Episode 298 – Vladimir’s Church Part 1 – Vikings to Mongols

This week we are joined by KC Hunt and talk about the origins and early history of the Russian Orthodox Church, cults, thanking God for floods, anti-vax because of the Bible, burning Harry Potter, and more!

Dustin’ off the Degree – Vladimir’s Church Part 1: Vikings to Mongols

For this week’s Dustin’ off the Degree we’re going to talk about the Russian Orthodox Church’s history and origin. This organization is not to be confused with the Orthodox Church in America or the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, both of which have headquarters in New York. It is also worth noting that the Russian Orthodox Church has not been in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople since October 15, 2018. We’ll talk about all of this modern stuff next week.

By the 750s CE Vikings began to settle in the Volga river region of Eastern Europe. They were known as the Varangian, a term of Greek origin, and also as the Rus’. Over the next century they helped facilitate access to trade with the Byzantine Empire, served as mercenaries for the Empire, and began to rule more and more territory around their settlements. According to legend the native Slavs and Finns rebelled against them in 862 forcing them to return to Scandinavia, but the Slavic and Finnish tribes then began to fight against each other so they invited the Rus’ to return and rule over them establishing the Novgorod Rus’.

Once they were back in control the Rus’ continued to expand their power and control across Eastern Europe. After conquering the Khazar Empire they moved their capital to Kiev, giving them the name they are best known for the Kievan Rus’.

At the same time as all of this was happening the Orthodox Church was sending missionaries north and in the 860s two Byzantine monks translated the Bible into what would become Old Church Slavonic and that same decade a bishop was sent to Novgorod. Christianity spread quickly enough through the Rus’ that Princess Olga, who was regent for her son from 945 to 960 was the first Christian ruler of the Rus’.

Olga’s grandson, Vladimir the Great had to fight his way to the throne with the help of some Norwegian relatives, he then tried to undo some of the Christianiatization of the Rus’ that had been going on, but his reforms turned out not to be popular so he decided he needed a new religion. There are three stories of how he chose which one:

The first is that he invited the surrounding religions to make their cases for why he should pick them. He rejected Islam because of circumcision and the prohibition of alcohol and pork, saying “Drinking is the Joy of the Rus”. He then rejected Judaism because the loss of Jerusalem was evidence that they had lost God’s favor.

The second story is that he sent envoys out to study the religions and report back. The first went to the Muslim Bulgarians and found them to be joyless. The second went to Germany and found no beauty. The third went to Constantinople and during a religious festival and couldn’t tell if he was in heaven or on earth.

The third is that in 988 the Byzantine Emperor was losing a Civil War and needed help, so he reached out to his enemy to the north, the Rus’. Vladimir offered to help and convert to Christianity in exchange for being able to marry the Emperor’s sister, Anna. After they secured victory he was baptized and then married Anna. Upon his return he invited all the people to come down to the river to be baptized and warned them that failing to do so might make them his enemies.

The first two stories are almost definitely apocryphal and the third makes perfect sense. He had to get help from Norway to secure the throne because he couldn’t get any support locally since his was the weakest claim. His first big act was to turn the people back to the old pagan ways and it backfired so converting to Christianity would at least get the support of the people who hated him most. Further, marrying into the Byzantine imperial family would improve his royal credentials and bring peace to his southern frontier so he could focus his efforts on the nomads that kept attacking from the east.

All was well for the next hundred or so years, but the decline of the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades weakened the economy and the growing Rurik dynasty started fracturing. Then the nomads from the east got the upper hand when the Mongols arrived and by 1242 all Rus’ principalities were subject to the Golden Horde. The prince of Moscow took advantage of the Golden Horde to become the dominate prince of the Rus’ and eventually pulled off a successful rebellion that started in 1380 and finished 100 years later.

In 1299 the Metropolitan of Kiev moved to Vladimir, then in 1325 his successor moved to Moscow as it was quickly becoming the most important city of the Rus’. Then in 1439 the Metropolitan Isidore of the Russian church along with some of the bishops from the Byzantine empire attended the Council of Florence recognizing the primacy of the Pope and unifying with the Roman Catholic church. When this was brought back to Moscow Prince Vasili II rejected the act of the council, removed Isidore from his position and exiled him from Moscow. That position was left vacant for seven years at which time the Council of Russian Bishops elected a new Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia, without running any of this by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Just five years later Constantinople fell to the Ottomans.

In response a second church of Kiev and all Rus’ was created in 1458, this new one was within the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and it continued to fall under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, while the effectively independent church in Moscow continued to be over the orthodox Christians in the territory controlled by the Grand Duchy of Moscow.

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1 comment

    • Richard Ganns on October 12, 2019 at 4:29 pm
    • Reply

    I think the main purpose of the anti-abortion crowd is not any supposed sanctity of life,
    but rather just the dis-empowerment of women.
    One thing weak and insecure men can’t tolerate is a strong, independent woman.

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