Sunday, July 12, 2009

Conversion of Vladimir I, Russia's Prince

THE CONVERSION OF a fun-loving pagan ruler effectively brought Christianity to Russia.

Though Christianity had already penetrated Russia by the early tenth century, it had not become generally accepted. In 957 Olga, the widowed princess of Kiev was baptized. She then asked German King Otto I to send missionaries to her country. However, this missionary effort met with little success.

Vladimir, Olga's grandson, was among the greatest of the pagans. He built a number of pagan temples, made a name for himself with his cruelty and treachery, had 800 concubines and five wives, and when he wasn't fighting a war, he hunted and feasted in grand style. He like Saul of Tarsus was hardly the person you'd pick for spreading Christianity across the land.

Like other rulers, Vladimir waned to keep his people contented and saw he might do this by uniting them in religion. He reportedly sent out men to examine each of the major religions. Neither Islam nor Judaism with their dietary restrictions appealed to the prince, so he had to choose between Roman and Eastern Christianity (Catholicism).

After attending worship in the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople (Istanbul), Vladimir's men reported back to him: "We do not know whether we were in heaven or on earth for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you. Only we know that God dwells there among men and that their service surpasses worship of all other places. We cannot forget that beauty."

According to the story because of the beauty, Vladimir chose Orthodoxy, the religion of his nation's most powerful, wealthy and civilized neighbor: the Byzantine Empire. The sister of Byzantine Emperor Basil named---Anna---was offered as a bride to Vladimir as the two neighbor's consolidated their alliance.

In 988 Vladimir was baptized and a year later he married Anna. Vladimir's choice of a wife made certain the Russian church would focus on true worship. Eastern Orthodoxy had always had aesthetic appeal.

After Vladimir's baptism his people started to put aside their old religions without much difficulty. Though Russia would not become a Christian nation over-night, things began to change. At first the mass conversions did not run deep but, with the help of monks, the new religion began to make its influence felt.

Thanks to Methodius and Cyril, Russia had a Christian liturgy in its own language---Slavonic. In the beautiful churches built by Vladimir and his successors, the people could participate in a beautiful liturgy in their own tongue.

Vladimir's conversion clearly affected his lifestyle. When he married Anna, he put away his five former wives. He destroyed idols, protected the poor, established schools and churches and lived at peace with neighboring nations. On his deathbed he gave all his possession to the poor.

The Greek church eventually canonized him.

----The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History


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Badgerdown said...

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