Thoughts of Protopriest Victor Ilienko of Blessed Memory
on the Feast Day of St Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles
When we behold the image of Holy Prince Vladimir, his hair graying, we unwittingly ascribe to the wisdom of his years his great life’s accomplishment—the adoption of Christianity and the illumination of the people of Rus with the light of Faith in Christ. We cannot grasp the significance of this watershed moment in his life, his baptism, unless we take into consideration the fact that Prince Vladimir was not even thirty years old when he was christened. A person at such an age is drawn to the things of this world: women, wealth, glory, power—that is what fills the soul, these are the ideals of a man of thirty. And we know that Prince Vladimir was indeed occupied by these things at the time. Who could imagine that even at such a young age, not yet sated of all the pleasures of this world, a thirst for piety would arise in him, the yearning for a life of abstention; that as we see him, this young man could harbor a fervent desire to know the true God, and learning of Him, that he would follow Him with all his attention, to the point of completely turning his life around!
As we now assess the achievements of Vladimir in light of his youth, they are completely transformed in our mind’s eye—it was a far more lofty deed, for to turn away from this world and to follow Christ in old age is one thing, but to begin to serve Him at the age of thirty is quite another.
Holy Prince Vladimir, seeking the good jewel, obtained the most invaluable of all jewels—Christ Himself. As did the man from the Gospel, who, finding a field with buried treasure, sells everything he had and buys the field, so did Prince Vladimir, obtaining Christ, abandoned his pagan lifestyle with all its pleasures. The seed of the Christian faith was implanted in the Russian soul, it became like the yeast which gradually, for almost 1,000 years now, ferments our life with the ideals of Christianity.
We love to call historic Russia “Holy Rus” not because it was truly holy, not because the Russian people are as a whole always strove for sanctity. On the contrary, we know of such moments in history as the Time of Troubles of the 17th century, or the present days of evil, the result of a long, profound descent into darkness of the ideals of Holy Rus within our souls. But the mere fact that our people, having succumbed to the temptations of earthly, sinful life, having abandoned God, having lost any desire to recognize moral boundaries, now senses the bitterness of such life, the lack of any satisfaction it provides, and is once again turning to Christ, to the promised treasure—all this shows how deeply Prince Vladimir planted the image of Christ within the Russian soul.