Prince Vladimir was the son of Svyatoslav and Drevlyan princess Malusha. He was born in the year 963. He was raised by his pagan uncle Dobrynya. In the year 972, Vladimir began to reign in Novgorod. In 980 in the midst of war between the brothers, Vladimir went to war against Kiev, where his elder brother Yaropolk was reigning. Having defeated his brother, Vladimir began to rule in Kiev as well. He extended his power limits from the Baltic Sea on the North to the river Boog on the South. He had five wives and numerous concubines. On the Kiev Mountains he set up the idols, to which people were sacrificed. At that time Varangians Feodor and John suffered for Christ. The circumstances of their death made a strong impression on Vladimir and he started to doubt his pagan faith. His search for truth had begun.
Preachers from different countries came to Kiev by invitation of Prince Vladimir: ambassadors from Muslim-Bulgarians, living near the Volga river, German-Latins, Hebrews and Greeks. The Prince questioned them all about their faith and everyone offered him his own belief. But an Orthodox Greek representative made the strongest impression on Vladimir by showing him a painting of The Last Judgement at the end of his visit. With the boyar’s advice, Vladimir sent ten wise men to test whose faith is better. When these Russian ambassadors arrived in Constantinople, the magnificence of the Hagia Sofia Church, the harmonious singing of court chanters and Patriarchal service’s solemnity touched them deeply: “We didn’t know – whether we were on the earth or in the heavens – they said later to Vladimir. The boyars immediately noticed: “If the Greek faith wasn’t the true faith, your grandmother Olga, the wisest of the people, wouldn’t choose it.”
Vladimir decided to be baptized, but he did not want Rus’ to be subjected to another empire. That is why as soon as the ambassadors returned, he declared war on Greece and conquered Chersonesus. From there he sent the ambassadors to Constantinople to emperors Basil and Constantine, asking for their sister’s hand – princess Anna. They answered him, that she will only marry a Christian. Vladimir declared that he wants to accept Christianity. But before his bride arrived to Chersonesus, Vladimir was slain with blindness. Stricken with such an illness he understood the weakness of his spirit just as apostle Paul, and prepared for the great sacrament of revival (baptism). When the princess came to him, she advised him to be baptized as soon as possible. Vladimir was baptized under the name of Basil in the year 988. Coming out of the laver he saw the light with his eyes and his heart: “Now I know the true God”.
Vladimir returned to Kiev with the Korsun and Greek priests and first of all he asked his twelve sons to be baptized. They did as he asked, and many of the boyars followed suit. Vladimir began to destroy pagan idols. The main of them – Perun – was cursed and drown in the river Dnepr. At the same time the priests gathered people and taught them the basics of Christianity. Finally, Saint Vladimir proclaimed in Kiev, that all the people – rich and poor – came in the stated day to bank of the river to take the baptism. People accepted the appeal willingly: “If the faith was not good, then the prince and boyars would never accept it”.
The citizens of Kiev gathered on the river bank. Vladimir and the priests came there too. All of them went into the water. The grown-up took the infants on their hands, while the priests were praying. Saint Vladimir was praying as well. He confided his people to God’s will.
Later Christianity was set up in Novgorod. The first metropolitan of Kiev arrived there in 990 together with Dobrynya, Vladimir’s uncle. At first, they stroke of dawn the idol of Perun was thrown it into the river Volkhov, and then the locals were baptized. Then he moved on to the city of Rostov, and there many people were baptized and a cathedral was built. Paganism remained strong for many years in Rostov, but eventually was rooted out. In the year 992 Christianity was spread over the region of Suzdal, when Saint Vladimir came here with two bishops. People there were happy to accept the new faith.
After accepting Christianity Vladimir reigned for another 28 years, and was the Prince of Kiev for 33 years. He passed away on July 15 in the year 1015 in Berestovo village. The Prince’s body was placed into the marble reliquary which was buried under the Church of the Tithes.
The children of Vladimir, who each recieved parts of the land, worked on spreading of Christianity on their territories. Thus, in 10th century Christianity continued to spread not only in Kiev, Novgorod, Rostov, and Suzdal, but also in Murom, Polotsk, Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Smolensk, Pskov, Lutsk, Tmutarakan and other regions. Influenced by Christianity, the Slavic tribes began to form a unified state.
The peaceful methods, with which Christianity was set up in the Rus’ territory, led to its successful and quick acceptance by the locals. The work of saint Kirill and Mefody, over a century prior to the events, contributed to it as well; thanks to them the preachers could say the sermons in native Slavic language. Christianity was set up with words, and without aggression and violence.
Another means of preaching, were the famous feasts held by Vladimir. On Sundays and the days of great church feasts, long festive tables were put on the streets of Kiev. The bells tolled and the choirs sang. For example, on May 12, 996 – the day when the Church of the Tithes was blessed – the Prince organized the great feast and made donations to the weak, the poor, and the pilgrims, and of course monasteries and churches. The sick and poor got barrels of wine and honey, bread, meat fish, and cheese. Vladimir wanted that people came to take those gifts and glorify God. The bowls were hold also in honor of great warriors and their victories.
From there, orthodoxy spread over the lands of the neighboring states and tribes lived on the borders of Rus. Thus, in the 10-13th centuries some Finnish tribes accepted Christianity as well. In the beginning of the 13th century the city of Nizhny Novgorod was built on the bank of the rivers Volga and Oka. It became a great stronghold of orthodoxy in the middle part of Russia.
The name of Saint Vladimir, who was called also the “krastnoe solnyshko” (the red sun), is connected with all further development and history of Russian Church and state. “He made us know the true Lord. He let us see the true life” – said Saint Hilarion of Kiev. His duty was continued by his children and great grand-children, who reigned there for about six centuries: from Yaroslav the Wise, who made the first step towards the independent Russian Church, to King Feodor Ioanovitsh.
The feast in honor of Saint Prince Vladimir was set up by Saint Prince Alexander Nevsky after May 15, 1240, when the prayer of Saint Vladimir helped him to defeat the army of Swedish crusaders.
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds