"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- Evangelizing the Slavs & The Rise of Russia Within Orthodoxy

Unbelievably I finished a whole chapter in The Orthodox Church today!  You'll recall the past chapters where I had to divide them up in order to cover all the topics involved. I certainly have learned quite a lot from the first chapters of this book. I hope others have enjoyed the lessons and learned from them as well!  Chapter 4 dealt with the Orthodox Church and the Slavs.

Greek brothers, Cyril and Methodius, "Apostles of the Slavs," knew a variety of languages one of which was Slavonic.  When they went north into Moravia to share Christianity with the Slavs, they translated the Scriptures into the local tongue. The author mentions that this was different from Rome which tended to allow only Latin Scriptures and services.  Orthodox holds no such rigidity and "its normal policy is to hold services in the language of the people."  Of course I love this since I do not believe God limits Himself to speaking the best in only one language -- Hebrew, Greek, Latin or Arabic!  Not even American English with a southern drawl! 

Sadly the German and Greek missionaries clashed in Moravia and when the brothers died, the Germans expelled their followers.  So the followers moved on to Bulgaria which became the first national Church of the Slavs.   Serbia was next.

Romania's history was a bit different.  While Latin in national identity, they have the second largest Orthodox Church as of this book's writing.

The bulk of this chapter spoke of Orthodoxy in Russia especially Kiev.

Around 988 when Vladimir was converted to Christianity and married Anna, sister of the Orthodox Emperor, Orthodoxy became the national religion and remained this way until 1917.  He took his duty towards taking care of the poor seriously and "nowhere else in medieval Europe were there such highly organized 'social services' as tenth century Kiev."  (pg. 79)  Additionally "Vladimir was also deeply conscious of the Christian law of mercy, and when he introduced the Byzantine law code at Kiev, he insisted on mitigating its more savage and brutal features.  There was no death penalty in Kievan Russia, no mutilation, no torture; corporal punishment was very little used." 

Hopefully I got the right Vlad here!

Vladimir's two sons, Boris and Gleb, chose to be murdered by their older brother's emissaries than put up any political resistance to Svyatopolk's desire for their principalities.  These "Passion Bearers" took the Gospel literally and offered no resistance.  The author notes, "Russians have always laid great emphasis on the place of suffering in the Christian life."

Theodosius was born into a noble life, yet "emptied himself" as Christ did and lived a humble existence.  Even as a child he worked alongside the slaves in the field.  He founded the Monastery of the Caves at Kiev.

These four saints, Vladimir, Boris, Gleb and Theodosius,  "embody some of the most attractive features in Kievan Christianity" -- social justice, mercy, voluntary suffering and death and "self-identification with the humble." 

Kiev enjoyed good relationships with both Byzantium and Rome.

In 1237 the Mongols came and sacked Kiev.  Nearly all of Russia was overrun.  When another Russian city finally rose to leadership position, it was not Kiev, but Moscow.

A modern church in Moscow

Three saints emerged in the Russian Church during the Mongolian rule.  The author thought these deserved special attention.

1. Alexander Nevsky -- as a "warrior saint" this man preferred siding with the Tartars who did not interfere in the Russian Church rather than the Germans, Swedes and Lithuanians eager to bring the "Russian 'schismatics'" under Papal jurisdiction.  (This was not unlike the Church in Constantinople preferring Muslims to German Crusaders if you recall.  Boy, these Germans are feisty folks!  I see them mentioned often in this book and they most always are fighting!) 

2.  Stephen of Perm --  "Like many other of the early Russian missionaries, he did not follow in the wake of military and political conquest, but was ahead of it."  (pg.84) Russians liked to evangelize their pagan conquerors .. get that? not those they - the Russians - conquered, but those who conquered them.  Can you imagine the oppressed of today caring that much about those oppressing them that they share their faith? I am seriously having my image of Russians shattered here!  I grew up with Russia equaling Big Bad Communism and still don't think very highly of it due to all that childhood conditioning.  :)

3.  Sergius -- "the greatest national saint of Russia," like Theodosius of Kiev, he founded a famous monastery. He would go to the forest (the North's equivalent to the desert monasteries of Egypt, the author states) for silence and as people followed and communities formed, he would move on. In the process he push[ed] forward the boundaries of civilization and subject[ed] the forest to cultivation."

Sergius, called the "Builder of Russia," encouraged the rise of Moscow and the opposition to the Tartars, expanded the country through monks-through-the-forests treks and succeeded in "balancing [the] social and mystical aspects of monasticism."

Sixty-one years after Sergius died, "the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks. The new Russia...was now called to take Byzantium's place as protector of the Orthodox world."

Thoughts? Corrections?


Daniel said...

Seems like you covered most of it. :)

sanil said...

Wow, lots of information!

I thought it was interesting that the Orthodox church doesn't have language restrictions. Do you happen to know then why Greek Orthodox churches in the US will use Greek? Are they expecting only/mostly native Greek speakers who will be more comfortable that way?

Lat said...

Never had the chance to read about Russia and so I appreciate this post very much!

I really love those Russian churches outlook.They look magical to me :)

Sorry if I've missed anything but who are slavs?
"Russians liked to evangelize their pagan conquerors.." so did they accomplish that? Convert the Mongols?

Like everything much except this,
"In the process he push[ed] forward the boundaries of civilization and subject[ed] the forest to cultivation.." Oh our forests! :( Only we know the impact of the devastation sadly not Sergius.

Daniel said...


The languages you find in America is the result of immigration from other countries. That is the only reason they speak that language. They moved as a group years ago and grouped together and started their own churches. Unless you attend a very old establishment or the parishioners are older, they usually us more English than their ethnic language. I attend a parish in a Greek Diocese and they speak about 85% English. I went to the parish back home and they spoke about 95% Greek, which I didn’t understand at all. With the large amount of new Orthodox Christians in America and still growing, this will change.

Immigration is also the reason there is not one Orthodox Church in America, as in other parts of the world. We are unique this way, but there is much work being done to combine them all under one as is in the rest of the world. I should elaborate…it is one church, but sometimes ethnic boundaries get in the way. The Orthodox Church of America is autocephalous and at least two of the three major universities which are Orthodox are part of the OCA.

Not sure if that helped at all.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sanil said...

Daniel - Ah, I see. Thanks!

Amber said...

Just as an example of the language thing, the Serbian Orthodox church I visited was very small and the entire service (including homily) was in Serbian/not-English. If I had to guess I'd say that the majority of the congregants were immigrants or first generation Americans and so they all still spoke the native language. Everyone who I heard speak English had a very heavy accent.

The Greek Orthodox parish I go to is a bit larger and seems to be made up of people who were born in America though there are one or two immigrants that I know of. Everyone there speaks English (with only a few accents) and the services are split pretty much 50/50 between English and Greek.

There's an OCA parish in the next town north of where I live but I haven't been there yet. I just assume that they would use English entirely.

And that's my two cents. :)

Susanne said...

Daniel, yes, except for the part you helped with - thank you for answering Sanil! :)

Sanil, good question!

Lat, not sure how successful they were in converting Mongols. I guess it was more lowkey than mass conversions.

From Wikipedia re: Slavic peoples

The Slavic peoples are an ethnic and linguistic branch of Indo-European peoples, living mainly in Central and Eastern Europe. From the early 6th century they spread to inhabit most of the Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans.[1] Many settled later in Siberia[2] and Central Asia[3] or emigrated to other parts of the world.[4][5] Over half of Europe's territory is inhabited by Slavic-speaking communities.[6]

Modern nations and ethnic groups called by the ethnonym Slavs are considerably diverse both in appearance and culturally, and relations between them – even within the individual ethnic groups themselves – are varied, ranging from a sense of connection to feelings of mutual hostility.[7]

Slavic peoples are classified geographically and linguistically into West Slavic (including Czechs, Poles, Slovaks, Sorbs, Silesians (sometimes considered a branch of Poles or Czechs), East Slavic (including Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians),[8] and South Slavic (including Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs and Slovenes).

Hope that is helpful! I agree that the Russian churches look magical. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I didn't know much of Russian history either so I found all this interesting as well. Thanks for your comment!

Susanne said...


"I went to the parish back home and they spoke about 95% Greek, which I didn’t understand at all."

Did you attend St.Katherine's? I looked up Orthodox churches in the area and that's the only one I found in the county.

Susanne said...

Amber, thanks for what you shared. I found it all interesting. You should visit the OCA church and give us your thoughts on it. Maybe you like the more ethnic churches better...or not.

I appreciate everyone's feedback!

Lat said...

Thanks for the info about Slavs! Interesting how they are called Slavs.