The Mongol invasion of Rus’ started in the mid thirteenth century and lasted until around 1480. It followed closely behind the fighting between the Rus’ princes over land and power. During this period the two most powerful groups in Rus’ were the Princes and the church. The church quickly blamed the princes for the invasion of the Mongols stating that it was Gods punishment for their foolish skirmishing. According to The Novgorod Chronicle (Kaiser and Marker 99) the church was innocent from all wrongdoing and the Mongol invasion was directed primarily toward the princes as God’s reprimand for their behavior. Throughout the invasion the church became a sanctuary for the people of Rus’. Princes and their closest companions fled to the church, “the pagans breaking down the doors, piled up wood and set fire to the sacred church; and slew all, thus they perished, giving up their souls to God.” (101). The common people of Rus’ also began to take shelter in churches in the face of Mongol invasions and thus the churches gained even more power.
The Mongol Immunity Charter to Metropolitan Peter (101) created a power balance between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Mongols. It basically gave protection to the church from the Mongols letting them trade and function in the Mongol controlled land. It seems that the real purpose was to control the power of the church and keep control of the Rus’ people as much as possible. The Russian Orthodox Church accepted the protection of the Mongols because it helped their power grow. It is a primary factor of their importance and power today.
Why did the people of Rus’ embrace Christianity in the wake of the Mongol invasion? What made the people of Rus’ turn toward Christianity and away from their old Pagan religion? How did the Mongols own beliefs affect this decision?
How could history have been different if the Mongols did not grant the immunity charter to the church? Would Russian Orthodoxy be as prevalent? Would the Mongols have stayed in power in Rus’ for more or less time?
Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.