Political Power Plays Mark the Beginning of Christianity
History claims God’s warriors in every corner of the world. Annexation and control of another’s land, competition for natural resources, and desire for power define religious beginnings in every faith. Ukraine’s march to a Christian destiny, too, began with a struggle for power between brothers waged in the 10th century.
The political success of Volodymyr the Great, Ukraine’s father of Christianity, seemed unlikely at the start. Though appointed by his father as grand prince of the Novgorod region, it was Volodymyr’s brother, Yaropolik, – hungry for more land and power to bolster his own rule as the grand prince of Kiev – drove his younger brother out of Ukraine to Scandinavia. Volodymyr cooled his heels for three years plotting his return to power and grace.
Expelling Yaropolik’s governors from Novgorod and annexing the region of Polatsk, Volodymyr stormed the city of Kiev and had his deceiving brother murdered. Adding insult to injury, Volodymyr promptly married his brother’s widow. His bitter return was only just the beginning of his legacy, however. Over the next 35 years, Volodymyr seized enough land to make the Kievan Rus region one of the most powerful states in Europe.
Attributing his success to the pagan gods, Volodymyr had idols of deities erected on a hill overlooking his palace in Kiev. Power continued to beckon. The intersection of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam was building quickly forcing Volodymyr to choose a path that would further consolidate his political domination. An urgent call for military assistance from the Byzantine emperor, Basil II, to defeat his own rival, turned into a 10th century political deal. Desperate to marry again after his first marriage ended, Volodymyr agreed to convert his subjects to Christianity if he would be allowed to marry Basil II’s daughter. Baptised in the year 987, Volodymyr ordered the destruction of all pagan idols and converted his subjects by force. Venerated after his death by the Kievan Rus clergy, Volodymyr was canonized in 1240.
Ukraine today is not so far away from Volodymyr’s Ukraine. While religion is not the nexus of political disagreement today, the tug-of-war between forces that lean towards the Kremlin and Washington, D.C. prove that the hunger for power and control of resources is a timeless beast that is rarely satiated.