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Prince Vladimir about the baptism of the Kieven Rus`

Dedicated to the 1020th anniversary of Christianity in Rus

{mosimage}From the autor.The historical figure of Vladimir the Great is considered to be largely controversial, ambiguous. To try to investigate what kind of man he really was, I was prompted by one manuscript, the author of which said that prince Vladimir, having received Christianity, was not a Christian in reality but remained a pagan and a very pragmatic politician. On his so to speak non-acceptance of Christ sincerely, there ostensibly testified his terrible acts, among which was the blinding of 14 thousand of imprisoned warriors. Having researched monographies by Ivan TyktorThe Great History of Ukraine” (1935) and Michael Grushevsky History of Ukraine-Russia” (reprinted edition of 1991) and many sources of the History Library of Ukraine (at Pechersk monastery), I didn’t find a single historical proof that prince Vladimir acted improperly after his conversion to Christ. Quite the opposite: this man was a noble, humble and sincere, and his actions, blessed by God (with it, there were found those miserable 14 thousand and the name of the person who factually crippled them). We, Ukrainians, can be proud of such sacred past of our country. And the whole image created in imagination was so vivid, as if it spoke... (Оlgа Dorofeyevа)


And Vladimir, who knew God, was glad, and his people.

Ancient record

Since you have many a dispute on the topic, allow me to say my weighty princely word.

I, Vladimir, called the Great, will tell you how the Christian faith was accepted in Russia.

It was not new faith for our land during my reign. It was practiced mainly by the noble, educated, of princely or seigniorial birth, but they were quiet and kept it to themselves. They took it from visiting Greek or German philosophers. The whole world knows that my grandmother Olga is a great princess, that is spoken of as “the wisest of all people”, believed in Christ the Savior.

She received baptism from German preachers of the Good News, i.e. future Catholics, but you don’t have firm assurance of it. A certain annals writer monk wrote that in 957 she achieved this rite over herself, having cheated Caesar Constantine the Porphyry and forced him baptize her in the Tsar City for the promise to marry him. What a dreadful servile thought! First of all, as a Christian, Caesar was supposed to have one wife and already had one, who, as well known from a detailed description of the ceremony of Olga’s visiting Byzantium, personally congratulated the Russian princess, i. e. was safe and sound. Secondly, by that time Olga had already been baptized according to Catholic rite and had a Christian name of Elena (by the way, in the memory of Constantine the Great, first Roman Christian Caesar’s mother), to which, if you dare not believe my princely firm word, the German annals testify, that Olga was baptized in the days of Caesar Roman І (and he died in 944). And was it not because she was a Christian of another, Roman belief that my grandmother of noble origin had to stand at the quay of the Tsar City of Suda, awaiting the Caesar’s audience, in 957? In favor of it speaks the fact that her spiritual teacher was a German chaplain father Georgy, and it was from Germany that she sent the first missionary, Adalbert.

Yet this is not the case, for her faith didn’t become nation-wide but personal. Why? Here is what I think in this respect. For you, generally non-believing intellectual people, what’s important is not that the person received the gospel of salvation, but at what church, under which ministers or Caesars and what changed in domestic and foreign politics of the state. And “the most just judgment in history” hid some things from you. Because they are not important to you, and for us they are private life of our forefathers. Not everything can be considered on scales of history. Don’t you agree? The biggest battles take place in person’s heart, but they don’t belong to historical knowledge.

I don’t consider myself dutiful to prove anything, but see: why only scattered information is left of Christianity which radically changes the life of whole states and personalities? Here is some information from the beginning of the 9th century. From S. Surozsky, we learn about prince Bravlin who was baptized under the influence of a miracle. In the same manner, certain anonymous leader of “Russian barbarians.” It should be quite reliable for you that it was Ascold, and no one else, who was the prince that attacked the Tsar City in 860 and was won by God’s grace. The church on his tomb is an eloquent proof to it.

For prince Ascold received Christ through Byzantine Christian (in future, Orthodox) and Olga, through Roman (Catholic) ones. Orthodox believers already had their church in Kievchurch of St. Elijah, but Catholics didn’t. And Olga’s baptism was carried out despite the army and the people that worshipped old gods. Her authority, wit, perseverance was sufficient to keep her grand authority for centuries, but this was not the time to introduce Christianity. Some of you say, she had no right for reforms, because she was a regent. Nonsense. Princes don’t ask for a right, they establish it. But before, they weigh it down.

Though, Olga didn’t always act godly. With all respect for her grandson, I cannot omit that there is revenge for the Derevlyans for her husband’s murder, which she conducted like an inveterate pagan. (Yet of me you say that I combine two natures: pagan and Christian. – Truly so!)

Seeing this and other things, my father Svyatoslav was more under the influence of those opportunities that were opening up by military carrier and was interested with mother’s faith: “If I pass a new law, my army would laugh at me.”… His foreign varyag blood took over. What a pity. He didn’t acquire as much as he lost. And what Russia lost because of his stubborn eagerness to fight, cannot be recounted. You know for yourselves - he destroyed Khazar kaganat, having left the Russian East without defense from Mongols, and Pechenegs were cutting the prairie Russia to pieces without any restrain. The Kiev table was mostly undefended.

But I should at some point begin talking about myself. If it hadn’t been for God’s grace that enlightened me, I would have remained a terrible savage, which I was from birth. My mother was Princess Olga’s servant, the key-keeper. Now that God humbled my arrogance, I can speak calmly about it. But before I would chop to pieces anyone who would give a mere hint. I was the youngest of my father’s sons and once used to dream of becoming a warrior like him, a “leopard.” Alas, as a child I seldom saw him and hence felt lonely and unprotected. I remember when the Pechenegs nearly rushed into Kiev and we, the three brothers with grandma Olga, hid in the surrounded city. She must have been praying then, because help came by a very “narrow escape” (miracle)…

All in all, I became a good warrior. And when it came to defending my legacy, I not only defended it but also acquired brother’s land. Now I regret beginning my rule with fratricide… I would find what to say in my defense, but what for do I need your condemnation or justifications – aren’t I the last brother murder in Ukraine? Which of you, of future generations, will judge me for violence, cruelty, idolatry, greed, neglect matrimonial fidelity and parental duties? God alone is the righteous judge. He is the One Who judges man not only by the deeds of his hands, but also by intentions and thoughts. This is why no one is sinless in His eyes, hence hell waited for me, an inhuman being, and you, grey horse, who only envy others. But Christ took our sins on Himself, the Holy One, paid our faults on the cross, this is why, believing in Him, we get saved, as it is written in the gospel:  “You, believing in the Son’s Name, have eternal life.”

This is why I love Christ and why I became Christian, this is under whose influence I changed so drastically. It is under His personal influence! You are surprised that He can influence person’s life? In the same manner, when you exclaim, “Christ is Risen!” to each other every year, you confess Him as the living one. It is so. He is alive. Now tell me, dear descendents that speak so much of the introduction of Christianity to Ukraine, do you know what it consists of? Why do you books, when speaking about this turning decision of your past, have nothing about the essence of Christianity? Or are you indifferent whether Russian received Christianity or Islam?

This is simple to you: Vladimir wanted to marry a Byzantine princess, thus got baptized, and hence forced the whole nation to do the same. And then “hit the sky with the finger”- with the immediate progress in politics, strengthening of the state, writing, school opening, etc. You can find all this silly stuff with certain details in any of your textbooks. Yet I began my story, not to proclaim what you know from school. I testify to you about myself. Listen.

When traveling in Europe, I noticed that we Russians are neglected as pagans, barbarians. I truly was jealous of our gods – Svarog, Dajbog, Stribog, especially Perun and Veles. Their idols stood right in front of my tower on the hill, we would often sacrifice to them, even human ones. We didn’t notice that these gods greatly influenced our family relationships, rites, that in our daily life we were not very different from animals. At one point, someone laughed at us that we cut the trunk when worship it. Truly speaking, I felt some worry inside. Those gods didn’t satisfy me. Оrgies rapidly bothered. I would often open my eyes in the morning and look in front of me. Especially after my wife Rognida almost stabbed me for hatred (you know, she is right, for I killed her father right in front of her and took her for a wife shamefully, by force). When I saw a weapon in her hands, I wanted to do immediate vengeance, but suddenly our son Izyaslav ran out. His eyes shone, his cheeks flamed, his children’s hands held a sword: “Father, do you think that you are here alone?!” In those eyes of my son, I suddenly saw my reflection: torturer, murderer, savage. He conquered me, father and warrior, by his decisive children’s hatred. For the first time in my life, I felt shame.

I sent them both, mother and son, farther away from myself. Terrible emptiness took over my heart. I felt disgust for everything. I wanted to start all over, in a better dignified way. And where was my beginning? Brother murderer. Stop! Back then, I couldn’t have acted otherwise. Couldn’t? But why brothers in the Tsar City can? Why do they live together peacefully and their state is famous all over the world? I wish they could teach us, yet they looked down their nose on us Russians. And they say they have a sister. Pure and fair, as a swan. I would take her instead of Rognida. For she is Christian. What kind of faith is it? I consulted boyars. I sent them to all sides, to check whose belief is better. They reported that they only liked it in Byzantine temple, for they couldn’t tell “whether they were in heaven or on earth…and we can’t describe that beauty.” The Norman traveler Olaf Trigvesson helped me to better understand Christianity. I also thank Bishop Paul for his teaching.

Now I started thinking strongly about the princess. And here came the opportunity: there suddenly came envoys from Byzantine – for help, because their grandee Foka rebelled. What an opportunity! I promised help, but in return asking for the princes’ sister’s hand. At first they puffed up, and for a reason: they refused German king, and here, a mediocrity – a barbarian striving for such an honor. But Foka worked for me and didn’t give them time to procrastinate. Thus I got permission to marry the emperors’ sister.

Of course, permission was granted only following my baptism.

I am aware of the stories spread in your midst, that I opposed baptism till the last moment and only the miracle of enlightenment assured me of baptism. If you want, you may believe these tales, but I was baptized according to my will, consciously, with great joy and without publicity. This was something intimate between me and God… Also, I was joyfully getting acquainted with the gospel and was truly enlightened. I understood that I would never return to the past, renounced my shameful deeds and strove to start new life. Unfortunately, my grandmother didn’t see it. As to where it happened and exactly when, let it be my secret. Believe me, it is not really important for history.

However, it wasn’t without misunderstanding. I had to assure Greek emperors that my intentions concerning their sister were serious, и осадить их место-крепость Khersones (Коrsun), when they decided to turn their backs on me. I already saw the princess as my dear bride, so why had I succumb the Byzantines, for on my side I fulfilled all promises. The further course of events is very well familiar to you, I will not stop here. To put it short, I returned from Crimea to Kiev with the young wife and the heart filled with happiness. Аnnа was really an angel, and was mad about her. I learned a lot from her.

This was the year of 988 from the Birth of Christ.

{mosimage}Then, as I had to, I cleansed the land of Russia of idols (as it was done by the godly kings of Judea) – some things were cut down, some, thrown into fire. Perun was thrown into river. Non-believers cried, of course, and opposed in places. I said, however, that whoever didn’t believe me that I did those things for the good of the state and all people and not come for baptism, “whether rich or poor, will be my enemy.” People gathered and believed me, saying, “If it wouldn’t do good, the prince and boyars wouldn’t receive it.” People entered water and the priests conducted prayers from the bank.

Following that, there began the development of the Christian state of the Kiev Russia. Many churches were being built. Due to the lack of ministers, I had to ask for help from Bulgaria where they had an independent patriarch. At Bulgarian church, they used Bulgarian language during church services, thus it entered our church and is now used under the name of old Slavic.

In Kiev, and later in Pereyaslav, then in Chernigov, Turov (in Polesye), Vladimir, Peremyshl and other outstanding cities, metropolitans were laid. Along with that, I ordered to compile the church laws of the Bulgarian and Greek clergy into one book, which were titled “Vladimir’s Statutes.” There I forbade many of the pagan customs which had been followed before: kidnapping of girls for marriage, sorcery, witchcraft, sacrificing in woods, and also regarding divorce, beating of parents,  etc.

I am proud to say that the country had been waiting for such a change, majority had a positive response to Christianity. Giving answers to many a pressing question of the man about God, origin of humanity, spirituality, life after death, having a developed system and carrying  agreement, it tied together and united different lands and peoples into one state unity. Before that, there hadn’t been such unifier. All lands became dependent on the princely power and had had unified government. The influence of varyags was done away with. The highest power was in the hands of such people as Dobrynya and Putyata, who were of local origin.

Personally I “liked the words books,” readily listened to the reading, especially the Holy Scripture, taught my children sciences and tried to encourage my people to studies. A lot of effort was put to the development of education. Proud of the epoch of the true enlightenment that came into the country (don’t mistake it with historical epoch of “Enlightenment,” when Europe rejected the faith in God and lured many nations into it) and, having placed Byzantine as example, started practicing  honorable state distinctions. With time, I received distinctions of Caesarian power, the main of which was a crown, which, as far as I remember, is kept now under the name of the Vladimir Monomakh’s hat somewhere in Moscow.

I started beating my coin: on one side, the image of Christ, on the other, my figure with the signature “Vladimir, and his gold.” In Volyn, I built a new city and called it Vladimir.

With neighbors, I maintained peace and consent, except for Poland. Svyatopolk’s old mistakes and betrayals showed. I befriended the Hungarian king Stephan who also was baptized and spread Christianity in his land, together with the Czech Andrick.

I didn’t conduct my own condemnation, but listened attentively to the citizens’ voice, I thought over state affairs with boyars and elders, with the wise of the land, for it is written: “Only by pride comes argument, but with those who take advice is wisdom.” (Proverbs 13:10). I was generous and merciful to the army. During celebrations, I  would set up big banquets where everyone would receive plenty of meat, vegetables, honey. Food and drinks were delivered even to the weak ones. Common folk called me “Vladimir the Bright Sun.”  

Apart from Anna’s death in 1011, my horizon was darkened at the end of my life because of the my sons Svyatopolk and Yaroslav, who, to their own shame,  arose against the parents’ authority. Only Boris was my consolation, but I had to send him to meet Pechenegs. We didn’t see each other on this earth anymore, а but we soon did in heaven, for some defended the land and some awaited a brother in an ambush…

My sons, my sons, why don’t you live in peace and accord? For God sees everything. Dont put His parental heart! Receive my lesson: the state’s flourishing comes from your sincere address to Christ. Don’t think that you are wiser than your parents and wiser than God’s Word! Thus says the Lord: “So says Jehovah, Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths where the good way is, and walk in it, and you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk in it.”(Jeremiah 6:16). And this is the way I witnessed to you just now.


Translated by Anna Sedova.

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