Ivan the Great was the Tsar of all of Russia during the Fifteenth Century. He brought together the warring tribes into one vast empire– the Soviet Union. As a fighting man he was courageous. As a general he was brilliant. He drove out the Tartars and established peace across the nation.
However, Ivan was so busy waging his campaigns that he did not have a family. His friends and advisers were quite concerned. They reminded him that there was no heir to the throne, and should anything happen to him the union would shatter into chaos. “You must take a wife who can bear you a son.” The busy soldier-statesman said to them that he did not have the time to search for a bride, but if they would find a suitable one, he would marry her.
The counselors and advisers searched the capitals of Europe to find an appropriate wife for the great tsar. And find her, they did. They reported to Ivan of the beautiful dark-eyed daughter of the King of Greece. She was young, brilliant, and charming. He agreed to marry her sight unseen.
The King of Greece was delighted. It would align Greece in a favorable way with the emerging giant of the north. But there had to be one condition, “He cannot marry my daughter unless he becomes a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.” Ivan’s response, “I will do it!”
So, a priest was dispatched to Moscow to instruct Ivan in Orthodox doctrine. Ivan was a quick student and learned the catechism in record time. Arrangements were made, and the tsar made his way to Athens accompanied by 500 of his crack troops– his personal palace guard.
He was to be baptized into the Orthodox Church by immersion, as was the custom of the Eastern Church. His soldiers, ever loyal, asked to be baptized also. The Patriarch of the Church assigned 500 priests to give the soldiers a one-on-one catechism crash course. The soldiers, all 500 of them, were to be immersed in one mass baptism. Crowds gathered from all over Greece.
What a sight that must have been, 500 priests and 500 soldiers! The priests were dressed in black robes and tall black hats, the official dress of the Orthodox Church. The soldiers wore their battle uniforms with all their regalia– ribbons of valor, medals of courage, and their weapons of battle.
Suddenly, there was a problem. The Church prohibited professional soldiers from being members; they would have to give up their commitment to bloodshed. They could not be killers and church members too.
After a hasty round of diplomacy, the problem was solved quite simply. As the words were spoken and the priests began to baptize them, each soldier reached to his side and withdrew his sword. Lifting it high overhead, every soldier was totally immersed-everything baptized except his fighting arm and sword.