Christianity in Kievan Rus Ninth to Early Fourteenth Centuries

The legend about the visit of the Apostle Andrew to the hills of the future city of Kiev was unknown in Russia before the sixteenth century. Russia, however, shared with all the South Slav Christians the cult of St Clement of Rome as the favourite saint; it was a cult that spread out from Cherson on the Black Sea, the place where he was said to have been exiled under the Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117) and where his relics were deposed. Cherson became a centre of Christianity under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose tradition of Byzantine Christianity was influential throughout the Caucasus and Black Sea region.

According to the Byzantine sources, there was only one Baptism of Rus, which took place in the 860s under the Patriarch Photius of Constantinople, and the Prince of Kiev, Askold (between 860 and 867, most probably in 860-1). However, the Russian ruling elite after Askold remained pagan till the second and more important Baptism of Rus in 988, which nevertheless passed unnoticed by the Byzantines.

This baptism, in 988, of the Grand Prince Vladimir and the people under his rule was preceded by that of his grandmother Olga, most probably in Constantinople, in 957. Both Vladimir and Olga were glorified in the Russian Church as 'equal to the apostles', figures parallel to Constantine the Great and his mother Helena. Vladimir brought from Cherson a bishop (or, at least, a de facto leader of the Church) for Kiev, Anastasius the Chersonite. More importantly, he took from Cherson some of the relics of St Clement and put them into the main Church of Kiev, which he had himself founded, the so-called Desyatinnaya Church of the Theotokos (consecrated in 996; desyatinnaya means 'receiving the tithe'). So, as a new Christian capital, Kiev became both a New Constantinople and a New Cherson. On the one hand, its Cathedral, the Desyatinnaya Church, was consecrated on 12 May, the nearest Sunday to the feast of the Consecration of Constantinople (11 May), and the dedication of it to the Theotokos was also in imitation of Constantinople, the City of the Mother of God. On the other hand, as a place of repose for the relics of St Clement, Kiev became a New Cherson.

This ideology of a 'New Cherson' did not disappear until the twelfth century, although under the son of Vladimir, Yaroslav the Wise in the 1030s, Kiev became a 'New Constantinople' first and a 'New Cherson' only secondly. This new 'spiritual localization' of Kiev was officially proclaimed in 1046 by the Metropolitan of Kiev, Hilarion, in his famous Sermon on Law and Grace, which is in fact a typical Byzantine-styled homily on the consecration of a new cathedral. This sermon was delivered on the last (seventh) Sunday of the Paschal period, in the near proximity of (or exactly on) the feast of the Consecration of Constantinople, during the consecration of the new cathedral at Kiev, that of St Sophia. The relics of St Clement were translated here from the Desyatinnaya Church, and this new cathedral of St Sophia was dedicated to the Theotokos, despite the fact that the Kievan St Sophia was modelled after the Great Church of Constantinople. Even if Hilarion insisted in his sermon on the Chersonite roots of Russian Christianity (placing the baptism of Vladimir in Cherson), this change of cathedral made the cult of St Clement secondary (and it was indeed overshadowed by the Constantinopoli-tan cult of St Andrew), with no prospect of it regaining its importance.

Being separated from the Latins by the schism of 1054, the Kievan Metropolitanate was less consistent in the policy of alienation than its Mother Church in Constantinople. After the Mongol invasion of 1237, the Russian princes had to choose: either the Pope of Rome or the Mongols (called 'Tartars' in Russia). St Alexander Nevsky managed to use the force of the Mongols to protect Russia from western conquerors. During the whole of the thirteenth century the Mongols were open to Christian preaching and even allowed a church organization in their midst, and there was no oppression of the Church from their side. The situation changed drastically in the early fourteenth century when they adopted Islam as their state religion. A result of this was the Battle of Kulikovo Field (1380), which irreversibly undermined the power of the Tartars, although the final liberation of Russia did not come until 1480.

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