St. Vladimir

St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 958–15 July 1015), was the sixth Ryurikovich ruler of Kyivan Rus. He was the youngest son of Prince Svyatoslav and his servant-turned-wife Malusha.

In 969, Svyatoslav moved his capital to Pereyaslavets (modern-day Nufǎru, Romania). To his oldest son, Yaropolk, he gave Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod), and to Vladimir he gave Kyiv.

Svyatoslav was slain by Pechenegs in 972, and in 976, a fratricidal war erupted between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, Prince of the Drevlyans (an East Slavic tribe). After Yaropolk killed Oleg in battle, Vladimir fled to their relative Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s ruler.

Haakon sent many warriors to fight against Yaropolk. When Vladimir returned from Norway the next year, he marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kyiv, Vladimir sent ambassadors to Prince Rogvolod of Polatsk (an ancient East Slavic city) to sue for the hand of his daughter, Princess Rogneda (962–1002), who was engaged to Yaropolk.

When Rogneda refused, Vladimir attacked Polatsk, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, and murdered her parents and two of her brothers.

Vladimir secured both Polatsk and Smolensk, and took Kyiv in 978. Upon his conquest of the city, he invited Yaropolk to negotiations at which he was murdered.

Vladimir was proclaimed Grand Prince of all Kyivan Rus.

Vladimir expanded Kyivan Rus far beyond its former borders. He gained Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus), and the territories of the Yatvingians, Radimiches, and Volga Bulgars.

He had 800 concubines, and at least nine daughters and twelve sons from his seven legitimate wives.

Though Vladimir’s grandma Olga had converted to Christianity and begun Christianizing Kyivan Rus, Vladimir was an unrepentant pagan. He erected many statues and shrines to pagan deities, elevated thunder god Perun to supreme deity, instituted human sacrifices, destroyed many churches, and murdered many clergy.

When a Christian Varangian named Fyodor refused to give his son Ioann for sacrifice, a mob descended upon his house. Fyodor and Ioann, both seasoned soldiers, met the mob with weapons in hand.

The mob, realizing they’d be overpowered in a fair fight, smashed up the entire property, rushed at Fyodor and Ioann, and murdered them. They became Russia’s first recognized Christian martyrs.

Vladimir thought long and hard about this. In 987, he sent envoys to study the major religions and report back on their findings. The envoys also returned with representatives of these faiths.

Vladimir rejected Islam because he couldn’t give up pork or drinking, and didn’t want to be circumcised. He rejected Judaism because he felt the destruction of Jerusalem was “evidence” we’d been “abandoned” by God.

Vladimir found no beauty in Catholicism, but was very impressed by the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.

Vladimir agreed to become Orthodox in exchange for the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, sister of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. (Porphyrogenita, “born in the purple,” was an honorific for someone born to a Byzantine emperor after he’d taken the throne.)

Kyivan Rus and Byzantium were enemies, but after the wedding, Vladimir agreed to send 6,000 troops to protect Byzantium from a rebels’ siege. The revolt was put down.

Upon his return to Kyiv, Vladimir compelled his subjects into a mass baptism in the Dnepr River, and burnt all the pagan statues he’d erected.

After the mass conversion, Vladimir formed a great council from his boyars, gave his subject principalities to his twelve legitimate sons, founded the city of Belgorod (Bilhorod Kyivskyy), and embarked on a short-lived campaign against the White Croats.

Though his conversion was politically motivated, Vladimir nevertheless became very charitable towards the less fortunate. He gave them food and drink, and journeyed to those who couldn’t reach him.

He married one final time, to Otto the Great’s daughter (possibly Rechlinda Otona).

In 1014, he began gathering troops against his son Yaroslav the Wise. They’d long had a strained relationship, and when Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his brother Boris, heir apparent, it was the last straw.

Vladimir’s illness and death prevented a war. His dismembered body parts were distributed to his many sacred foundations and venerated as relics.

Several cities, schools, and churches in Russia and Ukraine are named for Vladimir. He also appears in many folk legends and ballads. His feast day is 15 July.

An ikon of St. Vladimir is one of the things my character Ivan Konev throws into a valise before he escapes into his root cellar to hide from vigilante Bolsheviks who’ve broken into his house in April 1917.

That ikon becomes very dear to Ivan and his future wife Lyuba. They believe Vladimir protected them during the Civil War. When their oldest son Fedya goes to fight in WWII, they lend him the ikon.

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The Umileniye ikon

The Umileniye (Tenderness) ikon is extremely unusual in Eastern Orthodoxy, in that it shows Mary alone. Almost all Orthodox Marian ikons depict Mary with Baby Jesus, in contrast to most Catholic images of Mary.

This ikon was very precious to St. Serafim of Sarov, one of the most beloved of all Russian saints. He was very fond of praying before this ikon. The oil from the lamp he kept burning in front of it was used to anoint the sick and bless visitors who came to make confession.

It was the last thing he saw in that lifetime, as he died while in prayer by it. He called this ikon “Joy of All Joys.”

In 1903, the year Serafim was canonized, Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Aleksandra went to the Sarov monastery to desperately pray for a son. Since so many miracles had been attributed to him, they felt he surely would answer their prayers.

They finally got their boy, but not in the way they’d expected. Their prayers were answered differently, more challengingly.

The Umileniye is believed to show Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, when she was told she’d have a child and humbly accepted this mission, with the reply, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

The Slavonic words around her halo say, “Rejoice, O Virgin Bride,” which is the refrain of the much-beloved Akathist Hymn.

Though some people think the ikon may have been inspired by Catholic art, it’s very common for the holy doors of an ikonostasis to depict Mary at the moment of Annunciation.

Today, the ikon is housed in the home of Patriarch Kirill of Moskva. A copy was left with the Trinity Cathedral of the Serafim-Diveyevskiy Monastery, a nunnery in the Nizhniy Novgorod district of Diveyevo.

On feast days, the original ikon is often brought out for public veneration.

Near the end of his life, St. Serafim gave the nuns of Diveyo 1,000 rubles to create an appropriate place for this precious ikon. After his death, the abbot of Sarov gave the ikon over to them. Presently, the sisters honored it with a silver riza.

A riza, which means “robe” in Russian, is a covering which protects ikons from damage by candle wax, incense smoke, and oil.

In 1903, after Serafim’s canonization, Tsar Nicholas II donated precious stones to make the ikon even more beautiful.

The Diveyevskiy Monastery has written this prayer to offer before the Umileniye:

My character Inga Savvina is very drawn to the Umileniye (and Theotokos [Mary] of Tolga) when she stays by her best friend and penpal Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov’s family’s summer home on Vancouver Island in the summer of 1947. She’s seen many ikons in her paternal relatives’ homes, but this is new to her.

Klarisa, the older of Yuriy’s two little sisters, tells Inga Mary is everyone’s mother, and that she’s very special to people without mothers. She suggests when Inga misses her real mother (who’s serving twenty years in Siberia), she can talk to Mary.

Though Inga has been raised an atheist, and resisted all religion during her five years in America, her unexplainable pull towards these ikons continues. She sees Mary as a loving, universal mother figure who’ll always support and listen to her, and eventually begins praying to her.

Yuriy performs an emergency baptism of Inga just before she falls unconscious from polio in August, and after she recovers enough to leave the hospital and marry Yuriy, she agrees to be chrismated by a priest.

Inga’s Orthodox conversion isn’t motivated by genuine spiritual awakening or religious belief, but she makes a genuine effort to grow into real belief. Along with her baptismal cross, she always wears a necklace with a miniature of the Umileniye, and continues building her relationship with Mary.

Omamori

Copyright jetalone; Source

Omamori (御守 or お守り) are Japanese Shinto and Buddhist amulets worn or carried for various types of good luck. Omamori is the honorific form of mamori (守り) (protection).

Omamori are often dedicated to Buddhist figures or Shinto kami (spirits), and sold by shrines and temples. Though they resemble bookmarks, they’re paper or wood prayers enclosed within a brocade bag.

They became popular in the Edo period (1603–1868).

Copyright 松岡明芳

Copyright Kanko*; Source

Traditionally, omamori aren’t opened, for fear of losing their protection and luck. They’re carried in a pocket, purse, backpack, etc., or tied to a suitcase, handbag, cellphone strap, car mirror, etc. Omamori are supposed to be replaced once a year, to chase away the past year’s bad luck.

Old omamori should be returned to the temple or shrine they came from, to be disposed of properly. This is similar to the Jewish genizah, a storage area for worn-out religious books, papers, and Torahs in a synagogue or library. Periodically, the contents are collected and properly buried.

Old omamori are typically returned on or shortly after New Year’s, so one may start the new year off fresh. Instead of buried, the old ones are burnt, to show respect to the spirit who helped that person in the past year.

Copyright Sun Taro; Source 2014SpringKyoto

There are many types of omamori, with purposes including:

Avoidance of evil (yaku-yoke)
Safety for one’s family and peace at home (kanai-anzen)
Luck in business and money (shobai-hanjo)
Better luck (kaiun)
Safety in travel and driving (kotsu-anzen)
Luck with school and passing tests (gakugyo-joju)
Love luck or continued love and success in one’s relationship (en-musubi)
Protection during pregnancy and childbirth (anzan)

In the modern era, it’s not uncommon to see omamori with sports motifs, or featuring popular characters like Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, and Hello Kitty. Another modern development is omamori for the protection of pets.

Obviously, these contemporary omamori aren’t sold in shrines or temples!

One need not be Buddhist or Shinto to buy omamori, or even Japanese, but it’s common decency to respect their religious nature and purpose. They shouldn’t be treated like bookmarks or exotic tokens to display.

If a temple or shrine doesn’t have an omamori which matches one’s needs or wants, one can ask a priest to have it custom-made. The shrine or temple may begin producing those types of omamori in large quantities if there are enough requests.

Copyright 田島飛松

Copyright FlipTable

Traditionally, only shrines and temples made omamori, but with their increasing popularity in the modern era, many popular shrines and temples have farmed their production out to factories. In spite of this, some priests take strong issue with the quality and spirituality of these mass-produced omamori.

Some modern omamori eschew the traditional wood and paper for materials such as credit cards, bike reflectors, and bumper decals.

Copyright Igor 1045

My character Rodya Duranichev finds an omamori in the pockets of a dead Japanese soldier when he and his best friend, Patya Siyanchuk, are helping with burying both dead Americans and Japanese during the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943.

Rodya also finds a letter, a photo of the soldier with his wife, and black, white, and red beckoning cats. He takes them as souvenirs, though he has no idea what they are.

Rodya keeps the cats and omamori on his person during the Battles of Saipan and Tinian, in the hopes they’re good luck charms.

Copyright FlipTable

While he’s in Hawaii after being wounded at Tinian (on top of his previous wounding from Saipan), waiting to be sent home, someone tells him what the four amulets mean.

Those amulets, the photo, and the letter on the dead Japanese soldier are meant to show the common humanity of the other side. We’re more alike than we are different.

Archangel Michael

Copyright Joe Mabel (on Flickr as Joe Mabel from Seattle)

Archangel Michael is an important figure in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism, he doubles as a saint. He’s the reason the name Michael (in all its many linguistic variations) has been so historically popular.

Michael appears thrice in the Book of Daniel, where he’s identified as the Jewish people’s protector, and a figure who’ll arise during the projected end of the world. He’s also mentioned in the Book of Jude, and is traditionally identified with an unnamed archangel in 1 Thessalonians.

In Revelations, Michael defeats Satan during a war.

Michael is one of two archangels named in the Koran, the other being Jibrail (Gabriel). Some Muslims believe Michael was one of the three angels who visited Avraham.

Copyright Novica Nakov; originally posted to Flickr as Icon #13

Michael has a very long history in Jewish tradition as our advocate and protector. He has a long-running enmity with the accusing Archangel Samael. In the ancient world, there were several prayers to Michael, in spite of the rabbinic prohibition against appealing to angels as intercessors.

In the Midrash (rabbinic commentary and stories filling in the blanks in the Torah), Michael is depicted as rescuing the Patriarchs and Matriarchs during perilous times in their lives. Another Jewish tradition says he destroyed the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s army.

Bradford Cathedral, West Yorkshire, England, Copyright Storye book

Early Christian tradition cast Michael as a healer. His earliest and most famous sanctuary in the ancient Near East, the Michaelion of Chalcedon in present-day Turkey, was associated with healing waters.

Other common Christian imagery depicts Michael as slaying a dragon, a serpent, or Satan. He was eventually named as the highest of all angels, and held up as a model of spiritual warfare against the temptation of evil.

In Catholic tradition, another of Michael’s roles is angel of death, carrying the souls of the deceased to the other world and descending at the hour of death to give the dying one last chance to redeem oneself.

Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Michael and Jesus are one and the same.

Drawn by Muhammad ibn Muhammad Shakir Ruzmah-‘i Nathani for scientist and proto-sci-fi writer Zakariya al-Qazwini; Source Walters Art Museum

In Islam, Michael (or Mikail) is responsible for the forces of Nature (esp. thunder and rain), and gives nourishment to souls and bodies. He’s often depicted as the archangel of mercy, and thus very friendly towards humans. In the Ahmadiyya denomination, Michael is among the Mala’ikah, spiritual beings who obey Allah’s commands.

Copyright JR2Espo

Michael has remained extraordinarily popular in these three faiths. In Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism, he’s celebrated on Michaelmas, 29 September. In Eastern Orthodoxy, his feast day is 8/21 November (depending on whether the church uses the Julian or Gregorian calendar).

In the Truro, Cornwall diocese of the Church of England, Michael’s feast day is 8 May.

Countless churches have been dedicated to him over the centuries. He’s also the patron saint of Brussels, Kyiv, Dumfries (Scotland), Germany, Cornwall, cops, fire fighters, the military and warriors, paramedics, chivalry, German-speaking regions formerly part of the Holy Roman Empire, the sick and suffering, mariners, and mountains.

The Russian city of Arkhangelsk is named for Michael.

Scapular of St. Michael the Archangel, formally approved 1878; Copyright Michael Tav

Before she leaves for a year abroad in a Parisian lycée in August 1939, my character Darya Koneva is given an ikon of Archangel Michael by her parents. That ikon becomes particularly dear to her after she and her best friend Oliivia Kalvik, who’s studying abroad with her, are trapped in occupied Europe and become Nazi prisoners.

Darya keeps that ikon safe all during her ordeal as a slave, and constantly prays to Michael to protect her and her friends. Her big brother Fedya later gives her a miniature of the statue outside Vienna’s Michaelerkirche, and her newlywed husband Andrey hangs a Byzantine style painting of him over their bed.

Darya will name her future only son Mikhail, after her special protector.

Vienna’s Michaelerkirche, Copyright Gryffindor

My 2018 A to Z themes revealed

Continuing my tradition of themes related to my writing, this year I’m featuring things, places, and people from my Russian historicals. So far, I’ve completed the first three volumes (spanning the years 1917–48), am working on the fourth (1948–52), and have detailed plans for the fifth and sixth (1953–64), and two prequels (1889–1917).

Settings have long since moved far and wide, beyond Russia and New York City. Other locales include Toronto, Tartu, Guelph (Canada), Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minsk, Kyiv, Paris, Shanghai, Isfahan (Iran), Kutaisi (Georgia), Yerevan (Armenia), and Kraków.

You’ll see me calling Russia’s capital by its native name, Moskva, instead of the common exonym Moscow. I likewise refer to the city’s historic fortress as the Kreml, not the Kremlin, and to Ukraine’s capital as Kyiv, not “Kiev” (which is an Anglicization of a Russification, NOT a true Ukrainian spelling). The first two are me being a linguistic purist; the lattermost is showing respect for the Ukrainian people and the spelling they’ve repeatedly asked us to use.

All posts are about 500–750 words. Six posts are double topics, but they too stay within that wordcount range.

Topics you’ll learn about include:

Irkutsk, a large city dubbed “The Paris of Siberia.”

The Battle of Tarawa, a brutal fight between the Marines and the Japanese Imperial Navy.

Saint Vladimir, an early Ryurikovich (pre-Romanov) ruler who was quite the horrible person for much of his life, but finally turned around after a politically-motivated conversion.

Xanten, Germany, a historic city I wrote about for a previous A to Z, but which I created almost an entirely new post for this year.

The Empress Hotel, a historic hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, which has had many famous guests.

Archangel Michael, a very important, beloved figure in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Patriarch’s Pond, a famous pond/skating rink in Mosvka.

Kurapaty, a woods on the outskirts of Minsk, where over 225,000 people were murdered during the Great Terror.

The Crown Colony of Aden, a British colony comprised of Yemen’s capital and the surrounding lands.

The Zayande River, one of Iran’s largest rivers, and very symbolic of the Iranian people’s continuing struggle for freedom.

As always, I’ve illustrated each post with lots of photos, both historic and modern. My posts on the WWII battles have lists of links, so interested parties can do further reading. I don’t intend to return to the days when my average post was 1,500 words!

I had so many great topics I was unable to use due to the interest of space, so you’ll definitely be seeing this theme again at least twice.

I recently added synopses for my planned sixth Russian historical and the two prequels to the About My Russian Novels page, so people can read about all the books I’ve written or planned so far. Each synopsis is rather condensed, since even a Russian novel’s synopsis shouldn’t be as long as the novel itself!

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My names blog will feature Medieval names. I didn’t have the time or passion needed for the theme I had in mind, so I decided on a theme that’s much less research-intensive and time-consuming than usual. It’ll also enable me to feature more than just one name per each sex per day.