NEW YORK: July 25, 2008
Epistle of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia On the Celebration of the Memory of Holy Prince Vladimir the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles, and the 1020th Anniversary of the Conversion of Russia
Right reverend brother archpastors, most honorable pastors,
brethren, sisters and children, beloved in the Lord!
With a sense of profound spiritual joy I greet all of you on the day of the commemoration of Holy Prince Vladimir the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles, the godfather and enlightener of the peoples of the Russian land, and on the noteworthy 1,020th anniversary of the conversion of Russia. Our hearts are now directed towards three commemorations: the first is Saint Vladimir's conversion to Christ and his own baptism; the second is the baptism of the inhabitants of Kiev; and the third is that which happened after that of the Kievans: the conversion of all Russia.
Having accepted the Christian faith with all his soul, Holy Prince Vladimir the Great was totally transformed spiritually: from a crude pagan he became a saint, an equal of the apostles. The peoples of our homeland are eternally in his debt for instilling in them the highest Christian traits of character: piety, patience, guilelessness, forgiveness of enemies, humility, loving-kindness, the doing of good, and especially, love for children—and all of this to a greater degree than one finds among other peoples. What an indescribable impression was made on the newly-baptized Russian people by Vladimir's generosity, which was shown to be benefaction on a state-wide level. This trait of Vladimir is also reflected in the character of our sinful but good fellow Russians, from almsgiving to pity for criminals condemned to death, inclusive. Invisibly, in spirit, our common godfather is with us now: Prince Vladimir is with us in his love, his kindness, his precepts and his prayerful intercession.
Nine eighty-eight was a particular year of God's providence, an exceptional year in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to tradition, its birth was foreseen prophetically by Holy Apostle Andrew the First-called. This was the will of our heavenly Father, since, as Christ said, "No one can come to Me except My Father bring him." And it is He Who has drawn the Russian people to share in the life of the Christian Church. The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit has been set upon the new Church. Like a bride it has been clothed in the radiant apparel of divine grace. From the sanctified waters of the Dniepr emerged a new people, born of water and the Holy Spirit. Over our common font and the mountains of Kiev, over the whole expanse of Russia, shone the light of new life bearing a concept of holiness hitherto unknown to our forebears. Therefore, together with the famous theologian and historian of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Macarius (Bulgakov) of Moscow, who rests in the Cathedral of the Dormition at the Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra, on these festive days we triumphantly cry exclaim: "This event is beyond doubt the most important of all that had ever happened on the face of the Russian land…"
1988 was also a special year for the Russian Orthodox Church. By that time the Russian Orthodox Church had justified its vocation. It had glorified many holy favorites of God and washed the whole Russian land in the blood of its new martyrs and confessors. This became the seed of a second Conversion of Russia, its gradual spiritual rebirth. Glory to God! The Lord spared His people, according to His true word (Joel, Ch. 2), and began to transform the bloody Russian Golgotha into the radiant joy of the Resurrection. As is well known, the Sacrament of Repentance is often called a "second baptism", and the word "repentance" itself is (in Russian) a precise translation of the Greek word for "turning around", "change". Those great changes that took place at that time in the life of our nation were signs of hope, signs of that a process of repentance and the restoration of our souls had begun. Repentance is a great spiritual struggle that is undertaken in the name of the restoration of life.
Therefore, along with our gratitude to God, sincere repentance must also be present in our prayers today. For therein lies genuine restoration, the attainment of righteousness, the re-establishment of what is good, beautiful and true, the acquisition of hope, humility and boldness. And if such be the will of God, we will celebrate and rejoice over the victory of our Church together with the glorious, invincible martyrs. All of us, whether we are good or bad Christians, rejoice on these days, for the persecutors were unable to destroy us, to slay all the servants of the Church, and to make of our homeland a nest of the darkest obscurantism and godlessness. Let us further place our hope in the invincible power of the Founder and Head of the Church and on His promise that it will never be overcome. Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered! Let Him rise again in our hearts, as once He arose in the heart of our godfather, the holy, right-believing Prince Vladimir the Great, equal of the apostles and enlightener of Rus'! Amen.
With love in the Lord, and asking your holy prayers,
+Hilarion, Metropolitan of New York & Eastern America
15/28 July 2008