Today is the feast day of Saint Vladimir of Kiev. Ora pro Nobis.
Saint Vladimir was born in 956. He was Grand Duke of Kieff and All Russia, grandson of St. Olga, and the first Russian ruler to embrace Christianity. He was the illegitimate son of Sviastoslav, grand duke of Kiev, and his mistress, Malushka. Civil war broke out between his half-brothers Yaropolk and Oleg; Yaropolk made himself ruler by defeating and killing Oleg, and when he captured Novgorod. Vladimir was forced to flee to Scandinavia in 977.
Becoming bolder Vladimir waged war against Yaropolk towards the south, took the city of Polotzk. He slew its prince, Ragvald, and married his daughter Ragnilda, the affianced bride of Yaropolk. Vladimir returned with an army and captured Novgorod and defeated and slew Yaropolk at Rodno in 980. Vladimir was now sole ruler of Russia. Vladimir was notorious for his barbarism and immorality.
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). Christianity had begun to considerably alter the heathen ideas. It was a period similar to the era of the conversion of Constantine.
Vladimir continued his conquering. After his conquest of Kherson in the Crimea in 988, he became impressed by the progress of Christianity. Vladimir approached Eastern Emperor Basil II about marrying the emperor’s daughter Anna. 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 baptized.
He converted, reformed his life and married Anna, and thereafter put away his pagan wives. When Vladimir returned to Kieff 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. When they were told that they should follow Vladimir’s example and become Christians they were willingly baptized, even wading into the river that they might the sooner be reached by the priest for baptism.
Additionally on his return to Kiev, he invited Greek missionaries to Russia, led his people to Christianity. Vladimir built schools and churches. He gave up his warlike career and devoted himself principally to the government of his people. Anna died in 1011, two sons by Anna, SS Romanus and David became martyrs. After this, his life became troubled by the conduct of his elder children. Following the custom of his ancestors, he had parcelled out his kingdom amongst his children, giving the city of Novgorod in fief to his eldest son Yaroslav; the latter rebelled against him and refused to render either service or tribute In 1014 he was obliged to march against his rebellious son Yaroslav in Novgorod, fell ill on the way and died at Beresyx, Russia.
Image: Crop of Baptism of Saint Prince Vladimir, artist: Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov: Circa