July 24, 2023

Homily One for the Feast of the Holy Prince Vladimir (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on July 15/28, 1951)

The troparion of the great God-pleaser and Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir begins with these words: “You were like a merchant who sought a precious pearl, O glorious Sovereign Vladimir.”

How did he become like a merchant looking for a precious pearl? He searched among all faiths for the most holy, the purest, the most right, and he found it in the Orthodox faith.

He found a precious treasure, the priceless pearl of the Lord Jesus Christ. And having found it, he was baptized himself and baptized the entire Russian people.

Oh, how great was the significance of this event!

He baptized the entire Russian people; he became like the great Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine, Emperor of Byzantium, who established the Christian faith throughout the Roman Empire.

But he lived already in the fourth century A.D., when the light of Christianity spread throughout his empire. And the Russian prince Vladimir was a dark pagan, he lived in the darkness of paganism. He knew only his false gods, and look, despite the fact that the light of Christ had not yet illuminated his heart, he knew the whole meaning, the whole preciousness of the Christian faith, and he baptized the entire Russian people.

What should we think about the most when we think about the baptism of Rus'? First of all, we must be amazed at the tremendous speed with which the Christian faith was established throughout the Russian land: already two sons of Saint Vladimir - Boris and Gleb - became martyrs, became saints.

And soon, shortly after the baptism of Rus', monasticism arose in Rus', the Kiev Caves Lavra arose, where the Lord revealed the greatest lights of the faith of Christ - the Monks Anthony and Theodosius, and the whole Lavra was inhabited by a multitude of saints.

And you know how many tombs of these saints, these venerables, have survived to this day, how many of their relics still rest in the caves of the Kiev Caves Lavra.

The light of Christ began to pour out from there, from these cramped caves: from the earliest times, there was a great number of monks of the Kiev Caves who shone to the Christian world, a great number of saints who came out of it, like Saint Nikitas, Bishop of Novgorod, Serapion the Bishop, and after them many others.

Time passed, and more and more, more and more brightly, the light of Christ spread over the Russian land. Saints Peter, Alexy, Philip, Jonah and Hermogenes shone forth to our people. With the light of Christ from the forests of the far north, from their distant cloisters, the great saints of God, Saints Cyril of Belozersky, Nil of Sora, Zosima and Sabbatius of Solovki shone to the world. The greatest saints like Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov also shone to the world.

So it was not only in Russia, not only during the baptism of Rus'. God's power with such amazing speed converted people not only in these years, but much earlier, many centuries before the baptism of Rus'.

We know from the lives of the martyrs that this often happened: the pagans, even those soldiers who tortured and tormented the saints, were suddenly illuminated by the Divine light.

They, completely unaware of the teachings of Christ, saw how the martyrs suffered for Christ, saw with what firmness, with what determination they endured the most terrible torments for Christ - and suddenly they turned to Christ, the light of Christ suddenly shone on them.

And they, these pagans, these rude warriors, declared themselves Christians and also became martyrs, for the evil tormentors beat them in multitudes. It is amazing, it is amazing, with what great power, with what unspeakable speed, the name of Christ, the word of Christ turned human souls from the darkness of paganism to the light of Christianity.

When Saint Vladimir baptized the Russian people, then very many, the majority, perhaps even the vast majority, accepted the grace of baptism with great joy.

They suddenly realized all the falsity, all the vanity of their pagan religion. Suddenly the light of Christ shone upon them, and with all their hearts they desired the righteousness of God.

However, not all, because we know from history that for many years after the baptism of Rus' there was a struggle between paganism and Christianity. There were many inveterate pagans who opposed the acceptance of the faith of Christ. This is also an important fact.

The people were divided into those who saw the great Divine light in the message about Christ, saw the truth of Christ, and those who did not want to see this truth, held on to their pagan gods.

This is what has happened in all ages, what is happening to this day, for the human race is divided into two parts: those whose hearts perceive the teaching of Christ with blessed joy, and those who are alien or hateful to this teaching, who reject it, closing their eyes from the bright light of Christ that blinds them.

At that ancient time, when Vladimir Rus was baptized, there was not yet what we see in the world now: there was not yet that deep social untruth, the untruth of state and social relations, which increased later - increased to the unbearable.

The people who were baptized by Saint Vladimir, were alien to the aspiration that inspires the people of our time: they did not think about social truth, because then social untruth was still not great.

They thought about the truth of God, about the highest truth, and therefore, with such joy, they opened their hearts to the preaching of this highest God's truth.

And those who opposed the preaching of Christ in the dense forests, striving to preserve their pagan faith, who are they? These are people who do not need God's truth, who need only earthly truth.

These were people who did not strive for the highest truth, did not think about eternity, about the Kingdom of God, but only thought about how to live life here on earth carelessly, satisfyingly, in contentment.

Therefore, their idols were enough for them, personifying their vile aspirations for earthly blessings. They did not want to part with these blessings, they did not need the highest truth, therefore they defended paganism with all their might. But in the end, the truth of Christ won: the pagan gods perished, disappeared from the face of the earth. Now what do we see? We see that huge masses of people with great enthusiasm and joy greet those who speak about the truth of the earth, about the truth of state and social relations.

This truth is great, this truth is pure, and everyone is striving for it, and so are we, Christians. And we do not tolerate untruth, we do not tolerate the fact that the strong and the rich oppress the poor and the weak.

We want equality, and we are enemies of war, that accursed war, which is started by those who need the power of gold, the power of money.

But we strive not only for this social truth, we hunger and thirst for the truth of God, we hunger and thirst for not only the earthly world to reign among people, but also the higher world, descending from God.

Listen: we seek the highest truth of God. We rejoice in it as the best part of the Russian people rejoiced, who were baptized by Saint Vladimir in the name of God's highest truth.

Do we all think about it, do we all strive for it? To not be close to paganism?

Close to paganism is the one who thinks only of earthly goods, who rejects God's truth. If there are such among you, turn to Christ, turn to the highest Divine truth. Be like those Russian people who received the light of Christ, baptized by Saint Vladimir.

Turn your hearts to our God, our Savior Jesus Christ, and expect Him to establish, if not on this earth, then in His mountainous Jerusalem, His Divine truth.

Strive for the highest truth.

And may the Lord Jesus Christ help us in this striving, and may we all give Him glory for the fact that He illuminated our ancient ancestors with His Divine light, and gave us, their distant descendants, to be conductors of this higher light. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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