Vol.4, Chapter II (Cont’d) – IV. The Christianization of the Slavs

32. General Survey

A. Regenvolscius: Systema Hist. chronol. Ecclesiarum Slavonic. Traj. ad Rhen., 1652.

A. Wengerscius: Hist. ecclesiast. Ecclesiarum Slavonic. Amst., 1689.

Kohlius: Introductio in Hist. Slavorum imprimis sacram. Altona, 1704.

J. Ch. Jordan: Origines Slavicae. Vindob., 1745.

S. de Bohusz: Recherches hist. sur l’origine des Sarmates, des Esclavons, et des Slaves, et sur les époques de la conversion de ces peuples. St. Petersburg and London, 1812.

P. J. Schafarik: Slavische Alterthümer. Leipzig, 1844, 2 vols.

Horvat: Urgeschichte der Slaven. Pest, 1844.

W. A. Maciejowsky: Essai Hist. sur l’église ehrét. primitive de deux rites chez les Slaves. Translated from Polish into French by L. F. Sauvet, Paris, 1846.

At what time the Slavs first made their appearance in Europe is not known. Latin and Greek writers of the second half of the sixth century, such as Procopius, Jornandes, Agathias, the emperor Mauritius and others, knew only those Slavs who lived along the frontiers of the Roman empire. In the era of Charlemagne the Slavs occupied the whole of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Balkan; the Obotrites and Wends between the Elbe and the Vistula; the Poles around the Vistula, and behind them the Russians; the Czechs in Bohemia. Further to the South the compact mass of Slavs was split by the invasion of various Finnish or Turanian tribes; the Huns in the fifth century, the Avars in the sixth, the Bulgarians in the seventh, the Magyars in the ninth. The Avars penetrated to the Adriatic, but were thrown back in 640 by the Bulgarians; they then settled in Panonia, were subdued and converted by Charlemagne, 791-796, and disappeared altogether from history in the ninth century. The Bulgarians adopted the Slavic language and became Slavs, not only in language, but also in customs and habits. Only the Magyars, who settled around the Theiss and the Danube, and are the ruling race in Hungary, vindicated themselves as a distinct nationality.

The great mass of Slavs had no common political organization, but formed a number of kingdoms, which flourished, some for a shorter, and others for a longer period, such as Moravia, Bulgaria, Bohemia, Poland, and Russia. In a religious respect also great differences existed among them. They were agriculturists, and their gods were representatives of natural forces; but while Radigost and Sviatovit, worshipped by the Obotrites and Wends, were cruel gods, in whose temples, especially at Arcona in the island of Ruegen, human beings were sacrificed, Svarog worshipped by the Poles, and Dazhbog, worshipped by the Bohemians, were mild gods, who demanded love and prayer. Common to all Slavs, however, was a very elaborate belief in fairies and trolls; and polygamy, sometimes connected with sutteeism, widely prevailed among them. Their conversion was attempted both by Constantinople and by Rome; but the chaotic and ever-shifting political conditions under which they lived, the rising difference and jealousy between the Eastern and Western churches, and the great difficulty which the missionaries experienced in learning their language, presented formidable obstacles, and at the close of the period the work was not yet completed.


33. Christian Missions among the Wends

Adam of Brenen (d. 1067): Gesta Hammenb. (Hamburgensis) Eccl. Pont., in Pertz: Monumenta Germ., VII.

Helmoldus (d. 1147) and Arnoldus Lubecensis: Chronicon Slavorum sive Annales Slavorum, from Charlemagne to 1170, ed. H. Bangert. Lubecae, 1659. German translation by Laurent. Berlin, 1852.

Spieker: Kirchengeschichte der Mark Brandenburg. Berlin, 1839.

Wiggers: Kirchengeschichte Mecklenburgs. Parchim, 1840.

Giesebrecht: Wendische Geschichten. Berlin, 1843.

Charlemagne was the first who attempted to introduce Christianity among the Slavic tribes which, under the collective name of Wends, occupied the Northern part of Germany, along the coast of the Baltic, from the mouth of the Elbe to the Vistula: Wagrians in Holstein, Obotrites in Mecklenburg, Sorbians on the Saxon boundary, Wilzians in Brandenburg, etc. But in the hands of Charlemagne, the Christian mission was a political weapon; and to the Slavs, acceptation of Christianity became synonymous with political and national subjugation. Hence their fury against Christianity which, time after time, broke forth, volcano-like, and completely destroyed the work of the missionaries. The decisive victories which Otto I. gained over the Wends, gave him an opportunity to attempt, on a large scale, the establishment of the Christian church among them. Episcopal sees were founded at Havelberg in 946, at Altenburg or Oldenburg in 948, at Meissen, Merseburg, and Zeitz in 968, and in the last year an archiepiscopal see was founded at Magdeburg. Boso, a monk from St. Emmeran, at Regensburg, who first had translated the formulas of the liturgy into the language of the natives, became bishop of Merseburg, and Adalbert, who first had preached Christianity in the island of Rügen, became archbishop.

But again the Christian church was used as a means for political purposes, and, in the reign of Otto II., a fearful rising took place among the Wends under the leadership of Prince Mistiwoi. He had become a Christian himself; but, indignant at the suppression which was practiced in the name of the Christian religion, he returned to heathenism, assembled the tribes at Rethre, one of the chief centres of Wendish heathendom, and began, in 983, a war which spread devastation all over Northern Germany. The churches and monasteries were burnt, and the Christian priests were expelled. Afterwards Mistiwoi was seized with remorse, and tried to cure the evil he had done in an outburst of passion. But then his subjects abandoned him; he left the country, and spent the last days of his life in a Christian monastery at Bardewick. His grandson, Gottschalk, whose Slavic name is unknown, was educated in the Christian faith in the monastery of St. Michael, near Lüneburg; but when he heard that his father, Uto, had been murdered, 1032, the old heathen instincts of revenge at once awakened within him. He left the monastery, abandoned Christianity, and raised a storm of persecution against the Christians, which swept over all Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, and Holstein. Defeated and taken prisoner by Bernard of Lower Saxony, he returned to Christianity; lived afterwards at the court of Canute the Great in Denmark and England; married a Danish princess, and was made ruler of the Obotrites. A great warrior, he conquered Holstein and Pommerania, and formed a powerful Wendish empire; and on this solid political foundation, he attempted, with considerable success, to build up the Christian church. The old bishoprics were re-established, and new ones were founded at Razzeburg and Mecklenburg; monasteries were built at Leuzen, Oldenburg, Razzeburg, Lübeck, and Mecklenburg; missionaries were provided by Adalbert, archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen; the liturgy was translated into the native tongue, and revenues were raised for the support of the clergy, the churches, and the service.

But, as might have been expected, the deeper Christianity penetrated into the mass of the people, the fiercer became the resistance of the heathen. Gottschalk was murdered at Lentz, June 7, 1066, together with his old teacher, Abbot Uppo, and a general rising now took place. The churches and schools were destroyed; the priests and monks were stoned or killed as sacrifices on the heathen altars; and Christianity was literally swept out of the country. It took several decades before a new beginning could be made, and the final Christianization of the Wends was not achieved until the middle of the twelfth century.


34. Cyrillus and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs. Christianization of Moravia, Bohemia and Poland

F. M. Pelzel et J. Dobrowsky: Rerrum Bohemic. Scriptores. Prague.

Friese: Kirchengeschichte d. Konigreichs Polen. Breslau, 1786.

Franz. Palacky: Geschichte von Böhmen. Prague, 3d ed., 1864 sqq., 5 vols. (down to 1520).

Wattenbach: Geschichte d. christl. Kirche in Böhmen und Mähren. Wien, 1849.

A. Friud: Die Kirchengesch. Böhmens. Prague, 1863 sqq.

Biographies of Cyrillus and Methodius, by J. Dobrowsky (Prague, 1823, and 1826); J. A. Ginzel (Geschichte der Slawenapostel und der Slawischen Liturgie. Leitmeritz, 1857); Philaret (in the Russian, German translation, Mitau, 1847); J. E. Biley (Prague, 1863); Dümmler and F. Milkosisch (Wien, 1870).

The Moravian Slavs were subjugated by Charlemagne, and the bishop of Passau was charged with the establishment of a Christian mission among them. Moymir, their chief, was converted and bishoprics were founded at Olmuetz and Nitra. But Lewis the German suspected Moymir of striving after independence and supplanted him by Rastislaw or Radislaw. Rastislaw, however, accomplished what Moymir had only been suspected of. He formed an independent Moravian kingdom and defeated Lewis the German, and with the political he also broke the ecclesiastical connections with Germany, requesting the Byzantine emperor, Michael III., to send him some Greek missionaries.

Cyrillus and Methodius became the apostles of the Slavs. Cyrillus, whose original name was Constantinus, was born at Thessalonica, in the first half of the ninth century, and studied philosophy in Constantinople, whence his by-name: the philosopher. Afterwards he devoted himself to the study of theology, and went to live, together with his brother Methodius, in a monastery. A strong ascetic, he became a zealous missionary. In 860 he visited the Chazares, a Tartar tribe settled on the North-Eastern shore of the Black Sea, and planted a Christian church there. He afterward labored among the Bulgarians and finally went, in company with his brother, to Moravia, on the invitation of Rastislaw, in 863.

Cyrillus understood the Slavic language, and succeeded in making it available for literary purposes by inventing a suitable alphabet. He used Greek letters, with some Armenian and Hebrew, and some original letters. His Slavonic alphabet is still used with alterations in Russia, Wallachia, Moldavia, Bulgaria, and Servia. He translated the liturgy and the pericopes into Slavic, and his ability to preach and celebrate service in the native language soon brought hundreds of converts into his fold. A national Slavic church rapidly arose; the German priests with the Latin liturgy left the country. It corresponded well with the political plans of Rastislaw, to have a church establishment entirely independent of the German prelates, but in the difference which now developed between the Eastern and Western churches, it was quite natural for the young Slavic church to connect itself with Rome and not with Constantinople, partly because Cyrillus always had shown a kind of partiality to Rome, partly because the prudence and discrimination with which Pope Nicholas I. recently had interfered in the Bulgarian church, must have made a good impression.

In 868 Cyrillus and Methodius went to Rome, and a perfect agreement was arrived at between them and Pope Adrian II., both with respect to the use of the Slavic language in religious service and with respect to the independent position of the Slavic church, subject only to the authority of the Pope. Cyrillus died in Rome, Feb. 14, 869, but Methodius returned to Moravia, having been consecrated archbishop of the Pannonian diocese.

The organization of this new diocese of Pannonia was, to some extent, an encroachment on the dioceses of Passau and Salzburg, and such an encroachment must have been so much the more irritating to the German prelates, as they really had been the first to sow the seed of Christianity among the Slavs. The growing difference between the Eastern and Western churches also had its effect. The German clergy considered the use of the Slavic language in the mass an unwarranted innovation, and the Greek doctrine of the single procession of the Holy Spirit, still adhered to by Methodius and the Slavic church, they considered as a heresy. Their attacks, however, had at first no practical consequences, but when Rastislaw was succeeded in 870 by Swatopluk, and Adrian II. in 872 by John VIII., the position of Methodius became difficult. Once more, in 879, he was summoned to Rome, and although, this time too, a perfect agreement was arrived at, by which the independence of the Slavic church was confirmed, and all her natural peculiarities were acknowledged, neither the energy of Methodius, nor the support of the Pope was able to defend her against the attacks which now were made upon her both from without and from within. Swatopluk inclined towards the German-Roman views, and Wichin one of Methodius’s bishops, became their powerful champion.

After the death of Swatopluk, the Moravian kingdom fell to pieces and was divided between the Germans, the Czechs of Bohemia, and the Magyars of Hungary; and thereby the Slavic church lost, so to speak, its very foundation. Methodius died between 881 and 910. At the opening of the tenth century the Slavic church had entirely lost its national character. The Slavic priests were expelled and the Slavic liturgy abolished, German priests and the Latin liturgy taking their place. The expelled priests fled to Bulgaria, whither they brought the Slavic translations of the Bible and the liturgy.

Neither Charlemagne nor Lewis the Pious succeeded in subjugating Bohemia, and although the country was added to the diocese of Regensburg, the inhabitants remained pagans. But when Bohemia became a dependency of the Moravian empire and Swatopluk married a daughter of the Bohemian duke, Borziwai, a door was opened to Christianity. Borziwai and his wife, Ludmilla, were baptized, and their children were educated in the Christian faith. Nevertheless, when Wratislav, Borziwai’s son and successor, died in 925, a violent reaction took place. He left two sons, Wenzeslav and Boleslav, who were placed under the tutelage of their grandmother, Ludmilla. But their mother, Drahomira, was an inveterate heathen, and she caused the murder first of Ludmilla, and then of Wenzeslav, 938. Boleslav, surnamed the Cruel, had his mother’s nature and also her faith, and he almost succeeded in sweeping Christianity out of Bohemia. But in 950 he was utterly defeated by the emperor, Otto I., and compelled not only to admit the Christian priests into the country, but also to rebuild the churches which had been destroyed, and this misfortune seems actually to have changed his mind. He now became, if not friendly, at least forbearing to his Christian subjects, and, during the reign of his son and successor, Boleslav the Mild, the Christian Church progressed so far in Bohemia that an independent archbishopric was founded in Prague. The mass of the people, however, still remained barbarous, and heathenish customs and ideas lingered among them for more than a century. Adalbert, archbishop of Prague, from 983 to 997, preached against polygamy, the trade in Christian slaves, chiefly carried on by the Jews, but in vain. Twice he left his see, disgusted and discouraged; finally he was martyred by the Prussian Wends. Not until 1038 archbishop Severus succeeded in enforcing laws concerning marriage, the celebration of the Lord’s Day, and other points of Christian morals. About the contest between the Romano-Slavic and the Romano-Germanic churches in Bohemia, nothing is known. Legend tells that Methodius himself baptized Borziwai and Ludmilla, and the first missionary, work was, no doubt, done by Slavic priests, but at the time of Adalbert the Germanic tendency was prevailing.

Also among the Poles the Gospel was first preached by Slavic missionaries, and Cyrillus and Methodius are celebrated in the Polish liturgy as the apostles of the country. As the Moravian empire under Rastislaw comprised vast regions which afterward belonged to the kingdom of Poland, it is only natural that the movement started by Cyrillus and Methodius should have reached also these regions, and the name of at least one Slavic missionary among the Poles, Wiznach, is known to history.

After the breaking up of the Moravian kingdom, Moravian nobles and priests sought refuge in Poland, and during the reign of duke Semovit Christianity had become so powerful among the Poles, that it began to excite the jealousy of the pagans, and a violent contest took place. By the marriage between Duke Mieczyslav and the Bohemian princess Dombrowka, a sister of Boleslav the Mild, the influence of Christianity became still stronger. Dombrowka brought a number of Bohemian priests with her to Poland, 965, and in the following year Mieczyslav himself was converted and baptized. With characteristic arrogance he simply demanded that all his subjects should follow his example, and the pagan idols were now burnt or thrown into the river, pagan sacrifices were forbidden and severely punished, and Christian churches were built. So far the introduction of Christianity among the Poles was entirely due to Slavic influences, but at this time the close political connection between Duke Mieczyslav and Otto I. opened the way for a powerful German influence. Mieczyslav borrowed the whole organization of the Polish church from Germany. It was on the advice of Otto I. that he founded the first Polish bishopric at Posen and placed it under the authority of the archbishop of Magdeburg. German priests, representing Roman doctrines and rites, and using the Latin language, began to work beside the Slavic priests who represented Greek doctrines and rites and used the native language, and when finally the Polish church was placed wholly under the authority of Rome, this was not due to any spontaneous movement within the church itself, such as Polish chroniclers like to represent it, but to the influence of the German emperor and the German church. Under Mieczyslav’s son, Boleslav Chrobry, the first king of Poland and one of the most brilliant heroes of Polish history, Poland, although christianized only on the surface, became itself the basis for missionary labor among other Slavic tribes.

It was Boleslav who sent Adalbert of Prague among the Wends, and when Adalbert here was pitifully martyred, Boleslav ransomed his remains, had them buried at Gnesen (whence they afterwards were carried to Prague), and founded here an archiepiscopal see, around which the Polish church was finally consolidated. The Christian mission, however, was in the hands of Boleslav, just as it often had been in the hands of the German emperors, and sometimes even in the hands of the Pope himself, nothing but a political weapon. The mass of the population of his own realm was still pagan in their very hearts. Annually the Poles assembled on the day on which their idols had been thrown into the rivers or burnt, and celebrated the memory of their gods by dismal dirges, and the simplest rules of Christian morals could be enforced only by the application of the most barbarous punishments. Yea, under the political disturbances which occurred after the death of Mieczyslav II., 1034, a general outburst of heathenism took place throughout the Polish kingdom, and it took a long time before it was fully put down.


35. The Conversion of the Bulgarians

Constantinus Porphyrogenitus: Life of Basilius Macedo, in Hist. Byzant. Continuatores post Theophanem. Greek and Latin, Paris, 1685.

Photii Epistola, ed. Richard. Montacutius. London, 1647.

Nicholas I.: Responsa ad Consulta Bulgarorum, in Mansi: Coll. Concil., Tom. XV., pp. 401-434; and in Harduin: Coll. Concil., V., pp. 353-386.

A. Pichler: Geschichte der kirchlichen Trennung zwischen dem Orient und Occident. München, 1864, I., pp. 192 sqq.

Comp. the biographies of Cyrillus and Methodius, mentioned in § 34.

The Bulgarians were of Turanian descent, but, having lived for centuries among Slavic nations, they had adopted Slavic language, religion, customs and habits. Occupying the plains between the Danube and the Balkan range, they made frequent inroads into the territory of the Byzantine empire. In 813 they conquered Adrianople and carried a number of Christians, among whom was the bishop himself, as prisoners to Bulgaria. Here these Christian prisoners formed a congregation and began to labor for the conversion of their captors, though not with any great success, as it would seem, since the bishop was martyred. But in 861 a sister of the Bulgarian prince, Bogoris, who had been carried as a prisoner to Constantinople, and educated there in the Christian faith, returned to her native country, and her exertions for the conversion of her brother at last succeeded.

Methodius was sent to her aid, and a picture he painted of the last judgment is said to have made an overwhelming impression on Bogoris, and determined him to embrace Christianity. He was baptized in 863, and entered immediately in correspondence with Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople. His baptism, however, occasioned a revolt among his subjects, and the horrible punishment, which he inflicted upon the rebels, shows how little as yet he had understood the teachings of Christianity.

Meanwhile Greek missionaries, mostly monks, had entered the country, but they were intriguing, arrogant, and produced nothing but confusion among the people. In 865 Bogoris addressed himself to Pope Nicolas I., asking for Roman missionaries, and laying before the Pope one hundred and six questions concerning Christian doctrines, morals and ritual, which he wished to have answered. The Pope sent two bishops to Bulgaria, and gave Bogoris very elaborate and sensible answers to his questions.

Nevertheless, the Roman mission did not succeed either. The Bulgarians disliked to submit to any foreign authority. They desired the establishment of an independent national church, but this was not to be gained either from Rome or from Constantinople. Finally the Byzantine emperor, Basilius Macedo, succeeded in establishing Greek bishops and a Greek archbishop in the country, and thus the Bulgarian church came under the authority of the patriarch of Constantinople, but its history up to this very day has been a continuous struggle against this authority. The church is now ruled by a Holy Synod, with an independent exarch.

Fearful atrocities of the Turks against the Christians gave rise to the Russo-Turkish war in 1877, and resulted in the independence of Bulgaria, which by the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 was constituted into “an autonomous and tributary principality, under the suzerainty of the Sultan,” but with a Christian government and a national militia. Religious proselytism is prohibited, and religious school-books must be previously examined by the Holy Synod. But Protestant missionaries are at work among the people, and practically enjoy full liberty.


36. The Conversion of the Magyars

Joh. de Thwrocz: Chronica Hungarorum, in Schwandtner: Scriptores Rerum Hungaricarum, I. Vienna, 1746-8.

Vita S. Stephani, in Act. Sanctor. September.

Vita S. Adalberti, in Monument. German. IV.

Horvath: History of Hungary. Pest, 1842-46.

Aug. Theiner: Monumenta vetera historica Hungariam sacram illustrantia. Rom., 1859, 1860, 2 Tom. fol.

The Magyars, belonging to the Turanian family of nations, and allied to the Finns and the Turks, penetrated into Europe in the ninth century, and settled, in 884, in the plains between the Bug and the Sereth, near the mouth of the Danube. On the instigation of the Byzantine emperor, Leo the Wise, they attacked the Bulgarians, and completely defeated them. The military renown they thus acquired gave them a new opportunity. The Frankish king Arnulf invoked their aid against Swatopluk, the ruler of the Moravian empire. Swatopluk, too, was defeated, and his realm was divided between the victors. The Magyars, retracing their steps across the Carpathian range, settled in the plains around the Theiss and the Danube, the country which their forefathers, the Huns, once had ruled over, the present Hungary. They were a wild and fierce race, worshipping one supreme god under the guise of various natural phenomena: the sky, the river, etc. They had no temples and no priesthood, and their sacrifices consisted of animals only, mostly horses. But the oath was kept sacred among them, and their marriages were monogamous, and inaugurated with religious rites.

The first acquaintance with Christianity the Magyars made through their connections with the Byzantine court, without any further consequences. But after settling in Hungary, where they were surrounded on all sides by Christian nations, they were compelled, in 950, by the emperor, Otto I., to allow the bishop of Passau to send missionaries into their country; and various circumstances contributed to make this mission a rapid and complete success. Their prince, Geyza, had married a daughter of the Transylvanian prince, Gyula, and this princess, Savolta, had been educated in the Christian faith. Thus Geyza felt friendly towards the Christians; and as soon as this became known, Christianity broke forth from the mass of the population like flowers from the earth when spring has come. The people which the Magyars had subdued when settling in Hungary, and the captives whom they had carried along with them from Bulgaria and Moravia, were Christians. Hitherto these Christians had concealed their religion from fear of their rulers, and their children had been baptized clandestinely; but now they assembled in great multitudes around the missionaries, and the entrance of Christianity into Hungary looked like a triumphal march.

Political disturbances afterwards interrupted this progress, but only for a short time. Adalbert of Prague visited the country, and made a great impression. He baptized Geyza’s son, Voik, born in 961, and gave him the name of Stephanus, 994. Adalbert’s pupil, Rodla, remained for a longer period in the country, and was held in so high esteem by the people, that they afterwards would not let him go. When Stephanus ascended the throne in 997, he determined at once to establish Christianity as the sole religion of his realm, and ordered that all Magyars should be baptized, and that all Christian slaves should be set free. This, however, caused a rising of the pagan party under the head of Kuppa, a relative of Stephanus; but Kuppa was defeated at Veszprim, and the order had to be obeyed.

Stephanus’ marriage with Gisela, a relative of the emperor, Otto III., brought him in still closer contact with the German empire, and he, like Mieczyslav of Poland, borrowed the whole ecclesiastical organization from the German church. Ten bishoprics were formed, and placed under the authority of the archbishop of Gran on the Danube (which is still the seat of the primate of Hungary); churches were built, schools and monasteries were founded, and rich revenues were procured for their support; the clergy was declared the first order in rank, and the Latin language was made the official language not only in ecclesiastical, but also in secular matters. As a reward for his zeal, Stephanus was presented by Pope Silvester II. with a golden crown, and, in the year 1000, he was solemnly crowned king by the archbishop of Gran, while a papal bull conferred on him the title of “His Apostolic Majesty.” And, indeed, Stephanus was the apostle of the Magyars. As most of the priests and monks, called from Germany, did not understand the language of the people, the king himself travelled about from town to town, preached, prayed, and exhorted all to keep the Lord’s Day, the fast, and other Christian duties. Nevertheless, it took a long time before Christianity really took hold of the Magyars, chiefly on account of the deep gulf created between the priests and their flocks, partly by the difference of language, partly by the exceptional position which Stephanus had given the clergy in the community, and which the clergy soon learned to utilize for selfish purposes. Twice during the eleventh century there occurred heavy relapses into paganism; in 1045, under King Andreas, and in 1060, under King Bela.


37. The Christianization of Russia

Nestor (monk of Kieff, the oldest Russian annalist, d. 1116): Annales, or Chronicon (from the building of the Babylonian tower to 1093). Continued by Niphontes (Nifon) from 1116-1157, and by others to 1676. Complete ed. in Russ by Pogodin, 1841, and with a Latin version and glossary by Fr. Miklosisch, Vindobon, 1860. German translation by Schloezer, Göttingen, 1802-’9, 5 vols. (incomplete).

J. G. Stritter: Memoriae Populorum olim ad Danubium, etc., incolentium ex Byzant. Script. Petropoli, 1771. 4 vols. A collection of the Byzantine sources.

N. M. Karamsin: History of Russia, 12 vols. St. Petersburg, 1816-29, translated into German and French.

Ph. Strahl: Beiträge zur russ. Kirchen-Geschichte (vol. I.). Halle, 1827; and Geschichte d. russ Kirche (vol. I.). Halle, 1830 (incomplete).

A. N. Mouravieff (late chamberlain to the Czar and Under-Procurator of the Most Holy Synod): A History of the Church of Russia (to the founding of the Holy Synod in 1721). St. Petersburg, 1840, translated into English by Rev. R. W. Blackmore. Oxford, 1862.

A. P. Stanley: Lectures on the Eastern Church. Lec. IX.-XII. London, 1862.

L. Boissard: L’église de Bussie. Paris, 1867, 2 vols.

The legend traces Christianity in Russia back to the Apostle St. Andrew, who is especially revered by the Russians. Mouravieff commences his history of the Russian church with these words: “The Russian church, like the other Orthodox churches of the East, had an apostle for its founder. St. Andrew, the first called of the Twelve, hailed with his blessing long beforehand the destined introduction of Christianity into our country. Ascending up and penetrating by the Dniepr into the deserts of Scythia, he planted the first cross on the hills of Kieff, and ‘See you,’ said he to his disciples, ‘those hills? On those hills shall shine the light of divine grace. There shall be here a great city, and God shall have in it many churches to His name.’ Such are the words of the holy Nestor that point from whence Christian Russia has sprung.”

This tradition is an expansion of the report that Andrew labored and died a martyr in Scythia, and nothing more.

In the ninth century the Russian tribes, inhabiting the Eastern part of Europe, were gathered together under the rule of Ruric, a Varangian prince, who from the coasts of the Baltic penetrated into the centre of the present Russia, and was voluntarily accepted, if not actually chosen by the tribes as their chief. He is regarded as the founder of the Russian empire, a.d. 862, which in 1862 celebrated its millennial anniversary. About the same time or a little later the Russians became somewhat acquainted with Christianity through their connections with the Byzantine empire. The Eastern church, however, never developed any great missionary activity, and when Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople, in his circular letter against the Roman see, speaks of the Russians as already converted at his time (867), a few years after the founding of the empire, he certainly exaggerates. When, in 945, peace was concluded between the Russian grand-duke, Igor, and the Byzantine emperor, some of the Russian soldiers took the oath in the name of Christ, but by far the greatest number swore by Perun, the old Russian god. In Kieff, on the Dniepr, the capital of the Russian realm, there was at that time a Christian church, dedicated to Elijah, and in 955 the grand-duchess, Olga, went to Constantinople and was baptized. She did not succeed, however, in persuading her son, Svatoslav, to embrace the Christian faith.

The progress of Christianity among the Russians was slow until the grand-duke Vladimir (980-1015), a grandson of Olga, and revered as Isapostolos (“Equal to an Apostle”) with one sweep established it as the religion of the country. The narrative of this event by Nestor is very dramatic. Envoys from the Greek and the Roman churches, from the Mohammedans and the Jews (settled among the Chazares) came to Vladimir to persuade him to leave his old gods. He hesitated and did not know which of the new religions he should choose. Finally he determined to send wise men from among his own people to the various places to investigate the matter. The envoys were so powerfully impressed by a picture of the last judgment and by the service in the church of St. Sophia in Constantinople, that the question at once was settled in favor of the religion of the Byzantine court.

Vladimir, however, would not introduce it without compensation. He was staying at Cherson in the Crimea, which he had just taken and sacked, and thence he sent word to the emperor Basil, that he had determined either to adopt Christianity and receive the emperor’s sister, Anne, in marriage, or to go to Constantinople and do to that city as he had done to Cherson. He married Anne, and was baptized on the day of his wedding, a.d. 988.

As soon as he was baptized preparations were made for the baptism of his people. The wooden image of Perun was dragged at a horse’s tail through the country, soundly flogged by all passers-by, and finally thrown into the Dniepr. Next, at a given hour, all the people of Kieff, men, women and children, descended into the river, while the grand Duke kneeled, and the Christian priests read the prayers from the top of the cliffs on the shore. Nestor, the Russian monk and annalist, thus describes the scene: “Some stood in the water up to their necks, others up to their breasts, holding their young children in their arms; the priests read the prayers from the shore, naming at once whole companies by the same name. It was a sight wonderfully curious and beautiful to behold; and when the people were baptized each returned to his own home.”

Thus the Russian nation was converted in wholesale style to Christianity by despotic power. It is characteristic of the supreme influence of the ruler and the slavish submission of the subjects in that country. Nevertheless, at its first entrance in Russia, Christianity penetrated deeper into the life of the people than it did in any other country, without, however, bringing about a corresponding thorough moral transformation. Only a comparatively short period elapsed, before a complete union of the forms of religion and the nationality took place. Every event in the history of the nation, yea, every event in the life of the individual was looked upon from a religious point of view, and referred to some distinctly religious idea. The explanation of this striking phenomenon is due in part to Cyrill’s translation of the Bible into the Slavic language, which had been driven out from Moravia and Bohemia by the Roman priests, and was now brought from Bulgaria into Russia, where it took root. While the Roman church always insisted upon the exclusive use of the Latin translation of the Bible and the Latin language in divine service, the Greek church always allowed the use of the vernacular. Under its auspices there were produced translations into the Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Slavic languages, and the effects of this principle were, at least in Russia, most beneficial. During the reign of Vladimir’s successor, Jaroslaff, 1019-1054, not only were churches and monasteries and schools built all over the country, but Greek theological books were translated, and the Russian church had, at an early date, a religious literature in the native tongue of the people. Jaroslaff, by his celebrated code of laws, became the Justinian of Russia.

The Czars and people of Russia have ever since faithfully adhered to the Oriental church which grew with the growth of the empire all along the Northern line of two Continents. As in the West, so in Russia, monasticism was the chief institution for the spread of Christianity among heathen savages. Hilarion (afterwards Metropolitan), Anthony, Theodosius, Sergius, Lazarus, are prominent names in the early history of Russian monasticism.

The subsequent history of the Russian church is isolated from the main current of history, and almost barren of events till the age of Nikon and Peter the Great. At first she was dependent on the patriarch of Constantinople. In 1325 Moscow was founded, and became, in the place of Kieff, the Russian Rome, with a metropolitan, who after the fall of Constantinople became independent (1461), and a century later was raised to the dignity of one of the five patriarchs of the Eastern Church (1587). But Peter the Great made the Northern city of his own founding the ecclesiastical as well as the political metropolis, and transferred the authority of the patriarchate of Moscow to the “Holy Synod” (1721), which permanently resides in St. Petersburg and constitutes the highest ecclesiastical judicatory of Russia under the caesaropapal rule of the Czar, the most powerful rival of the Roman Pope.