2 Jun 2014
To my readers in Ukraine.
To my readers in Ukraine - June 2014 - by P.K.Odendaal.
Many of my readers are from Ukraine, and in this time of their tribulation I wish to remind them of their roots and how they once were able to stand together and build a big nation and state or principality and to support them in their quest for self-realization. This is not a contemporary or political article - I do not believe in those as they are based on conventional wisdom which is invariably wrong. I present this as a historical and religious perspective. It is more about the wisdom of the ages and the wisdom of the Rock of Ages, than about the former.
Let us go back to that time for a moment.
The years were 980 AD to 1135 AD - and the leaders were two Vladimirs. The first was St. Vladimir I - the Great, and the second was Vladimir II Monomakh - and Kiev bloomed under both these excellent princes. I quote from Russia and the Russians by Geoffrey Hosking:
Let us start at the end ... sadly ...
In Rus, however, the breakup took place in a different manner. Its major centres derived their riches not only from successful warfare, but also from commerce and manufacture. New towns developed their own sources of wealth and their own hinterlands. The towns thus became economically less dependent on Kiev, and politically more self-reliant too. During and after the Crusades, the territories of Rus were becoming a commercial backwater. As a result they derived a greater proportion of their income from internal economic activity. The changes which took place in the twelfth century ended any hope of creating a unitary state or even a stable confederation. The princely super-alliance disintegrated, and individual princes increasingly regarded their territories not as dominions held in trust for the dynasty as a whole, but as patrimonies to be passed on from father to sons. Even before the Mongols arrived, Rus was becoming a feudal society.
Having a feudal society was all the tidal wave called the Mongols, under Genghis Kahn, needed to almost totally obliterate any sign of civilization, order, justice and Christianity. (this paragraph is my inference)
The beginning ... heroically ...
At his father's death, Vladimir I overthrew his half-brother, Iaropolk, in order to seize Kiev and become prince. In order to give legitimacy to this act of force majeure he embarked on a campaign of religious persuasion, attempting to unify his peoples, with their diverse faiths. Having accomplished this, however, he suddenly abandoned the eclectic pagan faith and embraced Christendom and the Orthodox side, which to the people of Kiev seemed to be divine and they knew not whether they were in heaven or on earth. Having taken this decision, he acted forthrightly, even harshly. He demonstratively smashed the pagan idols and commanded that the citizens of Kiev should betake themselves to the riverbank to be baptized by immersion. This is the first sign or symptom of the later damaging tendency in Russian society, even today, to seek change through extreme and polarized action rather than through gradual evolution.
Vladimir himself took the title of Grand Prince and renounced his numerous wives and concubines in order to marry Princess Anna, sister of the Byzantine emperor. Greek craftsmen were sent from Byzantium to build churches in Rus. Bulgarian clergymen brought their holy books in the Cyrillic script and the Slavonic language. At the same time, Greek churchmen arrived as bishops to head the new church, though gradually native clergy replaced them except at the very highest levels. Her rulers and perhaps her people accepted the new faith wholesale as a harmonious intellectually and spiritually satisfying answer to their needs.
During the Kievan period the relationship between the church and prince remained relatively unproblematic. Each backed the other almost automatically, from mutual need. From its part the church would exhort its congregations to obey their earthly ruler.
The unity of the ruling dynasty was so important to the church that it propagated the legend of Boris and Gelb, Vladimir's sons, who declined their dynastic rights by means of violence. When Boris heard that the brother Sviatopolk was intending to murder him to seize his birthright, he decided not to resist evil, and spent a night in prayer. Gelb later died in a similar spirit. They were subsequently canonized and titled 'protectors of the land Rus', in order to establish the principle that the unity of the realm justified the ultimate self-sacrifice. The ideal of meek acceptance of suffering for the sake of the community as a whole and the land of Rus, became a lasting component of Russian piety.
By the time of his death in 1015, Vladimir had done a great deal to unite a previously fragmented realm, convert it to a single faith, provide it with a single (if rudimentary) administrative and fiscal system, attach it to a powerful ally, and defend it from its most dangerous enemies. He gave the Riurikovich dynasty a real claim to exercise authority over the peoples of Rus as a whole. It has been preached that Vladimir had come in the likeness of Constantine the Great to found a new church and to build a great city shining in splendour as though in a crown.
His son Iaroslav built on these principles, had a history and chronicle compiled and linked Rus to the vision of world history as ordained by God. His testament admonished his sons "If ye dwell in amity with one another, God will dwell among you, and will subject your enemies to you, and ye will live in peace. But if ye dwell in enmity and dissention, quarrelling with one another, then ye will perish yourselves and bring to ruin the land of your ancestors, which they won at the price of great effort.
In 1113 AD, the citizens of Kiev ignored the dynastic inheritance arrangements and invited Vladimir Monomakh to be their prince. The city was in upheaval at the time because of the growing problem of debt which generated intense embitterment, since debtors were enslaved. In itself however, mushrooming internal debt resulted from the economic polarization which resulted from growth and was a mark of the enrichment of the city. Vladimir reacted to the debt problem rather as Solon had done in ancient Athens, by cancelling long standing debts, lowering interest rates, limiting lords' authority over indentured labourers, and regulating the circumstances in which debtors might be enslaved. Kiev was going through the same kind of social crisis as the earlier Athenian polis, generated by the transition from an aristocratic social order based on kinship to a more open social order based on commerce.
Vladimir (II) Monomakh was the most learned of Kiev princes. He was a patron of the monasteries. His Testament (Pouchenie) was an attempt to impart a moral vision to monarchy in Rus. He glorified the world God had created and enjoined his successors to live in it in peace, while protecting the poor and unfortunate. "When robbed, avenge not; when hated, respond with love; when slandered, be silent. Overcome sin, free the oppressed, render justice to the orphan, protect the widow ...'. This was not practical statecraft, but it projected the image of a humble and peaceful Christianity which was to prove a powerful ideal in a fractured and violent world.
After the 1130's the Kievan confederation lost such unity as it had achieved and gradually fragmented into separate, even warring principalities.
End of quotes.
What a beautiful and inspiring story, and so typical of conditions in a destabilized Kiev today. Will some ruler stand up in the spirit of these two Vladimirs for what is good and right and equitable, or will it degenerate into warring factions as earlier?
What is my prognosis?
Unfortunately - not very good. What I do know is that civilization and religion are fragile and frail and it does not take much to destroy them and let the hooligans reign. It - civilization - has been undone before in Kiev, Rome, Europe and the Middle east - and many other places, due to the simple and natural acts of greed, corruption, selfishness, egoism, public norms, morals and rights. Many rulers have tried to remake Rome and relive its past splendour, but failed bitterly. Will it be possible to remake the old USSR, or more seriously - is it worth a rebirth after so many people suffered under Stalin and others? I do not think so. Do I believe in the vitality and survival of the Russian people as a whole in their land as a whole - yes certainly! What is necessary to start building up a new Kiev of fame and splendour. I think firstly it is a sense of unity, a sense of duty, a sense of care and then an appreciation of civilization with its arts, writers and democratic institutions, a sense of cultural belonging and a sense of pride at what was and what can be again.
I wish you strength and unity.