Conflicting Ideas in Christianization of Rus

The author’s opinion of Christianity and Paganism is made clear in the first paragraph of The Christianization of Rus’ According to the Primary Chronicle, in which pagan idols are referred to as “devils” and Russia pre-Christianization was a land “defiled with blood”. As Vladimir is visited by representatives of different faiths, it is again beaten into the reader that Christianity is the only reasonable choice.

Not only do followers of Islam not drink wine, but most of what they say is “false” and crude. The validity of the Jewish people as the chosen ones of God is similarly looked down upon because God had dispersed them, his favorite people, to foreign lands as punishment long ago. Later, when Vladimir sends emissaries to investigate these religions further, nothing is said about the Bulgarians’ Islamic practices other than that they are “disgraceful” while there is a detailed description of the lavishness and beauty of the Greek Orthodox worship.

After being told of the glory of the Greeks’ practices, a year passes and then Vladimir marches an armed force against a Greek city. I find his actions to be confusing, as he had just been told of the emissaries’ respect and admiration for the Greeks. Would he not want to set out in purpose of creating good relations with these people, as opposed to sacking their city? This could be an example of Vladimir’s many conflicting motives for choosing a religion for Rus – the primary being to make his land and his own reign stronger, as opposed to his desire to worship God.

I found The Life of St. Theodosius to depart from a few of what I consider to be the primary teachings of Christianity, in particular the Ten Commandments. A primary theme throughout the text is Feodosii’s refusal to obey his parents. Obedience and respect of one’s parents is generally very important to Christianity (i.e. “Honor your father and mother”) but, in this case, Feodosii is a saintly figure because he refuses to do as he is told. For example, he would rather wear shabby clothing and read divine teachings instead of dressing nicely and playing with other children. Feodosii disobeys his mother and runs away from home to become closer to God. His obedience and adherence to God’s call comes above all else. This is illustrated most obviously when God speaks to him and says, “Whosoever hath not forsaken his father and mother and followed after me is not worthy of me…”

In the introduction to this text, it is clarified that this particular view of religion is not unique to Rus. If so, what region or group of people are these values unique to? Or did everyone pick and choose the aspects they liked about St. Theodosius and ignore others, such as his self-abuse? Can any religion really be valid or credible if its current form is the result of a compilation of conflicting ideals and teachings?

Cultural Sustainability

My favorite definition of sustainability that I found was from the Free Dictionary.  Sustainability was defined as “to keep in existence, maintain.”  This definition was my favorite because it was the most inclusive one I could find.  Many other definitions spoke specifically about the environment.  While sustainability is most commonly used in reference to the environment and a “green” lifestyle, it can also be used in an economic or cultural sense as well.  I will be focusing on the cultural definition of sustainability.

In terms of culture, sustainability refers to maintaining certain cultural markers, such as language, traditions, ancestry, and religion.  Some of these can be very positive, such as keeping a language alive, or participating in a family ritual.  A negative example would be forbidding intermarriage as a way to continue “racial purity.”

Since the English began to rule Ireland, the Irish Gaelic language has been in steady decline.  Even in the Victorian Era, James Joyce wrote about university students enrolling in Irish classes to keep the language alive (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Today, according to a census reported in The Guardian, about 25% of the Irish population speaks Irish, which is odd, considering it is officially the country’s first language.  While some of the Irish refuse to speak a language other than English, in Irish speaking parts of Ireland, Irish Gaelic is taught in schools.  According to the Irish Central website, the number of Irish speakers is on the rise.  This is due to people wanting to preserve this language, an example of cultural sustainability.  Just as we try to conserve natural resources, Irish speakers are trying to conserve their language.  

The other example of cultural sustainability I will use is quite different.  This is because it is a movement to revive something that has been arguably gone for thousands of years.  The pagan revivalist movement is a movement dating back to the 1950s, that is attempting to revive the various world pagan religions that disappeared after the rise of Christianity.  Religions such as Druidry, the ancient religion of the Celts, or Greco-Roman beliefs are being followed by some people in modern society, particularly in the UK and US.  Some people are trying to revive these old religions because they identify with the culture that used to practice them.  For example, a German or German-American may worship the old Germanic or Viking gods.  Others just find a spiritual truth in these ancient practices.    While this example is not the most well-known, I find it extremely interesting, because it is a movement to resurrect a religion believed to be extinct.   Which brings up a question:  Does sustainability encompass not just keeping in existence, but bringing back to existence?

So, while one can maintain resources and economic structure, one can also maintain languages and religions.