The chronological span of this chapter begins with the victory of Grand Prince Dmitrii of Moscow over a Tatar army at Kulikovo Field, a battle supposedly blessed by St Sergii of Radonezh and recognised as a defining spiritual, as well as political, moment in the life of the nation: as many disparate responses over the intervening centuries bear witness, from the near-contemporary versions of the Kulikovo Tale (Zadonshchina)1 to Aleksandr Blok's classic poetic cycle On Kulikovo Field and the canonisation in 1988 of Dmitrii (honoured with the title Donskoi, 'ofthe Don'). Ourperiod ends with the creation ofthe Russianpatriar-chate, formal recognition ofthe autocephalous status ofthe Russian Orthodox Church, shortly to be followed by the extinction of the first Russian royal dynasty and the 'Time of Troubles'. The interim period represents the gradual formation of what is generally called 'national consciousness': the spiritual, cultural and political transformation of a disparate collection of warring principalities forming mobile alliances with their Catholic, pagan and Muslim neighbours and overlords for economic or political gain, into an Orthodox nation, unified under tsar and patriarch and self-consciously promoting both a national faith and an ideology of a faithful nation.
This is the traditional, simplified, even mythologised, overview of a crucial period in Russian history and the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. Transformation from disparate principalities to centralised Muscovite state indeed took place, but the process was less linear and the details were less definite than is generally allowed. It is by no means certain, for example, that
1 R. Jakobson and D. S. Worth (eds.), Sofonija's tale of the Russian-Tatar battle on the Kulikovo field [Slavistic Printings and Reprintings 51] (The Hague: Mouton, 1963). I am most grateful for the guidance and collaborative support of Professor Robin Milner-Gulland and to Professor Eve Levin for many informative suggestions.
Was this article helpful?