Celebrate St. Vladimir, who turned Russia Christian

St. Vladimir was enticed by the beauty of Christian Orthodoxy. Photo in public domainSUNDAY, JULY 15: A Russian saint compared with figures no less sacred than the holy Apostles takes the spotlight today, as Orthodox, Catholic and Western Christians venerate the Holy Great Prince Vladimir.

While several Christian saints born into wealth or nobility later renounced that life, St. Vladimir maintained his royal role until his death—all the while using his power to change the course of history in Russia. Born a pagan, traditional accounts hold that Vladimir’s early days were filled with murder and barbarianism; it wasn’t until his envoys explained a land so stunning that they “knew not whether [we] were in Heaven or on Earth” that Vladimir became interested in Christianity. The rest of his life was spent baptizing the people of his nation into Russian Orthodoxy. (Wikipedia has details.) At his funeral, his evanglisation of the Russian land was compared to the evangelization of the first Apostles.

Where did he arise? When a renowned prophetess became pregnant by Sviatoslav I of Kiev, a son was born in 958 CE: Vladimir. As an adult, Vladimir was given Novgorod by his father, but following his father’s death, civil war ensued between his half-brothers. Forced out of Novgorod by a half-brother who had already murdered another half-brother, Vladimir fled to Scandinavia. Three years later, Vladimir returned to Russia with an army, killed his murderous half-brother and became sole ruler of Russia.

Vladimir, filled with contentment, continued to expand his pagan kingdom—until two brave Christians stood up against him. It was custom to sacrifice human lives to the pagan gods, but when one Christian child was chosen, his father chastised the falseness of the gods. A mob soon killed the father and son (both of whom were later regarded as the first Russian Christian martyrs), but Vladimir just couldn’t get the father’s words out of his mind. Dissatisfied, Vladimir sent his envoys in search of the “perfect religion” of neighboring nations.

One day, the envoys came across the dazzling Constantinople and described a service “fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.” It’s unclear whether Vladimir was entranced by Orthodox’s beauty or the political gains of an alliance with the Byzantine Church. Whatever his prime motives may have been, he soon married a Byzantine princess and was baptized. (Get an Eastern Christian perspective from the Orthodox Church in America.) In Kiev, he demolished pagan monuments, built churches and Orthodox schools, constructed Orthodox monasteries and converted all of the Kievan realm to Christianity. It was with him that the Slavic pagan period of Russia ended, and the Christian period began.


Though he is most highly regarded in the Orthodox Christian Church, Roman Catholics and other Western Catholics venerate St. Vladimir, too. What better way to honor the renowned ruler of the Kievan realm than to make a recipe named after his territory? Find a recipe for Chicken Kiev at AllRecipes! Yes, we are aware that the history of this particular dish goes back only about a century and there are some versions of culinary history that place its creation in a Soviet-era restaurant. We suggest this with a smile mainly because Chicken Kiev, today, is so easily available across the U.S.

Want a meal with deeper roots in Kiev? OK, roll up your sleeves and get ready for some Kapusniak or Rosolnyk; then, maybe a hearty main dish of Varenyky (yes, they’re Ukrainian versions of Pierogi dumplings); then relax after the main course with some sweet Syrniki.

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