Ivan the Great was the tsar of Russia during the Fifteenth Century. A brilliant military strategist, he united Russia and drove out the Tartars. He was however, so consumed by his military campaigns that he had not taken time to marry and produce an heir to his throne. His concerned advisers gained his permission to search for a suitable wife, and after a careful search, it was agreed that Ivan would marry the daughter of the King of Greece.
The King of Greece was delighted and the marriage was agreed on one condition – Ivan must become a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Ivan indicated he was willing to do so and a priest was sent to Moscow to instruct Ivan in Orthodox doctrine. Once the instruction was completed Ivan, accompanied by his palace guard – 500 of his most skilled soldiers – made his way to Athens.
Upon arrival in Athens Ivan was to be baptised into the Orthodox church. His soldiers, always loyal to their leader, asked if they could also be baptised. After a crash course in the Orthodox faith, they too were ready for baptism. Ivan and his guard would be baptised together in a mass baptism, to be attended by huge crowds from all over Greece. As was the custom in the Greek orthodox Church, the baptism would be by full immersion. Imagine the scene: five hundred soldiers and 500 priests wading into the Mediterranean for baptism, the soldiers decked out in full battle gear and the priests in their black robes and hats!
Now however another problem presented itself. The Church did not allow professional soldiers to be members. If they were to be baptised into the church they would need to give up their occupation. This was unacceptable to Ivan and his soldiers, so a compromise was reached. As the priests baptised each soldier, he would reach for his sword and lift it high above his head. Then he would be baptised – all of him, except for his fighting arm and sword.
Source: reported by Dr. Wayne Dehoney, Walnut Street Baptist Church, The Pulpit