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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Saint Vladimir of Kievan Rus

(Saint Vladimir)
If you’re looking for Kievan Rus on today’s map, you might be hard pressed to find it.  According to Wikipedia, it only existed “from the late 9th to the mid 13th century” - but at its peak “encompassed territories stretching south to the Black Sea, east to the Volga, and west to the Kingdom of Poland and to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.”

During the ninth century, the Varangians (Vikings) seized Kiev from the Khazars.  In 882 CE, Kiev became the capital of Kievan Rus, the first East Slavic state.  Approximately a century later, the reign of Vladimir the Great began in a decidedly non-saintly fashion (a nice way of saying that Vladimir slew his brother in order to take control of Kiev, and along the way slew his future wife’s father in order to take control of her).

This was just the beginning of Vladimir’s appetite for conquest (and so much else).  While continuing to seize one territory after another, he also managed to get 800 concubines and numerous wives under his belt.  It was said that he engaged in “idolatrous rites involving human sacrifice.”  One such incident occurred in 903, after one of Vladimir’s military successes.  Lots were drawn, and the son (Ioann) of a Christian (Fyodor) was slated to be sacrificed.  When Fyodor vehemently protested the sacrificing of his son, and openly proclaimed these Rus gods to be nothing but idols, an incensed mob killed both father and son.  Fyodor and Ioann were later considered to be the first Christian martyrs in Rus.

To Vladimir’s credit, this incident weighed heavily on his conscience (and on his political sensibilities) – so much so that he wound up sending “envoys throughout the civilized world to judge at first hand  the major religions at the time…”  Byzantine Orthodoxy won out (partly because Islam banned alcohol, and Vladimir considered drinking to be “the joy of all Rus”).  Vladimir was not only enamored by his envoys’ descriptions of Divine Liturgy at the Hagia Sophia, but was also anticipating “political gains of the Byzantine alliance.”

Vladimir became a baptized Christian, which greatly assisted his next goal of marrying into Byzantine royalty.  After returning to Kiev, he destroyed many a pagan monument and established many a church.  He was now well on his way to becoming Saint Vladimir.


Copyright July 17, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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