Friday, February 13, 2015

Fr Stephen Platt on ‘The Early History of the Russian Church’

The London Branch of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius organised a talk on Thursday 12th February at St James’s Church, Sussex Gardens (Paddington), W2. The talk was on ‘The Early History of the Russian Church’, given by the Very Revd Archpriest Stephen Platt, who is the General Secretary of the Fellowship and the Parish Priest at the Russian Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, Oxford. The event began at 6.30 pm with a Eucharist, followed by light refreshments and by the London Branch’s AGM at 7.15 pm. The talk commenced at 7.45 pm.
Fr Stephen began his talk by giving the pre-history of the ecclesiastical history of Russia. He gave a number of hagiographical accounts, which are to be understood as legends and myths, based on historical truths. One such account is the story, which claims that the Apostle Andrew reached Kiev, where he preached the Gospel. However, this is not historically based. These are more of Medieval stories, in order to show the Apostolic route of a Church. Nevertheless, it is a nice idea and not unlikely that he might have reached these areas.

 Cyril and Methodius were also examined by the speaker. They were two brothers from Thessaloniki and they were the first who preached Christianity amongst the South Slavic People, working around modern day FYROM, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Moravia, and Czech Republic. From them, the Slavs have adopted the Cyrillic Alphabet. They first went to Rome for permission. However, the Pope wanted them to maintain Latin. The brothers, on the other hand, believed that the vernacular should be used. It is interesting how Saints Cyril and Methodius reached nowhere near Russia; nonetheless, they are known as the Evangelists of the Slavs, given this title in Russia (19th century), during the Pan-Slavic Movement.
 Fr Stephen then spoke about St Olga (890-969) who was a Princess of the Kingdom of Kiev and Rus’. She intermarried into the Byzantine Ruling Family, becoming Eastern Orthodox. She was also the grandmother of St Vladimir (958-1015). He believed that there should be one strong faith in his Kingdom. We identify many parallels between St Olga and St Vladimir with St Helen and St Constantine. All four are considered Equal to the Apostles. St Vladimir wished to adopt a monotheistic faith into his Kingdom. He sent envoys to different parts of the world, i.e. to the Muslims, to the Jews, to Rome and to Constantinople. The Muslims did not impress him, especially the prohibition of alcohol. The Jews did not have their own homeland, which was not very appealing for him and for his Kingdom. The Latin Liturgical practices were boring and had no beauty. However, the envoys in Constantinople had a significant experience. They were caught up in the mystery and beauty of the Divine Liturgy. The envoys had, famously, said: ‘we did not know if we were in heaven or on earth.’ Fr Stephen, however, claimed that reality was probably not so clear cut. Negotiations and debates must have taken place, as seen by a painting by Eggink, ‘Vladimir choses Orthodoxy.’ Vladimir was thus baptised Orthodox and by decree all his subjects were baptised Orthodox too.  

Yaroslav, known as ‘the Wise’, struggled for power with his brothers. A son of Vladimir the Great, he was vice-regent of Novgorod at the time of his father’s death in 1015. Subsequently, his eldest surviving brother, Svyatopolk the Accursed, killed three of his other brothers and seized power in Kiev, including Boris and Gleb, who later on were proclaimed Saints, as Holy Passion Bearers (a group of saints who voluntarily give up their life so others can live in peace; not necessarily in the name of Christ). Nevertheless, later on miracles occurred around their tombs. Yaroslav, with the active support of the Novgorodians and the help of Viking mercenaries, defeated Svyatopolk and became the grand prince of Kiev (1091). He built stability in Kiev. He was recently Canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church.
The decline of the Kievan Rus’ moved the populations to the north and the south. Towards the North, the Slavs from the Kievan region colonized the territory that later would become the Grand Duchy of Moscow by subjugating and merging with the Finnic tribes already occupying the area. The city of Rostov, the oldest centre of the northeast, was supplanted first by Suzdal and then by the city of Vladimir, which became the capital of Vladimir-Suzdal. The combined principality of Vladimir-Suzdal asserted itself as a major power in Kievan Rus’ in the late 12th century. In 1169 Prince Andrey Bogolyubskiy of Vladimir-Suzdal sacked the city of Kiev and took over the title of Grand Prince or grand Duke of Vladimir, this way claiming the primacy in Rus’. Prince Andrey then installed his younger brother, who ruled briefly in Kiev while Andrey continued to rule his realm from Suzdal. In 1299, in the wake of the Mongol invasion, the metropolitan moved from Kiev to the city of Vladimir and Vladimir-Suzdal.
To the Southwest, the principality of Halych had developed trade relations with its Polish, Hungarian and Lithuanian neighbours and emerged as the local successor to Kievan Rus’. In 1199, Prince Roman Mstislavich united the two previously separate principalities. In 1202he conquered Kiev, and assumed the title of Grand Dike of Kievan Rus’, which was held by the rulers of Vladimir-Suzdal since 1169. His son, Prince Danill (1238-1264) looked for support from the West. He accepted a crown as a ‘Rex Rusiae’ (‘King of Russia’) from the Roman papacy, apparently doing so without breaking communion with Constantinople. (Communion existed between many in East and West after 1054 until the Council of Florence; this is the case, especially with the Slavic people. Therefore, we understand a gradual schism occurring between East and West). In 1370, the patriarch of Constantinople granted the Kind of Poland a metropolitan for Novagrudok shortly afterwards. Cyprian, a candidate pushed by the Lithuanian rulers, became metropolitan of Kiev in 1375 and metropolitan of Moscow in 1382; this way the Church in the Russian countries was reunited for some time. In 1439, Kiev became the sear of a separate ‘metropolitan of Kiev, Galich and all Rus’’ for all Greek Orthodox Christian under Polish-Lithuanian rule.

Fr Stephen Platt also analysed the belief of Moscow, being the Third Rome. The idea of a Third Rome originally arose in Bulgaria, at the time of the decline of the Byzantine Empire. It related to the notion of the Emperor or tsar as the preserver of Orthodoxy. We first find this term in a letter written by Filofey of Pskov to grand Duke Vasiliy III of Moscow (1510), where he claimed: ‘Two Romes have fallen. The third sands. And there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom!’
 In 1316 the Metropolitan of Moscow moved his residence from Kiev to Vladimir. In 1322 the place of residence moved again to Moscow. The Metropolitan retained the title ‘Metropolitan of Kiev and all Rus’’. The first Metropolitan elected without reference to Constantinople was Jonah, elected in 1448 in the wake of the unionist Council of Florence (1439). The Russian Church was not granted autocephaly by Constantinople until 1589, when it was granted its first Patriarch, Job. However, the belief of Moscow as Third Rome existed until the 19th century. The Crimean war emphasised exactly the role Russia wished to have in the East, by protecting the Holy Places in Jerusalem. There was, thus, an interest of Orthodoxy outside of Russia, by the Russian aristocracy.  
The talk was followed by many interesting questions. The speaker wished to compare the history of Russia with its current political status, stating that the present messy situation in the Ukraine and Russia has to do with the early history of the Russian people. 

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