A Saint’s Life
Vladimir the Great, Prince of Kiev
Vladimir Svyatoslavich, Prince of Kiev
The family had grown in importance. It seemed like yesterday that Roric of Jutland had come down the Volga with his band of Rus with the sole purpose —instinctive capitalist that he was—of controlling the Silk Route that run through there from Asia to the north of Europe.
By the time his grandson, Svyatoslav, made his debut into the world, the Rus controlled most f the lands of the Slavs, and had settled in their ever more important base of Novgorod. The control extended especially to the Slavic women, the Rus’ favorite pastime.
Svyatoslav was the son of Igor and Olga, who upon receiving the holy oils took the name of Helena and who, at the death of her husband was left the burden of their irksome children, reason enough to have passed into history as St. Helena.
Olga of Kiev, the saint who buried people alive
One fine day Olga went to Constantinople to pay a visit to Emperor Constantine VII, Basileus of Byzantium. With the growing fortunes of the Rus, it was time to butter the bread of the Great Kahuna. But Constantine didn’t give a damn if these barbarians had made a dime or two, and did not receive her. Instead, he sent a minister of low rank, leaving Olga fuming at the snub. The effeminate Greek had made an enemy.
To make matters worse, at her return to Novgorod she found that Svyatoslav, free from the controlling glance of his mother, had been fooling around with the housemaid, Malusha, all the more evident considering the notable increase in Malusha’s waist.
Every attempt to convince the recently converted Olga that divine intervention by the Holy Spirit had a hand in the miraculous conception was for naught. And Malusha was sent packing, rather hurriedly, to the house of her brother, Dobrynia some 500 miles away.
Olga’s calm and collected admonitions to Svyatoslav must have been heard, for he never again admitted responsibility nor recognized any of his numerous bastards, nor did he ever again brought the objects of his desire home.
In due time, Malusha gave birth to a cute baby boy, Vladimir. Not even Olga would disown the recognized Prince of Novgorod, so Malusha and her offspring were allowed to return and join Svyatoslav and his new wife, by now in her 7th month, awaiting the arrival of the second son and first heir to the throne, Yaropolk.
And people ask where do the Russians come up with stories like the Brothers Karamazov!
To further complete this lovely picture of a Christian home, cousin Astrid arrived with her son Olaf, escaping a little dustoff in which her husband, Trygvar, had managed to lose his head and his kingdom at the same time.
As the children grew up to manhood, Svyatoslav gave Yaropolk the kingdom of Kiev, and the bastard Vladimir got the consolation prize of Novgorod, displaying an absolute lack of geopolitical sense, or of the character of his offspring.
Olaf, of course, didn’t get anything.
The first thing Yaropolk did as King was to depose Vladimir and send him packing. Which he did, in company of cousin Olaf, and the two of them spent a few years doing tourism, splitting heads and spreading bastards from the Volga to the Danube and from the Dardanelles to Sicily.
Having thus acquired some experience in the art of negotiation by head-butt, they returned to Novgorod. It appears Vladimir was itching to negotiate with Yaropolk.
And that he did. Soon after arriving, he shoved a few choice arguments down his half-brother’s throat and took the now widowed wife of Yaropolk as his concubine, adopting their child, who seemed to be a good boy.
Back in Novgorod, and with Kiev also in his pocket, Vlad started looking around for ways to expand his dominions. He was never satisfied.
He found the way in the form of Rogneda, darling daugter of the Count of Polotsk who, in spite of her name, was one good looking lass.
Rogneda of Polotsk
Vladimir sent emissaries to Polotsk to request Rogneda’s hand in marriage. Uncle Dobrynia, Malusha’s forgotten brother led the team. When Dobrynia relayed the request to the Count, he laughed to the point of needing an oxygen tent. Alas, those were not yet available.
— Rogneda, boys, come over here! He called his household to witness the event. Look! HAHAHAHA! What an interesting Bwahahaha proposal these folks bring us! Awhahahaha!!!!!!
Come here, Dobrynia, please share the proposal with us.
— Sire, my nephew Vladimir, the Great Count of Novgorod and Prince of Kiev requests the hand of your daughter Rogneda in marriage.
— Hiiiiiiii…..the hand of…..haaaa. Rogneda, darling, what do you think about marrying the “Prince” –he said while trying to catch his breath.
— The heck if anybody thinks I am going to clean the boots of a housemaid bastard! –said Rogneda who was very class conscious and had never read Gorky.
— You see—the count said to Dobrynia—if the girl doesn’t want to….hehehe.
— I’d respectfully suggest you reconsider—said Dobrynia—Vladimir is not the understanding kind. A little bugsy, even.
— Bugsy?—piped in Rogneda’s brother—The way he carries on crabs and fleas are the least of his problems!
The Count of Polotsk, obviously, did not know about Vladimir’s temperament. Dobrynia was right. So was Rogneda’s brother. And when the bugsy prince got the reply, his reaction didn’t take long.
—What the crap! Nobody talks that way about my mamuschka!—he exclaimed—and off to Polotsk went the Rus, looking for trouble.
After a single day of sword swinging, skull cracking and other forms of effective communication, Vladimir made it to the Count’s palace, where he found him in the company of Rogneda and her brothers. But this time nobody was laughing.
Then Dobrynia, who besides being the uncle was Vladimir’s Chief Brownose, said:
—Hey, Vlad, that one there is the one who said she’s not going to clean the boots of a housemaid’s bastard. Why don’t you make her now the whore of a housemaid’s bastard?
Vladimir, never one to recuse such an invitation, after all the Chronicles of the Rus describe him as a fornicatur inmensus et cruelis, right there proceeded to oblige his uncle while his minions held the count and his entourage forcing them to witness the event.
Immediately after, the Count of Polotsk and his family lost their heads. Well, they didn’t actually lose them, they were taken away by the Rus. All, of course, except for Rogneda’s.
It seems Rogneda had some qualities, for soon after Vladimir married her.
And it seems fornicator inmensus did, too, for this time she voiced no opposition.
In the year of our Lord 978, curiously 9 months after the fall of Polotsk, young Izyaslav (St. Isaac) was born. Just at about the same time as his half-brother Yaroslav. Vladimir wasted no time in the making of heirs.
A few years passed in domestic bliss in the house of Vladimir, Rogneda, their children and the mothers of some of them until, finally, Vlad decided it was time again to expand his dominions. This time, by marrying the Basilissa Anna Porphyrogenita, daughter of Romanus II Porphyrogenitus, Emperor of the East, and sister of Basileus II and Constantine VIII. These Greeks loved numbers in their names.
Basil (Basileus) II, Emperor of the East
But it was not to be easy. Basileus Basilius wasn’t a lowly Count, and he couldn’t be simply coaxed. Or perhaps he was. Sorrounded by Greeks, Bulgarians and a few thousand extras, he asked for Vladimir’s assistance in the form of 6,000 soldiers he needed urgently.
Vladimir and Dobrynia came up with a plan. Dobrynia then went to Constantinople and relayed the following message: Moral support, all you want. But troops, any number of troops, Vladimir can only spare for a member of the family. Now, if he were to marry the Basilissa…
—WTF!—exclaimed the Basileus Basilius, turning into a basilisk at the notion of that barbarian vacillating with the Basilissa.—Go tell that son of a whore he can stick his troops up his…
—Just a moment, brother!—interrupted the Basileus Constantine, who knew of Vladimir’s reputation and did not want to mess with him—I think we can find a solution.
—Solution my foot, replied the Basileus Basilius. If Anna finds out we’ve been keeping her pure this many years to deliver her to fornicatur inmensus…
—That’s it!— said Constantine, not a bad…
—Et cruelis, you moron! If Anna does find out she’ll make eunuchs of us. The nervousness in Basileus’ voice meant he was quite serious about the possible ramifications.
—Not so fast, replied Constantine, you need to get out more. Tell the palooka that we have no problem…provided he converts to Christianity, and let him be happy we are not Jews, at least he gets to keep his foreskin intact.
—I see, said Basileus, if he does not convert, we are off the hook. If he does, his own people will stew him…
—Yep, and they can send us a doggie bag.—Finished Constantine.
—Visir! — called Basileus — tell that idiot messenger to come back.
And so they sent their reply to Vladimir.
—Kac? Khto eta? Said Vladimir, who spoke Russian. Is the Basileus vacillating with me? You mean if they put a little water on my forehead they deliver their sister? Tell them to send the priest and let us not waste time.
—Wait! What if the boys don’t like it? — asked Dobrynia, his worry showing in his voice. —They kind of like Thor, the forest fairies, Odin…nobody rams guilt down their throats…
—Whoever does not like it can come and see me. I’ll show them who’s boss and why they call me fornicatur inmensus.
—Et cruelis, added another brown nose that happened to walk by and overheard the conversation.
—Et cruelissimus, added Vladimir, never to be outdone. Every single one of you schmucks gets baptized, and I don’t want to hear a single Nyet!
Yet, Vladimir was not able to relax. —What if these effeminate morons make me baptize and then whistle Dixie? The chroniclers will change my name to Moronius Inconmensurabilis, and I won’t be able to scare a Greek maiden!
So he finally set off to Constantinople with the 6,000 soldiers the Basileus requested…and 6,000 more in case he vacillated.
Indeed, the Basileus tried to get off the agreement by every means possible. Was the water really holy water? Was the priest sanctioned by the Patriarch or was he one of those Romish fools that we don’t care for? How about we get the soldiers now and argue the point later?
And they had good reason to play around. Anna was making the palace rounds, sharp knife in hand, making gestures that left no doubt as to her intentions if her brothers didn’t stand up for her virtue.
Finally, Vladimir had enough. And with the backing of 12,000 Rus that hadn’t even had a personal visit in months, he camped in front of the gates of Constantinople, after duly kicking the bejesus out of Bulgars and Greeks so that no distractions remained.
“I am going to have the Basilissa’s heinie nice and calmly. Or all three of yours my way,” said the note he sent to the palace.
—OK, the Basilissa’s nice and calmly, said Basileus Basilius, no longer vacillating.
—That’s it, brother — said Constantine, covering his parts as he glanced at the approaching Basilissa.
—What? Said the Basilissa, you value mine less than yours? As she continued to sharpen the knife.
The brothers looked to each other, exclaiming simultaneously: You bet! And, dear Anna, yours is lost one way or the other. Think of mama, think of papa, the purple, the Empire!
—Ok, said the Basilissa. I’m sold. Tell the Barbarian I’ll marry him.
—Great! — Exclaimed the Basileus Basilius, who could not hide his relief.
—Wonderful, we have a wedding! — echoed Constantine, still holding his crutch, just in case. — And what made you change your mind sister?
—Inmensus, of course—said the Basilissa as she left the room.
And thus, in 989 A.D., Vladimir married Anna at the very gates of the besieged city and was baptized, converting the Rus because he could. At the ceremony he took the name George, or perhaps the Patriarch just gave it to him, unable to escape the image of the warrior, sword in hand, receiving the oils.
Over time, Vladimir became Basileus, reigning over a vas Empire and thousands of his own bastards.
As soon as he keeled over, efforts began to make him a Saint. Sure, he’d been a Barbarian, but after his conversion he behaved rather well, was the position of the Patriarch of the Orient. Forty bastards? Nah, that’s just gossip. In any case, I can’t believe it was that many… Ok, yes, he sired them, but at least he brought Christianity to the Rus!
But every time, his sanctification failed at the last minute. Look away all you want, they could pave over his “sins” but there was no way to even invent him a miracle. And Saints must have miracles. So there.
Several generations later, on 15 July 1240, Tzar Alexandr, a descendant of Vladimir, was camped on the shores of the River Neva facing an enemy several times smaller and weaker than his army, the last obstacle to a unified Russia.
—What do we do Boss? Asked his Field Marshall, who was always asking questions just to show he wasn’t brain dead.
—Well, we are gonna have us some fun, replied Alexandr.
—Do I give the attack command, then?
—No. Not yet. Call me a few witnesses. I have to do something first.
The witnesses assembled, Alexandr, struggling to keep a straight face, exclaimed: “Vladimir Svyatoslavich, Little Father! Help us win this battle for the greatness of Russia and the Glory of God!”
In a matter of minutes, Alexandr crossed the Neva and decimated the enemy. Some of the usual sycophants swore to have seen Vladimir leading Alexandr’s charges during the battle.
What can I say, give a Russian soldier a bottle of vodka and he’ll see three Suns, four Moons and a corpse leading a charge.
“You welcome, Little Father.” Is all that Alexandr said after the battle, while winking an eye to the sky.
From that day on, Alexandr became Alexandr Nevsky, and was duly sainted; and Vladimir, son of Svyatoslav and the maid, fornicatur inmensus et cruelis, became St. Vladimir (St. George), a cross replacing his sword in the icons of the Eastern Church to this day.
Nobody knows why, when they take his icons in procession, thousands of women flock to his image to touch him and ask him for who knows what. It may have something to do with swords and fertility, but what do I know.
Vladimir Svyatoslavich was the author’s 37th great-grandfather through his daughter with Anna Porphyrogenita, Dobronegra Mariya Vladivorovna v’Kieva and Kaszimierz Odnowieciel “the Restorer,” Duke of Poland.