St. Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich Equal to the Apostles (baptized Basil, died on July 15, 1015 the old style), ruler of Kievan Rus (978 – 1015), the baptizer of Rus.
Half-legendary accounts of his life maintained in chronicles and hagiographies. Other evidences about him are contained in Bruno of Quertfurt’s message to the German king Heinrich II, the Saxon Thietmar of Merseburg’s Chronicle, Byzantine, Armenian, Arabian and Syrian chronicles. Due to the controversial nature of these sources there are different interpretations of Prince Vladimir’s biography.
There is no clear evidence as to where and when Vladimir Svyatoslavich was born. He was the son of the Kievan Prince Svyatoslav Igorevich and Malusha, the housekeeper of his grandmother, saint Princess Olga Equal to the Apostles, who is believed to have brought up the young Vladimir. His maternal uncle Dobrynya was later attached to the child as his tutor.
In 969, Prince Svyatoslav appointed his son Vladimir the prince of Veliky Novgorod. After Svyatoslav’s death in 972 a feud for the throne flared up between his sons Yaropolk, Vladimir and Oleg. During this war Vladimir killed his brother Yaropolk and sat on the Kievan throne in 978.
During the first decades of his reign Vladimir Svyatoslavich’s domestic policy was directed at consolidating Rus and strengthening his power. For this purpose he led several successful campaigns and conducted a religious reform. Initially, Vladimir Svyatoslavich attempted to introduce a uniform cult of pagan gods by building a pagan temple near his court, in which sacrifices were made, including the human ones. A similar pagan temple was built in Novgorod by Dobrynya. However, paganism could not lay the foundation for a centralized state due to its tribal character. For this reason, Vladimir Svyatoslavich sent envoys to Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and the Jews to gather information on various religions. These spiritual and religious pursuits eventually led Prince Vladimir to settling on Orthodox Christianity.
Russian chronicles contain controversial evidences of the place and date of the Baptism of Rus by Prince Vladimir and his druzhina. Scholars of Arabian and Syrian chronicles link the Baptism of Rus by Vladimir Svyatoslavich with his treaty with the Byzantine Emperor Basil II. Under this treaty, Prince Vladimir undertook to help Basil II suppress a rebellion led by Byzantine general Bardas Phokas while the Byzantine emperor, in return, would give his sister, princess Anne, in marriage for Vladimir provided that the prince accept Christian faith. The Kievan prince fulfilled the provisions of the agreement by sending his troops, which in 988-989 took part in the suppression of the revolt, and accepted Orthodox Christianity, presumably in Kiev. Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich took the Christian name Basil, since his godfather, in accordance with Byzantine traditions, was Basil II. But the Byzantine emperor didn’t seem to send Princess Anna to Kiev, causing Prince Vladimir and his warriors to besiege and conquer the Greek city of Chersones (Korsun). According to other theory, Vladimir conquered Chersones because its citizens supported the rebels.
After the conquer of Chersones Princess Anna came to Rus and married Vladimir Svyatoslavich. Upon return to Kiev Prince Vladimir ordered to destroy pagan monuments and build Orthodox churches on their places. The Greek clergy who accompanied Princess Anna to Rus took part in mass baptizing in Kiev, Novgorod and other Russian towns; archdiocese and several arch-sees were founded and ecclesiastic court were established later. Vladimir Svyatoslavich allocated the tenth part of his incomes for the needs of the Orthodox Church.
Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich died on July 15th 2015 (the old style) and was buried in the Desyatinnaya Church (The Church of the Tithes). He was venerated as a saint not later than in the 13th century.
On icons Saint Vladimir Svyatoslavich Equal to the Apotles is traditionally depicted as a gray-haired old man with curly hair and a double broad beard, wearing traditional Russian clothes, such as, for example, on the icon dated to the first half of the 15th century from the Deesis tier, now held at Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
St. Prince Vladimir is commemorated on July 28th (July 15th,the old style), October 23th (October 10th, the old style).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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