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.
Your second question brings up a very important question and forces us to realize the influence Russian Orthodoxy had on the Mongols. Had the Mongols not granted the immunity charter to the Orthodox church, Russian Orthodoxy would no be as prevalent in Russian society. It is also important to note the influence that the Orthodox church had over Russian society. Russian Orthodoxy clearly captivated the Mongols enough to urge them to keep it as a prominent institution even after they took over.
A possible reason that the people of Rus’ flocked to the Orthodox church is because it was one of the last unifying forces that they had. The puppet government in place was formed by those who could pay the mongols the most to receive a princely position. The church represented their heritage and the power they would hope to establish once again.
If the Mongols had destroyed the Orthodox Church then they would have also destroyed the majority of the literate population of Russia during their occupation. In a sense, they could have taken a very large step towards destroying the Russian culture that was established. Since people took refuge in the Church and were able to keep their laws and traditions safe through that institution, Russian culture developed through the Church. Without the influence that the Church held during this period, then it is very likely Orthodoxy would not have the strong hold over Russian culture as it did and still does. The Mongols would have been able to stay longer due to the fact that the Russian people would not have been able to unite, and they would have never had the strength to oppose the Mongols.