Through the Providence of God, my visit to you, brethren, coincides with the day when our Russian Orthodox Church joyfully celebrates the memory of the Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir, Enlightener of Russia. And I, for your edification, according to the commandment of the Apostle to “remember your leaders” (Heb 13:7), will offer you, brethren, a word about who Prince Vladimir was, and what he is glorified for by the Holy Church.
Holy Prince Vladimir was a great prince of Russia more than 900 years ago, when Russia was not holy, or Orthodox, as yet – when our forefathers did not know the true God; they were heathens, and worshipped idols. And Prince Vladimir worshipped idols, too. But being gifted from God and with a bright mind and a heart sensitive to truth, he could not but see that the idols were not God, that vain was the service to them, and that the heathen faith was a lie and a delusion. And the Prince started to think hard concerning how to learn about the true God and to find the right faith.
When different nations heard that the Russian prince wanted to change his faith, they each started sending their ambassadors to him, praising their own faith. The Jews came, and the Muslims, and the Germans from the Pope. But Vladimir did not like their faith and the Prince told the ambassadors from the Pope, who also had tried to convert Russia into the Latin faith previously, “Go away; our fathers did not accept you.”
Imprint, my brethren, this wise answer of Prince Vladimir in your minds and in your hearts. Although you have the right Faith and do not have any need to change it, and you are not thinking of changing it, nevertheless we live in a country where there are many different faiths, some of which promote themselves widely. I know that even around this place representatives of different sects do not mind spreading their false teachings even amidst the Orthodox, especially the young children, whom they take to their orphanages while traveling “over sea and land” (Matt 23:15)
Of course, not all of you are able to refute their false teachings and prove the superiority and true nature of the Orthodox Faith when meeting them. So in this case, answer them with the words of St. Prince Vladimir: “Go away; our fathers did not accept you.” Let the sectarians, if they wish to discuss the faith, go to your spiritual father. Listen to his voice, and not that of the false teachers.
Among those who came to visit Prince Vladimir was also a Greek monk, who announced the right Faith to him, and Vladimir’s soul inclined towards his words. But following the advice of his boyars (noblemen), he also decided to send select people to different nations, for them to see how different people pray to God, how they live, and whose faith would seem to them to be the best. Many different countries did the ambassadors visit, but their souls were not inclined toward any of their faiths. And when they came to Constantinople and saw the Orthodox service to God there, it fascinated and delighted them so much that they thought that they were in heaven and not on earth, and right away they decided that the Orthodox Faith is the only right faith.
Here you can see, brethren, how much the temple of God and the service in it mean in matters of faith. The temple is the house of God, the preferred habitation of God on earth. Here a Christian learns the law of the Lord, is enlightened by the light of the Faith in Christ; here he is sanctified by the mysteries and the grace of the Holy Spirit, which heals his spiritual and bodily infirmities, and which is poured abundantly on him; here his prayers are enhanced by the prayers of the multitude of faithful pastors and the heavenly forces themselves who serve invisibly with us.
After this it is hardly necessary to incline you with many words to come to your temple as much as possible. Imitate the righteous man of the Old Testament in this, who rejoiced when he would be called to the temple (Ps 122:1), whose soul sought to be there like a deer seeking spring (Ps 42:1), and who asked of the Lord only one thing – to dwell in the house of the Lord, and see the beauty of the Lord, and visit His holy temple (Ps 27:4).
When visiting your temple, brethren, take care of its splendor. It is sinful before God, shameful before other people, and harmful for our soul, if our temples of God are squalid. King David did not want to live in a rich cedar palace while the Ark of the Covenant stayed in a tent – the tabernacle (2 Sam 7:2). Every good landlord takes care of the splendor of his home. Is it possible, then that a whole Christian community is incapable of taking care of the splendor of their temple?
The Lord loves those who love the splendor of His house and will not leave them without His great mercies and rich generosity. Perhaps you have heard it from your parents and experienced it yourselves, also, that when you care for your temple and donate to beautify it, then the Lord sends you “earnings” and “jobs” through which you can easily satisfy all your daily needs. And by devoting some of your generosity to the temple of God, you also “prepare for yourselves a treasure in heaven, where moth does not corrupt, nor thieves break through” (Matt 6:20).
When the ambassadors told Prince Vladimir about the Orthodox Faith and services, then he decided to accept the Orthodox Faith and he was baptized, and he baptized his people. But the Prince did not become a Christian only in name; in his life also he became a different person, not the one he used to be while he was a heathen. He restrained his sensual passions, abandoned former sinful habits, became restrained, meek, and merciful, and thought only of how to please the Lord with his new life, which with the help of God he did attain.
And so brethren, we, having been baptized in Christ, must “put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,” leave sinful thoughts and deeds, and “put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4:22), and live in holiness according to Christ’s commandments. But do we always act in this manner? Do we always fulfill our Christian obligations? What are our cares, labors, and thoughts directed to? Are they directed to glorifying God with our good deeds and to serving Him only, or are they directed entirely to earthly needs and cares, to food, clothes, shelter?
We are Christians, but what kind of lives do we have? Do we occasionally do things that cause our Faith and our Christian name to be reviled? Let us not, in this case, for our own justification, refer to the weakness of human nature, to the fact that a man is not an angel, and cannot be without sin. The example of St. Vladimir shows us that a man, even in old age, with ingrained old habits, can, with the help of the grace of God, leave his deeds of vanity and become adorned with the splendor of good deeds.
St. Prince Vladimir, having become a Christian, started to ardently care for the enlightenment of the Russian people. For this purpose he established schools at churches, where he ordered his subordinates to send their children, to have them learn the law of Christ.
My brethren! This a wise saying displayed in your school: “Learning is light, ignorance is darkness”; and an illiterate person is often called “benighted.” This is particularly true when applied to the knowledge of the truths of faith. Could a person who knows almost nothing about God, about the salvation of the world, about the future life, about his soul, be called a true Christian? To believe, it is necessary to first know what to believe in; and in order to know one must learn. That is why we have schools established at churches where children are taught the Law of God. There is such a school at your chapel. And if you want for your children true benefit and goodness, then send them to the church school to be taught. Here they will learn the fear of God, which is the beginning of any wisdom (Ps 111:10, Prov 9:10, Sirach 1:18), and from here they will come out as good Christians and right believers.
St. Vladimir peacefully departed to the Lord on the 15th of July 1015. The Church canonized him for his God-pleasing life, and for the great and holy undertaking of baptizing Russia, from which a hundred years ago the light of the Faith of Christ penetrated these lands as well. “Thy people celebrate thy repose”(tropar for St. Vladimir); and we pray to the Lord, who chose Vladimir “like another Paul”(Ibid). And we pray with the words of St. Vladimir himself at the baptism of Russia; “O Lord, Who is great and wonderful! Look upon Your new people. Grant them, Lord, to see You, the true God, and implant in them a steadfast faith.