Sunday, July 15, 2012

Saint Vladimir the Great, Knjaz of Kyiv


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. 
The Kingdom during the reign of Vladimir

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
The conversion of Vladimir was an act of politics, but even so, there was not a superficial change of faith. Vladimir changed his life and destroyed the pagan statues in Kyivan Rus, replacing them with churches. He also attempted to live in peace as much as possible with his neighbors and had since then only one wife. He also took a serious care for the poor, that being unusual at that time among his people, and tried to spread the Christianity beyond his borders. The Primary Chronicle says that “He ordered the all poor and sick to come at his palace for food, drink and money. And for the ones unable to come, he filled some carriages with bread, flesh, fish and honey and sent them in the city”. In his capital Kyiv, he built the Church of the Tithes in the honor of the Dormition of Our Lady (989) and helped to the construction of some monasteries on Mt. Athos. After Anna's death in 1011, Vladimir married a German princess, the daughter of Count Kuno von Enningen.
In the last year of his life, his sons Svyatopolk established in Turov and Yaroslav the Wise who ruled in Novgorod challenged his rule. After defeating Svyatopolk, Vladimir fell ill, most likely of old age and died at Berestovo, near Kyiv on July 15, 1015 and he was buried in the Church of the Tithes. He was succeeded by Svyatopolk. 

The Veneration of St. Vladimir
Vladimir on the Millenium
of Christianization Monument in Kyiv
The Rus clergy venerated Vladimir because of his support of the church, but he was canonized much later. The oldest extant mention of him as Saint Vladimir is found in the Hypatian Chronicle under the year 1254, and his feast day July 15, (July 28, according to the Old Calendar) was first celebrated in 1263. In 1635 there is a mention, according to which it appeared that his body has not decomposed. The various parts of his dismembered body were distributed among his numerous sacred foundations and were venerated as relics.
In the Russian Orthodox Church, St. Vladimir is referred to, like his grandmother Olga as a holy “equal to the Apostles” and grand prince of Kyiv. His cult is widespread in Russia, Ukraine and other Slavic countries, being considered the patron saint of the blind and diseased eyes. In the iconography of the saint is depicted in red royal robes, interspersed with gold designs, with a crown on his head. In his right hand he is holding a cross (on some icons assuming the relatively large size), and in the left he bears a sword. Sometimes it is presented with the scroll in his hand, containing a prayer for the newly baptized people.

Troparion (Hymn) of St. Vladimir
Holy Prince Vladimir, you were like a merchant in search of fine pearls. By sending servants to Constantinople for the Orthodox Faith, you found Christ, the priceless pearl. He appointed you to be another Paul, washing away in baptism your physical and spiritual blindness. We celebrate your memory, asking you to pray for all Orthodox Christians and for us, your spiritual children!
St Vladimir and his nephews,
Martyrs Boris and Gleb

1 comment:

  1. Мемориальная доска князю Владимиру в Киеве