A Meeting Almost 1,000 Years In The Making

While not strictly a historical piece, I wanted to take a moment to share an article that I wrote about Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill’s meeting in Cuba this past Friday. It was published in Odyssey Online, but I thought I would share it. The link is pasted below.




Changing Areas of Focus

Throughout this semester law codes help show the changes occurring throughout Russian history. Written under the rule of Aleksei the Ulozehnie of 1649 differs greatly from previous law codes such as the Sudebnik of 1497. The Ulozehnie is organized into sections like previous law codes; however, the order of the articles reveals important shifts in the structure of the Russian state. Article I of the Ulozehnie protects the dignity and sanctity of the Russian Orthodox Church. The law code prohibits heresy, harming church officials, bringing political complaints to church services, fighting and/or murdering members of the congregation, and other acts that may interfere with a normal service. (((http://community.dur.ac.uk/a.k.harrington/1649code.html.)) Violators of these laws often received capital punishment – showing how closely the state protected the church. In fact, the Ulozehni depicts an overlapping of the church and state, one where the Tsar’s word reflects the will of God. ((Article I, Section 9, http://community.dur.ac.uk/a.k.harrington/1649code.htm.l)) The Sudebnik protected the Russian Orthodox Church but never with the same vigor or priority.

Instead of focusing on the church, the first articles of the Sudebnik outlined court procedures. (((http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/sudebnik.html)) One finds legal procedures located in first in Article X of the Ulozehnie. (((http://community.dur.ac.uk/a.k.harrington/1649code.html.)) Written during a time of internal turmoil and impending foreign invasion, the Ulozehnie addresses treason and the Prince’s safety in Article II. Twenty-two articles prohibit conspiring against the Prince, knowing of a conspiracy but not reporting it, and aiding outside powers against the Prince. (((http://community.dur.ac.uk/a.k.harrington/1649code.html.)) Again, a traitor received capital punishment after a trial confirmed his or her guilt. The number of these codes focusing on the Prince’s safety allude to the turmoil and instability under Aleksei. The Sudebnik outlaws murder and violence but never addresses the security of the Prince or treason. (((http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/sudebnik.html.))

Considering the content of the Ulozehnie’s first two articles, who would you say is the primary audience of these law codes?


Domostroi, Ch. 24-38

Chapters 24-37 of the Domostroi deal with how the people of the household should live their lives. Men of their household must live a christian lifestyle and treat all of their responsibilities with care. If a man is not able to help those in need or commits crimes against the state, he will bring, “… his soul to destruction and his house to disgrace.” ((Carolyn Johnston Pouncy, trans and ed., The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1994,) 121.)) Rulers must be fair to their people and not be selfish in all of their decisions they makes. Not being able to manage expenses is considered a great dishonor. The Domostroi reminded people not to keep, “… more slaves than you can afford,” and to free those slaves one did not need. ((Pouncy, Domostroi, 124.)) The relationship between a landowner and his servants appears to be very close, as a landowner is taught to, “… care for them and reward them as though they were your own children.”((Pouncy, Domostroi, 126.))

Wives of the household rulers are to be submissive to their husbands and follow their commands. It’s even mentioned that a wife should consult her husband on any matter of importance.((Pouncy, Domostroi, 132.)) The wife has a tight reign on what is happening in the household and must set an example for the servants to follow. She must be intelligent in the way of knowing how to cook meals for every occasion, keep records of the household, and work tirelessly as ”she should even fall asleep over her embroidery.”((Pouncy, Domostroi, 127.)) The expectation of women continue on and on; drunkenness is impermissible, gossiping is intolerable, idleness is unheard of, and women must act as the example for all other household workers. ((Pouncy, Domostroi, 138.))

While these regulations all explicitly address the individual, they create a larger social contract. The Domostroi creates standards are enforced communally – regulating actions not through a punishment by the state but through a loss of grace and respect of the community. This system only works when a population embraces the same standards. When one strays from the norm they feel the exclusion and chastisement of the whole community. The Domostroi heavily religious messages illustrate the extent to which the church and religion permeated everyone’s lives.
Furthermore, when examining the Domostroi in the context of what Muscovy was experiencing during the rule of Ivan, it takes steps to take even more control into the lives of the people, notably the boyars. Ivan released his own Sudebnik in 1550, and this centralized power in things a law code would normally address, such as theft, property disputes and so on. The Domostroi seeks to control what happens in the home, which fits in with Ivan’s desire to centralize power. The new autocratic ideals Ivan clearly sought to implement within his own government can also be seen in his ambition to control how the boyars and normal people lived their own private lives.

The Influence of Religion on Russian Culture

As we have seen multiple times throughout the readings, the influence of the Church was able to penetrate nearly every aspect of Russian life. Popular culture was definitely not immune to the domination that the Church had. The strict social hierarchy that included the high social classes and the Church were very prevalent in Russian society, they were essentially in control of what would be passed down generation to generation. Since most of the literate population was somehow involved with the Church, their damnation towards minstrels and their performances led to very little historical record of them, and what remained is never very positive.

The minstrels mostly entertained local villagers, who held their performances in the highest regard. “Surviving village inventories from around the year 1500 list minstrels just as they might some priest or smith, indicating not only a tolerance for such entertainers, but also a recognition of their social station and value.” (Kaiser 131) However, since the Church disapproved of them and their, “bawdy songs”, and how they “caricatured the world around them.” (Kaiser 128) Therefore, the Church was able to end the passing down of performances since they controlled a majority of the literate population. In some cases, princes would seek to have minstrels banned, in order to preserve their social order. (Kaiser 132) Minstrels did have an effect both on the lives of the average person and they upset the elite culture.

When observing the will of Patrikei Stroev, the presence of the Church and fear of God is evident immediately. He not only begins his will with a prayer, but he also gave a village and three beehives to the Church. Meanwhile, he gives his descendants animals or money.  (Kaiser 130)

The paintings of Rublev are very similar to the paintings that would have been found in Italy during the Renaissance due to their religious nature. Art was a market that was driven by the patron, and often times, the artist themselves were deeply religious. (Kaiser 142)

Was pop culture truly representative of the people living during that time? Or is it purely whitewashed by the Church?

Works Cited

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

Russian Court Processes in the 15th Century

Even after the Mongols retreated from the Rus lands, the economy and culture were still experiencing much turbulence. Officials attempted to rebuild their society from the devastation, and in our readings we have evidence of their attempts to restructure the legal system in the fifteenth century.

The Novgorod Judicial Charter shows us that the archbishop had power to prosecute crimes with his own church court in addition to the mayor of Novgorod’s court. In general, we see improvement in this document compared to the Pravda Russkaia; the details of the jobs of the court are more detailed and the money system for winning a trial has adapted to accommodate the accused and who gets a specific percentage of the money. ((Kaiser and Marker  109-110))

The Muscovite Judgment Charter gives us an idea of the law system in the Moscow region, a city gaining more importance in the recent centuries. It speaks a lot of disputes of land and how these were settled. Normally witnessed were brought in and gave oral testaments based on their memory of the land. These men seemed to be distinguished and longtime members of the village and were therefore trusted in their testimonies. ((Kaiser and Marker 114-115))

Ann Kleimola adds to this analysis of court processes by saying that written evidence was seen as secondly important. Charters, deeds, and other types of documents were used as evidence, but were seen as less reliable because they could be misplaced due to theft or fires. She also makes the case that since the church got involved with court processes, different religious acts were seen as very important, mainly kissing the Grand Prince’s cross and carrying icons to replace pagan practices. ((Kaiser and Marker 119-120))


How did the importance of the Orthodox Church change both laws and court processes since its arrival? What does this tell us of the Church’s importance in day to day life?

Why were oral testaments and witnesses the most important type of evidence for court cases?

What do the different types of written documents tell us about the people and the culture?


Works Cited

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

Mongol Influence on Rus’ Culture

The Mongol occupation of the Rus’ lands is recounted by many historians as being incredibly detrimental to the culture of Rus’. The Mongols stormed into Rus’, manipulated the princes, and seized the opportunity to assert their military and political dominance upon Rus’. However, they did not force their shamanistic religion upon the Rus’ people, and they gave the Orthodox Church free reign. This interesting balance between the political and religious spheres and how they overlapped would eventually give the Rus’ people reason to believe that there was something they had to unite. The initial destruction of Rus’ culture by the Mongol occupation was brought back by the Church and the economic success that was in part due to the Mongols.

The historian A. M. Sakharov argues that the Mongol occupation destroyed early Rus’ culture in writing, architecture, crafts, and art and it, “failed to introduce any cultural innovations in their place.” (Kaiser and Marker 137) The Mongols exiled craftsman and architects which resulted in the loss of techniques that were passed down for generations. The loss of all the books which were stored in the Kremlin cathedrals by the invasion of Tokhtamysh is just one example of the large amounts of history destroyed. Sakharov does write on the rise of culture during what he refers to as the “Second Stage” of the Mongol occupation. (139) The economic success in cities such as Tver and Moscow meant Novgorod was no longer the only center of culture in Rus’. The rise of a Russian identity which was cultivated by the Church gave the people even more inspiration to push culture further forward.

However, Halperin later argues that the influence of the Mongols was more beneficial than many historians give credit. (105) The pride of Rus’ people as well as the dominance of the Orthodox Church who controlled most of the writing could easily have prevented the recording of the positives of the Mongol reign. While the Mongols did grant the Church immunity, the Church regarded them as infidels for their beliefs in shamanism and Islam. The rerouting of the fur trade by the Mongols led to the rise of Moscow and the cultural growth that occurred there during the mid 14th-mid 15th centuries had a very large positive impact on Rus’ culture. (106)

As the Primary Chronicles have shown multiple times, the religion of the subject being written about has a considerable consequence on how they are portrayed. While the recordings from the Chronicles describe the Mongol occupation as being only detrimental to Rus’ culture, it is possible that the Mongols had a positive influence on some of the culture.

What made the Mongols decide to initially destroy the Rus’ culture and then leave the Church to help bring it back?

How did the Mongol occupation unite Rus’ people together? Was it cultural unity that was finally discovered or just a desire to get rid of the Mongol yoke?

Works Cited

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

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. ((Riasanovsky and Steinberg 63-70))

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.” ((Kaiser and Marker 100)) 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.” ((Kaiser and Marker 102)) 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

Pagans and Patriarchs: Russian Orthodoxy and the Mongols in the Thirteenth Century

The Mongol tide that swept much of the civilized world in the thirteenth century played an integral role in shaping the history of Asia and Central Europe, and few nations maintain as strong a legacy to this day as Russia. During its history under the rule of the Rus princes, the Orthodox Church was a mainstay institution of society, but it truly flourished under the Mongols. Protection from tax collectors, land redistribution, and the ability to pass judgement on any crimes in their holdings gave the Church a next-to unheard of degree of political influence and flexibility. Indeed, juxtaposed against the barbaric slaughter the Mongols perpetrated in the Novgorod Chronicle, their degree of autonomy seems almost impossible in the light of their earlier behavior.

The Chronicle presents the introduction of the Mongols into Rus as a nigh-apocalyptic event issued forth from Hell to extract payment from the Rus for their sins. While the reality was much more mundane, it was nevertheless a major check on princely power throughout the lands of Rus. Unwilling to band together against a common threat, Rus princes presented little more than a token resistance. In the face of the unchecked invasion many princes took to hiding underneath the spiritual bulwark of their local churches, leaving their villages and holdings to suffer the consequences of their short-lived defiance. The churches themselves did little to protect their erstwhile lords, standing against the fire and sword of the invaders as well as a series of wooden walls can be expected to.

It seems odd, then, given their early disregard for the sanctity of the local churches, that the Mongols saw fit to afford the Church institution as a whole so much power. The aptly named Immunity Charter granted the Church protection from land forfeiture, the indenture and enslavement of church affiliated laymen, and tax and tribute gathering. In light of their paganism and evidently savage behavior, why did they see fit to not only spare, but also empower the Church? Was it some dogmatic shift between the initial invasion and the middle ground of the occupation? Or perhaps merely a pragmatic attempt to ingratiate their tribute collectors to a powerful local organization, making resistance to their rule less intense?

The Russian Orthodox Church and The Mongols in the Thirteenth Century

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?


Works cited:

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

Christian Rus

I think that this reading really helps to give a sense of how ingrained the Russian Orthodox Church was in early Rus society. The most obvious example of this is clearly the Chronicles themselves and how they are written. For instance, when Novgorod did not want to submit to the rule of the Grand Prince, the Chronicles portrayed it as not a political schism, but one of deep religious controversy. Instead of saying that the people of Novgorod had betrayed the Grand Prince, the Chronicles claim that Novgorod betrayed the commandments of God himself. As such, the battles between the Novgorodians and the armies of the Grand Prince are horribly skewed in favor of the Muscovites, making ridiculous claims that an army of 4000 Muscovites was able to defeat the Novgorod army, which mustered nearly 40,000 men.

Another indicator of the power the church had during this time period are the records that we have from after the Mongol invasion. In the analysis given by Kaiser and Marker, they talk about how the Mongols were viewed as pagans sent by God to punish the people of Rus for the infighting going on at the time. In spite of these views and the Chronicles consistent criticizing of the Mongols as being “godless pagans” the Orthodox Church was allowed to survive under Mongol rule and was given vast amounts of power. As long as the khan’s tax was paid, the Orthodox Church was allowed to continue its existence and it was able to develop a level of influence among the people that would never truly vanish. I believe that this was the point in Russian history were the Orthodox Church began to latch onto the power it now holds. Very few places in the world show so much dedication to their religion as Russia does; despite decades of oppression by the Soviets, the Orthodox Church immediately resurfaced after the fall of the Soviet Union and is still heavily influential in the government. I believe that without the Mongol invasion this may not have happened.