Russian Church: centuries-old traditions Live On

Mikhail Aristov

July 28 is celebrated in Russia as the Day of Christianization. On this day, the Russian Orthodox Church commemorates Prince Vladimir, who, in the year 899, made Christianity Russia’s official religion and who was later canonized for this.

Last year, by the president’s decree, this day was made a national holiday.

Father Georgy Zavershinskiy, who is also a Doctor of Philosophy, says:

“This is a big holiday for all Russians, not only Orthodox Christians.”

“Prince Vladimir’s decision determined the history and the culture of Russia for many centuries to come. The present shape of Russian culture is, in fact, the result of Vladimir’s choice. Christian theology says that the sacrament of baptism is a person’s spiritual revival, a new birth. Vladimir organized a spiritual rebirth for the whole nation.”

An ancient chronicle says that Prince Vladimir studied diverse religions in order to choose the best one. He invited sages from diverse countries to the capital of his kingdom, Kiev, and sent his people to other countries, to learn more about religions. In the end, he decided that the eastern variation of Christianity, which was confessed in Byzantium, was the best.

However, there were Christians in Russia even before Vladimir. Vladimir’s grandmother, Princess Olga, was a Christian and ordered to build Christian churches in Kiev. Still, Olga wasn’t the first Russian Christian either. A Greek chronicle says that the first person who preached Christianity on the territory of today’s Russia was Apostle Andrew, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Scientists have found out that St. Andrew started his Russian mission from the Crimea and moved to the northeast of Russia as far as the Valaam Island. As a result of Andrew’s sermons, thousands of Russians, formerly pagans, converted to Christianity.

For the first time, the Day of Christianization was celebrated in Russia in 1988, when 1000 years passed since Prince Vladimir’s initiative. In fact, this celebration was the point at which the Soviet Union started to reject the monopoly of atheistic ideology.

The fact that the Russian president made this day a national holiday is evidence that now, the Russian Orthodox Church is again what it used to be in Prince Vladimir’s time – the spiritual leader of Russian society.

In Orthodox churches all over the world, there are festive services on this day. The head of the Russian Church Patriarch Kirill, traditionally, spends this day in Kiev, the city from where the Christianization of Russia began (now the capital of Ukraine), where he takes part in festivities.

This year, the Patriarch of Ukraine Vladimir and the Patriarch of Georgia Elias are also taking part in the festivities in Kiev.

Celebrations are under way in Moscow as well. Besides actors’ and singers’ performances, well-known politicians and other celebrities will appear on the scene to tell what Orthodox Christianity means to them.