Saint Vladimir (in Ukrainian -Volodymyr, Old Norse - Valdamarr), called often also as Svyatoslavich, after his father, is traditionally known as „the Baptizer of Kyivan- Rus”. As Grand Prince of Kyiv (958-1015) he introduced the Orthodoxy in his land.
Vladimir was born around 958, near Pskov, being the son of Prince Svyatoslav, the grandson of St. Olga, and the father of Sts. Boris and Gleb „the Passion-Bearers”. His name, of Slavic origin, is composed from the elements wlodi - „rule” and mir – „peace”.
After the Slavic tradition, transferring his capital to Pereyaslav in 969, Svyatoslav designated Vladimir as ruler of Novgorod, Yaropolk in Kyiv and Oleg as the ruler over the Drevlians („people of the trees”, that means, of the woods western of Kyiv).But after Svyatoslav's death (972), it has started in 976 a fratricidal war between Yaropolk and Oleg, who was killed shortly after. In order not to be also killed, in 977 Vladimir was forced to flee to his relative Ladejarl Håkon Sigurdsson, the ruler of Norway. Here he assembled a Varangian army and reconquered Novgorod. Shortly after, Yaropolk was killed by two Varangians and Vladimir became the knjaz of both Novgorod and Kyiv. Over the next 35 years Vladimir expanded the borders of Kyivan-Rus and turned it into a powerful state in Eastern Europe.
Even if he was educated as a child by his grandmother Olga, it seems that he was still a devout pagan in his early life and erected many statues of the old Slavic gods in the lands that he ruled over. He had five wives, being father of eleven princes, the most known being Svyatopolk I, Yaroslav the Wise, Mstyslav and Saints Borys and Gleb.
At the time being knjaz, he received at his court numerous religious messengers, proposing him to adopt their faith. According to the Primary Chronicle, in 987, after a consultation with his boyars, Vladimir decided to send envoys in order to research the religious life of the neighboring. In the Chronicle of Nestor there is an interesting reference about this fact. Meeting the Muslims, the envoys felt that there was no joy among them, and especially their taboo against alcoholic beverages and pork determined Vladimir to say that drinking is the joy of all Russians and they cannot exist without that. The envoys also met with Jews and Catholics, but were still unimpressed.
Going in Constantinople and attending the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, the envoys of Vladimir said that they didn’t know any longer whether they were in heaven or on earth. So, in December 987, Prince Vladimir was baptized on the shores of the Black Sea, probably in Kherson, receiving the name of Vasily (Basil), after the emperor Basil II of Constantinople also known as the “Bulgarian Slayer”. Shortly after, he took as wife Anna, the emperor’s daughter, and they went back to Kyiv. Together with him came some Greek priests who baptized the inhabitants of the capital, on August 1, 988. This day is officially known as the date of the Christianization of the Russians. The population of Rus was anyway slowly converted, and sometimes by force, during the centuries. Anyway, some Arab sources (Yahya of Antioch, al-Rudhrawari, al-Makin, Al-Dimashqi, and ibn al-Athir) present a different story of Vladimir's conversion. Emperor Basil II of Constantinople found himself in difficulty 987, after a revolt of Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas. Basil asked for the help of the Kyivan Rus, until then an enemy, and Vladimir agreed, in exchange for a marital tie. He also accepted to become a Christian and to convert his people to the new faith. After the baptism, 988 Vladimir sent 6000 of warriors and besieged the strategic city of Chersones Taurica in 989, taking it from Bardas Phocas, and giving it back to Basil.
|The Baptism of St. Vladimir|
|Vladimir on the Millenium |
of Christianization Monument in Kyiv
|St Vladimir and his nephews, |
Martyrs Boris and Gleb