I discovered this week that, among the most interesting of my ancestors is my 31st Great Grandfather, Saint Vladimir I Sviatoslavich, mostly known as "Vladimir the Great" or "Saint Vladimir, the baptizer of Russia." He was the Prince of Novgorod, Grand Prince of Kiev, and the ruler of an area once called Kievan Rus', precursor to Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia, which was occupied by both Slavic people and Vikings, who were actually invited in to help unite the warring Slavic chieftans, restore some order and also to rule them. There is controversy about some of it, and the story of this land is long and extremely interesting. Quite a lot of information exists on the internet, if you become curious about it.
At one point in history, this land was called "Ruthenia." Learning that factoid was an "aha" moment for me, since my heart belongs to the Byzantine Catholic Church, to which I was first introduced here in Albuquerque, which is an Eastern Catholic rite that is rooted in the Ruthenian people. Perhaps my genes remembered!
In the year 988, or thereabouts, grandpa became converted from Slavic Paganism to the Christian faith and was baptized. It was a big deal when the ruler of a country became Christian, and I have found several icons and paintings that celebrate that day. He chose to convert based upon research of the religions of the day, sending envoys out to gather firsthand information about Islam, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Byzantine Orthodoxy. Their observations in Constantinople convinced the Grand Prince. I LOVE this aspect of the story, since it hints that Saint Vladimir, in some regards, was a truth seeker and not primarily politically motivated in his decision to convert. There were political gains to be had with a Byzantine alliance, but this just a bonus, according to some biographers.
There is a conflicting story, however, that tells of political intrigue with the Emperor Basil II, and Vladimir DID end up divorcing all his pagan wives and marrying Basil's sister, Anna, who was not in favor of the match and is said to have expressed great distress on the way to the wedding. Some people say that grandpa only agreed to become Christian, since this was a condition of obtaining the hand of the much sought-after and highly prized Anna. Motives of the living are mostly inscrutable, what to speak about speculations about motives for the long dead! Such were the customs of that day that women, especially high born women who were valued as pawns in political alliances, were not free to choose their own husbands.
It is not known if they had any children together. My line descends from one of his pagan alliances prior to his marriage to Anna.
The customs of the era of the middle ages overlay other considerations and, as with all human beings, Vladimir had his good and his bad attributes. Ultimately, however, it was all brought to the good as a huge swath of territory was Christianized in this process.
Saint Vladimir baptized his family and the residents of Kiev, converting the country's official religion to what we now call Orthodox Christianity.
The thing about saints that most Protestants do not understand is that we do not PRAY to them. First of all, a Saint is not dead in the sense that, although he or she has left the body behind, they are alive in heaven. You can talk to them just like you can talk to your neighbor over the fence that separates your yards. You live in different worlds, but can still interact.
The saints, being holy people and close to God, are very good friends to have. Even better, in my mind, is a saint who is also an ancestor. I have this idea that the saints MUST be praying for the welfare of their descendants, and I hope that this is true.
In any case, anyone can call on the saints and ask them to pray for you, just as you might that friend of neighbor whose body is still walking around on this earth!
All Christians must remember that Jesus promised us everlasting life, if we follow his commandments. Dismissing that timeless reality by turning up one's nose at the idea of talking to the saints reveals a weak, if not entirely absent faith in the promises of Christ. The promises of the Lord are true and thus, we are never alone with our sorrows and our joys. The angels and saints are present to us and available to us in a way they could not be if constrained by the physical body and the straightjacket of this time-bound world.
I highly recommend developing relationships with the saints. They are very good friends to have!
God bless us all.
Silver Rose Parnell
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