Prince Vladimir was the first to embrace and choose the Heavenly Kingdom together with the Russian people. I say, “with the people” because there were separate individuals before his time who were joining themselves to the heavenly kingdom, like his grandmother Olga, Theodore and John – martyrs of Kiev, and others. But Vladimir was the first to set out on the path of the Cross along with his whole people. For him, this could not have been but related to a big inner struggle, a struggle that was spiritual and more intense than the one endured by the Serbian King Lazar and by the last Emperor of Russia. Those two, being raised Christian, only had to choose from two options – to stand firm or not on the established path of Christian self-sacrifice. But at that time, the pagan Vladimir, a son of a man called “the wild leopard” had to decide on a completely new path, completely unknown in Russia until that time. That man who would not hold back from any earthly pleasures, who reached the limits of every looseness, debauchery, uncontrolled blood-thirstiness, thievery, violent vengeance – had to die with his old soul and start living with a new one. According to the words of Christ, “He who loses his soul shall save it.” Choosing a spiritual death is, I reckon, harder than choosing a bodily death, because the spiritual death which the lewd Prince of Kiev chose was not a temporal death which happens once, but a daily and multiple death, according to the words of the Apostle Paul, “Brethren, I die daily!” Accepting the Christian faith, Vladimir knew that he was choosing the hardest of the three available religions. Chroniclers state that he pondered for a long time before he decided to accept one. He knew that the Christian religion is the path of the cross, and that the path of the cross means, first of all, a departure from one’s former foolish ways, a break with old habits, with one’s old soul. He also knew that it is not enough to drag Perun from the hills of Kiev and sink him into the Dniepr, but that he himself and each one of his subjects had to also cast out all idols from their soul. But woe, the idols of the Slavs, like all idols, were made up earthly gods, greatest vanities with most exalted names – deaf and numb agents of the earthly kingdom which chained people’s souls to the ground, promising only the earthly kingdom, the illusory fortune of the world which no man has ever seen with his eyes. Slavic idolatry, with its center in Kiev, made the Slavs the most savage people in Europe. As Vladimir was – a pagan, such were also the Russian Slavs: a savage herd of thieves, plunderers, gluttons, drunkards, destroyers. Their widows were burned alive at stake. They offered slaughtered children as sacrifice to the idols. They were fear and trembling of all cultured peoples, especially for Byzantium, the most cultured among them. Their greatest pleasure was the destruction of things they did not build, and plundering of what they did not earn. What sort of a force under the sun could have turned that savage herd into a people, tame them, give them rebirth, transform them, resurrect them, give them a holy soul instead of a bestial one? Only the force of Christ’s faith could have worked such a supernatural wonder among the Russians. It turned Vladimir the wolf into Vladimir the lamb. Having been a womanizer, Vladimir immediately dismissed his harem and started living wisely. Vladimir – the glutton and the drunk – started fasting, and fasting until exhaustion at that; that same Vladimir who mocked the muslim faith for forbidding the consumption of pork and wine. Vladimir the blood-spiller started visiting hospitals and prisons, providing alms and comfort. Vladimir – a night owl and a party animal – started spending nights in tearful prayers, with bows and prostrations and in pondering God’s judgment and his soul. Vladimir the shameless made himself more modest that a girl. Vladimir the executioner turned into a meek, repentant and merciful Samaritan. In short, Vladimir the idolater was transformed and became a Christian God-pleaser in such manner as if one would erase a picture of a demon off the wall and draw in its place a picture of an Angel. Indeed, it was a more shocking miracle than the turning of a worm into a butterfly.
They say that no miracles were worked at the grave of Saint Vladimir. But didn’t this chosen man perform the greatest miracle during his life, on himself? All the miracles which the Saints perform with faith, such as healings from illnesses, deliverance from passions, rebirth of the sinful, all those miracles Vladimir performed on himself. If there were any more miracles performed on his grave on top of those initial ones, I reckon that people would declare him to be a god, not a Saint.
The very transformation which occurred in Vladimir’s soul during his life is such a great wonder that it can be ascribed not so much to efforts of a man as to the power and mercy of God. Perhaps some of those trying to reach the understanding of God’s providence will wonder in doubt why God chose for a baptizer and reviver of the Russian people such a man who in the first half of his life outdid in evil perhaps all of his pagan ancestors and contemporaries. Well, did the same One Who turned Saul the persecutor into an Apostle of Christ’s faith not know what He was doing when He chose a pagan like Vladimir for the greatest mission for such a great people? Indeed, it is hard to separate all the threads in the exact fabric of Divine Providence, but in this case, the thread can be distinguished easily enough. Namely, the repentant sinner had to be placed at the head of all Russian generations. On the threshold of the new Russia, a consecrated pagan had to be placed so that he could stand like the brass serpent and by his example warn, encourage and heal all the stumbling and fallen sons of Russia in the times to come. The greatest form of a cure would be the example of this healed Russian prince, who was once sick, so that beholding him, all others would gladly run to that same thing which had made him whole. Among all the miracles that are worked with faith in Christ, the most useful one is the turning of a sinner into a righteous man. Marked by this miracle, Saint Vladimir now stands at the gates of the Christian Rus’ and as if loudly proclaims to every Russian, “I was the night, but I turned into day! What have you been, and what are you turning into now?”
“Vladimir the Beautiful Sun!” that’s what the Russian people call their forefather. With those words, the sensible and pious people has described the person of the baptized, baptizer prince better than with any others. A coarse, sensual-bodily mass became the “beautiful sun”. This indeed happened with Vladimir. And Vladimir remained the “beautiful sun” throughout the whole history of the Russian people, during the past nine centuries. During those nine centuries many holy men and women lived in Russia, wonderworkers and saints, among whom also two sons of Vladimir – Saints Boris and Gleb. They healed the sick, exorcised the possessed, raised the dead. But they are all debtors to Saint Vladimir. And it was easier for all of them to become Saints than it was for Vladimir, the great Prince and a wealthy man who had to pass through the eye of the needle in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and who had no predecessors in the Menaion of Saints of his people.
In that way, holy prince Vladimir was not just an ordinary great man among other great men, nor an ordinary saint among the saints. He was the pioneer of greatness and holiness among Russian people, and along with that, the first politician who made long lasting greatness and long lasting gory a state program. Worthy of admiration is the state program which cannot be fulfilled until each citizen fulfills it within himself, following the personal example of Vladimir! From the time of that God-pleasing statesman, the new Russia begins, a new people. Saint Vladimir turned the long Russian night into the bright Russian day. If someone would dig up an underground river and bring it to surface, carve out a new bed for it on the ground under the sun and then use it in a hundred different directions, his work would match that of Vladimir, even though it would have been much smaller and easier than his work. The darkened Russian pagan mob had become, through baptism and with time, the “beautiful sun” shining among other nations. We can also exclaim, “O Russian people, the beautiful sun!”
If we look around now and trace the life of the Russian people from the time of holy prince Vladimir until now, we will see that it has followed the path on which it was set by the spirit and the example of its baptizer. Generation after generation was born on the Russian land and a choice between two kingdoms was put before it; they chose heavenly kingdom and they departed. Millions after millions came into the world, accepted the cross of Vladimir upon themselves, and crying out to Christ, “Hosanna!” they made room for the next millions. The harvest of Christ became all the greater and all the more plentiful. But this historic flow of Russian life was not without obstructions, not without wavering, not without fiery trials. It included stops, waiting for the infirm and the fatigued, calling out to the lost, washing of the dirtied, just as is the case with any travelers. The river of the Russian people’s history flowed in a certain direction – and that is the most important thing – sometimes swiftly, sometimes slowly, sometimes so calmly that it was hard to distinguish if it was moving forward or backward.
You have heard of the amazing psychological phenomenon which happened to some individuals, when in the moment of a deadly danger they saw their entire life fly before their eyes – from the birth until that moment of danger. I believe that in the days of the current deadly danger which are oppressing the Russian people, at least some of them should be able to see a similar overview of the entire past of their nation – from the baptism at Kiev until these days. If we tried to imagine in our soul and felt that terror which now reigns over Russia, our eyes would be opened to seeing the Russian past of the previous nine centuries. And we would see that throughout its history, Russian life has been classically clear. We would see six periods of Russian history since the time of Saint Vladimir until now; and the seventh is approaching along with the seven mysteries of Christ.
The first period, Vladimir’s, corresponds to the mystery of holy Baptism. It is short but extraordinarily important – because of the turnaround of the life of the Russian people, because of their embarking on the new path toward a new definite destination.
The second period follows the first and lasts until the Tartar yoke. That period corresponds to the mystery of Chrismation. During that period the people were being healed from the leftovers of paganism and fortified in the religion of the cross. That rebirth which happened to Vladimir had to happen in each Russian soul individually, and each soul individually had to be sealed with the seal of heaven. And Chrismation as a mystery does signify fortification in faith by the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The third period was spent under the rule of Mongols. That period corresponds to the mystery of repentance. The sins which accumulated on the people’s soul during the time of freedom had to be blown away by the cruel wind of slavery – in Russia under the Mongols and in Christian Balkans under the Turks. The slowed-down river of life had to be redirected onto a slope and into a rocky bed so that it could flow faster and its waters would be cleaned up. During slavery the people are quiet, they consider the past and they repent. Slavery had the most fruitful effect on what seemed to always be the goal of Russian history, the goal clearly and firmly set by Saint Vladimir. The goal was the cleansing of the soul from dust and choosing of the heavenly kingdom.
The fourth period – from the overthrow of the Mongol yoke until Tsar Peter. The liberation started with the battle at Kulikovo, nine years before the Kosovo battle which was to bring slavery to Serbian people. That shining period of freedom corresponds to the mystery of marriage. The soul of the people, having been cleansed by suffering, is betrothed and fully given over to her Heavenly Bridegroom. Christ reigns in Russian land completely. Russian land is adorned with countless saints like heavens with stars. Fervor of Christ permeates all and every one – from the Tsar and Patriarch to the homeless and the mindless wanderer. In one word – a wedding party, union with God!
Fifth period – from Tsar Peter until the First World War. That period corresponds to the mystery of Unction. During that period, the Russian intelligentsia is decaying and wavering. It leaves Russia with the fullness of people’s virtues and returns with the fullness of foreign delusions. Stirring up begins. Among the educated, fierce chasms and debates appear, but not on minor issues but on the meaning of life, concerning the national program of Saint Vladimir. Wounds open more and more often and decay spreads through the cities. The Church in the villages still remains the adorned bride of Christ at the time when in the cities it becomes a hospital nurse, watching with care and sadness over the sick. The number of those who choose the earthly kingdom grows with a feverish pace. The sunken Perun with his idol family protrudes his head out of the Dniepr. But the spirit of Saint Vladimir beats him over the head. The river of Russian life considerably slows down its flow, and as a consequence, dirt appears on its surface. But the river is very deep. Its depth is the soul of many millions.
The sixth period – from the First World War, or rather since the Martyr death of the Tsar-martyr goes on until today. God has allowed the “prince of this world” to rule over holy Russia. God has allowed for a time that not His will would be done, but a sinful will which renounces the Kingdom of Heaven and chooses the earthly kingdom. Pagan, pre-Vladimir spirit reigns over Russia. That dark and evil spirit is trying with all of its strength to turn the river of Russian life away from the sun of Christ and turn it into an underground river. But the Russian people are partaking of Communion. This period corresponds to the mystery of Communion. The Russian people were never so sincerely united to their beloved Christ as they are now when the unbelievers spit on the image of Christ. Never has the Blood of Christ seemed so sweet for them as it is now when it is forbidden and when it is so difficult to provide It. Oh, the sweet Blood of Jesus, how unspeakably sweet you have become for those sons and daughters of Russia with whose blood and tears the Russian land is communing nowadays!
And tomorrow, the seventh period of Russian history will begin. It is going to correspond to the mystery of Ordination. A new grace of the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the much-suffering people of Saint Vladimir. The Russian people will become a holy people and will be as a shining star among other nations – “beautiful sun” among the tribes of the earth.
And so the history of Russia macrocosmically represents the spiritual drama of Saint Vladimir, just like Vladimir microcosmically represents all of history of the baptized Holy Russia.
Now, let us turn to the contemporary state of the world.
Carrying on itself the blood of the [First] World War, contemporary world is deeply immersed in banality and vulgarity. As such, it needs not just one saint – one would not suffice – but a whole sanctified and holy nation. That nation needs to go through Vladimir’s inner struggle in these days, so that the heavenly kingdom might reign over the earthly. That nation needs to suffer many strikes and through them be washed clean of sin, just like fabric is made white when it is beaten with a roller. It needs to be baptized with the fire of torture and tears in order to soften, to become noble, godly, perfect. The world waits for the appearance of such a nation. Who is that awaited nation? It is a nation of which the world can now say nothing clear and specific; of which they incoherently and as if in a delirium babble on all five continents. It is the nation of fate, which is being oppressed by fate in order that it receive from it the best possible bread for the spiritual trapeza of the hungry world. The Russian people now lives divided into the martyrs and the persecutors. Both are infinitely tormented. We sincerely wish for both of them to be saved. By this struggle of self-education, the Russian people are preparing themselves for their great mission among mankind; it is preparing itself so that it may clearly pronounce “the new word”.
That new word will not be essentially new. It existed in the beginning of Russian history and was wonder-working in the case of Prince Vladimir. By it the Russian people have life and by it have been joined to the Kingdom of Heaven for the past nine centuries. It is the very word which performed the first miracle on earth, when it turned the water into wine, and the first miracle in Russia when it turned the rotten pagan water into spiritual wine, into Heavenly drink.
By its first baptism with water and spirit, at the time of Holy Prince Vladimir, Russia saved Christianity. Namely, at that time when the Orthodox Faith, having support in the Holy Byzantium – not on account of its own weakness but on the account of the human weaknesses – had weakened completely: when on the other side the political faith of the West, mixing wine with water, was fighting the princes of this world for the rule over the earthly kingdom, Christianity was on its deathbed and true Christians in great sorrow and confusion. Then the Divine Providence moved an entire continent, a whole anthill, unknown until that time, to the assistance of the true faith. That was the Rus’ of Saint Vladimir. Now, when on one hand the vessels of Christian faith, both in the East and in the West, are not strong enough to help the deafened and ground-up world; and when on the other hand the deep-rooted idolatry under many names has reared its head on all five continents; now the Divine Providence is again calling Vladimir’s Holy Rus’ to the assistance of Christianity and thus all of humanity. I think that that help will consist of coming to the scale of values in order to tip them by adding enough to the side which opts for the Heavenly Kingdom in the name of the Son of God.
The time is coming, and is already here, when the baptized and consecrated by martyrdom Holy Rus’ will tie all the idols of fashion which now oppress it, and will like St. Vladimir throw them out of the Russian land and into the endless abyss.
The time is coming, and is already here, when not only icons will be restored in Russia, like is being done now, but when the host of the Russian Saints, from Saint Vladimir to Saint Seraphim and the latest martyrs headed by the Tsar-martyr, will declare to the Heaven and earth that the whole of the Russian people, renewed in Christ, born again through torments, baptized again in blood, is, as such, ready to help the whole world.
The time is coming, brethren, and is almost here, when the dirtied-up and aged from sorrows image of the Russian people will shine like the sun, and will enlighten all those who sit in “the darkness and the shadow of death”. Then all the nations of the world will gratefully exclaim, “Our Russia, our martyr, our beautiful sun!” just like the Russian people have always, and especially today, been crying out, “Vladimir, beautiful sun!”
Blessed are ye who in these days cry together with Russia for you will be comforted together with her! Blessed are ye who now sorrow with Russia, for you will soon rejoice with her!
July 15/28, 1932 Belgrade, Serbia