The feast day of St Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, is July 15 according to the Orthodox calendar, and sadly, in an earlier time was hardly celebrated in the Russian land, at least until 1888, the 900th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, when this day was finally designated as a “middle” holiday. Yet nowhere was it celebrated as it should have been, as a universal Russian celebration. Only when we found ourselves abroad, after our Homeland was beset with the terrible, bloody calamity of Bolshevism, did the Russian people in exile began to reexamine their values, and soon many understood how blind they had been, and in particular, how little they cherished their true spiritual leaders and national heroes and spiritual giants. They understood that the greatest treasure of the Russian people is its Orthodox faith, to which the Russian people owe absolutely everything that is best, finest and loftiest; they understood that the greatest and most glorious event in the history of the Russian people was the Baptism of Rus, and the greatest national hero and spiritual leader of the Russian people can be no one but he who was responsible for this event—Holy Grand Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles. Unfortunately, the calendar date of the Baptism of Rus is not reliably known, and so on the date of the blessed repose of Prince Vladimir, July 15, we commemorate not only our great Illuminator but the greatest event, our illumination in grace through holy baptism.
So all Russians abroad who think conscientiously and are truly religious came to understand that this day is not a “middle” holiday for us Russians, as it is designated in the Typikon. For all of us who understand correctly the unequalled significance for the Russian people of the Holy Orthodox Faith, this day--after the Great holiday of Pascha of the Lord, singularly important for all Christians—this should be the second “holiday of holidays and celebration of celebrations.” Indeed, on the day of Holy Pascha we celebrated the deliverance of all of mankind from eternal death and the power of the Devil, while on the day of St Vladimir we remember our national Pascha, our own deliverance from the same eternal death and power of the Devil. This day is also a second Pentecost for us, for on this day, as on the actual Pentecost, we sing with special zeal and inspiration: “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, as we worship the Undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us.” Indeed, whatever other feast day of the other great holidays we observe, we do so only thanks to the great day of July 15. Were it not for this day, we would not have been Christians and we would not have received the joy of any of the other Christian holidays. That is why it would seem that this holiday must be for us Russians a great feast day, a day of national religious celebration.
Here in the diaspora, we have apparently come to understand all this, and for this reason over the course of several years, the feast day of St Vladimir is celebrated everywhere with a great deal of pomp and ceremony, though with different names: “Day of Russian Culture,” “Day of Russian Glory,” etc. This great Russian national celebration of course always begins with Divine Liturgy with an appropriate sermon and a moleben to the Illuminator of Rus, St Vladimir, if possible followed by a procession of the cross and blessing of the waters in a nearby stream. In the afternoon, academic meetings often take place, with one or more serious lectures on the significance of this great day, and in the evening, literary or musical presentations and proper entertainment in a nationalistic spirit for the younger generation.
Of course, the main theme of this celebration is the remembrance of how the Russian people ascended from paganism to become a Christian people, what obligations were laid upon this nation, and how the Russian people fulfilled this obligation throughout our history. For this reason, naturally, on this day, the thoughts and emotions of every religious and nationalist Russian person especially turn to the depths of history, poring over in his mind the precious historic events which led to the greatest, most glorious moment, the baptism of the entire Russian people.
To our good fortune, we have a most valuable document which preserves the most important and most interesting details of these events, and of the baptism of Rus itself. However strenuously the truly-mindless liberal criticism has tried to denigrate this document, always trying to besmirch and mock this most dear document of our history, it will never lose its significance for us as one which breathes simplicity, guilelessness and truth, which attest to its authenticity. The Tale of Bygone Years by the chronicler Nestor, holy monk of Kievo-Pechersk Lavra, whom all of us Russians must nurture special love for and gratitude to for having communicated to our hearts the events of the distant past of our history.
Thanks to St Nestor, we learn that the great baptism of Rus, which is acknowledged occurred in the year 988 AD, was preceded by a series of important and preliminary events. The first who through Divine inspiration foresaw the blossoming of faith in Christ in our homeland, and blessed it, was none other than one of the twelve closest disciples of Christ, Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, who has for this reason been especially venerated by the Russian people as an intercessor and protector. According to ancient tradition, having completed his preaching on the Black Sea, he delved into the territory of today’s Russia, traveling up the Dnepr River. Here the holy apostle paused upon the hills which is now the city of Kiev, and spoke to his accompanying disciples this remarkable prophecy: “Do you see these hills? Look, for upon these hills Divine Grace will shine forth, a great city will rise and many churches of God will be built.” Having spoken these words, the apostle, ascended the hills, blessed them, prayed upon one of them and erected a cross.
The great church historian EE Golubinsky, renowned for his unrestrained skepticism, harboring a blasphemous disdain for our Fatherland’s ancient history, not only doubts but categorically denies the veracity of Apostle Andrew’s visit to the future Russian land. One can deny whatever one wishes, of course, but if Professor Golubinsky found himself among the Russian exiles, in Bulgaria, after World War I, if he traveled through the outskirts of the city of Varna along the shores of the Black Sea, maybe he would not have been so adamant. Seventeen kilometers from Varna, near the coast, there are catacombs from the first century of Christianity, and nearby a large cave containing an icon of Apostle Andrew the First-Called with a lampada burning before it. According to sacred local tradition, the saint sojourned here on his way to preach in what is today Russia.
The first evidence of the population of the Russian land converting to Christianity is found in the first quarter of the 4th century, but these were individual cases. The indubitable voice of history marks the first mass conversion of Russian to Christ in the middle of the 9th century (867), under the Kievan Princes Askold and Dir, to which a whole series of Greek sources attest. The first firm foundation for the dissemination of Christianity in Rus was laid down, including the building of churches, though the overwhelming majority of Russian Slavs continued to live in the darkness of paganism.
In 866, two of Rurik’s companions, Askold and Dir, taking control of Kiev, undertook a raid on Constantinople. Along with a multitude of warriors on 200 boats, they approached Constantinople itself, striking fear in the hearts of its residents. Emperor Michael III and Patriarch Photios, along with a multitude of worshipers, cried out in prayer to God to save their capital from the wild barbarians. Upon the conclusion of all-night vigil in Blachernae Church, they took out the veil of the Theotokos which was kept there and went in a procession of the cross to the shores of the Bosphorus, immersing the garment into the water. The sea began to roil with large waves, which destroyed and sank many Russian boats. Many died, while the rest fled, profoundly impressed by the Divine wrath that smote them. This caused the massive conversion of Russians to Christ. “The people of Rus,” wrote Patriarch Photios, “set aside the dishonorable superstitions of heathenism and took up the pure and chaste Christian faith, and, receiving a bishop and teacher, conduct themselves as obedient children and friends.” Further, he writes that they accepted a bishop and the Christian rites (Epistle of Photios, Stritt Memor. pop. 2, 957). Indeed, a Greek bishop soon arrived in Kiev and began to preach Christ, as Emperor Constantine wrote: “When the bishop arrived in the capital of the Rus, the king of the Rus gathered his council (veche).”
There were a great many people here: the Prince himself presided with the boyars and elders, who were from ancient times more than anyone bound to paganism. They began to discuss their faith and Christianity, and, inviting the archpastor, asked what he wishes to teach them. The bishop opened the Gospel and began to tell them about the Savior and His miracles, and about miracles performed by God in the Old Testament. The people of Rus, listening to the preacher, said “If we do not see something akin to that which happened to the youths in the ovens, we do not wish to believe.” The servant of God was not perturbed, he boldly responded: “We are nothing before God, but tell me, what do you want?” They asked that the Gospel be thrown into the fire, and vowed to convert to the Christian God if it remained undamaged. Then the bishop declared: “Lord, glorify Your name before these people!” and place the Book in the fire. Soon, the fire burned the wood, but the Gospel itself remained whole, even the ribbons binding it. Seeing this, the coarse men, confounded by this miracle, began to accept baptism” (Constantine Porphyrogennetos, De administr. imp. с. 29).
This was in the year 867. Apparently, this was when the princes were christened, too. In any case, a church was later built in honor of St Nicholas upon the tomb of one of them, Askold, which gives reason to believe he was baptized with that name.
Subsequently, under Prince Oleg, included among the dioceses of the Patriarchate of Constantinople was a Russian Diocese.
During Igor’s reign, as evidenced by text from the pact between the Rus and the Greeks, the Rus were officially divided into those “who accepted baptism” and “the un-baptized,” and in fact the baptized recognized this pact with an oath given in the Cathedral of St Elias in Kiev. The fact that a cathedral already existed in Kiev suggests that other churches already existed there, too. Consequently, there was a significant number of Christians there already.
The first herald of the general baptism of the people of Rus was Grand Duchess Olga. The chronicler praises her with enthusiasm and warmth, venerating her wisdom. In his depiction, she was for the Russian land “the morning star preceding the Sun, the early dawn preceding the day; she shone like the full moon in the night, shining among the heathens like a pearl.” Bestowed with a bright, incisive mind and seeing the sinless life of Christians, she submitted to the Gospel truths and, according to tradition, herself traveled to Constantinople in 957, where she was baptized by Patriarch Polyeuchtos, while Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos himself was her godfather. The Patriarch blessed Olga with a cross which she then brought back with her to Kiev, and foretold that her descendents would achieve glory. Olga gave him in return a gift of a gold platter with the depiction of the Savior in precious stones. Indubitably, many members of her entourage were also baptized. Returning to Kiev, she earnestly began spreading the Christian faith, which the Stepennaya Kniga [Book of Degrees of Royal Geneology] attests to: “Many, wondrous at her [Olga’s] words, having yet heard them before, received the word of God with love from her mouth, and were baptized.” For this, and for her lofty Christian sensibility, the Church glorified Grand Duchess Olga and commemorates her on July 11 (o.s.).
And so, gradually, firm foundations were laid down for the conversion of the entire Russian people to Christ, which finally occurred in the year 988 under the grandson of St Olga, Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles. So the Sun as described by the chronicler, was preceded by the early dawn, Olga, and was St Vladimir himself.
Constantine the Great was for the Roman Empire what Prince Vladimir was to be for Rus, for the latter performed the great work of converting the entire Russian people to Christ. His life is exceptionally instructive for us. He clearly attests to the regenerative power of Christian teaching; how—when it is taken to heart and brought to life—it can utterly transform the human soul. The pre-baptism Vladimir and post-baptism Vladimir were two completely different people. At first brooding, cruel, suspicious, coarse, a lustful barbarian, after his baptism he becomes a tender, welcoming prince, full of love and mercy, a true father of his subjects. Vladimir the Beautiful Sun is the name given to him which characterizes the second part of his life.
The first years of his reign, Vladimir was occupied with bloody wars and lived like the most sinful pagan. Defeating his brothers in battle, whom he had fought to gain power, he became the sole ruler of the Kievan Duchy. But his conscience gave him no respite, and he attempted to find peace by erecting new idols on the banks of the Dniepr and Volkhov Rivers, adorning them with gold and silver, and making abundant sacrifices before them. He even made human sacrifices, which apparently became the turning point in Vladimir’s soul and forced him to consider changing his faith.
After his defeat of the Yatvags, it was decided that the gods must be thanked through human sacrifice. The lot fell to a handsome young man, a Christian named Ioann. His father, Feodor, did not wish to give up his son to be sacrificed to idols. The angered mob broke into their home with weapons, demanding that the father surrender his son. The father, standing on an elevated balcony of his house with his son, calmly responded: “If your gods are truly gods, let them send one of their own to take my son, why do you ask for him?” The aggravated pagans then destroyed the pillars under the balcony, and father and son died. The holiday of these first Russian martyrs, Ioann and Feodor, is celebrated on July 12.
This event inflicted great spiritual pain in Vladimir and instilled doubt in the truth of pagan beliefs. His soul languished, seeking succor and peace, and he remembered great Olga, “the wisest of all,” and her God, the God of the Greek Christians. According to the chronicler, representatives of neighboring faiths visited Vladimir proposing that he adopt their religion. The first to come were the Volga Bulgars, who confessed Mohammedanism, and began to praise their faith. Vladimir did not like their practice of circumcision and ban on drinking wine. Latin missionaries from the Roman pope came and spoke about the grandeur of the unseen God, and the nothingness of the idols, but the glorious prince, having had enough of the power-hungry politics of the pope, did not give them much time to speak, but sent them away with the words: “Go back where you came from: our fathers did not take their faith from the pope.” Then the Khazar Jews came, who said that they believe in the one true God. Vladimir, hearing their words, suddenly asked “Where is your homeland?” “In Jerusalem,” they replied, “but God, for the sins of our fathers, deprived us of a fatherland and scattered us throughout the world.” “How can you teach others,” retorted Vladimir, “having been rejected by God yourselves; if God loved you and your law, you would not be scattered throughout the foreign lands; do you wish the same for us?” So the clever words of Vladimir revealed his innate wisdom and clear, incisive intellect, qualities which justified his selection by Divine Providence as being the executor of the great work of converting the entire Russian people to Christ.
Finally, after everyone else, Vladimir was visited by a scholarly Greek monk, a philosopher, as they called him. In a long speech, he showed the error of all other faiths and explained to him the Biblical history of Divine Providence’s plan for mankind, beginning from the creation of the world and ending with the Dread Judgment, showing the prince an icon of the Day of Judgment. Vladimir, beholding the icon, sighed deeply and said “It is good for those on the right, and there is sorrow for those on the left.” “If you desire to be with the righteous, be baptized,” said the preacher. “I will wait for now,” replied the wise prince.
Since Vladimir was considering the conversion to a new faith not only by himself but by his people, it was naturally important that the selection of a new religion would involve the best representatives of the people. So, dismissing the Greek emissary and rewarding him with abundant gifts, in 987, he gathered his council of boyars and shared with them the proposals of his recent visitors. “Every one of them praises his own faith,” said the boyars, “you have many wise men: send them to study whose faith is best.” Then Vladimir, heeding his advisor’s words, sent “ten men, good and wise,” so that they examined the novel faiths in their own lands. They went to the lands of the Volga Bulgars, then to the Germans who confessed the Latin faith, and finally arrived in Constantinople, where they came to the magnificent Hagia Sofia Cathedral, where the patriarch himself was officiating at divine services. The grandeur of the temple, the service of the many clergymen, headed by the patriarch, the orderly, profoundly prayerful singing, virtually lifting worshipers up from the earth, the splendor and simplicity of the divine service brought the envoys into a holy ecstasy and shook them to their very core.
Returning home, they gave negative reviews of the Muslim and German services and recounted their experience of the Greek divine services with fervent elation. “When we came to the Greeks,” said the envoys, “we were led to the place where they serve their God, and we did not know whether we were in heaven or still on earth: we cannot forget that beauty, for every man, having tasted the sweet, then disdains the bitter and we no longer wish to remain in our old pagan faith.” Then the boyars and elders reminded the prince: “If the Greek law were not good, then your grandmother Olga, wisest of all, would not have adopted it.” “Then we will accept christening, but where?” asked Vladimir. “Wherever you wish,” replied the boyars, presenting the prince the decision to manifest that which the people themselves, in the persons of their finest representatives, had decided—to adopt the holy faith of Christ from the Greeks.
The warlike prince, though he decided to convert to Christianity, could not without Divine intervention, humble his soul to the degree sufficient to appeal to the Greeks with the meek request to be baptized and to be taught, together with his people, about the new faith. At the same time, his innate wisdom and refined political instinct told him asking this of the Greeks would not be without danger. Examples from history of the time indeed showed that peoples who adopted the Christian faith from another nation often found themselves not only in spiritual dependence upon them, but losing political and even sovereign independence. Vladimir, of course, did not want this for his people. And so, fearing that following spiritual submission would be the political submission of the Russian people to the Greeks, he decided to win the new faith with the power of arms. This explains everything that followed after Vladimir and his boyars decided to accept holy baptism, and what at first blush appears strange to many, and even antithetical to the Christian spirit.
Vladimir decided to show the Greeks that, while accepting their faith, he did not intend to subject his state to them and wished to speak with them as an equal. So he set out for war, besieging the Greek city of Chersoneses (Korsun in Slavic), in the Tauride, then gave the vow to be baptized if he took the city. Having taken it, in order to further humble the Greeks, he demanded the co-Emperors Basil and Constantine their sister Anna’s hand in marriage. They responded that they would agree to give them their sister, but only on the condition that he be baptized, since their sister could not marry a pagan. “I have long studied and come to love the Greek law,” replied Vladimir.
Before Princess Anna’s arrival with the priests who were to perform the baptism then marriage, Vladimir underwent a miraculous experience which possesses profound spiritual meaning. By God’s will, he was stricken with a serious ocular sickness and was completely blinded. Blindness is an ailment in which a person is particularly sensitive to his vulnerability, his weakness, and is naturally humbled. For this reason, the Lord, wishing to make this proud prince a true servant to Him, sent him this temporary tribulation, so that before he receive the great Christian Mystery of baptism, he would be taught the great Christian virtue of humility, just as he had done to that proud persecutor of Christianity, Saul, designating him as His vessel for the conversion of pagans. Vladimir, just as Saul did in this condition, recognized his spiritual poverty, his weakness and nothingness, and with a feeling of profound humility prepared to receive the holy Sacrament. And a great miracle occurred over him which symbolized the opening of his spiritual eyes and rebirth. The moment the bishop of Korsun, during baptism, placed his hand on Vladimir (renamed Basil) as he emerged from the baptismal font, he instantly began to see and cried out joyously: “Now for the first time I see the true God!” Many of his fellow warriors, stunned by this miracle, were also baptized, after which the wedding to Princess Anna took place.
But Vladimir sought a better faith not only for himself but for his entire nation. Having himself experienced at the moment of his baptism all the power and grandeur of the Christian faith, he doubtless burned with greater fervor to hasten to illuminate with the light of faith in Christ and the greatness of the Christian faith his own people. And then, returning to Kiev, he first baptized his twelve sons, then decisively began destroying idols and spreading the Christian message to his people. The priests who came with Vladimir walked the streets of Kiev and taught the people about the truths of the new faith, which was already familiar to many Kievans.
Vladimir then designated a specific day when all the residents of Kiev were to gather at the river to be baptized. Kievans joyfully rushed to fulfill the wish of their beloved prince, reasoning: “If this new faith were not better, the prince and boyars would not have adopted it.” Countless crowds of people, old and young, mothers and children, appeared on the banks of the river. Soon the prince himself appeared along with the host of clergymen. Upon a predetermined signal, the mass of people entered the water: some up to their necks, some up to their chest, adults holding children in their arms, while the priests, standing on shore, read prayers, performing the great Mystery over them.
During these holy moments, as the pious chronicler wrote, the heavens and the earth truly rejoiced to this enormous number of saved souls. Those being baptized rejoiced, those baptizing rejoiced, but more than anyone, the central figure in this celebration rejoiced, Holy Prince Vladimir. Raising his eyes to the sky, he spoke to God with love: “Oh God, Who hath created heaven and earth, look down, I beseech Thee, on this Thy new people, and grant them, o Lord, to know Thee as the true God, even as the other Christians nations have known Thee. Confirm in them the true and inalterable faith, and aid me, o Lord, against the hostile adversary, so that, hoping in Thee and in Thy might, I may overcome his malice.”
The words of this remarkable, very brief but unusually broad and inspired prayer, one might say even all-encompassing in its content, expressed the entire soul of the reborn Christian Prince, deeply sensing with his entire being the miraculous tableau of his people. This prayer is truly remarkable, if we delve deeply into its words and feel what the man who spoke them in this great moment felt. With all its apparent simplicity and directness, it is special in its unusual depth of thought and points to how the holy prince, a recent pagan, internalized the genuine foundations of Christian teachings. This prayer contains the full program of the true Christian life, as we will see. Since the words of this prayer were used by the prince to pray for his own people and for himself as their spiritual leader (as he must have seen himself, having spent the rest of his life in truly apostolic labors), we can see in this prayer what this Holy Prince, Equal-to-the-Apostles, wished for his newly-baptized Russian people, the life’s path designated for him after his own baptism, and this prayer clearly contains the legacy of St Vladimir to the Russian people.
What is this legacy comprised of? What did our Illuminator pray for, and what did he wish for us? “Oh God, Who hath created heaven and earth, look down, I beseech Thee, on this Thy new people, and grant them, o Lord, to know Thee as the true God, even as the other Christians nations have known Thee.” This first legacy, holding the primary place for each person who decides to take up the Christian life, for each who wants to live as a Christian, to be truly Christian, is the law of knowing God, of coming to know God.
Knowing God, in the teaching of the word of God and the Holy Fathers, is the first and fundamental challenge in the life of the true Christian. In order to be a Christian, it is necessary first to believe in God, place your hope in God and to love God. But one cannot believe in Someone, hope in or love One Whom you do not know. So the need to know God naturally exists for every Christian. Consequently, all that speaks to us about God or reveals Him to us must be a subject of our intense study. The magnificence of nature all around us speaks eloquently of God, with its harmony and logical, wise order; God is expressively witnessed by the depths of our own human spirit, if we honestly strive to know ourselves; but most fully and clearly, of course, God is revealed to us by His own Divine word—Holy Scripture, for in it, the holy people of God speak the words of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). And in Holy Tradition, too, which is preserved in the Church in the decrees of the Councils, the texts of divine services and the works of the accepted Holy Fathers and Lives of the Saints. All this must be the subject of our attentive, earnest study throughout our entire lives.
How are we to understand the concept of “knowing God”? Can we, organic creatures, fully understand this idea and penetrate the mysteries of Divine Essence, learn and master the Divine Essence with all of His properties? Is this not brazen of us?
Of course, from a Christian point of view, this is not at all the sense in which we mean “knowing God.” We must strive to know God to the degree that God Himself deigned to reveal Himself to us, and to the degree necessary for our salvation, for only this sort of “knowing God” falls into His plans, for He wishes that “all men be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Anything beyond this is brazenness, of course, impermissible for the true Christian, being the product of a proud, inquisitive mind, which brought our First Ancestors to the Fall and the loss of Eden’s bliss. We must strive to know God only insofar as is necessary for our salvation, our spiritual rebirth and entry into communion with God. Any other purpose in striving to know God, be it a Gnostic or rationalistic effort to fathom the mysteries of Divine Essence Itself, to analyze all of God’s properties with our limited, weak minds, from a Christian point of view is, of course, reprehensible. It not only runs counter to our salvation, but will doom our soul, for how can we, ashes and dust (Genesis 18:27), dare to uncover in God that which He Himself did not deign to reveal to us? This is why the Church condemned and condemns even now both ancient and new Gnostic systems and arbitrary mental exercises about the truths of the faith which are not based on the Word of God and the authority of the Holy Fathers.
How did the Russian people fulfill the first commandment of their great Illuminator? In the ancient period of its history, and partly up until latter days (not counting our intelligentsia, who from the time of Peter the Great was mostly educated in the Western spirit, alien to Orthodoxy), the Russian people strove to fulfill their duty in the most earnest manner. The favorite reading material of the Russian people before the incursion of Western free thinking and godlessness, was Holy Scripture, especially the Psalms and Gospel, which many knew by heart, as well as the writings of the Holy Fathers and Lives of Saints, and in the churches, during the long services performed according to the Typikon, they learned profoundly edifying lessons from the prayers they heard. And not only in churches, but at home, too, which were truly “little churches,” where the head of the household was like a rector, an abbot, and the rest of the family the monastics. Children learned grammar by reading books of divine services, the Book of Hours and Psalter. And so it was in many righteous peasant and Cossack families almost to the final period before the revolution.
Only our intelligentsia, especially our “semi-intelligentsia,” which proliferated rapidly since Peter’s reformations, after the “window to Europe” was hacked out by the Tsar, through which the stinking wickedness of the godless, materialistic teachings of the West burst in, began to gradually depart from this great legacy left by our Illuminator. Now their fruits are apparent: the terrible, bloody Bolshevik revolution with all its horrors, and now the threat to the entire world from the terrible Apocalyptic beast which might consume and destroy everything. Since then, the Russian people ceased to be the keepers of true Orthodox Christian piety and became the manure for the anti-God and anti-human Marxist communist theories and the instrument of its manifestation throughout the world. The rejection by the Russian people of the first commandment of our great Illuminator, the legacy of knowing God, clearly led to the fact that the entire world is on the brink of disaster. And of course, without the repentance of the entire Russian nation in general in the sin of apostasy from God and without our turning to God, there can be no salvation for humanity, and then the end of the world will be unavoidable. Then the signs revealed to us by the Lord Himself about the approach of the end of the world and His Second Coming will be apparent (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4-37; Luke 21:7-36).
Let us examine the second commandment of Prince Vladimir: “Confirm in them the true and inalterable faith.” Is this not a directive to staunchly preserve and keep inviolable our Orthodox Faith, which St Vladimir so carefully selected from among other religions? And for how long did the Russian people selflessly fulfill this sacred duty! For in essence, the entire history of the Russian people has been an unending struggle “for the Orthodox faith, for the house of the Most-Holy Mother of God.” Dearest of all for the Russian person was the purity of his confession, the purity of his Holy Orthodox Faith, for which he was prepared to give up his life. “Orthodoxy” and “Russianness” are concepts which are inseparable, almost synonymous.
No matter how often the Roman popes tried to subject the Russian people to their rule, efforts which persisted under almost every grand duke and tsar, with the most tempting promises and proposals, they were always rejected. “We know the true teaching of the Church, and do not accept yours,” replied Righteous Prince Alexander Nevsky to Pope Innocent IV in 1251 to the latter’s invitation to submit to the aegis of the Roman see in return for assistance against the Tatars. It was to be a crusade to emancipate the Russian people from the Tatar yoke, a proposal, it would seem, very tempting after the all the years of suffering and oppression.
It is worth noting that no heresies or sects appeared in Russia until the second half of the 14th century, when the short-lived Strigolniki appeared, and the second half of the 15th century, when the more dangerous heresy of the Judaizers of Skhariya appeared from abroad.
All the subsequent heresies came directly from the West. On Russian soil, no false teachings were born until the so-called “schism” of the 17th century, but this was a completely different phenomenon. This schism arose on the basis of exclusive love and devotion to the Orthodox faith, which, as it seemed to the followers of this schism, was threatened by distortion. The schismatics, as paradoxical as this sounds, broke off from the Holy Orthodox Church in the name of the purity of Orthodoxy, zealous for the preservation of the Holy Orthodox Faith, though they erred in their excessive attachment to the letter of the law, to inaccurate texts and customs, which often contained actual heretical notions, thanks to their “simplicity and ignorance” (as the Great Council of Moscow characterized them in 1666-7). Still, they were essentially guided by a good sense, good intentions—to save the Russian people from the Western novelties which were profoundly inimical to Orthodoxy and creeping into the country. Of course, as Russian history would go on to show, even until our tragic days, these schismatics were indeed correct in this sense, rising up against those reforms of Peter the Great which were directed at rooting out the Russian Orthodox way of life and the centuries-old traditions and customs of the Orthodox Church. They were against those truly fatal (as we see now) measures which shook the foundations of Orthodox piety and prepared the way for the triumph of the godless, materialistic teachings of Marxist communism in our poor Homeland, which was knocked off its historic path.
All future false teachings and so-called sects arose on the Russian land almost exclusively under the influence of harmful mystical notions of Western sectarianism, and some were directly imported from the West thanks to Western sectarian preachers who came solely to proselytize in Russia.
But it is necessary to point out that until the latest period, the overwhelming majority of Russian people remained true to Holy Orthodoxy and even under the most adverse circumstances fought for its purity. It is enough to remember how our people rejected the “Living Church,” then “Renovationism” which gradually faded away by themselves. Sectarianism had some success and spread through Russian people, who due to certain personal circumstances did not receive a proper Orthodox education in their childhood and did not understand it. This mainly spread during the period of Bolshevism.
We cannot but remember how the sacred commandment to preserve fealty to Holy Orthodoxy was touchingly preserved over centuries by the Russian people who were forcibly separated from their Homeland, in so-called Carpathian Rus, where, despite hundreds of years of terrible persecution by their overlords, the flame of Holy Orthodoxy was kept burning with piety and love to our day and where the concepts of “Orthodoxy” and “Russianness” were synonymous for its finest sons.
To this day, true Russians who did not lose their nationalist sense and love for their Homeland and people, are sensitive to the matter of the purity of Holy Orthodoxy. They organically reject, their souls will not accept, any novelties or ideas propagated by innovators and modernists who try, as they sometimes say, to introduce a new “living” stream into the allegedly dying or archaic patristic teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church. The souls of such devoted Russians immediately sense the false notes of modernist propaganda, even if they lack theological training and cannot exactly define where the falsehood lies.
Orthodoxy has always been the soul of the Russian people. The Russian people owe everything that is truly great, lofty and sacred to the Holy Orthodox faith. That is why only the painstaking fulfillment of the second commandment of Prince Vladimir on dedication to Holy Orthodoxy is able to give rebirth to the Russian people, and thereby to all of mankind. The Russian diaspora today doubtless sees its great mission in bringing Orthodoxy to all the heterodox and non-Christian peoples of the world. This is the justification and meaning of our existence abroad. But in order to fulfill this important responsibility we must become strict zealots of true Orthodox without a trace of any heretical musings or modernism. The great Illuminator and spiritual guide from centuries past, Holy Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, calls upon us to do this.
What is the third commandment of our Illuminator? It is expressed in his prayer that he be granted victory over his internal enemy, against all the hatred that Satan directs at him for the great accomplishment of separating an entire nation from his reign of darkness: “against the hostile adversary, so that, hoping in Thee and in Thy might, I may overcome his malice.” Here is the sacred commandment of eternal struggle against the enemy of God and of mankind’s salvation—the devil (and of course, his offspring, faithful servants and henchmen), to their utter defeat with God’s help. It is important to note the words: “hoping in Thee and in Thy might.” Thus he excludes—in full concordance with the Word of God and patristic teachings regarding this struggle, the “unseen warfare”—any self-reliance, any self-confidence. We must tirelessly fight the enemy of our salvation, but we cannot gain victory ourselves, through our own powers: only our hope in God and His powers can succeed. We must always remember this, and that any self-reliance in this struggle will always fail and will inevitably be punished by defeat and the victory of the enemy. How profoundly the Russian Orthodox people accepted this great commandment from their Illuminator and leader in their holy struggle against the wickedness of the devil!
The ascetic ideal alone of Christianity became so popular within the Russian people so soon after its christening, the unusual blossoming of monasticism, which gave the Universal Church podvizhniki who were similar to the great ascetics and fathers of ancient Christianity, clearly attests to the fact that the Russian people firmly established for itself the proper foundations and methods of conducting this spiritual war. But this struggle with “the hostile adversary” and all the forms of evil that comes from him were endured by the Russian people also in the social and political spheres of life. The Orthodox Russian until recently was irreconcilable with evil, and if he had succumbed to the temptations of evil at times, he was able to later overcome them with unusual strength and through the depths of genuine repentance. While able to sin, the Russian person could also truly repent. And this is the uniqueness and greatness of our Russian Orthodox spirit.
The irreconcilable battle against evil in all its forms has been the slogan of the Russian person over the course of almost a thousand years. It was in the name of this struggle against evil and in favor of Divine truth that all our wars were fought, first for the Orthodox faith, then for the house of the Most-Holy Mother of God, then for the Faith, the Tsar and the Fatherland. Remember the words that Holy Righteous Prince Alexander Nevsky addressed to his small regiment before battle: “Brothers, we are few, and the enemy is great, but God is not in power, but in truth… Let us not fear the multitudes of soldiers, for God is with us!”
Deeply alien to the Russian person was any notion of compromise with evil. He always sensed its falsity and unorthodoxy in his soul and fervently rose up against it. Let us remember our Holy Passion-Bearer, Righteous Prince Michael of Chernigov and how he decisively rejected his boyars’ demand that he fulfill the requests of the soothsayers in order to preserve his own life, whom his subjects so needed, and they even promised to take the penance of this sin upon themselves. Let us remember how the great Muscovite hierarch St Philipp, refusing to make peace with the Oprichnina of Tsar Ivan Grozny; let us recall the truly self-sacrificial staunchness in the struggle for the faith and Homeland of Holy Hieromartyr Germogen, Patriarch of All Russia, who refused to compromise with the Poles who already occupied the Kremlin, even as he was in their clutches. How courageously the monks of Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra fought when their monastery became a military fortress!
These are all edifying examples for us, in these troubled times, times of feeble spirit and all sorts of compromises with evil even among those who are not threatened by evil!
The abandonment of this third sacred commandment by the Russian people began during those unfortunate Petrine times—the shearing of beards, the establishment of so-called “assemblies” with their frivolous activities, then, the infection from the West of sentimental “rosy” Christianity. The teaching, in the Protestant spirit, that salvation is easy and requires no spiritual struggle with the bodiless enemy, the dismissal of Christian asceticism and the overly comfortable attitude towards everything, including what is anti-Christian, that false Christian love which exceeds love for Christ and is prepared to make any compromise with all forms of evil. On this basis of fantasized, distorted Christianity, the Tolstoyan teaching of non-resistance of evil, which prepared the way for truly Satanic evil in our Homeland. And now, to our great sorrow, we note that this Tolstoyan non-resistance to evil is taught in many circles, even religious circles, of our diaspora under the attractive slogan of the Church “not interfering in politics,” as though the struggle against a clearly Satanic evil is wrong from the outset for a believing member of the Church?!
Why? Were the Righteous Prince Alexander Nevsky, and St Sergius of Radonezh, and the great Hierarchs of Moscow Peter, Alexy, Jonah and Philipp, Holy Hieromartyr Germogen “politicians?” The entire history of our Russian Orthodox Church, indissolubly bound to the history of the Russian state, attests eloquently to the fact that for the Russian Orthodox Christian, the irreconcilable and uncompromising struggle against evil in all its forms is his holy duty, commanded to him by his holy ancestors—all the Russian Saints—and not simply inappropriate involvement in politics! Such overly-effusive Christians and enemies of “politics” must reconsider their attitude towards the saints of Russia, and consequently then reject them and the great history of our nation, inspired and born of the blessed action and guidance of these spiritual lanterns of the Russian Orthodox Church, which never separated itself from society and the government of its people, but acted as its true soul and conscience.
And so if we wish to be faithful to the third commandment of our great Illuminator and to the whle history of our Homeland, as personified by the great saints of God of Russia, we have a single path before us: uncompromising resistance to Satanic evil, the rejection of the pseudo-Christian embrace of the Antichrist, for “what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Be'li-al? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). And this path is the genuine Christian path, truly of the Church as founded on the Word of God and the example of a multitude of saints glorified by the Church specifically for this very path!
How profound and full is the remarkable yet brief, Divinely-inspired prayer uttered by our Baptizer and Illuminator, Holy Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, on this great and holy moment of the christening of the Russian people! Every Russian Orthodox Christian should commit these words to memory, and impress into his heart and bring to life the commandments it contains--personally, in our society and in government.
It is our great misfortune that the Russian people did not stand firm in loyalty to this great legacy, but succumbed to the temptations of the enemy, which turned us from our straight and lawful historic path, and as a result fell to these great calamities and disasters, which now threaten all of mankind. Therefore, for the sake of the salvation of the Russian people and all of mankind, we should set aside all politics, including the evil politics of non-resistance to evil, and raise our banner bearing only these three commandments left to us by our Illuminator: Knowing God, devotion to Holy Orthodoxy and the irreconcilable struggle against Satanic evil, relying solely upon God, and if we do, our hope will no doubt be answered.
From Archbishop Averky (Taushev’s) book A Time For Every Thing, published as part of the series
The Spiritual Inheritance of the Russian Diaspora, published by Sretensky Monastery in 2006.
Translation by the official website of the Russian Church Abroad