How Russia Became Christian (Part I)

From Christian History & Biography, How Russia became Christian:

c. 986—Vladimir was visited by Bulgars [from the region of Bulgaria] of Mohammedan faith, who said, “Though you are a wise and prudent prince, you have no religion. Adopt our faith, and revere Mohammed.” Vladimir inquired what was the nature of their religion.

They replied that they believed in God, and that Mohammed instructed them to practice circumcision, to eat no pork, to drink no wine, and after death, promised them complete fulfillment of their carnal desires. “Mohammed,” they asserted, “will give each man 70 fair women. He may choose one fair one, and upon that woman will Mohammed confer the charms of them all, and she shall be his wife. Mohammed promises that one may then satisfy every desire, but whoever is poor in this world will be no different in the next.” They also spoke other false things (which out of modesty may not be written down).

Vladimir listened [intently] to them, for he was fond of women and indulgence, regarding which he heard with pleasure. But circumcision and abstinence from pork and wine were disagreeable to him. “Drinking,” said he, “is the joy of the Russes. We cannot exist without that pleasure.”

Then came the Germans [of the Latin Church], asserting that they were come as emissaries of the pope. They added, “Thus says the pope: ‘Your country is like our country, but your faith is not as ours. For our faith is the light. We worship God, who has made heaven and earth, the stars, the moon, and every creature, while your gods are only wood.’ ”

Vladimir inquired what their teaching was. They replied, “Fasting according to one’s strength. But whatever one eats or drinks is all to the glory of God, as our teacher Paul has said.” Then Vladimir answered, “Depart hence; our fathers accepted no such principle.”

The Jewish Khazars [members of the Khazar tribe were numerous in that region] heard of these missions, and came themselves saying, “We have learned that Bulgars and Christians came hither to instruct you in their faiths. The Christians believe in him whom we crucified, but we believe in the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Then Vladimir inquired what their religion was. They replied that its tenets included circumcision, not eating pork or hare, and observing the Sabbath. The prince asked where their native land was, and they replied “in Jerusalem.”

When Vladimir inquired where that was, they made answer, “God was angry at our forefathers, and scattered us among the Gentiles on account of our sins. Our land was then given to the Christians.” The prince then demanded, “How can you hope to teach others while you yourselves are cast out and scattered abroad by the hand of God? If God loved you and your faith, you would not be thus dispersed…. Do you expect us to accept that fate also?”

Then the Greeks [as in Greek Orthodox] sent to Vladimir a scholar, who spoke thus: “We have heard that the Bulgarians came and urged you to adopt their faith, which pollutes heaven and earth. They are accursed above all men, like Sodom and Gomorrah, upon which the Lord let fall burning stones, and which he buried and submerged. The day of destruction likewise awaits these men, on which the Lord will come to judge the earth, and to destroy all those who do evil and abomination.”

“For they moisten their excrement, and pour the water into their mouths, and anoint their beards with it, remembering Mohammed. The women also perform this same abomination, and even worse ones.” Vladimir, upon hearing their statements, spat upon the earth, saying, “This is a vile thing.”

Then the scholar said, “We have likewise heard how men came from Rome to convert you to their faith. It differs but little from ours, for they commune with wafers, called oplacki, which God did not give them, for he ordained that we should commune with bread. For when he had taken bread, the Lord gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘This is my body broken for you.’ Likewise he took the cup, and said, ‘This is my blood of the New Testament.’ They do not so act, for they have modified the faith.”

Then Vladimir remarked that the Jews had come into his presence and had stated that the Germans and the Greeks believed in him whom they crucified. To this the scholar replied, “Of a truth we believe in him. For some of the prophets foretold that God should be incarnated, and others that he should be crucified and buried, but arise on the third day and ascend into heaven. For the Jews killed the prophets, and stills others they persecuted. When their prophecy was fulfilled, our Lord came down to earth, was crucified, arose again, and ascended into heaven …”

Vladimir then inquired why God should have descended to earth and should have endured such pain. The scholar then answered and said, “If you are desirous of hearing the story, I shall tell you from the beginning why God descended to earth.” Vladimir replied, “Gladly would I hear it.” Whereupon the scholar thus began his narrative: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth on the firstday…”

Continuing in a description laced with Scripture references and interesting extra-biblical interpolations, this narrative continues for 12 pages, moving through the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the calling of Abraham and Israel, the Egyptian captivity, the Exodus, the taking of the land of Canaan, the Davidic dynasty, the apostasy of Israel, the sending of the prophets with their messianic predictions, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the spreading of the gospel throughout the world. The scholar concludes thus:

“Now that the apostles have taught men throughout the world to believe in God, we Greeks have inherited their teaching, and the world believes therein. God hath appointed a day, in which he shall come from heaven to judge both the quick and the dead, and to render to each according to his deeds; to the righteous, the kingdom of heaven and ineffable beauty, bliss without end, and eternal life; but to sinners, the torments of hell and a worm that sleeps not, and of their torments there shall be no end…”

As he spoke thus, he exhibited to Vladimir a canvas on which was depicted the Judgment Day of the Lord, and showed him, on the right, the righteous going to their bliss in Paradise, and on the left, the sinners on their way to torment.

Then Vladimir sighed and said, “Happy are they upon the right, but woe to those upon the left!” The scholar replied, “If you desire to take your place on the right with the just, then accept baptism!” Vladimir took this counsel to heart, saying, “I shall wait yet a little longer,” for he wished to inquire about all the faiths. Vladimir then gave the scholar many gifts, and dismissed him with honor.

[Note: This is the first of two parts sent out by CH&B. Part II is here.]

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