The Mongols and their Relationship with the Orthodox Church

By most accounts, the Mongol invasion was a bloody time for the people of Russian territories in the thirteenth century. Arriving from southeastern Russia in 1223, they had superior military tactics to overthrow the Russian Princes and keep that power for the next 150 years to 250 years with the help of their proficient administration skills that Russian officials lacked. The wide-spread massacre and destruction ruined towns and deprived the population at large from farming land in the steppe and from critical trade routes. Although some scholars focus more on the positive Mongol influences to Russian culture (some administrative language and military knowledge), it is clear that the Mongols left the society devastated.1

The people of the Russian Orthodox faith saw this display of cruelty and killing as “the Christian God [employing] the Tartars (Mongols) to punish Rus for the folly of its princes who, rather than abiding by the wise advice of Grand Prince Iaroslav … instead fought against one another, and had failed to honor one another.”2 But despite the Mongols’ hostile behavior, they eventually chose to respect the Russian Orthodox Church and any of its clergy and members and let them practice their religion in peace. In the Mongol Immunity Charter to Metropolitan Peter, we see that the church is given official recognition as an “independent institution” and the Mongol population is forbidden to “interfere in church affairs or in the metropolitan’s business, for they are God’s business.”3 They make it very clear that the Church is not be bothered and no one is to be offended by any acts of the Mongol’s or else the “wrath of God will be on him.” ((Kaiser and Marker 102))

Given their attitudes to the Orthodox faith, what does that tell us about the importance of religion to the Mongols?

How did this affect the Russian culture and lifestyle moving forward in the future?

Are there any lasting effects from the Mongol invasion that we can see in today’s Russian society?

Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. and Mark D. Steinberg. A History of Russia to 1855. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005

  1. Riasanovsky and Steinberg 63-70 []
  2. Kaiser and Marker 100 []
  3. Kaiser and Marker 102 []

3 thoughts on “The Mongols and their Relationship with the Orthodox Church

  1. Since the Mongols left the Orthodox Church alone, it allowed the Church to fill the power vacuum left empty by the princes. It then forced the princes to take the power of the Church considerably more seriously after the Mongols were expelled. The Church was able to take a much larger and more personal role in the lives of the Rus people. Moving forward, this gave the Church leverage against the grand princes because they were the moral authority behind his rule. The fact that the Church was able to stand strong while the princes failed also might have spread the belief that no matter the opposition, the power of god would always support the Orthodox Church.

  2. The second question brings up a good point about the lasting effects of the Mongol invasion. The Orthodox faith finally displaces all the other religions in Rus’ during the rule of the Mongols. If the Mongols did not allow the church to become so powerful, would perhaps another religion rise up to power in later time?

  3. Although the Mongol Immunity Charter granted significant power and autonomy to the Orthodox Church, I do not feel as though this comes from a place of religious reverence. In the Novgorod Chronicle on the Mongol Invasion, one reads how the Mongols indiscriminately burned churches while they sacked cities. ((Kaiser, Daniel H., and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings 860-1860s. New York: Oxford, 1994. 101.)) The Mongols controlled a vast territory which presented countless administrative logistical problems. When reading the Statute of Grand Prince Iaroslav a few days ago, one can see how much the Orthodox Church helped in maintaining order and law. ((Kaiser and Marker, Reinterpreting, 50-54.)) By preserving the structure and prominence of the Orthodox church, the Mongols relieved themselves of many logistical nightmares – Rus continued to be almost self maintaining and governing.

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