandmother Olga, who boldly embraced Christian Baptism, Vladimir was moved.

Icon of st. Vladimir and st. Olga of Kiev

Icon of St. Vladimir and St. Olga of Kiev in the Church of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God. St. Elisabeth Convent (Minsk)

To assess various worship practices, the Grand Prince dispatched his emissaries to different lands.

Upon their return, they reported, "In Bolghar lands, we witnessed the Muslims praying in solemn temples devoid of joy, with a flawed law. Among the Germans, we observed diverse rituals in their churches, yet we found no splendour. Lastly, when we encountered the Greeks, we were utterly mystified during their service, uncertain whether we were in heaven or on earth. We cannot convey the holiness and grandeur of Greek worship, but we are certain that God is present in their temples alongside the praying congregants, making Greek worship surpass all others. We can never forget this sacred celebration and can no longer serve our old gods."

vladimir the great history

The boyars reflected, "If the Greek faith were not superior, then your wise grandmother Princess Olga would not have embraced it."

According to the Tale of Bygone Years, during his conquest of Korsun, Vladimir compelled the emperors Constantine and Basil to agree to his marriage proposal to their sister Anna, threatening to attack Constantinople if they refused.

The emperors convinced Anna, despite her initial resistance, to accept the offer on the condition of Vladimir's baptism.

Anna with her retinue journeyed to Korsun, where Vladimir was first baptised and then married. She then travelled to Rus', accompanied by Greek clergy, and resided there for twenty years.

vladimir the great baptism

V. Vasnetsov. "The Baptism of Prince Vladimir". Fragment of the mural of St. Vladimir's Cathedral in Kiev, 1893

Where and in what manner did the Baptism of St. Vladimir occur?

Grand Prince Vladimir had been preparing himself to receive Holy Baptism, but on the eve of the Sacrament, he suddenly experienced ailing eyes and became blind. Upon hearing of his condition, Princess Anna sent a message to him, saying, "If you desire healing, then be baptised as soon as possible." In response, Vladimir immediately gave orders to make all the necessary preparations for the holy Baptism.

The sacrament of Baptism was administered by the Bishop of Korsun with the clergy. As soon as Vladimir immersed himself in the baptismal font, a miraculous event occurred—he regained his sight. The chronicle preserved the words that the prince uttered after Baptism: "Now I have seen the true God." Many members of the prince's entourage also received holy Baptism in Chersonese.

where was vladimir the great baptized

Upon his return to Kiev, Vladimir proceeded to baptise his sons along with his entire household and numerous boyars, who also embraced the faith through the sacrament of Baptism. The Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince then dedicated himself to the eradication of paganism.

The clergy, along with the previously baptised princes and boyars, diligently traversed the squares and houses of Kiev, imparting the truths of the Gospel to the people and denouncing the emptiness and futility of idolatry. While some individuals embraced Baptism immediately, others hesitated and pondered over the decision.

In response to this, the Grand Duke issued a proclamation for a general baptism. The chronicle has recorded his words addressed to the people of Kiev: "If anyone, whether rich or destitute, beggar or slave, does not come to the river by tomorrow, let them become my adversaries." Only the most inveterate pagans resisted the prince's command and fled from Kiev. The baptism of the people of Kiev took place in the waters of the Pochaina, a tributary of the Dnieper River.

V. Vasnetsov "Vladimir the Pagan"

V. Vasnetsov "Vladimir the Pagan".

What was the lifestyle of Prince Vladimir before his baptism?

Chroniclers do not spare black colours in their depiction of Vladimir's life prior to embracing Christianity He was known for his cruelty, vindictiveness, and a range of vices, with excessive indulgence being foremost among them.

Vladimir staunchly adhered to paganism and vehemently opposed Christianity. In Kiev, he established an actual pagan pantheon on a hill near his palace, erecting statues of pagan deities.

Icon of the holy prince Vladimir

Icon of the Holy Prince Vladimir. St. Nicholas Church of St. Elisabeth Convent (Minsk)

What changes occurred in Prince Vladimir after his baptism?

The previously cruel Vladimir I, Grand Prince of Kyiv, underwent a remarkable transformation, becoming filled with kindness and mercy towards his neighbours. He issued a decree inviting every beggar and destitute person to come to the princely court and receive whatever they needed, including food, drink, and even monetary assistance.

Upon learning that some of the sick and infirm were unable to reach his court, the prince arranged for food to be delivered to them. The people, deeply moved by his acts of kindness and mercy, affectionately nicknamed Prince Vladimir as the "Beautiful Sun."

In a display of his devotion to the Gospel of Christ and the virtue of mercy, Prince Vladimir organised abundant festive tables for the people of Kiev every Sunday and on major church holidays following the Divine Liturgy.

Zlatnik (golden coin) of Prince Vladimir

Zlatnik (golden coin) of Prince Vladimir. 10-11th cc.

In what ways did Christianity spread in Rus'?

Mass baptisms began to be held in other large cities of Rus'. Everywhere, from ancient cities to distant graveyards, the prince ordered the erection of churches, and the consecration of altars for the Bloodless Sacrifice of Christ.

St. Hilarion, the Metropolitan of Kiev, who celebrated the achievement of Prince Vladimir in his "Sermon on Law and Grace," exclaimed: "Temples are demolished and churches are erected, idols are shattered and icons of saints appear, demons retreat, and the Cross sanctifies the city."

On the location where the holy Varangians Theodore and John were martyred, a stone church was built, dedicated to the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. The consecration of this church on May 12 (or 11) was ordered by St. Vladimir to be commemorated annually.

This cathedral church came to be known as the Church of the Tithes, as Prince Vladimir granted a tithe from all income to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Church of the Assumption became the central collection point for church tithes across Russia.

A distinct Kiev Metropolis was established under the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, along with several dioceses in Chernigov, Polotsk, Pereyaslav, Belgorod Kievsky, and most significantly in Novgorod.

Prince Vladimir initiated systematic education to promote literacy throughout Rus'. Education was deemed crucial for fostering true faith, preparing clergy for the Church, and equipping the people to spread the message of Christ.

Under the rule of Prince Vladimir, gold and silver coins were introduced in Rus'. These coins featured an image of Christ on one side and the portrait of the prince on the other.

Ark with a particle of relics of the Holy Prince Vladimir

Ark with a particle of relics of the Holy Prince Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles

How did Prince Vladimir's earthly journey conclude?

Prince Vladimir peacefully passed away in the Lord on July 15, 1015, in the village of Berestov near Kiev.

The ancient Russian writer, Monk Jacob (11th century), described the death of the baptist of Rus' in his literary work titled Memory and Praise to Prince Vladimir: "As Prince Vladimir approached the end of his earthly journey, he offered a prayer: 'My Lord God, I did not know You, but You had mercy on me and, through Holy Baptism, enlightened my soul to recognize You—the God of all, the Holy Creator, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Glory to You, with the Son and the Holy Spirit! Lord God, do not hold my past misdeeds against me. In my pagan ignorance, I did not know You. [...] My Lord God, have mercy on me. If it is Your will to punish and afflict me for my sins, may it be You, O Lord, who carries it out, but do not deliver me into the hands of demons.' Uttering these words and praying to God, he peacefully surrendered his soul to the angels of the Lord and departed from this world. Indeed, the souls of the righteous rest in the hand of God, and their reward comes from the Lord. The Most High arranges their eternal glory, and they shall receive a crown of beauty from His hand.

how did vladimir the great die

Prince Vladimir's final resting place was in Kiev, within the Church of the Tithes that he had constructed. A vast multitude of people, comprising both nobles and commoners, gathered to mourn his passing. The boyars wept for him as their land's protector, and the poor mourned him as their advocate and provider of sustenance."

When was Prince Vladimir of Kiev canonized?

The veneration of Prince Vladimir in Russia commenced in the eleventh century. As for his canonization, two versions exist regarding its dating.

Icon of Saint Vladimir

Icon of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir the Great hand-written by the Sisters of the St. Elisabeth Monastery in Minsk

According to one account, in 1240, St. Alexander Nevsky introduced the celebration of his holy ancestor in Veliky Novgorod after Prince Vladimir's intercession led to a triumph over the Swedish crusaders.

On the other hand, adherents of the second version contend that Vladimir was recognized as a saint during the reign of Mikhail Yaroslavich of Tver, at the outset of the fourteenth century.

July 20, 2024
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Thank you for this divine light . May thé Russian Orthodox saints heal thé wounds of their lands .
Holly Love In Christ
Diane Cleary