In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!
Today I turn to one of my favorite topics, the lives of the Saints. I love to read the lives of the Saints, to study them, to tell their stories, to connect with them, to get to know them. The Saints are alive and well, worshipping with us even today as the great cloud of witnesses. The Church has set these men and women before us as examples, to see their lives and to be inspired in our faith and in our growth in Christ. I don’t think there’s a conversation in the Church we can have that cannot be illustrated and enhanced by examples from the lives of the Saints.
Today we celebrate the memory of the Equal to the Apostles, the Great Prince Vladimir, Enlightener of the Russian Lands. In baptism he took the name Basil, but he’s always been known as St. Vladimir. There are multiple saints who are given the title “Equal to the Apostles,” and many of them are responsible for great masses of people converting to the Orthodox Faith – we think not only of St. Vladimir, but also St. Nina of Georgia, St. Mary Magdalene, and even St. Olga, the grandmother of St. Vladimir. Truly I think that even today, we can say that few saints have had such an enormous impact for Christianity in the world. We’ll hear his story in a moment, but we can fast-forward and think of the Orthodoxy of the Russian people, all of the Saints and holy men of Russia, all of the wonderful spiritual classics penned in Russia, all of the lands eventually evangelized by the Russian Orthodox, looking even to America, where Holy Orthodoxy was first introduced by Russian missionaries. All of this work, obviously the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, it was all sparked by the searching and conversion to Christ of St. Vladimir.
So now, a bit about his life, and perhaps some things we can learn from it. St. Vladimir was born in 960AD and was named Volodimir, meaning “peaceful ruler.” In brief, Vladimir came to power when his father divided what were then the Russian Lands among his 3 sons. Within the first decade, he attacked one of his brothers, and came to rule not only his given region of Novgorod, but also his brother’s region of Kiev. He lived quite a sensuous and worldly life, but he did try to be a good ruler and care for his people and for his domain. His interaction with the Byzantine Empire we would say was arranged by the providence of God. Vladimir already had begun to question the worship of idols and paganism, which was widespread in the Russian Lands – he had on his mind to find the True God. We hear often the story that he was seeking this One True God, and sending out people to explore various religions and to report back to him, and it is this way that he discovered the Orthodox Church. The story is a bit more involved than that! Around this time of St Vladimir’s searching, the Byzantine Empire was under attack, and they turned to Vladimir for help. Though they had at times been enemies, they now became allies. But in exchange for his military help, Vladimir asked to marry the Byzantine Emperor’s sister. A deal was reached – Vladimir would accept Holy Baptism (since the Emperor’s sister could not marry a pagan) and in exchange sent 6,000 Russian troops to aid in battle. So in a very apparently odd set of circumstances, the Russian people began their sojourn in the Orthodox Church by the baptism of Vladimir.
After the Greeks won their war, they were in no hurry to send over the Emperor’s sister for the promised wedding. In his frustration, Vladimir attacked and overthrew a Byzantine stronghold on the Black Sea. He then send emissaries to Constantinople to collect his bride, under threat that he would next attack Constantinople. Her family helped her prepare for this new stage in life, and one of the consolations they spoke of was her great opportunity to help truly bring the Christian faith to the people of Russia. Interestingly, it was because of this Byzantine/Roman wedding that Vladimir added Caesar, or Tsar, to his title as the ruler of the Russian Lands. Along with the new Tsarina Anna also came a bishop, Metropolitan Michael, who brought clergy and relics and all of those things necessary to begin the building up of Churches and the spreading of the Christian Faith in Russia. In 988, Vladimir was baptized and he and Anna were wed, and as they traveled back to Kiev with the all of the various clergy, stopping in towns along the way to offer thanksgiving and to visit, it is said that it appeared like Christianity was simply walking into Russia, coming to the people. People all throughout the land received Holy Baptism – Vladimir requested that all of his subjects in Kiev come to the River to be baptized and be received into the Church. And this is what we celebrate as the Baptism of the Rus in 988.
From a spiritual perspective, even if the people were coming not fully catechized and in order to please their ruler, they all came to font of Baptism and were cleansed of their sins and spiritually reborn and became Christians. The nation was baptized – and this had an enormous influence on the future of Russia. Immediately Churches were built, and the people were catechized and were able to begin living Christian lives. Throughout all of Russia, St. Vladimir had the pagan temples destroyed, and had Churches built in their places. The Bishops were very active in sending out clergy into all the towns, and building temples (under the direction and patronage of St Vladimir) and monasteries. And not only was St Vladimir interested in his own people, but he also had missionaries sent out into surrounding areas, to preach the Gospel of Christ – this resulted in the baptism and conversion of many rulers and lands around Kiev. St. Vladimir took his conversion to heart – he truly tried to give his life to Christ and to the Gospel – and by the grace of the Holy Spirit this bore an unbelievable fruit.
There were already Christians in Russia before St Vladimir’s conversion, and even temples built by such people as St Olga, St Vladimir’s mother. But under St Vladimir, Russia became a Christian nation. In addition to simply knowing about the life of this holy man, and how he entirely changed the direction of such an enormous country, and how over time that transformation bore such great fruit, there’s one other thing we can take away from the story of St Vladimir this morning. We never know how God is working in the circumstances of our lives. St. Vladimir’s run in with Byzantium initially seemed only concerned with military and could have been just a perfunctory Baptism. But God worked in and through those circumstances to bring forth great fruit. As another example, we can also think of Joseph, in the Old Testament. Sold into slavery by his brothers, but eventually used by God to save many lives in the middle of drought and famine. As Joseph told his brothers about their actions – you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. God can, and is, working in all of the various situations in our lives. Everything we endure and go through goes into making us who we are. God is working all things in our lives for our salvation – and this is a reality that we really must remember, especially when we’re feeling particularly down or beat up by life. “Thy will be done” we pray in the Our Father – whether or not we are able to always see it, God is working His will in the creation.
We’ll end with a beautiful prayer, perfectly addressing this reality, I think. Fittingly, a Russian prayer: The Prayer of the Optina Elders
O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson