Saint of the Day – 15 July – Saint Vladimir the Great of Kiev (c 956-1015) Grand Prince of Kiev and All Russia, Grandson of St Olga of Kiev, the first Russian ruler to embrace Christianity – born as Vladimir Svyatoslavich in 956 and died on 15 July 1015 at Berestova, near Kiev of natural causes. Patronages – converts, parents of large families, reformed and penitent murderers, Russia, Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Stamford, Connecticut, Archeparch of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
St Olga could not convert her son and successor, Sviatoslav, for he lived and died a pagan and brought up his son Vladimir as a pagan chieftain. Sviatoslav had two legitimate sons, Yaropolk and Oleg and a third son, Vladimir, borne him by his court favourite Olga Malusha. Shortly before his death (972) he bestowed the Grand Duchy of Kiev on Yaropolk and gave the land of the Drevlani (now Galicia) to Oleg. The ancient Russian capital of Novgorod threatened rebellion and, as both the princes refused to go thither, Sviatoslav bestowed its sovereignty upon the young Vladimir. Meanwhile, war broke out between Yaropolk and Oleg and the former conquered the Drevlanian territory and dethroned Oleg. When this news reached Vladimir he feared a like fate and fled to the Varangians (Variags) of Scandinavia for help, while Yaropolk conquered Novgorod and united all Russia under his sceptre.
A few years later Vladimir returned with a large force and retook Novgorod. Becoming bolder he waged war against his brother towards the south, took the city of Polotzk, slew its prince, Ragvald and married his daughter Ragnilda, the affianced bride of Yaropolk. Then he pressed on and besieged Kiev. Yaropolk fled to Rodno but could not hold out there and was finally slain upon his surrender to the victorious Vladimir; the latter thereupon, made himself ruler of Kiev and all Russia in 980.
As a heathen prince Vladimir had four wives besides Ragnilda and by them had ten sons and two daughters. Since the days of St Olga, Christianity, which was originally established among the eastern Slavs by Sts Cyril and Methodius, had been making secret progress throughout the land of Russ (now eastern Austria and Russia) and had begun to considerably alter the heathen ideas. It was a period similar to the era of the conversion of Constantine.
Notwithstanding this undercurrent of Christian ideas, Vladimir erected in Kiev many statues and shrines (trebishcha) to the Slavic heathen gods, Perun, Dazhdbog, Simorgl, Mokosh, Stribog and others. In 981 he subdued the Chervensk cities (now Galicia), in 983 he overcame the wild Yatviags on the shores of the Baltic Sea, in 985 he fought with the Bulgarians on the lower Volga and in 987 he planned a campaign against the Greco-Roman Empire, in the course of which he became interested in Christianity.
The Chronicle of Nestor relates that he sent envoys to the neighbouring countries for information concerning their religions. The envoys reported adversely regarding the Bulgarians who followed (Mohammedan), the Jews of Khazar and the Germans with their plain missionary Latin churches but they were delighted with the solemn Greek ritual of the Great Church (St Sophia) of Constantinople and reminded Vladimir that his grandmother, St Olga had embraced that Faith.
The next year (988) he besieged Kherson in the Crimea, a city within the borders of the eastern Roman Empire and finally took it by cutting off its water supply. He then sent envoys to Emperor Basil II at Constantinople to ask for his sister Anna in marriage, adding a threat to march on Constantinople in case of refusal. The emperor replied that a Christian might not marry a heathen but if Vladimir were a Christian Prince he would sanction the alliance. To this Vladimir replied, that he had already examined the doctrines of the Christians, was inclined towards them and was ready to be Baptised. Basil II sent this sister with a retinue of officials and clergy to Kherson and there Vladimir was Baptised, in the same year, by the Metropolitan Michael and took also the Baptismal name of Basil.
A current legend relates that Vladimir had been stricken with blindness before the arrival of Anna and her retinue and had recovered his sight upon being Baptised. He then married Princess Anna and, thereafter, put away his pagan wives. He surrendered the city of Kherson to the Greeks and returned to Kiev in state with his bride.
When Vladimir returned to Kiev he took upon himself the conversion of his subjects. He ordered the statues of the gods to be thrown down, chopped to pieces and some of them burned; the chief god, Perun, was dragged through the mud and thrown into the River Dnieper. These acts impressed the people with the helplessness of their gods and when they were told that they should follow Vladimir’s example and become Christians, they were willingly Baptised, even wading into the river that they might the sooner be reached by the Priest for Baptism.
In 989 he erected the large Church of St Mary ever Virgin and in 996 the Church of the Transfiguration, both in the city of Kiev. He gave up his warlike career and devoted himself principally to the government of his people.
He established schools, introduced ecclesiastical courts and became known for his mildness and for his zeal in spreading the Christian faith. His wife died in 1011, having borne him two sons, Boris and Glib (also known as Sts Roman and David, from their Baptismal names).
Vladimir fell ill, most likely of old age and died at Berestove, near Kiev. The various parts of his dismembered body were distributed among his numerous sacred foundations and were venerated as relics.
During his Christian reign, Vladimir lived the teachings of the Bible through acts of charity. He would hand out food and drink to the less fortunate and made an effort to go out to the people who could not reach him. His work was based on the impulse to help one’s neighbours by sharing the burden of carrying their cross. He founded numerous churches, including the Cathedral of the Tithes (989), established schools, protected the poor and introduced ecclesiastical courts. He lived mostly at peace with his neighbours, the incursions of the Pechenegs alone disturbing his tranquillity.