Saint Vladimir I
in full Vladimir Svyatoslavich, byname Saint Vladimir, or Vladimir The Great, Russian Svyatoy Vladimir, or Vladimir Veliky born c. 956, , Kiev, Kievan Rus [now in Ukraine]
died July 15, 1015, Berestova, near Kiev; feast day July 15
Grand prince of Kiev and first Christian ruler in Kievan Rus, whose military conquests consolidated the provinces of Kiev and Novgorod into a single state, and whose Byzantine baptism determined the course of Christianity in the region.
Vladimir was the son of the Norman-Rus prince Svyatoslav of Kiev by one of his courtesans and was a member of the Rurik lineage dominant from the 10th to the 13th century. He was made prince of Novgorod in 970. On the death of his father in 972, he was forced to flee to Scandinavia, where he enlisted help from an uncle and overcame Yaropolk, another son of Svyatoslav, who attempted to seize the duchy of Novgorod as well as Kiev. By 980 Vladimir had consolidated the Kievan realm from Ukraine to the Baltic Sea and had solidified the frontiers against incursions of Bulgarian, Baltic, and Eastern nomads.
Although Christianity in Kiev existed before Vladimir's time, he had remained a pagan, accumulated about seven wives, established temples, and, it is said, taken part in idolatrous rites involving human sacrifice. With insurrections troubling Byzantium, the emperor Basil II (976–1025) sought military aid from Vladimir, who agreed, in exchange for Basil's sister Anne in marriage. A pact was reached about 987, when Vladimir also consented to the condition that he become a Christian. Having undergone baptism, assuming the Christian patronal name Basil, he stormed the Byzantine area of Chersonesus (Korsun, now part of Sevastopol) to eliminate Constantinople's final reluctance. Vladimir then ordered the Christian conversion of Kiev and Novgorod, where idols were cast into the Dnieper River after local resistance had been suppressed. The new Rus Christian worship adopted the Byzantine rite in the Old Church Slavonic language. The story (deriving from the 11th-century monk Jacob) that Vladimir chose the Byzantine rite over the liturgies of German Christendom, Judaism, and Islam because of its transcendent beauty is apparently mythically symbolic of his determination to remain independent of external political control, particularly of the Germans. The Byzantines, however, maintained ecclesiastical control over the new Rus church, appointing a Greek metropolitan, or archbishop, for Kiev, who functioned both as legate of the patriarch of Constantinople and of the emperor. The Rus-Byzantine religio-political integration checked the influence of the Roman Latin church in the Slavic East and determined the course of Russian Christianity, although Kiev exchanged legates with the papacy. Among the churches erected by Vladimir was the Desyatinnaya in Kiev (designed by Byzantine architects and dedicated about 996) that became the symbol of the Rus conversion. The Christian Vladimir also expanded education, judicial institutions, and aid to the poor.
Another marriage, following the death of Anne (1011), affiliated Vladimir with the Holy Roman emperors of the German Ottonian dynasty and produced a daughter, who became the consort of Casimir I the Restorer of Poland (1016–58). Vladimir's memory was kept alive by innumerable folk ballads and legends.
"Vladimir I." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service.
21 July 2004 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=77603>.
These are the tales of bygone years regarding the origin of the land of Rus', the first princes of Kiev and how the land of Rus' had its beginning.
Let us accordingly begin this narrative. After the flood, the sons of Noah (Shem, Ham and Japheth) divided the earth among them. To the lot of Shem fell the Orient, and his share extended lengthwise as far as India and breadthwise as far as Rhinocurura, including Persia and Bactria, as well as Syria, Media, Babylon, Cordyna, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Arabia the Ancient, Elymais, India, Arabia the Mighty, Coelesyria, Commagene and all of Phoenicia.
To the lot of Ham fell the southern region...
To the lot of Japheth fell the northern and western sections, including...the Slavs....He likewise acquired dominion over other rivers, among them the Desna, Pripet, Dvina, Volkhov and the Volga which flows eastward into the portion of Shem. In the share of Japheth lies Rus', Chud' and all the gentiles: Merya....The Lyakhs, the Prussians and Chud' border on the Varangian Sea. The Varangians dwell on the shores of that same sea, and extend to the east as far as the portion of Shem. They likewise live to the west beside this sea as far as the land of the English and the French.
Over a long period of time the Slavs settled beside the Danube, where the Hungarian and Bulgarian lands now lie. From among these Slavs, parties scattered throughout the country and were known by appropriate names, according to the places where they settled [Moravians, Croats, etc.]
When Andrew was teaching in Sinope and came to Kherson, he observed that the mouth of the Dnieper River was nearby. Conceiving a desire to go to Rome, he traveled to the mouth of the Dnieper. Then he ascended the river, and by chance he halted beneath the hills upon the shore. Upon arising in the morning, he observed to the disciples who accompanied him that on this spot a great city shall arise, and God shall erect many churches there. He drew near the hills and, having blessed them, set up a cross. After offering his prayer to God, he descended from the hill on which Kiev was subsequently built and continued his journey up the Dnieper. He then reached the Slavs at the point where Novgorod is now situated.
860-62. The tributaries of the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves. There was no law among them, but tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensured, and they began to war against each other. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us and judge us according to the Law." They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Russes. These particular Varangians were called Russes, just as some are called Swedes and others Normans, English and Gotlanders, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichians and the Ves' then said to the people of Rus', "Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us." They thus selected three brothers and their kinfolk, who took with them all the Russes and migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located himself in Novgorod; the second, Sineus, at Beloozero; and the third, Truvor, in Izborsk. On account of these Varangians, the district of Novgorod became known as the land of the Rus'. The present inhabitants of Novgorod are descended from the Varangian race, but once they were Slavs.
986. Vladimir was visited by Bulgars of Muslim faith, who said, "Though you are a wise and prudent prince, you have no religion. Adopt our faith and revere Mahomet." Vladimir inquired about the nature of their religion. They replied that they believed in God, and that Mahomet instructed them to practice circumcision, to eat no pork, to drink no wine and, after death, promised them complete fulfillment of their carnal desires. "Mahomet," they claimed, "will give each man seventy fair women. He may choose one fair one, and upon that woman Mahomet will confer the charms of them all, and she shall be his wife. Mahomet then promises that one may then satisfy every desire, but whoever is poor in this world will be no different in the next." They also spoke other false things which out of modesty may not be written down. Vladimir listened to them, for he was fond of women and indulgence, regarding what he heard with pleasure, but circumcision and abstinence from pork and wine were disagreeable to him. "Drinking," he said, " is the joy of the Rus. We cannot exist without that pleasure."
Then came the Germans, asserting that they were emissaries of the Pope. They added, "Thus says the Pope: 'Your country is like our country, but your faith is not like ours. For our faith is the light. We worship God, who made heaven and earth, the stars, the moon and every creature, while your gods are only wood'." Vladimir inquired what their teaching was, and they replied, "fasting according to one's strength. But whatever one eats or drinks is all to the glory of God, as our teacher Paul has said." Vladimir answered, "Depart hence, our fathers accepted no such principle."
The Jewish Khazars heard of these missions and came themselves saying, "We have learned that Bulgars and Christians came hither to instruct you in their faiths. The Christians believe in him whom, we crucified, but we believe in the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Vladimir inquired about their religion. They replied that its tenets included circumcision, not eating pork or hare and observing the sabbath. The prince then asked where their native land was, and they replied that it was in Jerusalem. When Vladimir inquired where that was, they answered, "God was angry at our forefathers, and scattered us among the gentiles on account of our sins. Our land was then given to the Christians." The Prince then demanded, "How can you hope to teach others while you yourselves are cast out and scattered abroad by the hand of God? If God loved you and your faith, you would not be dispersed in foreign lands. Do you expect us to accept that fate also?"
Then the Greeks sent to Vladimir a scholar who spoke thus: "We have heard that the Bulgarians came and urged you to adopt their faith, which pollutes heaven and earth. They are accursed above all men, like Sodom and Gomorrah, upon which the Lord let fall his vengeance..."
987 (6495): Vladimir summoned together his vassals and the city elders, and said to them: "Behold, the Bulgars came before me urging me to accept their religion. Then came the Germans and praised their own faith; and after them came the Jews. Finally the Greeks appeared, criticising all other faiths but commanding their own, and they spoke at length, telling the history of the whole world from its beginning. Their words were artful, and it was wondrous to listen and pleasant to hear them. They preach the existence of another world. 'Whoever adopts our religion and then dies shall arise and live forever. But whosoever embraces another faith, shall be consumed with fire in the next world.' What is your opinion on this subject, and what do you answer?" The vassals and the elders replied: "You know, O Prince, that no man condemns his own possessions, but praises them instead. If you desire to make certain, you have servants at your disposal. Send them to inquire about the ritual of each and how he worships God. " Their counsel pleased the prince and all the people, so that they chose good and wise men to the number of ten, and directed them to go first among the Bulgars and inspect their faith. The emissaries went their way, and when they arrived at their destination they beheld the disgraceful actions of the Bulgars and their worship in the mosque; then they returned to their own country. Vladimir then instructed them to go likewise among the Germans, and examine their faith, and finally to visit the Greeks. They thus went into Germany, and after viewing the German ceremonial, they proceeded to Constantinople where they appeared before the emperor. He inquired on what mission they had come, and they reported to him all that had occurred.. When the emperor heard their words, he rejoiced, and did them great honour on that very day.
On the morrow, the emperor sent a message to the patriarch to inform him that a Russian delegation had arrived to examine the Greek faith, and directed him to prepare the church and the clergy, and to array himself in his sacerdotal robes, so that the Russians might behold the glory of the God of the Greeks. When the patriarch received these commands, he bade the clergy assemble, and they performed the customary rites. They burned incense, and the choirs sang hymns. The emperor accompanied the Russians to the church, and placed them in a wide space, calling their attention to the beauty of the edifice, the chanting, and the offices of the archpriest and the ministry of the deacons, while he explained to them the worship of his God. The Russians were astonished, and in their wonder praised the Greek ceremonial. Then the Emperors Basil and Constantine invited the envoys to their presence, and said, "Go hence to your native country," and thus dismissed them with valuable presents and great honour. Thus they returned to their own country, and the prince called together his vassals and the elders. Vladimir then announced the return of the envoys who had been sent out, and suggested that their report be heard. He thus commanded them to speak out before his vassals. The envoys reported: "When we journeyed among the Bulgars, we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here." Then the vassals spoke and said, "If the Greek faith were evil, it would not have been adopted by your grandmother Olga, who was wiser than all other men." Vladimir then inquired where they should all accept baptism, and they replied that the decision rested with him.
The Russians lay far outside the Roman jurisdiction. Their warships, sailing down the Dnepr from Kiev to the Black Sea, first attacked Constantinople in 860. They were beaten off, and almost at once Byzantine missionaries were sent into Russia. The Russians were granted trading rights in Constantinople in 911, but in 941 and 944, led by Prince Igor, they returned to the attack. Both assaults were repelled, and Romanus I set about breaking down the hostility and isolationism of the Russians by diplomatic and commercial contacts. In 957 Igor's widow, Olga, was baptized and paid a state visit to Constantinople during the reign of Constantine VII; her influence enabled Byzantine missionaries to work with greater security in Russia, thus spreading Christianity and Byzantine culture. Olga's son Svyatoslav was pleased to serve the empire as an ally against the Bulgars from 968 to 969, though his ambition to occupy Bulgaria led to war with Byzantium in which he was defeated and killed. In 971 John Tzimisces accomplished the double feat of humiliating the Russians and reducing Bulgaria to the status of a client kingdom. Byzantine influence over Russia reached its climax when Vladimir of Kiev, who had helped Basil II to gain his throne, received as his reward the hand of the Emperor's sister in marriage and was baptized in 989. The mass conversion of the Russian people followed, with the establishment of an official Russian Church subordinate to the patriarch of Constantinople.
"Byzantine Empire." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service.
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