But whosoever shall do and teach them [the commandments], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:19). Why is Grand Prince Vladimir called holy and Equal-to-the-Apostles? He converted from pagan darkness to the light of Christ, was baptized himself, baptized the Kievans, and sent clergy to baptize in other cities and provinces of his realm.
He was the first of all Russian rulers to become a Christian, and he placed a beginning to the Christian order of the Russian state. With him the Russian nation began to be Orthodox, and Christianity penetrated throughout the populace and national life.
Did he act in this regard only as a ruler, were his deeds directed at only governmental activities? No, he showed himself to be a true Christian, and preached Christ not so much with words as with his personal example.
Raised in paganism, although Prince Vladimir had heard in his early childhood about Christ from his grandmother Grand Princess Olga, he was at first a zealous pagan. He fervently fulfilled pagan rituals, tried to please the pagan gods, brought them offerings of thankgiving for his successes, and was therefore convinced that he was serving the truth.
When a crowd of Kievans murdered the holy Varangian Theodore and his son John, upon whom the lot fell to be offered as a human sacrifice to Perun in gratitude for victory, Vladimir understood that he had been mistaken. He felt the contradiction between moral law and the demands of paganism, and his sensitive soul percieved its wrongness. The search for truth and righteousness led him to Orthodoxy, and having overcome all internal and external obstacles on the path to these, he received holy Baptism.
Now having become a Christian, he began to serve Christ even more zealously than he had previously served the pagan gods. Now with his whole being he brought himself and everything he possessed in sacrifice to the Truth, for the Christian teaching reveals divine truth and expresses the supreme moral, inner law.
Vladimir became another man after Baptism. He preserved in himself all the best qualities that he had before, rejecting all his sinful inclinations and habits. From a cruel man who did not spare even his own brother, who was killed during an internecine war with him, he became so soft-hearted that he did not even want to punish criminals, doing so only in exceptional cases, in order to put a stop to atrocities.
From a profligate he became chaste, he put away his numerous former wives, and lived in honorable marriage with Princess Anna who had been lawfully wed to him in Christian marriage. From a predatory conqueror he became a peace-loving ruler. From a greedy collector of tribute he became indifferent to earthly treasures, always ready to sacrifice them in order to acquire immaterial treasure. For his army he was now not so much a fierce commander who punished for the slightest disobedience as a wise leader who understood the souls of his underlings and appreciated his co-laborers.
He was now particularly attentive to the helpless—orphans, widows, and invalids. Prince Vladimir especially remembered them during festal times and sent them loads of food and other necessities.
The feasts themselves were no long bacchanalias, but mutual joy and brotherly communion. In all realms of life, Grand Prince Vladimir the “Beautiful Sun” showed himself to be a Christian—in his personal and family life, public and state life. Having come to know the truth, he served it with his whole heart, spreading light everywhere he could. He was the personification of Christ’s teaching, an example for emulation in everything. That is why Orthodoxy so quickly and deeply penetrated into all aspects of Russian life. The prince drew everyone to it through his own Christian labors. He was the conqueror of his own self, and through this he ruled others, and preached Christ with his deeds in every realm of life. He served the true God as an individual, as the head of a family, as a leader, as a judge, a ruler, a sovereign. He was always one and the same servant of Truth and Righteousness, striving to make them reign everywhere.
He was profoundly aware that only whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report (Philip. 4:8) should be the foundation of life for both each individual and for the entire nation. Therefore he did not separate one from the other; what he did in his personal life he also manifested in state affairs.
That new spirit of integrity, unity in all areas of life and manifestation of righteousness in everything St. Vladimir showed in himself and transmitted to the Russian people. He was their Enlightener and Baptizer, sovereign and apostle, leader and teacher, unifier and preserver. His best successors followed in his footsteps, and it is no coincidence that on his feast day the holy and right-believing Grand Prince Alexander, was victorious on the Neva River. In him was vividly impressed the spiritual image of his equal-to-the-apostles ancestor.
The service to God that St. Vladimir began on earth continues now at the Throne of the Most High, before whom he prays for the Russian land, which he enlightened and illumined; and he shines from the heights with heavenly light, illuminating Russian people on the path to Truth and Righteousness.