Epistle of Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky)
on the 950th Anniversary of the Baptism of Rus
“Every nation, city and people venerates and glorifies their forefathers who taught them the Orthodox Christian faith. Let us, too, glorify to the best of our ability, however feeble our praises may be, the one who performed great and wondrous deeds, our guide, the King of our land, Vladimir.”
These memorable words by Metropolitan Ilarion of Kiev come to us again from the depths of time on this anniversary, the 950th year of the baptism of Rus. Our Illuminator, Holy Prince Vladimir, truly did the work of the Apostles, having brought our people from the darkness of paganism and illuminating them with the Light of Christ, which he absorbed from ancient Byzantium.
The importance of this great and glorious event is truly immeasurable not only for our Fatherland, but for the entire world. As we delve into its history, we cannot but feel the Hand of Divine Providence, which guides the fate of mankind. If the sensual pagan Vladimir were to have been lured by the teachings of Islam, which condones the fleshly desires of man, then the position held by Russia in Eastern Europe would have been a constant threat of fanatical Islam. The history of the Christian Church, and consequently of the entire world over the last millennium, would have taken an entirely different direction. This was a result of the efforts of the Greek missionaries, and not the Roman missionaries, who conquered Vladimir’s heart when he wished to leave behind the heathen superstitions of his forefathers, and come to a more perfect religious confession. Truly, he did not “heed the call” of mankind, but of God Himself, Who showed him the pure and unadulterated source of light for all mankind, for mankind abides in darkness and under the veil of death until sincerely and wholeheartedly seeking the truth.
The salvific fear gripping the heart of Prince Vladimir when he beheld the icon of Judgment Day, unrolled before his gaze by the Greek philosopher-missionary, was for him “the beginning of wisdom,” the first seed of Orthodox Christianity which took root in his heart. But especially brightly did the “Star of the East” shine for him when his emissaries returned from Constantinople, and with trepidation of spiritual ecstasy recounted their experience during divine services in Hagia Sophia Cathedral, having beheld the revealed glory of God, as did the disciples on Mt Tabor. This beauty captured the heart of Vladimir and forever subjected him to Christ. Having received Christianity before his people, he not only Baptist them, but their common godfather, confirming them in the truth of the Gospel.
The spiritual renewal given to him through the grace of baptism was then spread throughout the people of Rus.
Aligning themselves with Christ, the as-of-yet immature Russian soul quickly ripened, blossomed like a bride with spiritual beauty. Having tasted of the delectable, the Russian people no longer wanted the bitter and sorrowful songs of their land; their burdened gaze was turned to Heaven, and they became like wanderers in the earthly desert, forever seeking the coming Shining City, which became the model upon which they set out to establish life on earth.
The Orthodox Christian faith, taking its “leavening” from the Gospel, then gradually spread into the depths of the existence and daily life of the Russian people.
It left an indelible impression on the entire spiritual and even material image of the Russian people, granting them a benevolent softness and meekness and forever changing their national character, which assumed a welcoming and free spirit. A golden thread of Orthodox Christianity was woven within the fabric of our spiritual culture, which always arose from the foundations of church life. It shone forth in the luminous faces of our ascetics, in the splendor of our holy sites, the surrounding image of our ancient hierarchs, in the incisive beauty of our old icons, painted in the likeness of heavenly visions; in the chaste grandeur of the tender songs of old, and the wondrous symphony of the architectural colors and lines reaching for the skies that we see in the Church of St Basid the Blessed in Moscow.
The grace and truth of Orthodoxy gave life and spirit to our very state structure, transforming its pagan nature to assume the spirit of the Gospel of Christ, so that through the state, the spirit of truth and the Kingdom of Heaven would be established on earth. According to this viewpoint, the state and its Head, the Orthodox Tsar, were given the special calling to be the defender and protector of the Church, and a fellow-ascetic of Her high calling, demanding justice and truth of God on earth, and to lay down his life for the people entrusted to him; the service of the Tsar assumed special grace and the illumination of the Church in the form of holy anointment.
History is confirmed by the daily life and the strength of the religious foundations that were laid within the very heart of our statehood since the time of St Vladimir.
Russia, having desired more than anything to be “holy,” became great as well. Like a tree with many boughs, it spread its umbrage over one-sixth of the world, enveloping and absorbing a multitude of peoples, which all melded into a single, mighty organism. It was only the Church that bore the image and symbolized the unity of the Russian land, protecting her from disintegration and fragmentation during its historic tribulations.
The Church, like a doting mother, warmed the suffering Russian hearts with her love and prayers when they lived under the Tatar yoke, saving them from despair and depression and the lure of Islam.
The abiding light of Orthodox Christianity illuminated the dark and sorrowful days of the Russian people during the first Time of Troubles, which darkened the reason of Russians and transformed Russia into a kingdom “divided against itself.” The Holy Church performed a true miracle, having restored our Homeland from ruin and breathing into it the spirit of life. Russia remained a mighty, unshakeable power as long as she stood upon the foundation of its ancient Orthodox legacy left by Holy Prince Vladimir. She only began to topple when this great treasure was replaced by deceptive, alien values.
The Russian people understood viscerally how dangerous foreign ways of life were to them, and whenever they strayed upon those paths, they would always rush back to the House of their Father, as a life-saving compass, the Orthodox cross which crowned our Church of the Fatherland.
The Holy Illuminator of Russia has forever stood vigil over his regime, protecting it with his prayers during its most difficult times until Russia, in a fit of madness, denied him and in doing so, denied her own existence, the vows given during her baptism, seduced by the poisonous lure of Bolshevism. Tasting of the forbidden fruit, Russia was struck with spiritual doom.
But before darkness befell our land, Holy Russia gave its final, bright flash in the person of our great ascetic monk, St Seraphim of Sarov.
Humble, blessed, magnificent, declaring peace and love to the world which shone from his harmonic heart, he burned with the love for God of the angels known as the Seraphim, illuminated by the light of His Resurrection. St Seraphim was a true friend of the Russian people, grieving for them, and was called the “bright champion of the Russian Church.” He exhibited the utter manifestation of the image of Holy Russia, which reared entire hosts of such Divine monastics in Russia. By Divine Providence, he shone in our ecclesial skies when the first rumbles of thunder were heard, foreboding the days of utter catastrophe.
During this time, another lantern of the Church burned brightly, the great select of God, Fr John of Kronstadt, this true All-Russian pastor and teacher, also illuminated by the unwavering light of the Resurrection of Christ. Like Elias and Enoch before the Second Coming of Christ, these two Russian saints were sent to the world to strengthen the feeble Orthodox spirit within the Russian people, to denounce their many sins and warn them of heavenly vengeance if they do not repent.
When the Russian people in their rage did not heed these words, Divine Judgment befell our Fatherland.
The Lord saw that people turned to matters of the flesh, like before the Great Flood, and, turning His Face away from the Russian land, sent us the spirit of sloth, that is, of spiritual blindness, which cast the Russian people to the feet of new false prophets in the persons of Lenin and his co-conspirators, poisoned by the debilitating teachings of Marx.
God allowed for the Russian Land to fall prey to wicked and criminal men, true servants of Satan, who from the very first days of their bloody reign aimed to bring Russia and Russian life with its religious foundation down and to erase from the Russian soul the imprint of grace which it had received from baptism. What could be more contradictory than two such paths in life, one legally established by our holy Illuminator, the other perverting and murdering the Russian soul, who, sadly, shared the same name. The first called the Russian people to their Heavenly Fatherland, the other lured them with illusions of an earthly Eden; the first taught them fear of God and taught them not to fear evil, the other mocked the very notion of sin and mocked good deeds; the first called upon us to love our enemy, the other preached class warfare and hatred among the people; the first saw the state as an instrument of good and justice on earth; the second distorted the state into organized evil and social transgression which remained above the law; the first destroyed idols, the second erected new, more intricate but therefore more seductive idols than the ancient pagan idols—chief among these were pride which led people to think of themselves as gods.
In the madness of blind pride, mankind dared to assume Divine omniscience and omnipotence and seize not only his own fate but that of the entire world, presuming to establish, as did the Heavenly Creator, everything “in order and measure and weight,” and wishing to command the very elemental forces of nature.
But it did not end there: the communists waged war on God Himself. The era of militant atheism had arrived. The world shook from the terrible blasphemy and the flood of the innocent blood of martyrs that spread through the Russian land. The servants of Antichrist swore to destroy faith in Christ in Russia. At one point it seemed that the enemies of Christ already achieved their wicked plot, and that the lantern of the Orthodox Faith, ignited 9 centuries ago, was being extinguished in our Fatherland. Yet the light of Christ continued to shine amid the darkness, and the darkness did not swallow it.
The furious atheists were proven helpless in their attempt to root out what St Vladimir had planted, for these roots sank very deeply in the Russian national soil. The godless destroyed many churches of God and desecrated holy altars, but they could not reach the temple of the Russian Orthodox soul, where they continued to bring their treasured sacrifice to God.
The hand of the wicked, casting upon the ground the icons and relics of the saints, destroying them wherever they could, could not reach the unmade and invisible image of Christ Himself, inscribed in the holy of holies of the Russian soul by St Vladimir. The Russian people even today cherishes it intact, so that in time it could present it to the world.
No matter how hard the communists tried to distort the preaching of God’s word among the Russian people, God left for Himself enough faithful confessors who would not bend their knee to the temporal masters. Their number grows in step with the increase in persecution of the Church. And as He Who lives in Heaven derides mortal craftiness (Psalms 2:4), and asks the proud atheists: “Where are your titanic Promethian plans? Did I not destroy them with My firm hand and power from the heavens? We read upon the walls of the Babylonian tower erected by the Bolsheviks the words “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” as Christ rebuilds His visible Kingdom in Rus, victorious over the forces of Hades. Cleansed through the fire of suffering, the Russian people once again return to the path of the Russian land, ascetics of faith have emerged, burning with the zeal of Elias, before whom we are unworthy, kneeling, untying the straps of their sandals. In truth, “Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature” (Romans 8:39) can separate them from the love of Christ. The selfless pastors now walk as did the Apostles throughout the deserted and shocked Russian lands to bring guidance and consolation to the people of God and to illuminate them with the Mysteries of the Church.
Fools for Christ have once again appeared there, who were so loved in Holy Russia, who render all the material goods of this world into rubbish and have no fear of speaking the Truth of God to all who have ears to hear.
Through them, Christ, humble and meek, walks throughout the Russian land, blessing her even amidst her sufferings.
Let us direct our inner gaze at these wondrous people, let us venerate their feet and let us pour their pure myrrh into the fading lanterns of our own souls. Let us draw from them the gift of tears of repentance, so necessary in our day, when God is visibly weighing the fates not only of the godless Bolsheviks, but of us, too.
May our St Vladimir behold our tears, as he looks down from Heaven upon our desecrated Fatherland, no longer worthy of bearing the name Holy Russia and the Abode of the Most-Holy Mother of God. Let us make bold to bear witness before him of the piety of the Russian people and to repeat the words of praise: Behold Thy people, how they live, how they piously keep Your word, how they glorify Christ, how they bow before His Name. Behold also the cities, shining gloriously, see the bright temples, see Christianity growing, see Thy city of Kiev, filled with the Righteous of God, preserved without corruption in death, shining giving forth the aroma of incense, praised with the songs of the Divine.”
What we see today in our Homeland—destroyed churches, desecrated altar tables, mocked relics, entire regions devoid of the songs of prayer, where no incense burns and no Divine Sacrifice made. The abomination of desolation now reigns in Kiev, the place of St Vladimir, on this truly holy site, like the sacred Kremlin of Moscow, the Altar of Russia. Woe to us who, as the Prodigal Son, did not increase our treasured talents received from our Father and Illuminator, but wasted them. Oh, if only new prophets would arise, able to ignite with their words our hearts, and wake us from our slumber!
This year, this jubilee year also called the Year of Vladimir, must be a year of judgment for us, a time for us to examine ourselves, know our true natures, without which repentance and correction are impossible. We must steel ourselves in our struggle against evil forces, we must illuminate our minds and hearts, confirm our will to do good, bolster our prayers, gather our spiritual strength for the forthcoming missionary service to Russia.
When by Divine mercy, the doors to our Fatherland are once again opened, we will see, as did the ancient Hebrews who returned from Babylonian captivity, how great the spiritual desolation was. Alongside the blossoming oases of piety we will find in many places a rocky barren, angry souls and hearts roughened by disbelief, darkened or burned human consciences, extinguished before the perversion all around, and the faces of children despoiled before their time. It is our common debt to bring them words of love and reconciliation, the grace of faith, the light of the Truth of the Gospel. St Vladimir will bless us for this missionary service to our brethren, seeing within them the continuation of his own task. This lofty calling to the Russian nation is to bring the light of Orthodox Christianity beyond the borders of our own Fatherland.
It is for this that the Lord sent upon the Russian people the baptism of fire and blood, so that they would steel themselves for this battle, and, like St Peter, to strengthen faith in our brothers. The world awaits the resurrection of Russia in hopes that it will restore the treasure of faith and bring forth fruit to its withered culture.
“We, the people of the West,” admits one insightful European of our day, “have lost our religion. In the souls of our cities religion has been rendered a ‘problem’ by our intellects.” The rebirth of Russia, in his opinion, “will cast aside the edifice of Bolshevism” and “through Byzantium will tie a new, direct bond with Jerusalem.”
He foresees the birth of “a new faith” there, foretold by Dostoevsky, “faith which has no name, but is already trickling into the hearts with a serene but eternally tender force.” We know the name of this new and at the same time ancient faith, the faith of St Vladimir, the Orthodox Faith, the Faith of the Apostles, the Faith of our Fatherland, which possesses the endless power of rebirth within the human heart, always conquering and renewing the world.
This faith lives and works, igniting the heart of the Russian people, it can suddenly spark heroic strength which no mortal can resist, and which will sweep away like an elemental force of nature the last vestiges of Bolshevism.
That same faith, confirmed with deeds, will become the source of a national creative force in the rebuilding of Russia, and will be the foundation of a future statehood and social order, for there is nothing eternal in this world, where entire peoples decline, leaders fall, the thrones of kings topple. Only the Throne of the King of Kings will remain unshaken through the centuries, and its power establishes every power on earth. The pride of the rich is humbled before the Face of God, the poor shall be consoled, the downtrodden with be exalted (James 1:9). The Church will unite all in its bosom of holy love, like the children of One Heavenly Father and brethren in Christ. We all preserve in our hearts the dear image of Holy Russia and thirst to see it once again, a renascent Russia of St Vladimir, Saints Sergius and Seraphim, brilliant in their piety, adorned by the God-Given Anointed of God, the Orthodox Tsar. We know that only a miracle can restore this, as ancient icons are sometimes miraculously renewed, and we must pray for this with all the strength of our faith, with boldness of love and the firmness of Christian hope.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet; Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” (Joel 2:15-17).
May our Illuminator and intercessor before God, St Vladimir, bring prayer to the Altar of the King of Glory, that He “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family” (Leviticus 25:10), and on this holy year finally deliver the Russian people suffering under the yoke of the godless regime.
Remembering this holy and chosen year of the endless mercies of God, shown to us through St Vladimir, let us summon our spirit around him as our symbol of Orthodoxy, our common father and pastor, all of us children of the Russian Church, wherever we may be, together with our fraternal Slavic lands and in America, Africa, Australia, let us life up praise to his great works, glorify his eternal memory, show the world the spiritual pearls which he left for us. His name shall through the year be in our hearts and our mouths, from the youngest of children to the most venerable of the aged. May his holy image stand before us, adorning our churches, our homes, our schools, and everywhere we look. Let us look at his image and preserve in our hearts our faith, and hold fast to our nationhood, the Divine legacy within us, like the Biblical talent granted to us from on high.
Let us gather together in his honor, and in his memory do good deeds of love and Christian charity.
Nine hundred fifty years ago he gave spiritual birth to Russia, immersing her in the font of baptism, Let his prayers renew the Russian Land, let it be washed with tears of repentance as a second baptism. And let us sing together with the Church:
Holy Prince Vladimir,
you were like a merchant in search of fine pearls.
By sending servants to Constantinople for the Orthodox Faith, you found Christ, the priceless pearl.
He appointed you to be another Paul,
washing away in baptism your physical and spiritual blindness.
We celebrate your memory,
asking you to pray for all Orthodox Christians and for us, your spiritual children.
March 1, 1938