History of the day of the baptism of Kyivan Rus

This celebration originally refers to the Christianization of Kievan Rus, fixed conventionally in the year 988 AD, the date on which Vladimir the Great was baptized in Chersonesus and proceeded to baptize his family and people in Kyiv . Since the exact date of the first official mass Christianization is unknown and Christianization took place in several stages over the decades, the Church decided to institute this holiday on St. Vladimir’s Day, whose acts have made Christianity a fundamental part of Russian identity.

According to a compilation of writings which are the main source for the history of the Eastern Slavs until the beginning of the 20th century, also known as the Russian Primary Chronicle, Kyiv was Christian from the middle of the 10th century, although the princes in power continued according to pagan customs.

The compilation of writings describes the actions in the mid-10th century of the reigning prince of Kyiv, Princess Olga of Kyiv, who visited Constantinople with a priest Gregory. Although it is not known when and where she was baptized, she became an Orthodox Christian and attempted to convert Svyatoslav, her son. However, until his death in 972 AD, he remained a pagan. When Yaropolk I, his first son and successor, died in 980 AD, his second son Vladimir became the ruling prince.

Vladimir unsuccessfully attempted to lead a pagan reaction to Christianization efforts before realizing he had to embrace the new religion. The first name Basile was his baptismal name. After that, he called on the people of Kyiv to receive baptism in the Dnieper. First, Vladimir’s 12 sons and many boyars were baptized. Then all Kyiv residents were called to the river the next day, where Orthodox priests completed the sacrament of baptism. The ceremony was observed throughout the Vladimir Kingdom in the following days, including the Grand Prince of Kyiv and Novgorod. These events went down in history as the iconic Baptism of Rus, by which Vladimir signaled the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity as the state religion.

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