Orthodox America

  “Rejoice All Ye Nations”

     This year, 1988, is a very special one for all the nations of Eastern Europe. It has been one thousand years since the inhabitants of the city of Kiev were illumined by the Christian faith through massive baptism in the waters of the Dneiper River. In the press, various articles have recently been dedicated to this event, providing information from different sources. 

       Some of these articles mention the struggles between different ethnic groups to establish the exclusive right to celebrate this date. It is unbelievable that this glorious occasion could be used for purposes other than a joyful celebration shared by all the nationalities it has benefited, _and by all Christians throughout the world. After all, Columbus Day, the official date of the discovery of the American continent, is remembered by all nations on both American continents, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. and not exclusively by the inhabitants of the island of Santo Domingo where Columbus landed on his first voyage to the Americas. His arrival initiated permanent and stable ties between Europe and the newly discovered continent, benefiting vast territories and not only the small island. In the same way, notwithstanding that the inhabitants of the city of Kiev were the first to receive the baptismal bath, all the vast lands from the Black Sea shores to the Baltic, and from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to the Don and Volga rivers in the east, were the spiritual and cultural beneficiaries of this wondrous event. 

      It must not be forgotten that St. Vladimir, the Grand Duke of Kievan Rus, who in 988 carried out his decision to convert all his subjects to the Christian faith, had formerly been the Prince of the city-state of Novgorod, which lies in the land known as Russia. As a great statesman, _St. Vladimir was concerned with the well-being of all the territories he governed, not solely with that of the city state of Kiev. Shortly after the inhabitants of his capital city were baptized, the bishops and clergy were sent to Novgorod and other important cities under his rule in order to make Christians of all the citizens in his vast princedom, which included the territories of present-day Ukraine. Byelorussia and Russia. All these regions are obviously equally entitled to celebrate this unique anniversary.

    Another important aspect of the anniversary is that although it is a cause of celebration for all Christians, it is basically the feast of the reaffirmation of Orthodoxy. Unlike other West European countries, who had to choose between paganism and the Roman Church, Kieran Rus', lying on the border between the West and the East, had many more choices open to it. To the east was the Volgo Bulgarian Muslim kingdom, connected with the powerful, rich and cultured Arab Muslim world. To the south-east lay the kingdom of the Khosars who professed Judaism. To the north and north-west were pagan Scandinavia and Lithuania. To the west, Slavic Poles and Czechs, backed by the powerful Roman-Germanic Empire, followed the Church of Rome. Finally, to the South, separated from Kiev by the wide steppes and the Black Sea, was the Orthodox kingdom of Byzantium. According to the ancient chronicler, all these various nations invited Grand Duke Vladimir and the people of Kievan Rus' to join their faith. After long and careful study and consultation with his advisors, St. Vladimir chose the Byzantine Christian Orthodox faith, which he declared to be the most correct and most firm.

      The people of Rus', following their ruler, accepted the Holy Orthodox faith with great love. Giving to it all the strength of their souls, they received in exchange the great spiritual wealth on which they built their culture, remaining faithful to their beliefs throughout their stormy history. Their trust in Orthodoxy was so strong and firm that, barring some few exceptions, even tortures and death did not make them betray the faith in which their ancestors were baptized a thousand years ago.

      Through the years, the great Orthodox Russian empire was built, and at the beginning of this twentieth century, it remained the only strong bastion of Orthodoxy in the world. But in 1917 God's Providence allowed the gates of hell to open and the first holocaust began, swallowing more than sixty million victims. The Church was one of the first targets of the founders and leaders of the evil regime, which manifest a singular hatred and malevolence toward all her members. Hundreds of bishops, thousands of priests (many of whom were buried or burned alive, or beaten to death), and millions of believers died during that bestial persecution. Strangely enough, except for some insignificant voices of protest, most of the Western world remained silent as they contemplated that bloody orgy, and some Christian leaders even publicly expressed their sympathies for that evil empire.

      However, true to Our Lord's promise, all the fury of hell and its servants was not able to destroy the Church of Christ. In spite of the aspirations of Lenin and his followers, the spark of faith remained in the hearts of the people, and as soon as the pressure against the Church weakened, the incredible miracle began. Virtually from its ashes, the reconstruction of the Church started, thanks not to the Church leaders, who are still obliged to remain unconditional servants of the atheistic regime~ but to the unbreakable faith of the Russian people in Orthodoxy, which they have carried in their hearts ever since that unforgettable year, 988. This is truly the triumph of Orthodoxy. the Church of Christ, of which He said: "I shall build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." 

Priest George Primak
All Saints Church, Calgary, Alberta

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