Influence of Orthodox Christianity on Russian Culture

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How did the adoption of Orthodox Christianity in the 10th Century A.D. influence the Russian State?

Since the adoption of Christianity by Vladimir I in 988 A.D. the church has had a profound influence on the Russian state. The magnitude of this influence has varied throughout history, from its peak during the 15th Century, to lows during the reign of Peter the Great and in Soviet Russia.

Since the fall of communism the Church has revived its position in Russian Society and is asserting its influence in a number of ways, including resurgence in attendance, the building and restoration of churches, and arguably in the re-appearance of the Church and State acting in symphony.

Prior to 988 A.D.

Prior to the adoption of Christianity, paganism prospered in 10th century eastern Slavic areas, including modern day Ukraine and Western Russia. This pagan worship was specific to each tribe and community resulting in a lack of unity between tribes and communities. In 980 AD, Vladimir I the Prince of Kiev, recognised the need to bring these pagan tribes together under a common ‘single state’ religion. He initially attempted this through the unification of common pagan gods, however this didn’t succeed.[1] Fortuitously at this time, the conditions for the adoption of the Christian religion were appropriate, including the spread of Eastern (Byzantine) Christianity along the Black Sea and other nearby areas. It was this religion that Vladimir I chose to unite Rus and which, subsequently created the nation of Rus out of the chaos of barbarian tribes.[2]

Arguably, Vladimir I chose this religion, for a number of reasons. Most notably were the aesthetic qualities of the religion, including the beauty of the service and the churches themselves that finally determine the adoption of this religion.[3] These qualities subsequently had influence throughout Russian history in architecture, the arts, culture and notably in all Russian’s lives. Of a major importance to the survival of ‘Rus’ the church also ensured survival through the Mogol years and persecutions such as during the reign of Peter the Great.

988 A.D. The Adoption of Orthodox Christianity

In the year 988 AD Vladimir I was baptised and declared Christianity as the official state religion of ‘Rus’ (then Kievian Rus).[4] In the immediate aftermath of the adoption of Christianity, the deities of the old religion were destroyed, mass baptisms took place, churches were built and priests were appointed in all towns. The immediate impact of this conversion to Christianity also saw children of the Kievian upper class educated and taught to read. The Church and its influence upon the Russian State

The Mongol invasion

In the middle of the 13th century, during the period of Mogol conquests, the Russian Orthodox church saved the population from destruction by the Mongol invaders, the Tartars. The Tatar’s were pagans who fortunately believed in the existence of more than one god. Accordingly, they recognised the church’s saints and the church, just-in-case they were the one true god, thereby granting them forbearance and support instead of destruction.[5]

During this period, the church also gave spiritual strength to the nation of Russia to survive and fight off the enemies[6] and was one defining factor in Russia finally overcoming the Tatars, under the leadership of Ivan the Terrible.

The middle history

Throughout its middle history the Russian church became more submissive to the will of the state. Submission was evidenced as early as the 14th century, and complete in the 18th and 19th century with the decree of Peter the Great. However, this submissive relationship went from one end of the spectrum to the other, with the church also evidencing an assertive relationship over the state, such as in 1662 when Patriarch Nikon claimed that the church is superior to the secular power.[7]

In the 1441, the church evidenced a tendency to obey the will of the state, by...
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