Epistle of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to the archpastors, clergy, monastics, and laity on the occasion of the 1,030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’
This document was adopted at the July 14, 2018 session of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ,
who loved his new people, the land of Rus’,
and illumined them with holy Baptism.
(The Russian Primary Chronicle)
Beloved of the Lord Right Reverend archpastors, venerable presbyters and deacons, God-loving monks and nuns, dear brothers and sisters!
All the fullness of our Church now honors the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Prince Vladimir and remembers with gratitude how 1,030 years ago a turning point in the history of the Slavic peoples occurred by the labors of this man, chosen of God and strong of spirit. By the blessed action of the Holy Spirit, the prince turned from pagan delusions, and believed in the one Son of God Jesus Christ, and receiving holy Baptism along with his entourage, brought the saving light of the Gospel to Rus’.
Why do we refer to the Baptism of Rus’ as a turning point for the history of our peoples? Because it forever changed the face of the of the entirety of Slavic civilization and predetermined the subsequent path of its development. It was truly a decisive turning from darkness to light, from walking in the darkness of false ideas and conceptions to the acquisition of Divinely-revealed truth and salvation.
The man-loving and bountiful Lord has given us an incomparable mercy and great happiness: the opportunity to belong to the Orthodox Church, to constitute the one Body of Christ, and to partake of the inexhaustible source of water flowing unto life eternal (Jn. 4:14). Thus, we are no longer strangers or newcomers, but fellow citizens with the saints and their God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and having Jesus Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-20).
We know very little about the life of Rus’ before its Baptism. The historical evidence that has come down to us has preserved rather contradictory images of our ancestors as cruel and treacherous people on the one hand, and valiant and generous on the other. Following the laws of blood revenge, the Slavs were, at the same time, distinguished by a special hospitality and breadth of soul. But during campaigns, the peaceful Slav turned into a formidable and ruthless warrior: His fury knew no bounds, and he would do anything for the sake of valuable plunder.
The Slavic world stood as if at the crossroads between good and evil, manifesting now a noble quality of soul, now the terrible abyss of darkness. It required a firm and decisive step to finally make this fateful choice, and the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir made this choice. The Orthodox faith, confirmed in the lives of our ancestors by the labors of the Grand Prince, transformed our people, cultivating within them the spirit of selflessness and meekness, sacrifice and patience.
Over the course of the centuries that followed the Baptism in the blessed waters of the Dnieper, Rus’ tried to build its existence on the foundation of lofty Christian ideals and faithfulness to the Gospel and strove to construct its life according to what philosopher Ivan Ilyin called “kissing the Cross,” that is, fervent love for the Lord and reverence before His atoning sacrifice. Despite the complex vicissitudes of history, despite all the mistakes, deviations, and even falls, the main thing for our people has always remained service to Divine truth and standing in truth.
Enculturation into Orthodox spirituality became the powerful impulse for the development of a distinctive East Slavic culture. Prince Vladimir’s religious choice was, besides a choice of mindset, one of a Christian tenor for public life and cultural style. It was the choice of a civilizational path. Now we cannot even imagine our literature, visual art, architecture, or music without Gospel motifs and themes. Imbued with Christian moral ideals and values, these works lead us into the rich spiritual world of the Orthodox faith and call us to think about the eternal questions of existence and the meaning of human life.
But belonging to Orthodox culture merely by birth does not make us Christians. Being an Orthodox Christian is not an homage out of “love for our fathers’ tombs” and national history. Being an Orthodox Christian is firstly a conscious choice of path in life, a constant search for Christ and His truth. Just as the Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir, having put off the old man and his works and having put on the new (Col. 3:9-10), forever gave his heart to the Lord Jesus, so do we, remembering of what spirit we are (Lk. 9:55), called to be not hearers only, but doers of the word (Jas. 1:22), wholly conscious that our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).
The search for the truth of Christ and standing for it is the main testament of the holy Prince Vladimir to the peoples of Holy Rus’—the heirs of the Dnieper font. Our whole common history and culture, the entire centuries-old spiritual and ecclesiastical tradition of our peoples are connected with knowledge of this truth. It constitutes the heart of our existence and self-consciousness, and it unites us all and gives us strength to walk the path of historical development, overcoming all adversities, disasters, and enmity.
And now in our fraternal Ukraine, in the country where the holy Dnieper Baptismal font of the peoples of Rus’ is located, the forces of this world revolt against the Church of the holy Prince Vladimir, trying to destroy the unity of this holy Church. The clergy and faithful are subjected to unjust accusations and vilifications. But we believe that no outside pressure will be able to destroy the sacred bonds of Christ’s love that unites us in the one Body of the Church. We believe that our common prayer will help overcome all trials and preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith and fidelity to the canonical truth.
With one mouth and one heart, glorifying the Creator for His ineffable mercy to us, let us be worthy of this love of God abundantly poured forth and of this great spiritual offering that the Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir gave to our people.
By the prayers of this glorious saint of the Lord, may the Heavenly Master bless the countries of historical Rus’ with peace, and may He strengthen the pastors and faithful of Ukraine, courageously maintaining faithfulness to the canonical Church, and may He grant His unfailing help on the path of salvation, that we, not conforming to this age, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), might fulfill our service to God and man, testifying to the unfading beauty and creative power of faith in Christ.
Translated by Jesse Dominick, Patriarchia.ru