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Vladimir I

VLADIMIR I

VLADIMIR I (d. 1015), founder and saint of the Russian Orthodox church. Vladimir (Volodimir, Valdimar?; meaning "he who rules the world") was the Varangian, or Scandinavian, prince of Kiev who established Christianity in the lands of Rus' and is thereby recognized as the founder of the Russian (and Ukrainian) Orthodox church. According to the legends recorded in the Russian Primary Chronicle (c. 1111), Vladimir, in his search for a religion for his pagan people, was courted by Latin Christians from the West as well as Jewish Khazars and Muslim Bulgars. He chose Greek Christianity when, the chronicle declares, his ambassadors reported to him after visiting the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople: "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty. We cannot forget that beauty" (quoted in Dvornik, 1956, p. 205).

Vladimir married the Byzantine princess Anna and was baptized, with the Byzantine emperor as his godfather, by the bishop of the Greek city of Kherson, whose clergy came, at Vladimir's command, to christen the Kievan peoples in the Dnieper River in the year 988. Vladimir was partly motivated in his choice of religions by the political, military, and economic advantages of an alignment with the Byzantines, and he is also considered to have been influenced by the baptism of his grandmother Olga, who had become Kiev's ruler in 945 upon the death of her husband, Igor. Olga was a committed Greek Christian baptized in 957, perhaps in Constantinople with the empress Helen as her godmother.

Russian legends magnify the radical change in Vladimir after his conversion and the establishment of Christianity in Kiev, both in the prince's personal life and in his public policies. He is said to have abolished torture and the practice of capital punishment, an unheard-of action for his time and one allegedly opposed by the Greek bishops. He also gave up his five wives and hundreds of concubines (the Primary Chronicle speaks of eight hundred) in favor of monogamous fidelity to his Christian bride. He publicly desecrated statues to Perun and the other local gods and constructed a new cathedral for his Christian bishop. He also introduced the use of the Slavonic language into church worship, using the literary language developed a century earlier by the Greek missionary brother-saints, Cyril and Methodius, for their Slavic converts in Moravia and Bulgaria. The introduction of this language is considered to be the single most important factor in guaranteeing the Christian unity and development of the various peoples under his rule.

Vladimir was succeeded by his son Iaroslav the Wise (10361054) after a bloody war between Vladimir's sons from 1015 to 1036, during which his son Sviatopolk, who was ultimately defeated by Iaroslav, killed two other younger sons, Boris and Gleb. Boris and Gleb, who, in order to save the lives of their followers, refused to enter into battle against Sviatopolk, became the first canonized saints of the Russian church, known in tradition as the "passion-bearers." Vladimir, with his grandmother Olga, is a canonized saint of the Russian Orthodox church with the liturgical title of "equal to the apostles" because of his role in Christian conversion.

Bibliography

The Russian Primary Chronicle contains the story of the reign of Vladimir and the beginnings of Christianity in "the land of Rus'." The Laurentian text has been translated by Samul Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor as the Medieval Academy of America's Publication no. 60 (Cambridge, Mass., 1953). A critical study of Vladimir's time focusing on the conversion of the Kievan peoples is provided in Nicolas de Baumgarten's Saint Vladimir et la conversion de la Russie (Rome, 1932). This work contains 310 bibliographical items. A general study of the period is given in Francis Dvornik's The Slavs: Their Early History and Civilization (Boston, 1956). This work contains an extensive bibli-ography.

Thomas Hopko (1987)

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