Since the day of its installation in 1853, for already 164 years the bronze figure of the Great Prince on a 52-foot pedestal towers over the Dnieper. The hard years of atheism passed over this unique monument, not touching it. Bridal pairs bring flowers here after their wedding, and school graduates, according to a long-established tradition, greet the dawn here. Annually, on the eve of the day of commemoration of the Baptism of Rus’, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) celebrates a festive moleben here with a cross procession. Thousands of Kievans and believers from all corners of Ukraine gathered at the foot of the memorial to the Great Prince Vladimir this year.
From early morning on July 27, the eve of the day of commemoration of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir and the 1029th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’, a stream of pilgrims began pouring into the shady alleys of Vladimir Hill, with icons, crosses, and prayerful chanting. 1:00 PM. Monastics and laity, clergy in resplendent robes, students of theological schools, sisters of mercy, and Sunday school students formed a colorful field on the square at the memorial. Whoever couldn’t get close to the memorial prayed and watched the celebration from the hill’s terraces and slopes. At the foot of the monument, eleven wonderworking icons of the Mother of God and the Savior were exhibited like a crown, brought in processions from various regions of Ukraine. Of these, six were newly-revealed: Boyani, Radomyshl (Iveron), Royal Kiev, Vladimir-Tithes, and the Look Upon the Humility Mother of God icons, and the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-By-Hands; and five ancient images of the Theotokos: Pochaev, Svyatogorsk, Zimnensky, Kasperovskaya, and Akhtirskaya.
Dozens of journalists’ television and photo cameras were aimed at the central place, where the episcopate of the UOC stood, with His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine at the head, and representatives of other Local Churches and honored guests.
The moleben began.
“Again we beseech Thee, Lord Almighty, look down and strengthen and preserve from all machinations of the enemy this vineyard which Thy right hand hast planted,” the words of the special litany rang out, as if floating over the holy waters of the Dnieper, covering the earth, rising to the heavenly realm: “And in this passing year, grant peace and tranquility to Thine inheritance, and let Thy holy Church, which Thou hast taken unto Thyself as Thy dwelling place, be neither abated nor shaken. Thou hast given us Thy command to love Thee and to love our fellow man; may Thou do unto us that hatred, enmity, and all lawlessness might come to an end, and that true love might appear in our hearts. May Thy thrice-holy name be glorified, and do Thou hear us and have mercy upon us.”
And thousands of hearts hearkened.
Upon completion of the moleben, the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry addressed the clergy and flock with a fatherly word:
“All of you, dear vladykas, fathers, brothers and sisters, I heartily congratulate with this great feast in honor of our Enlightener and Baptizer, the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Vladimir. The holy Prince Vladimir is our spiritual father, who regenerated the people of our land in the baptismal font, and converted our people from being wild, warlike, and cruel into being kind, and full of love for God and neighbor.
And we pray to our holy patron today, that by his holy prayers and intercession before the throne of God he would beseech the Creator for us, that the Lord would help us protect our invaluable inheritance—the holy and pure Orthodox faith which Prince Vladimir once brought to our land, to all our people, that we would be an adornment of the earth for the whole world, live in love for God and for one another, suffer one another, and strive to live according to the holy laws inscribed in the holy Gospel, which holy Prince Vladimir brought to our land. May the Lord keep and protect us all by his holy prayers. Amen.”
The multitudinous human river of the cross procession, adorned with crosses and banners and miraculous icons, flowed under prayerful chanting along the alleys of Vladimir Hill, down to Kreschatik, then further up to Pechersk, to the ancient holy site of the Kiev Caves Lavra, where, on the square in front of Dormition Cathedral, the Divine service on the eve of the festal day of the commemoration of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir was held.
Participants in the celebration speak:
“For a believer, every feast is a reminder of God’s great mercy and an awareness of our infirmity before Him. At the same time, it is a realization for all our people of the greatness of God. We celebrate the day of the Baptism of Rus’, the day of remembrance of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir, who sowed the Orthodox faith in our lands. Today, tens of thousands testify to those good spiritual fruits which our Orthodox land bears forth. And it will be fertile as a fruitful tree which is not hewn down. But the gardener will cut down the withered tree. To be precise, we are talking here about the unity and state of our country: As long as our faith will be fruitful, our country will stand, and our Ukraine will flourish.”
“The feast of the Baptism of Rus’, in our reality, is the day when Orthodox people can unite to honor the memory of the Baptizer of Rus’ the holy Prince Vladimir. This is a relatively new feast, but it is especially important and relevant in our time, when so many divisive factors have arisen. Unfortunately, there are very few uniting factors. We have gathered today to offer common prayers for the peace and unity of our country, and to show the world how many of us there are and how we love one another, and to show that we are the Church of Christ, united and indivisible, which has existed on the territory of today’s Ukraine for already more than a thousand years.”
“For me, this moleben and cross procession is an expression of the spiritual unity of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church. When we live every day in cities and villages, we don’t notice that there is such a great Church in our country. On this festive day of the memory of the holy right-believing Prince Vladimir we gather at our baptizer, and see how many of us there are, how we are united, and that none of us is alone in this raging sea of life.”
“We pray today that the Lord would send peace down upon our land, and give us strength for our repentance, service, and good works, and that we would be able to bear yet other fruits to the Lord, and we beseech Divine grace through our common prayer. And, of course, our parishioners, volunteers, and clergy will pray for all patients of our clinic, that the Lord would grant us strength to overcome the most severe of diseases.”
“We have been gathered here today by the Mother of God, coming to Vladimir Hill in her miraculous images from throughout Ukraine, and by holy Prince Vladimir, the patron of Kiev and of all Slavic peoples. We experience great grace, we thank the Lord for His mercy, we pray for peace in Ukraine, for the cessation of the confrontation in eastern Ukraine, and for the admonition of all those making war, and that, by the prayers of the Great Prince and all the saints of our land, our much-suffering Ukraine would finally find peace, welfare, and prosperity.”
Igumena Seraphima (Shevchik), abbess of the Odessa Archangel Michael Monastery:
“In the songs of Hieromonk Roman (Matyushin) we find these words: ‘Rus’ yet lives, Rus’ yet sings…’ We see this firsthand here, on Vladimir Hill, and are confident in our prosperous future, to which our past and present—great and glorious—bear witness. Look at how many people there are! The Church is in the hearts of these people, because they are full of the Holy Spirit, and they are strong and will withstand all trials.”