and Introduction of Christianity

by A. Ginieres

The Sinner and the Saint
by David Van Dorn



by Alexandra Ginieres



Russia has long been a religious nation. Russian Orthodoxy has been for centuries, and still remains, a strong component of Russian society and culture. Although religion was not tolerated under the communist rule, the populace never sacrificed their religion, as many learned to practice their faith in private. When communism fell, Russians regained not only their political freedom, but their religious freedom as well.


The roots of this strong dedication to Christianity can be traced back to Vladimir, the first Christian grand prince of Russia, who introduced Christianity to his country circa 980. This introduction marked the end of heathenism and the beginning of a rapid conversion to Christianity. Russians embraced this new religion and hailed Vladimir as a savior, eventually canonizing him as a saint. The introduction of Christianity by Vladimir in the 10th century has become a defining moment in Russian history; it has shaped the country's identity as a devout Christian nation.


During the 9th and 10th centuries, Russia underwent a Christian infaltration from Byzantium, Bulgaria, and Scandinavia. The Russian Princess Olga became Christian in 955, but it was not until the reign of her grandson, Vladimir, that Orthodoxy would become the state religion of Russia. (Ware, 87) At the beginning of Vladimir's rule, neighboring nations sent ambassadors to Kiev to try to convert Vladimir to their creeds. Vladimir was curious to explore all the religions. He wanted to make a cautious and wise decision that would benefit all his people. Although he traveled and received visitors of many religions, he was only impressed with what the Greek embassy had to offer. (Mouravieff, 12)


Along with the Council of the Prince, a council of Vladimir's elders, the prince attended the Divine Liturgy in the church of St. Sophia to observe the religion of Orthodoxy more intimately. It has been said of the Russian ambassadors "That during the Divine Liturgy, at the time of carrying the Holy Gifts in procession to the throne or altar and singing the Cherubic Hymn, the eyes of their spirits were opened, and they saw, as in an ecstasy, glittering youths who joined in singing the Hymn of the Thrice Holy. Being thus fully persuaded of the truth of the Orthodox faith, they returned to their own country already Christians in heart." (Mouravieff, 12) The Council proclaimed: "When we stood in the temple we did not know where we were, for there is nothing else like it on earth...No one who has tasted sweets, will afterwards take that which is bitter: nor can we now any longer abide by heathenism." (Mouravieff, 12)


Vladimir was baptized into Christianity, married Anne, a sister of a Greek emperor, and proceeded to introduce Christianity to his country. After returning to Kiev, he destroyed the statues of heathenism. He ordered Peroun, the heathen idol, to be sent down the Dnieper. As the people of Kiev watched, they initially followed their idol down the stream, but realized that it had no power to rescue itself. Vladimir spoke to the people and "all the multitude of the citizens in troops, with their wives and children, flocked to the Dnieper, and without any manner of opposition received Holy Baptism as a nation, from the Greek Bishops and Priests." (Mouravieff, 15) The glory of Vladimir's introduction of Christianity to the Russian people was felt throughout the Russian lands: "Angel's trumpet and Gospel's thunder sounded through all the towns. The air was sanctified by the incense that ascended towards God. Monasteries stood on the mountains. Men and women, small and great, all people filled the holy churches." (Ware, 87)


Vladimir proceeded to build churches throughout his kingdom. He imported priests, bishops, icons, and relics; mass baptisms were held in the rivers. (Ware, 87) Vladimir "had the consolation of seeing before his death the fruits of his own conversion in all the wide extent of his dominions." (Mouravieff, 18) Vladimir died in Kiev in 1015. He was buried in a church that he had built, along with his Grecian wife. (Mouravieff, 18) After his death, the complete conversion of Russia was continued by his successors.


Christianity in Russia was threatened throughout the centuries by Mongol invasions, and more recently, by communist rule. However, it has survived and Orthodoxy remains at the center of Russian life. Churches are once again filled with parishioners. In a country where harsh weather and oppressive political conditions sometimes leads to depression and withdrawal, the Russian church acts as a source of light and regeneration. It is an outlet which allows the Russian people freedom from the economic and political conditions which surround them. The strong Christianity of Russia is a defining characteristic of the country, and it can be traced back to the acts of Vladimir in the 900's. Christianity was, and continues to be, a source of identity for the country of Russia and its people.

Kievan Russia, like the golden days of childhood, was never dimmed in the memory of the Russian nation. In the pure fountain of her literary works anyone who wills can quench his religious thirst; in her venerable authors he can find his guide through the complexities of the modern world. Kievan Christianity has the same value for the Russian religious mind as Pushkin for the Russian artistic sense: that of a standard, a golden measure, a royal way. (Ware, 91)



  • Mouravieff, A.N. The History of the Church of Russia. AMS Press, 1971.

  • Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, 1991.

Links: X X

the Sinner, the Saint, and the first Christian

by David Van Dorn


Vladimir was born one of three sons of Sviatoslav, the other two being Oleg and Iaropolk. After the death of Sviatoslav a struggle ensued among his three sons, the first victim of which was Oleg who was slain by Iaropolk. Upon hearing this Vladimir fled to Scandinavia, where he hired Varangian mercenaries, Slavs, Chuds, and Krivichians, and advanced to challenge his brother. The confrontation never occurred however due to the fact that Iaropolk was murdered by Varangian mercenaries. This left Vladimir as the sole ruler of Kiev until his death in 1015.


The Primary Chronicle is the chief source from which scholars have located information on Vladimir. The chronicle devotes several pages to his character and exploits, yet what emerges is a dichotomy. In effect, a picture is created in which there is not one but two Vladimirs, the Sinner, and the Saint. Vladimir the Sinner was a cruel, treacherous, and  devious politician, excessively devoted to drinking and carnal pleasures. For example, in order to satisfy his overwhelming sexual appetite he had seven wives and around 800 concubines. On the other hand, Vladimir the Saint was a forward thinking ruler who constructed churches, established schools, and devoted much of his efforts to the safety, security, and welfare of his subjects. A true Christian who lived his life and died in "the Orthodox faith" and became the first national saint of Rus. Vladimir had many successes, however, the most important of these achievements was to accept Christianity from Byzantium.  


In addition to using brute force to consolidate his power over the tribes within his realm, Vladimir adopted a policy that served two goals. The first goal was to integrate the diverse tribes into a single society, the second goal was to introduce a ideology that would legitimize his rule. This policy was the integration of a uniform common religion. What is perhaps less known is that Christianity was not the first attempt of Vladimir to achieve this goal. In the first few years after his ascension in Kiev, Vladimir sponsored the erection of a pagan temple on a hill at the very heights of the city. This temple was dedicated to six gods, each of which represented a sect of the present state. Among these gods were, Perun the god of thunder and war ( a Norse god), Stribog (the Slav gods of the sky), Mokosh, and Dazhboh. This original situation fell to the disapproval of Vladimir and was replaced by Christianity.


Christianity was not new to Kievan Rus, in fact it had been known there for at least a century. Vladimirs own grandmother, Olga, had been a Christian, and a Christian church called the Cathedral of St. Elias had been functioning since 944. It should be noted though that Christianity was not a foregone conclusion. Kievan Rus not only harbored Christianity, but with Judaism and Islam as well. A tale from the chronicle relates a story in which Vladimir sent out representatives to investigate all of the options available to the Rus. The tale attributes the rejection of Islam to among other things the fact that Muslims were prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverages. Judaism was rejected as well.

"They considered Judaism unacceptable because they found it inexplicable that the God of the Jews, if He were truly powerful and favored His people, would have allowed them to be deprived of a country of their own" (Medieval Russia, Martin).


In addition to deciding which major religion to adopt, Vladimir was forced to compare the two versions of Christianity. As it turned out, Vladimirs emissaries reported no glory in the ceremonies of the "German" or European churches. On the other hand when his representatives went to Constantinople and were led by the emperor into "the edifices where they worship their God" they were overcome by the opulent splendor. The emissaries informed Vladimir and his court that, "we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer then the ceremonies of other nations." (A History of Russia, Dmytryshyn)


The final argument that persuaded Vladimir to pursue Christianity was not religious but dynastic. Early in 988 envoys of the Byzantine Emperor, Basil II, approached Vladimir for military assistance against Bardas Phocas. In return for this assistance Vladimir was promised the hand of Basils sister Anna, as long as he accepted Christianity. Vladimir jumped on the possibility of having marital ties with the Byzantine throne, and, without much hesitation sent ample troops to Constantinople where they were victorious. Once Basil II was defeated though, he decided not to honor his part of the bargain and Vladimir resorted to war. In 989 his pagan forces occupied much of Crimea and forced Basil to relent thus winning the reluctant hand of Anna.

Vladimir returned to Kiev with a new policy to introduce Christianity within his realm. The adoption of Christianity had a profound effect on Kievan Rus. "It turned the face of Kievan Rus from the Muslim East, whose wealth had originally drawn the Rus to the lands of the eastern Slavs, toward Byzantium. The institutions of the Orthodox Church provided, furthermore, a vehicle for the influx of a range of cultural influences into Kievan Rus" (Medieval Russia, Martin). The initial effects of Christianity were seen first however in the architectural landscape of Kiev itself.


 On returning to Kiev Vladimir ordered the immediate destruction of the pagan idols he had built just a few years before, and in their place he erected a church dedicated to St. Basil. In addition, on the desecrated remains of the former pagans he built a stone church of the Holy Virgin, more commonly known as the Church of the Tithe. There is evidence to suggest that many of the citizens accepted Christianity as a superior religion, but   any converted only through the use of fire and the sword. The new religion spread slowly throughout the land in part due to the fact that the Greek and Bulgar priest lacked proficiency in the local language and could not explain the foundations of Christianity to the general masses. Contrary to the torment of the conversion many bright points can be seen in the Kievan Rus transition. In addition to the erection of the Church of St. Basil, and the Church of the Tithe, Vladimir founded clergy run schools, operated weekly banquets, and sent food to the weak and sick who were unable to attend those banquets.




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