Prince Vladimir was the son of Prince Svyatoslav and Malusha, the Princess of the Drevlyany people. He was raised by his mother's brother Dobrynya, who was a pagan. In 972 Vladimir became the ruler of Novgorod. In 980, when the war between brothers was at its highest point, Vladimir started hostilities against Kiev, ruled at the time by his brother Yaropolk. After the victory over his brother Vladimir became the ruler of Kiev. He conquered Galitia, suppressed the rebellious Vatka people, fought with the Pecheneg tribes, and expanded the territory subject to him from the Baltic Sea in the north to the river Boug in the south. He had 5 wives and numerous concubines. He installed idols on the Kiev Mountains with human sacrifices being brought to them. It was at that this time that Variagians Feodor and Ioann died for being faithful to the Lord. The death of these martyrs impressed Vladimir so much that he began to doubt pagan beliefs.
Vladimir invited missionaries from many countries to come to Kiev: Moslem Bulgarians who lived beyond the Volga river, German Latins, Jews and Greeks. The prince asked them about their creeds, and each of the visitors offered him his own belief. It was the Greek preacher who impressed Vladimir most of all. At the end of their conversation, the preacher described the day of the Lord's judgment. Upon counseling with his boyars, Vladimir sent 10 wise men to find out whose faith was better. When the Russian envoys arrived in Constantinople they were impressed to the depth of their souls by the splendor of the St. Sofia cathedral, the harmonious singing of the royal choir and the grandeur of the service conducted by the Patriarch. "We were not even aware if we were on the earth or in heaven," they related to Vladimir while recounting their impressions. And the boyars added, "If the Greek faith had not been superior to other beliefs, your grandmother, Olga, who was the wisest of living people, would not have embraced it."
Vladimir decided to get baptized, but he did not want to turn Russia into a Greek subject. For this reason Vladimir started hostilities against Greece and occupied Hersones, from where he sent envoys to Constantinople demanding that the emperors Basilius and Constantine agree to his marrying their sister Anna. They replied that Anna could only marry a Christian. Then Vladimir declared that he is willing to accept Christianity. But prior to the bride's arrival to Hersones, Vladimir was inflicted by blindness.
In this state, like the Apostle Paul, he became aware of his spiritual powerlessness and was prepared for the great miracle of rebirth. When the Princess arrived in Hersones, she advised Vladimir to get baptized as soon as possible. Vladimir was baptized in 988 and was named Vasilii. Upon coming out of the baptismal font he regained his physical and spiritual vision and exclaimed in rapture, "Now I have seen the true God!"
Returning to Kiev together with Korsun and Greek priests, Vladimir suggested to his twelve sons to become Christians and they were baptized in one of the Kiev streams called Kreshchatic. Many boyars followed the example of his sons. Meanwhile Vladimir started to ban and destroy idols. Perun, the greatest of the idols, was tied to a horse, dragged off its mount with desecration and thrown into the Dnieper River. This was followed by preaching the Gospel to people. Christian ministers brought people together and preached to them the true sacred faith. Finally Saint Vladimir told all the Kiev citizens, both rich and poor, to come to the bank of Dnieper on a certain day to get baptized. The Kiev citizens were willing to fulfill the Prince's order reasoning: "The Prince and boyars would not have adopted the new faith, if it had not been better."
On the appointed day, the citizens of Kiev came to the bank of the Dnieper River. Vladimir himself came there also accompanied by Christian ministers. All the people entered the river, with the water reaching up to their necks or chest, adults were holding children and babies, while the ministers were reading prayers on the bank. Saint Vladimir was elatedly praying to God that he and his people be commended to the Lord.
After the baptizing of the people living in Kiev and its suburbs, the new faith was brought to Novgorod. In 990, Mikhail, the first metropolitan of Kiev, arrived in Novgorod with six bishops accompanied by Dobrynia, uncle of Saint Vladimir. Like in Kiev, they overthrew the statue of Perun, dragged it on the ground and cast it into the Volkhov River. After that they proclaimed the people Catechumens and baptized them. Metropolitan Mikhail together with 4 bishops and Dobrynia left Novgorod for Rostov, where they baptized many citizens, received presbyters into the ministry and built a church. But the pagan beliefs persisted so long after that in Rostov, that the first two Rostov bishops - Saint Feodor and Saint Illarion - after many great efforts to eradicate paganism had to leave the cathedra. Saint bishops Leontius and Isiaya worked hard to put an end to idolatry in Rostov. Venerable Ambrosius founded the Rostov monastery and was an archimandrite there.
In 992 the Holy faith was brought to the Suzdal region. Prince Vladimir went there with two bishops. The Suzdal people adopted Christianity and got baptized willingly.
Vladimir's children receiving appanage principalities from him, gave much attention to expansion of Christianity in their crown domains. Hence, in the 10th century, in addition to Kiev, Novgorod, Rostov, and Suzdal, the Holy Creed was also taught in the towns of Murom, Polotsk, Vladimir-of-Volyn, Smolensk, Pskov, Lutsk, Tmutarakan and in the land of Drevlans. Later, in the land of the Vyatich people (more recently called Kursk, Orlov, Tula and Kaluga regions) Venerable Kuksha, a monk of the Pechora monastery, accomplished a lot of ministerial work and preaching. He suffered a martyr's death from the pagans.
In the beginning the Christian faith was initially adopted in territories adjacent to Kiev and along the waterway from Kiev to Novgorod, wherefrom it was spread along the Volga artery. Under the Orthodox dominion, Slavic tribes started to be drawn together into a united state.
The successful conversion of Russian people into Christianity can be explained by the fact that it was spread predominantly by peaceful means - by ministration and preaching (unlike Roman Catholics who often used fire and sword). As well as the fact that it was done in the native Slavic language, due to the work of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
Following the example of Russians some national minorities living on lands adjacent to Russia started to convert into Orthodox Christianity. Thus, in the 10th through the13th centuries some Finnish tribes (Izhora and Korela), Chude, Cheremis and Votiaks, and also some non-Russian tribes living in Vologda and some other national minorities were baptized. In the beginning of the 13th century the city of Nizhni-Novgorod was erected on the banks of the Volga and Oka Rivers to become a stronghold of Orthodoxy among non-Russians living along the Volga River and in the middle regions of Russia.
In the western parts of Russia the spreading of Orthodoxy was confronted by another strong influence coming from the Roman Catholic Church. Latin missionaries from Sweden were preaching in Finland. The tribes living south of the Finnish bay were initially converted into Orthodoxy, but later Latin missionaries from Denmark inhabited the region. By the end of the 12th century a Latin Order of Knights of the Sword was established in Livonia, which opposed both the Russian influence and the successful expansion of Orthodoxy. In Lithuania the Orthodox Christian faith started to be adopted in the 12th century from the neighboring Russian settlements. In the 13th century, after Lithuanian princes conquered the Russian towns of Novogrudsk, Slonim and Brest, some of the Lithuanian people got baptized.
The expansion of Orthodoxy here was particularly promoted by the martyrdom and death of three court dignitaries of the Lithuanian prince Olgerdt (who was the son of Gedemin, the founder of the Lithuanian kingdom. These were Saints Anthony, Ivan and Eustaphius. But by the end of that century Lithuania and the western part of Russia subject to it joined the Catholic Poland. After that Roman popes did everything possible to attain 2 goals: the separation of southwest lands from the unified Russian church, and the introduction of the so-called "Lithuanian Unia" there.
Influence of Christianity on the life of Russian people
Immediately after adoption, the Holy Christian faith began to effect positively the life of our ancestors. The society started practicing the Christian way of life such as frequent prayers, charity, and traveling to holy places to name a few. Especially pronounced was the beneficial influence of Christianity on the hearts and lives of some prominent personalities of that time. While a pagan Prince Vladimir was indulging in vices, he was also notorious for cruelty. Christian faith changed him as if he had been born again. He became reserved, chaste and compassionate towards the poor and disabled. Every day in his palace he would give alms to the beggars and send out everything necessary for nurturing the poor and crippled at their homes.
In Christianity, Vladimir was even doubtful about the execution of the worst criminals, he asked bishops if this would constitute a sin. Vladimir's sons, saint martyrs Boris and Gleb, were a true model of Christian piety. The Russian metropolitans Mikhail, Illarion and others were famous for their saintly ways of life. It was in the monasteries that we find especially numerous examples of righteous and devout life.
The development of spiritual enlightenment and written language, as well as the establishment of schools in Russia enhanced the beneficial influence of Christianity on the Russian way of life.
It was a special care for Archbishops and princes to enlighten people in the spirit of Christianity. Following the advice of the first prelate of the Russian church - Metropolitan Mikhail - the Great Prince Vladimir organized schools in Kiev and other cities. Metropolitan Mikhail often invited the teachers and instructed them in the ways to educate children. Prince Vladimir's son Yaroslav the Wise, ordered churches built and people taught in the cities and settlements. In Novgorod he organized a school for 300 children. According to a chronicler, Mikhail himself was reading books "day and night" and gathered "many scribes" who were copying books and sometimes translating them from Greek into Russian. The successors of Vladimir and Yaroslav followed their example, as did the clergy and the monks. The books were considered to be part of the holy work at the monasteries; many monks devoted all their time when free from prayers to reading and translating books. Sometimes in order to copy some books they had to travel to the East - to Constantinople and Athos.
Furthering the Christian enlightenment of people, archbishops and pastors of the Russian church were also striving for establishment of civil order in Russia, which would be based on the unshakable foundation of Christianity. The influence of Russian Christian pastors was especially beneficial during the afflictions of internal strife. Either the metropolitan himself tried to put an end to discords between princes, or sent his bishops to perform the task. Amongst all of those discords and civil strives, our hierarchy preserved its unity and indivisibility, which was the main factor in uniting the Russian state.