The Baptism of Rus and the Development of the Russian Mission
St. Innocent of Moscow
Mission and Missions
One of the peculiarities of our modern church age is heightened attention to tiny differences which sometimes promote the reconsideration and renewal of the Church’s ancient riches. Most often this is related to “dialectic” thinking. For instance, Vladimir Lossky’s differentiation between cataphatic and apophatic, or the differentiation between Tradition (big T) and tradition (little t). Sometimes these nuances are the fruit of “systematized research” and structuralizing, which is at the forefront of modern research. These methods have been particularly helpful in Liturgics, Biblical research, the Psychology of Religion, etc.
We propose also the differentiation between Mission and missions: in a typological sense, this differentiation is closer to that between “big T” and “little t” tradition.
It should be clear to every Christian, that just as with Tradition (big T), the Mission (big M) of the Church is holy. Mission is an inherent quality of the living Church – the Body of Christ. Just as with Tradition, Mission is the inner life of the Church (see 2, p. 49); it is all of the Church’s life, but with the single difference that Tradition relates primarily to relationships within the Church, and Mission relates to borderline relationships, which in a well-known sense are also a part of the Church’s internal relations.
To continue with this parallel that we have introduced between Holy Tradition and Holy Mission, we should say that these noumenal and esoteric (which is not to say disembodied) realities of the Church can never be and must not be exteriorized or objectified. Phenomenologically speaking, however, when we come across their manifestations and subsequent images – i.e. their specific historical forms as tradition and mission of the Church – these may be exterior and, it follows, can be objectified. And it is these manifestations which it is possible to study and which are subject to discursive analysis; it is these manifestations with which we are primarily engaged. The spiritual meaning of such research is preserved when we remember where they came from and to where they must return.
But when we speak about the Church’s missions, as opposed to its Holy Mission, we must first clarify several concepts that we will have to work with given the differentiation that we have introduced. First of all, what is internal mission and how is it different from external mission? Usually these things are discussed only in terms of form, and therefore we say that external mission is about the borders of the Church, i.e. expanded and explicated, or directly “outside the borders” of the Orthodox Christian state, or inside the state’s borders but in those regions in which the native population is predominantly non-Orthodox. From this it follows that internal mission is addressed to the remaining regions within the traditionally Orthodox nation-state where only a minority of the native population are non-Orthodox. Thus, actions to bring those people who are not currently members of the Orthodox Church into the Church, whether they be schismatics and non-Orthodox Christians or non-Christians and pagans – are defined as internal mission. This understanding of mission, of course, would include at the very least those instances in which political opponents of the state become potential objects of internal mission (we might remember, at least, Stenka Razin and Yemelyan Pugachev). But the differentiation we have made between external and internal mission is also not entirely satisfying in that it presumes the ascendency of the orthodox Church within the corresponding nation-state.
So is there not some other way to consider the question at hand? In order to answer that question, we first have to determine our understanding of the Church’s Mission. If we suppose Mission to be constant service to the Church in terms of growing the Church and affirming the spirit of Christianity, then the Church’s external mission will turn out to be that which we spoke of above as both internal and external, and internal mission will be only that which relates to all that is within the formal, official borders of the orthodox Church, i.e. addressed to those who are numbered as its baptised members, etc., but who can’t really be called full, or sometimes even partial, members. Evangelization is also a component part of this internal mission and is, in the first instance, conducted in order to affirm the faith of Christians both unbaptised and/or those who have not received instruction in the faith, as well as the newly baptised or insufficiently instructed, who we might refer to as “babes in Christ”.
What is it that motivates people who serve in any church mission? Though any authentic Christian can be a bearer of the Church’s Mission – even if he or she has only just been introduced to the faith though catechesis (i.e. has only just renounced previous delusions – see 3, p. 32), yet not everyone serves in this Mission. For this sort of ministry, one needs particular gifts of the Holy Spirit and a whole host of personal (physical, psychological and spiritual) and ecclesial conditions. This sort of ministry demands a lot of strength, time, interest, at least some level of education, culture, charisma, intelligence, decisiveness, responsibility, personal connection with a particular church community or at least with a number of faithful Christians, a self-sacrificing attitude, patience, spiritual experience and experience of prayer in the church, sometimes knowledge of well-known resources, etc. Of course, the more divinely gifted such a person is and the more righteous and holy he or she is, the better. After all, in missionary service we are only servants of God’s grace, without which no one can say “Jesus is Lord” and without which there is no “overflowing heart” by which the “mouth speaks”. The degree to which a person is “in the Church” as a measure of his or her partaking in Christ and His Church, her Tradition and Mission – this is the main spiritual trait of a missionary. This is the fundamental living energy of his or her spiritual life.
Given that mission is generally a Christian’s personal affair – though not private or individual – missionary activity bears fruit not only for particular people, but also for the church. For a long while, it was thought that the success of mission should be measured by the number of baptisms, etc. The bitter insufficiency of such formal criteria is all too obvious in our time. “Mass” indicators don’t tell us much about anything. For this reason, we need to remember those two main criteria which serve as measures of everything in the Church. These are fruit (“you shall know them by their fruits”) and spirit, which the apostle says is subject to “discernment”, i.e. a quality assessment of the degree to which the spirit of a given mission accords with the Spirit of God.
Worthy fruit of missionary activity can be measured only in one way – by full entry into the Church (not as the performance of a rite or corresponding action) of a particular number of people, who have “sensed and been grasped by” the true God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Just as the apostles did, missionaries must see the formation, strengthening and growth of churches which are capable of self-propagation “at a profit”. This “profit” can be expressed in terms of growth in quantitative terms, or in spiritual and mental terms –including cultural deepening within the church. History has well shown how explosive Christianity can be in that regard, especially where and when it is on the rise. All of the Church’s tradition and all of history of her missions bear witness to this fact. We can illustrate this using the example of the development of the Russian Orthodox Christian mission from the time of the baptism of Rus until the beginning of the 20 th century.
The Experience of Church History. Three Periods of Ascendency in the Course of Russian Orthodox Church History
We stand and observe the 1000-year history of the Russian Orthodox Church with contradictory feelings. On the one hand we have ecstasy and awe, but this is constantly intermingled with another feeling of heaviness and depression. On the one hand there is light, but on the other, darkness. On the one hand we have the Church, but on the other, Her dark twin. And for all of this, the history of the Russian Church is amazingly clear and transparent, even when for a second we turn our attention to Her most recent era, so clearly dangerous territory for the historian – who is generally occupied with bygone eras – to approach.
It is obvious that the Russian church has lived through three main periods of ascendancy – three periods of cleansing, enlightenment and revival that were of epoch significance not only for the Russian church itself – though we have also seen our share of sin and shortcomings. These were periods of luminous revelation and manifestation, breakthroughs from history into meta-history and, it follows, of tremendous missionary achievement.
The first such period was the time of the Baptism of Rus at the end of the 10th through the 11th and perhaps into the 12th century, the second from the time of Rus’s aggregation around Muscovy in the second half of the 14th until the mid-15th or perhaps early 16th century, and the third was the difficult but flourishing time from the early-mid 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century.
Of course, we will look at each of these periods in more depth later in this paper, but first let me offer a short, general characterization.
The first of these periods stands under the sign of the deed itself – the action of the righteous St. Vladimir the Great, our Fair Sun and the Baptiser of Rus. We don’t know very much about him or his time with any degree of accuracy, though the very fact that he brought into the Church so many people – the then inhabitants of enormous and powerful Kievan Rus – is indisputable. Of course, scholar Y. Golubinsky is correct that the baptism of Rus occurred only with great difficulty, but the very fact that it took place despite significant adversarial forces only demonstrates the predominance of the force of Christianity. A strained battle was taking place between and inside people for the renunciation of the evil one and adherence to and union with Christ. And even so, this battle took place relatively quietly and peacefully. But the most interesting thing of all is that things couldn’t have been otherwise. Even if the Great Prince of Kievan Rus, who in himself represented a strange conglomerate of nations and tribes, had wanted to instil Christianity in his “nation state” by using primarily external force he couldn’t have done so for the simple reason that the state itself wasn’t integral enough for that and would yet for a long time to come remain but a conglomerate. For this reason, the people could only be enlightened from within each cell of the conglomerate, within each nation and tribe. And if “from within”, this means not so much by external force. And the degree to which external force was used with a given nation or tribe, the less deeply Christianity took root. A wonderful example of this is Novgorod, the baptism of which took place, as is well known, not without “fire and sword”, and which easily fell away from the faith under the influence of the first “energetic” mag to come its way, as early as 1076, i.e. almost within a century (see 14, p. 152).
The second period is connected primarily with the name of St. Sergius of Radonezh and his disciples, who busied themselves mainly with internal (informal) mission against “the hateful discord of this world” via contemplation of the Unity of the Holy Trinity and the creation of a new people and state. In remembering this period, we immediate think of Moscow with its Grand Princes and Metropolitans, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and its founder, the “Abbot of the Russian Lands” to this day, and then of Andrei Rublev and his company, who worked in praise of St. Sergius. We remember the “very clever” Theophanes the Greek, described as learned in Philosophy and who “embodied” hesychast ideas via iconography and in writing. We think also of those “in conversation” with St. Sergius, the numerous founders of Russian monasteries, primarily in the North, and missionaries, wisely written hagiographies, the New Jerusalem Typikon, monastic community living, the Battle of Kulikovo, the meek and quiet yet altogether aristocratic face of the Russian Spas in icons of the evangelists with their symbols, on valuable gospel miniatures that sparkle in rather small yet amazingly integral, well-formed vase-like Russian churches.
If in the first instance the main enemy was paganism that was directly associated with as of yet unbaptised members of the clan and close neighbours, then in the second instance the enemy was embodied either by those external to the nation or in a deeply rooted dualist faith that ultimately threatened the same destruction, humiliation and aggression.
The third period has as its source the third Russian lamplight, the “monk in white”, St. Seraphim of Sarov. He is characterized by a deep striving for enlightenment and free creativity, great achievements in culture and art, the Optina fathers, authentic philosophy and theology, bold access to the outer world, and innovative missionary activity of the broadest sort which was able to form a new “Russian idea”. This involved deep effort to free the self and others and a painfully heightened self-awareness and the desire to help everyone, yet with the concurrent bitter recognition and doubt as to whether Christianity had really been preached in Rus. And in this there is temptation and a sense of primal inconsistency which at times brings with it an overwhelming and crippling convergence within the self of Christ and someone else, too – sometimes even Anti-Christ – and a choice between them that ultimately comes too late… In truth this was a difficult period.
A Short Survey of the Development of the Russian Mission
The First Period
During the first period, three main events took place: the baptism of Prince Vladimir the Great, the baptism of the Kievans, and the spread of Christianity across Rus. For our purposes, it is not particularly important where and when Prince Vladimir the Great or the people were baptised. For us it is important how it happened (or could have happened).
Of course, the historian Kartashev is correct vis-à-vis Prince Vladimir when he says, “in the depth of the spirit it will always remain a mystery of personal conversion, similar to the miraculous transformation of Saul into Paul." (14, p. 107). Then, following Golubinsky, he fairly criticizes the recorded tale of “choosing a faith”, which from the point of view of academic history is too superficial, incomplete and even somewhat fairy-tale, and looks for help with development of his subject to those writers from Ancient Rus who were historically closest to Prince Vladimir, including: Metropolitan Hilarion of Kiev, who in his “Sermon on the Law and Grace” (mid-11th c.) affirms that “His soul was aflame and his heart desired that he should be a Christian and convert the whole land to Christianity”; Monk Jacob Chornoryzets (not earlier than the end of the 11th c.), who wrote “in praise and memory” of Prince Vladimir, saying, “God – seeing the desire of his heart, foreseeing his kindness, and from on high caring for him by His mercy and bountiful generosity – enlightened the heart of Prince Vladimir of the Russian lands to accept holy baptism”; and also St. Nestor the Chronicler, who is mentioned in the “Life and Martyrdom of the Blessed Passion Bearers Boris and Gleb” (end of the 11th / beginning of the 12th c.), who said, “This Vladimir had a vision of God that he should become a Christian…” (see 14, p. 107-110). Mentioning also influence from family ties and through marriage, as well as his clear vision in terms of politics, Kartashev comes to the conclusion that “Prince Vladimir’s conversion can about due to many internal and external factors, and not as the result of some sort of external and seemingly happenstance information and proposal of faith on the part of foreign ambassadors.” (Ibid, p. 112).
Just as in a free, personal and unhurried manner the desire to accept Christianity and the faith of the Greeks matured within Prince Vladimir, so in an unhurried manner did he personally accept holy baptism. And while, of course, Korsun (as Chersonesus was formerly called) – let alone Vasilev – are a far cry from Constantinople, the basic practice of baptism should nonetheless have been approximately the same, perhaps with the exception of various details and processes. We will have a chance to look more closely at this in the next chapter, but at this point we wish only to note that Prince Vladimir the Great probably went through all the steps in the first and second stages catechesis, was baptised, took communion and was affirmed in the faith after baptism. And even though given external circumstances the length of these stages might have been shortened – especially if his baptism took place at Korsun – nevertheless the fact that he consciously and freely went through these steps significantly aided the enlightened and clever prince (as well as his retinue) to accept the grace of baptism seriously and permanently. This was a real conversion which cannot have failed to produce true spiritual fruit. Therefore, we are not amazed at his discomfiture with the death sentence, given that in catechesis he would have heard, “do not kill”. We can easily accept his legendary magnanimity and kindness – whether in putting on big feasts or in matters of philanthropy to the sick and poor – both with those known to him and to strangers. Finally, we know of his collection of tribute, including tribute collected for missionary purposes, and of how he ordered his sons, princes of the realm, to make the spread of Christianity their concern.
The inhabitants of Kievan Rus, however, did not have the opportunity to accept baptism as freely, personally, thoughtfully and unhurriedly. And this applied even more to the inhabitants of other localities. This would have taken too long and, it follows, in those circumstances would have been too luxurious; and by that time, unfortunately, this was already not part of the church’s tradition (we will hear more about this in the next chapter).
Among the people, the Kievans, of course, were in the best position. For a long time, already, Christians had been far from a rarity in Kiev, and Christians were found not only among new comers and foreigners but even among the locals. Prince Vladimir’s grandmother, Princess (St.) Olga, several of his wives, and perhaps even Askold, who was murdered along with Dir, were Christians. There was at least one Christian church in Kiev, which means that there were permanent priests serving there, therefore there would also have been baptisms and sermons were being preached.
The date of baptism of the Kievans is variably determined as between 987 and 991 AD (see 20, p. 179). If Prince Vladimir the Great himself was baptised before the Korsun Campaign, as is likely, then we can assume that baptisms were taking place in Kiev for that entire period. Of course, there was some moment of culmination, which would only have been some time after Korsun had been captured and the Prince’s return home to Kiev. After all, it would have been necessary not only for the Prince and other newly baptised to rest and reinvigorate themselves, but also to prepare the spiritual soil – both psychological and politically – for the baptism of the people. It was change that the Kievans awaited first and foremost, because at this point it was impossible to keep silent about the new faith and life of the Great Prince and the majority of those close to him.
And at this point open preparation for the baptism of the people began. Despite the fact that there are no chronicles of this process, it is without question that the process took place, as is recognized by almost all researchers, although they imagine this process in various different guises. Znamensky writes, “The clergy and Prince went through the streets instructing the destruction of idols.” (13, p. 6). Dobrokonsky says, “Then he [the Prince] took care to prepare the unbaptised Kievans for Christianity. For this purpose, he assigned various clergy, some of whom had returned from Korsun with him and others, who were likely cotribesmen from Bulgaria who had come expressly for this purpose, to go around Kiev and enlighten the people with Christian preaching (Tatishchev’s History, II, 74, 79; I, 38). They might also have been helped by Kievans who were baptised earlier.” (10, p. 20). Especially Golubinsky, with his characteristic sensitivity to that which is internally important, stops at this point to mention that on the one hand “we can’t say anything positive about how the Kievans were prepared by Vladimir for baptism.” (5, p. 166) On the other hand, he says, “When the baptism of an entire people is to take place, there can be no thought of the possibility of mentoring everyone everywhere, down to the last person; in cases like this it is unavoidable that of necessity a large part of the people are simply obeying an order. But while there wasn’t a possibility of mentoring everyone, there was nevertheless an opportunity to mentor some of the people everywhere, who could then, by their conscious behaviour in changing faiths, serve to others as a sort of proof. There was a chance, even if not complete, then at least to some degree to introduce the new faith in such a way that its acceptance didn’t seem like a constraint being forced upon people, but an free affair of people’s own beliefs… It’s possible to assume that the people were called to meetings, that such meetings were called in various parts of the city, and that for some period of time they took place more or less regularly at specified times, and that in this way they represented temporary (!) training schools (catechetical schools) for adults. It is possible and necessary to assume that special attention was paid to those people who for one reason or another enjoyed particular authority amongst their cocitizens, so that these people who were able to influence others by their example and word, were gathered at these particular meetings, at which they were mentored in Christianity and convinced to accept it as their own faith with particular diligence, by people who were particularly able in this affair.” (Ibid, p. 165-166). It is interesting to note that Kartashev, who usually works in the same direction as Golubinsky, in this case differs sharply and without any explanation from him, limiting himself to only one phrase: “Without procrastination, the wholesale mobilization for baptism in the River Dnieper was announced,” (14, p. 122) and by doing so holds fast to the position taken by the chronicler.
In the process of preparation for the baptism of the Kievan people, events might have taken place which are mentioned also in the manuscript tradition. At some point it would have been necessary to make a show of the new faith’s power and the powerlessness of the old gods, at which time the entire Kievan pantheon, headed by the idol Perun, might have been destroyed. We should consider that this would have, to a certain degree, have been an effective way of producing a decisive outcome.
Then preparations came to their conclusion. The people took on the Prince’s reforms, although this did split society. Things couldn’t have been different, because the preparation for baptism wasn’t authentic catechesis, in the strict sense of the word, i.e. that for which it is often passed off. No matter how we imagine the event on the basis of the data that we have, we cannot make it into anything beyond some sort of pre-catechesis, the goal of which was to bring a person or a group of people to the point of openly retracting their former errors and delusions, prejudices and superstitions. On the contrary, catechesis begins with people who have already retracted their former error and trains and verifies people’s internal transformation, bringing them to the point of baptism, i.e. to mystical entry into the church and birth through water and the Spirit. Thus, we are forced to conclude that no matter how many able priests were on hand in Kiev and no matter what events took place there, nevertheless no real catechesis took place when preparing the Kievans for baptism (if we are speaking about more than formal rites), but rather only pre-catechesis to some degree or another. Immediately after this the Kievans were baptised, evidently without any particular ecclesial or spiritual introduction into the mysteries of the church, but once again affirmation in the faith by rite and ritual, alone. Actual catechesis, if it took place in the church (more likely “churches”) of Kiev, could hardly have reached more than a few dozen or, at a maximum, a few hundred people. And this is a very important conclusion for us, because as we know, you reap that which you sow. The Chrisianisation of Kiev did take place, but how? If along with the “sceptics” even rather non-critical historians speak of three or four different attitudes to baptism amongst the Kievans, ranging from those who took part gladly and with celebration, through those who doubted but voluntarily followed the order and example of their elders and those who were baptised out of fear of those in command, to those who consciously avoided baptism, (see 5, p. 168-169; 10, p. 20; 13, p. 6, etc.), then what can we say in our time about the magnitude and quality of such a baptism?
What happened afterwards in Kievan Rus? The Christian Church began to support the central government and enjoy well-known privileges. The Great Prince, his sons and appointed stewards encouraged Christian preaching and even preached the Gospel themselves, to a certain degree. Following the example in Kiev, Christianity spread across the Kiev region and surrounding domains, and was then gradually accepted by the those who lead Russian society in the majority of larger cities, then becoming the people’s confession – the “Kievan”, “Russian” faith. Only after this, through the missionary efforts of bishops, clergymen, monks and laypeople, did Christianity begin to penetrate into the colonies and amidst the local, non-Russian population. As such, Christianity united the sharp divisions across the Russian land, and this process continued for the whole pre-Mongolian period.
This “broadways development” of Kievan Christianity is generally accepted, given that at this point we are not able to explain the root of the relationships between various principalities, peoples and tribes within Kievan Rus in any other way than Golubinsky described in his time: “Kiev, ideally placed as the capital of the whole state and named as the mother of Russian cities, in fact remained such only in the understanding of the people in the region of Kiev itself or in the region inhabited by the Polans. As such, the great change which the people of Kiev allowed themselves to affect did not really yet mean anything to the other Russian regions, because the other regions still looked to their own capitols and to the ancient cities within their own regions.” (5, p. 171-172; see also 14, p. 149).
As we speak about the baptism of Rus, we will not repeat the basics or list who, when and how various lands were baptised, because our subject is the general history of the development of the Russian mission, and not the history of separate missions and missionaries. For this reason, we will note only highlights.
An effective measure in terms of the spreading of Christianity was the creation of diocese both in those cities near Kiev (Chernigov, Belgorod, Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Turov and Polotsk) and on the periphery (Novgorod, Rostov and Tmutarakan). Bishops – especially the Russian bishops – served the mission self-sacrificially. The third Bishop of Rostov, St. Leontius, was a particular example. Under very difficult circumstances he found an interesting way to relate to the local Merya people (Volga Finns). Having no hope for the conversion of the adults among them, St. Leontius began to gather and catechize children, teaching them the Slavic language, grammar and the foundations of Christianity (see 14, p. 151). And we should think he had reasonable success, otherwise the local people would not have started to rebel. Going out to them unafraid and unarmed, only vested and with a cross, St. Leontius overcame the rebellion. In a word, the use of Slavic language played a large role in the spread of Christianity across Rus. It greatly facilitated the assimilation of the new faith’s content by a wide range of people who had the desire and opportunity to regularly attend church. And work toward a deeper consolidation of the faith was also conducted. Although various tactics were used, such consolidation was facilitated both by schools (for instance, the well-known royal school for “book learning” in Kiev, and the episcopal school in Novgorod), and by a great interest in books amongst those who could afford this luxury (particular amongst the royalty, from Yaroslav the Wise to St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk and later in monasteries, etc.)
Thus, as Metropolitan Hilarion puts it, “the apostle’s trumpet and thunder of the gospel catechized all the cities, and our whole land simultaneously began to praise “Christ” (“Sermon on Law and Grace”). The fruit was manifest. Rus was baptised, and this is the main thing, but… (let’s let the historians have a word): “the baptism of all Russia should not be taken to mean that every single person down to the last of them was baptised; this full assimilation of Christianity in Rus should be thought of not so much as internal and authentic, as external and dependent from the beginning on the scarcity of materials for use in the enlightenment process: with the exception of various exceptions themselves, in general there were not schools for the people, there were not books, and there were not teachers. Murky half-literate clergy often didn’t rise much above the level of the dual faith of the people themselves…” (14, p. 241). “Thus, in this so to speak self-effected way and without particular investment on the part of anyone in particular or guidance, the mass of the people had to learn the Christian faith, its truths and its dogmas. This is, of course, very sad. In this instance it might only serve as some sort of consolation that other Christian peoples were not in a better position – or were barely in a better position – when they learned the rudiments of the faith: there was not everywhere a lack of ability, as in our case, but everywhere there was a total lack, or almost total lack, of desire.” (6, p. 834).
“As for the positive side of the affair, i.e. the degree to which the people were familiarized with Christian religious teaching itself, even the non-consoling example of our modern times gives us some reason to assume a grave paucity of clear understanding of the Christian religion among the people.
We still have in mind the general mass of the Russian people, who stand far from any source of enlightenment in this regard. As regards the wealthy, princes, leading representatives of the Russian clergy and some residents of large city centres who have access to the treasures of wisdom printed in books – in the majority of such cases the new religion was accepted in full consciousness as the only true faith, excluding any others, and was assimilated with sufficient fullness and depth. We shall note only one important if not characteristic trait of the understanding of the Christian faith among the princely classes of that time. Along with or, more properly speaking, given preference over their significant Christian beliefs and proper teachings, was their devotion to a plethora of minute manifestations of church ritual which they linked with their right belief and teaching; to this sphere they strove also to relate an enormous number of everyday instances, themselves having almost nothing to do with religion.” (14, p. 241).
The Second Period
This time was characterised more than anything by the endeavour to expand the external Russian mission. Almost all the neighbouring regions and countries are influenced by the mission. The mission was “very much aided by the political strength and consolidation of the country around the city of Moscow” (10, p. 138). However, it was apparently exactly these circumstances that also hindered it. The mission had to battle against political pressure and imposing its rules upon others, and together with this, with isolated cases of over-zealous bureaucracy. In places where the battle was won, the results were better (in Little Perm, and to an extent in Lapland). Where the battle was lost things ended badly, either with a transition to the externally stronger Latin church and the persecution of Orthodox Christians (Lithuania, a portion of the other western and south-western lands, to an extent the Votic lands and Karelia), or in a mission was simply ineffectual – for instance, in the case of the mission in Mongolia and across the Eurasian steppe, where despite the fact that the 13th century was more promising, neither the traditionally good attitude of khans towards Christianity, nor the baptism of local people (even khan’s sons), nor miracles of healing, nor martyrdoms, served to seed Christianity in this region. And at a later date this laid the groundwork for the most serious historical failure of the Russian mission – among the Tatar people and other “foreigners from the Kazan region.” (see 16).
One of the most important figures in the external mission of that time was, of course, St. Stephan of Perm, Enlightener of the Syryenian people of Komi. There is not a single historian who would not recognise the leading status of his significance. Having remarkable abilities even in his youth and as the son of a cathedral reader from Veliky Ustyug, he learned to read early and loved books. In 1365, he was tonsured a monk at the monastery of St. Gregory the Theologian in Rostov. In considering his calling, he realized that it involved teaching the Christian faith to those who had been his acquaintances from childhood among the Syryenian people. “Over the course of 13 years he remained in constant preparation for a purposed spiritual feat, and learned Greek in order to translate the scriptures into the Syryenian language. He created a Syryenian alphabet and translated the most necessary biblical books and books for church worship.” (13, p. 73). At the same time, he collected topographical and ethnographical information about the Perm region. He was ordained a priest and set out on his mission, having received an antemins, chrism and a blessing to preach from the bishop, and a writ of protection from the prince, in 1379. The main place where he preached was Ust-Vym, which was the spiritual and societal centre of the Perm region. His preaching was successful. A wooden church was built, the main temple to idols was destroyed, and a holy tree was cut down. More and more people came to him for baptism, and it is at this point that we come to details which are important to our subject. “Stephan did not simply baptise the people right away just because they expressed a desire to be baptised – he didn’t just take them to the local river without preparation. Insofar as was possible, he prepared them to be received into the Christian faith, instructing them to come to the House of God as catechumens, and fervently taught them the truths of the Christian faith during this period of time.” (7, p. 283). This was already something different than just “pre-catechism”; it was authentic, ecclesial catechism – the very thing that the Kievans and other Russian people had so serious lacked since the end of the 10 th century! Of course, there were people who opposed this mission, including local sorcerers who spoke out against the “wanderer from Moscow” and his new “Muscovite” faith. They understood better than others what awaited them and the people if the new faith were to be adopted. St. Stephan came into conflict over the respective strength of their faiths with the head sorcerer Pam, who of course lost the wager, being unable to walk on either fire or water. This incident decisively determined the faith of Ust-Vym, as a result of which three Christian churches were built. “The “high place” on the land was transformed from a place of paganism to a place for the worship of Christ.” (7, p. 285). As a result, St. Stephan opened a school “where the newly baptised were taught grammar, reading and writing, knowledge of the scriptures, the common prayers of the church, the eight tones, church singing, how to copy books for church services, and which prepared candidates for ordination to holy orders.” (2, p. 53). Over the course of only 4 years, by means of his blessed and selfless activity, St. Stephan so thoroughly spread Christianity, that when the question of who should be bishop was raised, St. Stephan himself was ordained bishop in 1383, by the Metropolitan of Moscow, Pimen. When he returned to Ust-Vym, he established the Archangel Monastery and began to pursue missionary activity even more fervently, opening new churches and monasteries. As a result, the indigenous people themselves began to rid the land of paganism and syncretism. This was all done wisely and with exactitude. At the end of his life, St. Stephan called representatives of the native people to meet with him and told them, “Up until now I have come to you as babes in the faith, and now I want to test whether you have become men; show me the deeds and fruits of your faith, whether or not you really believe firmly: let them who wish to show themselves as the most authentic Christians among the people find hidden idols, whether in your own homes or in the homes of your neighbours. Let these people bring these idols to the people’s gathering and destroy them with their own hands. He who does this I will name my friend before all the people – I will thank him and bestow gifts upon him.” (Epiphany the Wise. “Life of St. Stephan of Perm”, published by the Archeographical Commission, 1897, p. 75).
St. Stephan concerned himself with the external welfare of his flock – he brought them bread from Vologda and Veliky Ustyug, which he passed out in times of famine, and he travelled to the Grand Prince in Moscow with petitions for their needs and for to ask for privileges for the Syryenians. He interceded for them with administers of the princely property and with court nobility, complained to the council in Novgorod when outlaws from that city raided local lands, passed out alms from the episcopal treasury to the poor, etc. In this way, 13 years of his tenure as bishop passed. The “father of the Permians” died in 1396, having baptised and fortified in the faith all of the old Permian lands (Little Perm) along the Vychegda and Vym’ rivers.
“Very few among Christian preachers in Rus knew their business so well and so firmly laid its foundation.” (2, p. 53). “It seems that in any case, the apostolic work of St. Stephan, which was the baptism of an entire nation, can be seen as an excellent affair… he achieved the abandonment of paganism by an entire nation through the power of conviction alone, without the slightest use of force.” (7, p. 292).
About half a century later, St. Theodoret of Kola (approx. 1480-1577) with similar actions though perhaps in a smaller area, worked among the people of Lapland. He also taught them the language and grammar and prayer Christian prayers. He catechised candidates for baptism himself. Having been banned for strictness by the monks of his missionary monastery of the Holy Trinity (at the mouth of the river Kola), he nevertheless travelled to Lapland twice to fortify the newly baptised in the faith. (see 10, p. 136).
However, the picture of missionary activities in the second period will not be complete if we do not include some word on the basis of the root which fed everything that was best about the external mission, i.e., if we neglect to look at what was happening with the internal mission.
“In the period under consideration, the monastery of Abbot St. Sergius of Radonezh played an important role in the history of apostolic service… In the 14 th and 15 th centuries, the monastery became a centre of book learning and its students travelled to the lands of north eastern Rus, where the mission was as of yet undeveloped, in order to establish new monasteries, bring the light of Christ and preach the word of salvation.” (2, p. 53). In all truth, we should also note that the students of St. Sergius travelled to preach God’s word not only in the Northeast, where they turned it into a “northern Russian Thebaid”. They established a tight net of monasteries also in the territories nearest to the new spiritual, cultural and political centre – Moscow – and also to a large degree determined life, spiritual and otherwise, in Moscow, itself. Here we should also remember one of the greatest enlighteners of Moscow, Metropolitan Alexiy, who was also personally tied to St. Sergius. He was one of the few who was able to produce a new translation of the holy scriptures (albeit in part); he also established monasteries and was a miracle worker and healer. All of this was not without missionary effect in and of itself. It is another question entirely, whether various circumstance allowed the saints to long be fruitful in these affairs.
But let us return to the central figure, St. Sergius (1320-1392), and his work. He introduced a rule for common life in his monasteries, and it is with this that the transition of our whole Church to the Jerusalem typicon is connected. As we have already noted, for his whole life he battled against the “hateful discord of this world, and his life blessed us with a powerful ascendence of spiritual creation, the likes of which had not yet been seen in Rus. His name was respected and revered in Constantinople and his students made up an entire spiritual tradition which was meaningful for all of Christendom.
The main work of St. Sergius and his students, however, was the establishment of monasteries. Here is how Fr. Alexander Schmemann assesses that missionary work in a way that is useful for our purposes: “Sociologists” and “economists” insist upon how significant this enormous network of monasteries, established by St. Sergius’s students and followers was for the colonizing and educating of the land. But, of course, this isn’t the heart of the matter, but rather that Christian “absolutism”, the perfect image of the transformation of the human person by the Holy Spirit, and the desire for the lofty heights of “Life in God.” This is what made St. Sergius the focus of Russian Orthodoxy… In the course of 50 years, 180 monasteries were established across Northern Russia and a great number of saints were made manifest. The monastery becomes the centre of spiritual influence in all of society in an era of darkness and barbarism… In studying the religious life of that time, what we see is primarily the polarization and psychological opposition of the sinful world and the monastic life. We can see the polarization of religious life itself… and amidst all of this darkness and decay there is the clean air of the monastery, a witness to the undoubted possibility of repentance, renewal and cleansing. The monastery is not the crowning of the Christian world but rather its internal judgement and condemnation – a light shining in the darkness.” (23, p. 354-356) And how is this not internal mission? How is this not a stand against “this world” in the search for new servants of God “in Spirit and Truth”?
In completing our overview of the second period, we should also recall the activity of Archbishop Gennady of Novgorod, who was the first to gather together all the books of the Bible in one collection. He also established a school and taught grammar. Some people (perhaps exaggerating to a degree) even called his school the Russian missionary Bible society, insofar as out of this group missionaries were sent to the North and the East, having with them the great wealth of all the holy books of the Old and New Testaments (2, p. 52).
The Third Period
Mission at this point was at its height. As with the previous periods, both in terms of the external and internal missions, it was necessary to start “from scratch”. But this time it was better knowт what to do and how to do it. A wonderful example of this in terms of external mission is the mission in the Altai led by Archimandrite Makary Glukharev, the mission led by St. Innocent Veniaminov, parts of the activity of the Missionary Society, and the mission in Japan led by St. Nikolay Kasatkin, called “Equal to the Apostles”. Their activity was greeted with a lively reaction in Russia itself, and influenced even the formation of the Russian consciousness itself, in terms of the Russian people’s understanding of their calling, or the “Russian idea”, which at the end of the 19 th and beginning of the 20 th century took on a directly missionary-messianic tone. This speaks to the recognition of the success of the Russian mission. It isn’t just by chance that visible Russian missionaries often found themselves at the head of leading Russian bishoprics and members of the Synod, which almost became a local tradition of a sort in the Russian Church during the 2 nd half of the 19 th c. and at the beginning of the 20th c. Despite the fact that at the time much was written about these missionary activities, and about missionary activities in general, the best achievements of these people are barely known in our Church. Here we will try to choose and lay out the most characteristic and interesting among these achievements.
Archemandrite Makary Glukharev (d. 1848) was the eldest acquaintance of St. Innocent. His experience is unique. In later times, others endeavoured to use his mission as an example (in Kirgizia, the Irkutsk region, and the mission in the Transbaikal region); some call his mission the “first properly organised mission.” (13, p. 374), “remarkable for its thoroughly thought through organization and deep influence on the lives of the local people.” (2, p. 54). Judging from without, however, often only the external was visible: the establishment of missionary camps with churches, chapels and schools, settlements of the newly baptised near these camp stations, cross roads with patrols, and new monasteries – books and prayers were translated into local languages, etc. (see 12, p. 40). So, what exactly was unique about this instance, other than the particular personalities of Archimandrite Makary and his closest co-workers? The first thing is that they acted very carefully: they baptised people only after long study in the faith (catechesis), they endeavoured to fortify the newly baptised and educate them in the moral life, for which purpose the organised discussions, established schools, etc. In this way, Archimandrite Makary, himself, quickly became acquainted with the Tatar dialect of the Altai people, created an alphabet for them and made all the necessary preparations for baptism as well as the necessary translations for fortifying them in the faith – the Lord’s prayer, the Ten Commandments, a short history of salvation, questions before baptism, several Psalms, the Gospel of Matthew, etc. (see 13, p. 374). Secondly, he took care of the material needs of his newly baptised: he called them to lead a non-migratory life, he helped them establish households, healed the sick and established a hospital. In his own apartment, Archimandrite Makary housed orphan boys, and at the time of the famine in the Altai (1839-40), he travelled to Moscow for aid to the newly baptised (this is so reminiscent of St. Stephan of Perm!). Thirdly, they solved one of the hardest questions of Church life, involving the Christian service of every person – they assigned tasks which were within the abilities of each, as well as useful and interesting – to all who desired participation. This was particularly important and difficult to achieve amongst women, whose lives had typically only been assessed in terms of parachurch life at best, if not only in terms of affairs and circumstances that had nothing to do with the life of the church. In 1840, a women’s community of widows and virgins (here we remember remote early church affairs!), which in a way similar to that of the ancient deaconesses, prepared women for baptism, taught them the faith and Christian life, helped as midwives, brought up young girls, etc. That same year, a French woman named Sophie Valmont arrived from Moscow, and she also catechised women, taught them the Christian faith, healed, held discussions in various homes and in her own apartment (!), read to them (how is this different from a salon?), and established a small school for girls. Just as all people of this type do, Archimandrite Makary raised additional funds and “even used his magisterial stipend for assistance to new Christians.” (13, p. 374).
In this way, the mission served as Christian preaching, and in such a way that was not dishonouring to local custom, immediately engrafting into local communities the achievements of Russian and world culture (would that we Russians had had all this same thing, at the time!).
Archimandrite Makary consciously gave his whole life to the mission. Having, “firmly and reasonably established affairs in the Altai,” Archimandrite Makary concerned himself with the improvement of mission in general and, with this goal in mind, wrote a work called “Thoughts on How to Most Successfully Spread the Christian Faith Among Muslims, Jews and Pagans in the Russian Empire”. (12, p. 31).
In 1843 he ceased missionary work due to the state of his health and retired in as an elderly monk to Volkhov Monastery. Over his 13 years of leading the mission and conducting missionary activity, he baptised “only” 645 people, “but as a result these new converts were really like people who had been born anew” (see, Ibid). Is this not the ideal fruit of any authentic Christian mission?
The tradition of Archimandrite Markary’s mission was supported and continued, and results grew more palpable from year to year. From 1874 they had their own publishing house, in 1876 a central missionary school was opened in Ulala (Gorno-Altaysk), where the centre of the mission was, as well as a shelter for children and a central mission hospital, a catechetical school was established in 1879 in the new centre of Biysk. Through 1890, e.g. over the course of 60 years, more than a third of the indigenous people were baptised, and it is possible to hope that this baptism was foundational, and not merely formal. (see Ibid, p. 32).
Of course, there were also many difficulties. In order for us to imagine, even a bit, the living context of the missionary work in the second half of the 19 th c., let us use several examples from a casually selected document from that period, called “Memoirs of a missionary Fr. Philaret Sinjkovsky, from the mission detachment in Chyorny Anuy, for 1878.”
From these memoirs, we learn that the main hinderances to the mission amongst the multinational local population are caused by Kirgiz Muslims and…Russians (21, p. 271). Not having the strength to battle against the influence of the unbaptised Kirgiz people on the newly baptised, Fr. Philaret remembers about external force and writes, “Perhaps the forceful ejection of the travel-worn Kirgiz people (by the Governor-General of the whole Bijsk region) will result in a decrease in the number of proselytes from among the Kirgiz, but as a result (?) the treachery will also cease.” (21, p. 268). “In settlements which are primarily made up of newly baptised indigenous people, spiritual life is thriving. One feckless newly baptised native from another village, having visited such settlements, complains, “everyone there is a teacher!” (21, p. 270). Then Fr. Philaret interestingly describes the work of a missionary in one such successful settlement, called Iljinsky: “During the course of the current year, having visited the people of Iljinsky 14 times, in addition to church services and teaching in the church, I have conversed with several of the villagers in their homes with the goal of helping them properly understand Christian virtue, the meaning of teachings from the Gospel, to help counterbalance those prejudices and superstitions that more or less directly accompany the development of religious life and which are so common among the local, Russian (!) people.” (21, p. 277). Continuing: “On the day after the blessing of the location for the church…I opened a school in Iljinsk, at which 31 students of both sexes quickly enrolled… after the midday meal on Sundays, the local teacher, Kanshin, on my council, gathers together the people of Iljinsk to listen to spiritual and moral readings, which I have appointed ahead of time.” (21, p. 280). But again and again we run up against the problem of internal mission, or rather, with the fact that it falls so seriously short of the standards of external mission: “…The missionary has not only to work hard to turn pagans to Christ, but also to acquaint those who were born into Christian families with the teaching of Christ which is unknown to them, if not healing them directly, then at least weakening the moral ailments with which society can so easily be affected when it undergoes russification.” (21, p. 275). In addition to the fact that the cradle Russian Orthodox population is completely ignorant, they are also split apart. “The need for anti-schismatic missionary activity with the population here is obvious. It is necessary, however, that the missionary should not have to be materially dependent upon those he is ministering to”, the experienced missionary immediately warns. (21, p. 277). Thus, in multifarious ways, the illnesses of the historical path of the Russian church continued to have their effect. And their effect in our own time is well known…
Nor does the missionary activity of another great missionary from the middle of the 19 th century, St. Innocent of Moscow, seem to be remarkable for any particular reason when we look at its external dimension. Everything looks about the same as that which we have already discussed, even professionally and officially (compare 12, p. 6): missionary trips, camp stations, church building, schools, the translation of prayers and several texts into local languages and dialects, and related scholarly activity. The zealousness of his service for 10 years on the island of Unalaska in the Aleutian archipelago (1824-1834), for 5 years on the island of Sitka (1834-1839), and then for 28 years as the first Bishop of Kamchatka (1840-1868) lead him to become the Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna, and this gives us pause to consider what was going on. We can also say that he had a good number of baptisms to his name, but that is to be expected and, as we have seen, isn’t in itself enough. The soul and work of St. Innocent opens up to us in the works that he authored. He wrote “Instructions” for the archpriest in charge of North American parishes, a “Guidebook” for missionary priests, and a booklet entitled “Indication of the Pathway into the Kingdom of Heaven” for the newly baptised among his Aleut flock, which enjoyed great popularity among the smaller nationalities of the North. This was a small but remarkably living catechetical text for the simplest of people.
For our purposes, his “Guidebook” is of particular interest. Its full title when it was published as an integral work (Moscow, 1881), was “Guidebook for the Priest Assigned to Ministry among People of Other Faiths and How for Converts to the Christian Faith and the Shepherding of Converts to the Christian Faith, by the Reposed Most Eminent Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow, before His Ascendence to the Throne of Bishop in Kamchatka”, i.e. in approximately 1840. Aside from its content, the significance of this document is that it has not only historical, but also canonical pastoral significance within our Church, insofar as firstly it was written by one of our saints, and secondly it has been certified by Metropolitan Seraphim of St. Petersburg, Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow, and the Holy Synod (Decree № 42 of the Holy Synod on the establishment of the Bishopric of Kamchatka, dated 10 January, 1841).
The first thing that grabs our attention when we read the Guidebook is the attitude toward missionary activity itself as a particularly blessed, almost charismatic ministry: “Blessed is he whom God has chosen and places in this ministry”, says the holy teacher (4, p. 69). And continuing, it is his bold view on baptism itself, which is reflected in his quotation of words from a synodal decree of 1777, demanding “that he [the preacher] should not consider himself to be fulfilling his calling and obligation in a hasty semblance of baptism [of those whom he has converted], but should strive to instil in them the power of Christian teaching and shepherd toward every good virtue, without which the baptism of the savages being taught can almost be termed misuse of one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith.” (4, p. 70). It sounds particularly sincere and convincing coming from St. Innocent the Enlightener when he reminds us of the prayers necessary before beginning any battle with unfaith, or about how we must love our work and those to whom we are preaching, because only love is constructive (see 4, p. 71). Another piece of advice from among those for use in preparing people to confess the faith is also interesting. He says, “when visiting remote places (those which have already been partially Christianized), do not begin to serve liturgies or offices until such time as you have at least proposed some short instruction to the parishioners who visit you.” (4, p. 71-72).
Further, in speaking of the way the faith should be preached itself, St. Innocent the Enlightener again points to the necessity for this to be done in a way filled to overflowing with faith and love, so that our mouths should also speak the wisdom, which “points to how, where and what to say.” Thus, the saint continues, “note and catch the moment when the hearts of your listeners are open. This moment is always favourable to the shining of God’s word.” (4, p. 73). Noting in the same place the possibility of using different types of preaching, depending upon the internal condition of the soul who is being taught, upon his age and intellectual abilities, the great missionary offers also his own programme for catechesis (though in our perspective it would demand further refinement): “When you see that your listeners have understood you and have developed a desire to enter Christ’s flock, you then propose to teach them: a) the conditions for those who wish to join the number of the faithful; b) about holy baptism as the mystery of rebirth through water and the Spirit which leads to a new Christian life and about the other mysteries as means of receiving the grace of Christ Jesus, c) about how one who wishes to be an authentic Christian need live his life and, it follows, be formed by all the fruits of atonement” (4, p. 77).
Then come words of advice from the saint vis-à-vis teaching, church worship and how to relate to indigenous people. Here he says that while in matters related to the dogmas of the faith and the essence of life teaching it is impossible to compromise even by a single inch – even under threat of death – things are nevertheless quite different in questions relating to form, traditions and rites, where it is important to relate to the converts with deference “partly due to local circumstance and partly in expectance of their confirmation in faith and life.” (4, p. 79).
Insofar as most of the regions under consideration were cold, the following, for instance, is said about fasting: “It may be more convenient that their fast should be tied not to the quality, but to the timing and quantity of food consumed (i.e., this is possible)… taking circumstances into consideration, lessen the quantity of the appropriate food and don’t eat during the early hours of the day. As concerns the days in Holy Week, especially the days right before Pascha, it would be good to convince the people to spend them in fasting if possible – in body and soul – in memory of the salvific sufferings of Jesus Christ.” (4, p. 79-80). As concerns common prayer, it is recommended in the same way that “attendance of regular church services, other than the liturgy, not be made an absolute requirement for the newly baptised.” (4, p. 80). And continuing: “Whereas usually all those whom you visit must confess and partake of the Holy Mysteries, do not consider it an absolute requirement that they should come to church for a full week, as we usually do, but to the extent which circumstance makes possible, and only remind them to pray to God all the more often in their hearts for forgiveness of their sins during that time, and to keep a strict fast, if possible. Instruction in the word of God is always the best preparation for them to partake of the mysteries, rather than the typical Psalms and prayers, because none of them are going to remember for long that which has been heard in church.” (Ibid).
It was also recommended to have some leniency in terms of the strictness of church rules for marriage, “however, the prohibitions appropriate to this affair from the book of Levi should be considered undebatable” (4, p. 81). The same with the question of the presence of the unbaptised in church. It is recommended that “that no marriage entered into before baptism should ever be annulled or disputed…even in the most vital cases,” (Ibid). The divine liturgy may be celebrated in any place on any given antimins.” (4, p. 82).
Speaking about the places of permanent residence of preachers where such is useful and needed, St. Innocent the Enlightener notes, “The preacher who the indigenous people consider to be their happiness will be deeply happy himself,” (Ibid). Further, he gives a whole list of interesting suggestions:
In preaching Christian teachings… make sure that you don’t explain the things that follow before all who are listening to you – or at least the greater part – have understood the former things upon which they follow, even though this may slow down the road to baptism for many. The more firmly the foundation is laid, the stronger the building will be and the easier its construction… In terms of teaching the Christian faith and law, no proofs unaffirmed by the Holy Scriptures themselves should be used… But if God visibly shows His strength either in the miraculous healing of someone or in unnecessary revelation and the like, than these things are from God and should not be hidden…
In order to increase the number of people being received into the faith through holy baptism, absolutely do not use any measures or means which are extrinsic to the spirit of the Gospel or unbecoming to the preacher, such as these: coercion, threats, bribes, promises (privileges, etc), and alluring temptations. Always act with apostolic sincerity. Do not consider the indigenous people as worthy of holy baptism before you have trained them in the subjects of faith and law laid out above or before they themselves express their agreement to be baptised.
When you arrive at… a place… represent yourself… as a simple wanderer, …(immediately) endeavour to form a positive opinion of yourself and be worthy of respect… for those who are not respected will also not be listened to… Nothing is as capable of insulting and irritating so many savages as obvious derision of them and mockery of them and everything that is theirs… Be brief, gentle, simple and absolutely do not make yourself look like a great teacher… Any question from an indigenous person about spiritual matters is a very important affair for the preacher because it may demonstrate both the state of the soul of the person asking the question, and his capabilities and desire for enlightenment. But not answering an indigenous person once or answering him in an insulting way may cause him to remain quiet forever… You, as a preacher of the Gospel, should also never insult those who do not wish to accept the preaching of the gospel and are required to treat them in a friendly manner…
Do not require from those who have applied to you or the newly converted any contributions or offerings in any form, either for the church or for any other work of God; but to not turn away and graciously accept offerings from those who themselves and of their own will offer something…Plan trips at a convenient time… so as not to deprive the indigenous people of some advantage through a poorly planned trip…
Over the course of a short period of time you should learn their language…Endeavour of course to learn their faith, rites, traditions, tendencies, character, and everything about the culture and way of life of your parishioners... Do not involve yourself in the examination of affairs of this world and do not outrage any authority… Take decisive and final measures for your own protection only in the most extreme cases. But he who is found worthy to suffer for the name of Christ will be found blessed 100-fold.” (4, p. 82-88).
Now there is a true “encyclopaedia” of missionary wisdom! How this completes our picture of the experience of the mission of Archimandrite Makary in the Altai, and how this remains significant until our very day! But in parallel we also want to note that it would be good to turn all these tactics inwards, toward the internal mission within Russia. It’s interesting, that apparently both great missionaries considered this point. They, together with the third great worker for the church of that time, Metropolitan Philaret Drozdov, became the “spiritual fathers” of the Russian Missionary Society. Moreover, each of them thought about the organization of a centralized institute for the preparation of missionaries. We find evidence of this in the “Project” of Archimandrite Makary Glukharev, the letters of Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow to Muravjev, Addition to the Works of the Holy Fathers, 1889, Book 3, p. 92-93, and in the Collection of Opinions and Comments of Metropolitan Philaret, V, p. 550 (see 12, p. 6).
The Russian Missionary Society became a unified centre for all the missions other than the Transcaucasian mission, which had its own organization and coordinated its own missionaries, and this was also beneficial in materials respects. The Society was opened in St. Petersburg in 1865, though due to the initial predominance of wordly people within its ranks, soon required reorganization. In 1869, new by-laws were passed and the governing Council of the Society was moved to Moscow and put under the leadership of St. Innocent the Enlightener. The Missionary Society made its goal “to aid missions in converting non-Christians to the Orthodox faith and to fortify the faith of converts”. The society concerned itself with the preparation of missionaries, provided books and goods for missions and funds for the support of missionaries living expenses, mission churches, hospitals and schools, as well as for the publication of new books, etc. On the diocesan level, committees under the leadership of the diocesan or suffragan bishop exercised local organization.
As a result of the Society’s work, all the missions intensified their work and “seductions to the old faith, which were so common among the indigenous peoples in earlier times, became fewer and fewer each year.” (12, p. 8). According to Society data, by the end of the 19th century the highest degree of success through that time was noted amongst pagans, and a lesser degree amongst Muslims and Jews, which is understandable given that those religions were more developed, their followers more tightly linked together in community and dedicated to their faiths, and given the traditional element of negativity and discrediting relationships with Christianity and in general and with all that was “Russian”. Of course, there were hinderances in pagan environments, too, which came from their religious authorities and from their own low level of development and migratory way of life. From the time when the missionaries from various Protestant and mystical sects also began to actively develop their work in Russia, stimulating the Society’s work, it began also to use its strength against their propaganda. But the internal mission, in the main, still lagged behind and remained formal.
From the 2nd half of the 19th c. the international missions of the Russian Orthodox Church also began to develop rapidly. For a number of reasons, we won’t waste space here speaking at length of their activities, which were extremely successful, with the exception of looking at the Japanese mission which was founded in 1870-1871 by St. Nikolai Kasatkin (St. Nicolas of Japan), who is called Equal to the Apostles (d. 1912). This was, in a way, the first attempt to embody the testaments left by Archimandrite Makary and St. Innocent the Enlightener. The result was the creation of a new local Orthodox Christian Church.
St. Nicolas the Enlightener began his activity in Japan in 1861 as a hieromonk of the Russian consulate in Hakodate. Before the opening of a mission there, which happened after approximately 10 years, he pulled together an enormous amount of experience: he zealously studied Japanese language and culture, the history of the local faith and the moral code of the Japanese. He translated the Gospel and began to translate other spiritual books, both scriptural and for use in church worship. From the start he preached to the local population. And at the start he converted one local priest who was called, Svaabe, and who took the baptismal name Paul. Fr. Paul quickly became an impassioned preacher and catechiser. By 1870, 12 people had been baptised and another 25 had been prepared for baptism. This provided the impetus for the opening of a mission. At the same time the “Policy Statement for the Russian Spiritual Misison in Japan” and “Instructions for the Head of the Russian Mission in Japan” were written and approved by the Holy Synod between 14 and 22 May, 1871. They became established documents, effective in our Church. (See T. Barsov, “Anthology of Established and Guiding Ecclesial and Church-Societal Resolutions for the Institution of the Orthodox Confession” (Sbornik dejstvujushchikh i rukovodstvennykh tserkovno-grazhdanskikh postanovlenij po vedomstvu pravoslavnogo ispovedanija”), Vol. 1, Attachement, p. CVII-CX, St. Petersburg, 1885).
For us, of course, his “Instructions” are of primary interest, for in them he made an attempt to aggregate both Russian and Japanese missionary experience. His “Instructions” demand that the missionary not only preach orally, but also create the foundations for Orthodox Christian literature, from the Scriptures and church worship books through the creation of children’s textbooks for the study of the law of God. Missionaries were to strictly observe the rules of good-neighbourliness and humility, and behave cautiously.
Attention was paid to the primary nature of the preparation and baptism of those who would themselves, having become catechists, then be able to teach others. Under conditions of public lack of freedom, “someone who is instructed in the faith is enough, and for greater freedom in the use of your strength to serve the faith, a catechist provided with daily nourishment and under the leadership of a missionary can hold meetings to preach the faith for their acquaintances, go to different houses to preach and even, to the extent possible, travel to preach in different cities and settlements.” (4, p. 57). Of course, the missionary himself must “always keep his door open to everyone and at the same time travel to any place where he sees hope that his preaching will meet with success.” (Ibid)
It is recommended that baptisms should take place only after thorough testing of those who are convinced of the firmness and sincerity of their Christian convictions. At the same time, it is noted that it is impossible that everyone will have the same level of Christian scholarly knowledge. It is sufficient for a simple old man to have general knowledge of catechetical teachings, the most important events from salvation history and to learn the most significant Christian prayers by heart. For a young intellectual it will be necessary also to come to grips with opposition to the Christian faith, put forward as “theses”, and with “European heresies”, to interpret the more difficult passages of Holy Scripture, and to have an understanding of non-orthodox Christian confessions over against Orthodoxy, etc. (see 4, p. 57-58). The “Instructions” also demanded that after baptism the newly enlightened should be zealously mentored, constantly leading them, so as to fortify them in their new life according to the spirit of Christ, and accordingly “missionaries must teach them, instilling in them consistent observation of the commandments and rules of the church which they have adopted for themselves.” (4, p. 58).
The children of Japanese Christians were to be educated in a Christian spirit. Their “teachers should be catechists under the close supervision of the missionaries. When freedom of religion is granted, then the Mission should open schools for the children.” The missionaries were also to concern themselves with preparing preachers of the Gospel who were of equal strength and ability to themselves. For this it was recommended that young people should be chosen, up to 20 years of age and “with an education in literary Japanese”, and that they should teach these young people Russian and send them to Russia to receive an education at seminaries or spiritual academies. “The morally and intellectually best and brightest among them may be conferred with holy orders; the rest will be fully capable catechists, mentors at schools and translators of religious texts.” (4, p. 59).
And after such “Instructions” were applied, how did things go in life? (for more detail about this see 13, p. 380-381; 12, p. 55-57)? Missionary schools were built in Hakodate in 1871 and in Tokyo in 1872, which produced new Japanese preachers and catechists. But in 1872, the persecution of Orthodox Christians began in Hakodate and Sendai (Svaabe suffered especially seriously). In 1872-1873 a missionary camp was organized in the city of Hokkaido with schools for translators and catechists. Beginning in 1871, there was a school for boys in Hakodate, and from 1873 a school for girls. In 1873, church worship in Japanese began. From 1875 the mission was sponsored by the Missionary Society and that same year the first Japanese priest was ordained – Fr. Pavel Svaabe. In 1880, Archimandrite Nikolai became the first Orthodox Bishop of Japan. By the end of the century there were more than 250 communities and up to 26 thousand Orthodox Christians and 36 priests. There was a seminary in Tokyo, as well as a catechetical school, a school for readers and a school for women. The first graduates of the Tokyo Seminary finished in 1882, and in 1889 two students were sent to spiritual academies in Russia. The mission generated a significant amount of translated literature and published three spiritual journals. That same year, full freedom of religion was proclaimed in Japan, which gave even more opportunity to the mission. Every year councils of the church were gathered and the diocese had an archpriest. Parishes supported catechists, and often priests, out of their own funds. Often, they built their own churches. Voluntary financial support came from Russia. The mission became very well known. Women’s societies sprang up around parishes for the religious and moral teaching of the parishioners. They held monthly meetings with readings from the Holy Fathers, the interpretation of prayers and the Holy Scripture, and the history of the prophets. Women were chosen to catechise pagan women, help the poor, concern themselves with the upbringing of parishioners’ children, and to awaken the faith of those who had grown cool to it, etc.
The fruits were fast in appearing. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, the spiritual wisdom and tact of St. Nikolai the Enlightener kept the Church from being destroyed. Faithful to the principle “do not outrage any authority”, he blessed the Japanese military men to pray for Japanese victory, and he himself, as a Russian citizen, withdrew during the war, which he spent “in solitude”. And when, in 1912, St. Nikolai the Enlightener blessedly fell asleep in the Lord from his labours on this earth, a cortege several kilometres long trailed behind his coffin. The Japanese Emperor himself paid him respects, despite the fact that he was a “foreigner”. This was a first in the whole, centuries-long history of the Land of the Rising Sun. When after the canonization of St. Nicholas of Japan, who is called Equal to the Apostles, the Orthodox Church in Japan wished to transfer his relics from the city cemetery to the Cathedral of St. “Nikolai-do”, the church was refused, referencing a claim that “he belongs to all of Japan”.
But Russia? What happened during these same years in Russia? There we can still hear – not any less loudly – the very dark words of doubt, some of the first penned by Leskov in his novel, The Cathedral Clergy: “But was Christianity really preached in Rus?”
We have nothing to answer to that question at this time excepting: it was preached… and is being preached to this day!
The Church-Liturgical Experience of Baptism in Russia
As an addendum to all which has been said above, it would be interesting to consider several historical aspects related to baptism itself, i.e. the church-liturgical demands which were announced to those mystically entering the Russian Orthodox Church. These demands determined much on a practical level.
As is known, the entire complex of demands in the ideal opens up and develops in a particular way: from pre-catechesis, through two stages of catechesis to baptism itself and chrismation, and then into the study of the mysteries of the church (mystagogy) and other forms of affirmation in the Christian faith and life.
The goal of pre-catechesis is to bring a person from complete lack of knowledge (or imperfect knowledge) of God and Jesus Christ to knowledge of Them through faith by announcing the preaching of the Church, so that the person himself expresses a desire to begin a new life and, subsequently, in one form or another, rejects his former superstitions and prejudices. We have already spoken above about the goals of catechesis itself.
The goal of baptism and chrismation is generally known: it is the mystical movement into the church and into communion with the Father in Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The goal of studying the mystery (and mysteries) of the Church (mystagogy) is to strengthen a person in faith and in the Christian life by explaining the meaning of the church mysteries and dogmas of the Church on the basis of the constant and ever-changing personal life experience of the “new babes in Christ”.
For those of us who have been trained according to the “Catechesis” of Metropolitan Philaret, which is grouped with those methods of catechesis designed for introductory training of people who have already been baptised, it may seem strange that the exposition of the meaning of basic dogmas and the mysteries of the church is nevertheless left until the period of mystagogy. This is, however, appropriate, as is shown not only by Church tradition, but also by common sense and by the following – perhaps somewhat restrained – words of one of the leading Orthodox experts in the question at hand, Professor Aleksandr Almazov of the Kazan Spiritual Academy. He writes that in ancient times catechists “refrained from touching upon various dogmatic truths such as, for instance, the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His mystical union with the Church. In particular we need say this relative to the mysteries of the Church.” (1, p. 41).
And what about all those baptisms in Rus during our first period? We have very little data. We know about the baptism of adults from correspondence between Hierodeacon Kirik of Novgorod and his bishop, St. Nifont (1140-1156), a former monk of the Kiev-Pechersk Monastery, whose relics are, as a result, interred there. This Bishop of Novgorod counsels Kirik to pray prayers for catechumens for 40 days in the case of the Polovtsy and Finno-Ugric natives, and for 8 days for Slavs (Questions from Kirik (Voprosi Kirika), “Russkaya istoricheskaya biblioteka”, vol. VI, part I, p. 33, 1880, answer 40). The same period of 8 days was given to those speakers of Latin languages who were being converted (Ibid, answer 10, p. 20). As A. Almazov correctly notes, it is only unknown what in particular was taught to those who were preparing for baptism in the ancient Russian Church. Given the time periods which were assigned, we can only assume that the teaching was restricted to the most fundamental points of the faith. This being said, a more or less firm knowledge of the truths of the faith being taught was demanded (see Questions from Kirik, question 40; and also 1, p. 39). Moreover, we should also assume first, that this preparation was nevertheless insufficient, and second, that it was available only in cases where baptisms were properly organized around a church parish, which case, of course, far from every person being baptised could hope to find.
The fact that a period of catechesis five times shorter is appointed for Slavs is explained in various different ways. Professor P. Znamensky says that pagan Slavs, given that they were converting after much contact with Christian Slavs, were sooner and better prepared to accept the faith than the other nationalities. (see 13, p. 53). A. Almazov explains the shortening of the period as due to the desire to rapidly spread Christianity amongst all Slavs (see 1, p. 61). Scholar Y.Y. Golubinsky explains the fact in that there was a hope “not to discourage the Russians who were still pagan from converting by insisting upon too long a period of preparation” (7, p. 508). It is obvious that all these explanations to some degree assume that there was a justification of loss of “quality” in favour of “quantity”.
And as for information regarding the baptism of children, we have two sources. The first of these is the rule of Kiev Metropolitan Ioann II (1077-1080), given in answer to the monk Jacob, “are we allowed to baptise a newly born child if he is ill before he is able to drink his mother’s milk?” The Metropolitan answers, “In relation to a healthy child the fathers say to wait three or more years. But in the instance of sudden death the period is shorter. If the child is gravely ill let it be 8 days, and he can be baptised even in a shorter time so as not to die unbaptised: such children you may baptise at any day and any hour so that they should not die unbaptised.” (The Rule of Metropolitan Ioann, Russian Historical Library vol. VI, St. Petersburg, 1880, p. 1-2, no.1). In parallel with this practice and perhaps a bit later, in Rus as in other Orthodox countries, the practice of baptising infants on the 40th day is established. This period was first named by St. Nestor (d. 1114) in his hagiographical tale of the baptism of St. Theodosius of Kiev (1st half of the XI c. – 1074, Nestor. Life of St. Theodosius, Anthology of Russian History (Rus. istor. sbornik), vol. IV, Мoscow, 1840, p. 447). This practice of baptism of infants on the 40th day was ruling practice up until the 16th century.
Let us look now, for comparison’s sake, at how baptisms took place in Constantinople at that time. For this purpose, we will turn to the wonderful research of Fr. Miguel Arranz. He writes, “By the 10th c. in Constantinople, children were already not being baptised very early. They moved toward baptism steadily: on the 8th day after birth they were named at the doors of the church. On the 40th day they were brought into the church building itself (“churched”) and “became Christians”, as the sources tell us, even before baptism itself (the first proclamation). They received the right to come into the church and listen to reading. They were announced “as enlightened” (the second proclamation) in the 4th week of Great Lent, probably several years later. They renounced the devil and joined themselves to Christ on Great and Holy Friday in a rite performed by the Patriarch before Evening Prayer with a Presanctified Liturgy. And at last, at Great Vespers on Great Saturday they were baptised and chrismated by the hand of the Patriarch himself in the baptistery while the paroimia were being read in church. They came with triumph into the cathedral together with the patriarch to the singing of “Those who have been Baptised into Christ” and took their first communion on the same night at the Liturgy of Basil the Great. In the 10th century, the modern Pascha matins was not served in cathedrals. In the 10th century, the patriarch baptised people five times a year: on Pascha, as is specified above, between Great Vespers and Liturgy and after morning prayer on the following days: Theophany, Lazarus Saturday, Great Saturday (in the morning) and on Pentecost Sunday. It seems that on Great Saturday in the evening and at Theophany the patriarch baptised in the Great Baptistry which had a κολυμβήυρα, or baptismal pool; on the other occasions he baptised in the Small Baptistry, in which there was only a φιαλη, or baptismal font. We can assume that he baptised tiny children in the Small Baptistry…” (3, p. 17-18).
From all of this it is clear that in Constantinople in the 10th century “candidates for baptism were children who were not very old, given that their families presented them for baptism, but that they were old enough that they could be catechised.” (3, p. 36). Another interesting particularity of that time was that the use of particular rites for the reception of pagans into the Church was spreading. The first proclamation, in this case, consisted in the person bending his knee before the doors of the church, whilst he was announced three times and appropriate prayers were read. At this point his name was written in the list of catechumens, after which there were also prayers. Afterwards, they were catechised according to the same procedure as was used for children. (see 3, p. 29). How can we fail to recall the baptism of Princess Olga at this point, and to a degree, perhaps also Prince Vladimir? From this, by the way, it becomes clear how the people in Rus could not have been baptised “according to all the rules”.
And there is one more important nuance relating to the essence and form of catechesis. As we know from sources before the VII century, all catechumens actively participated in church worship which was accessible to them in term of understanding, confessed, fasted and prayed. It is assumed (see 1, p. 102-103) that the same thing was demanded of them in the VIII-XI centuries, but alas, this remains only an assumption.
In relation to baptism in the second period, catechesis and confirmation in the faith was very little different than in the first. The only thing that remains for us to say is that the rule of baptism of healthy children on the 40th day or when circumstance permitted the parents to bring them for baptism was ultimately received as a rule. Children who were ill were baptised immediately (see 18, p. 142; 8, p. 346-47; 9, p. 264-65). The way in which the catechesis of adults was carried out – when it was carried out at all – we see from the example of St. Stephan of Perm’s ministry.
Here we can only elaborate in explaining what rules existed for the newly baptised after their baptism. Although we only see them in sources from the XV-XVI centuries, something similar was probably in effect in the XIV-XV centuries. “Newly baptised adults were required to be at the morning church service, the evening church service and at the liturgy, standing always with lit candles, for the course of eight days directly after their baptisms. In one of the sources even infants were not released from this requirement, and they were brought to church either by their mothers/grandmothers or by their godparents.” (9, p. 305-306). And in one of the authoritative Greek fathers of that time we also find the following instruction: “Those who are of age must receive instructions on taking care of themselves, prayers, how and when to come to church, on their cleansing and unburdening and on constant communion in the Holy Mysteries: in this is the essence of life itself. If the baptised person is an infant than the mother must take extreme care in these things..., so that the clothes that the infant wears for seven days should be cleaned in the proper manner and that the infant is constantly brought to partake of the Holy Mysteries, for in this way he will be better guarded and protected by Christ.” (Symcon Thessal. De Sacrament. P.G.r.t. 155, p. 233, 236, cit. no 9, p. 306).
And what do we find in the third period? According to A. Almazov, (see 1, p. 40, 63), in the middle of the 19th c. through the second half, the following circumstances obtained. Adults wishing to be baptised “must be instructed in the primary truths of the faith and must know: the creed, the 10 commandments, the Lord’s prayer, the Magnificat and other prayers, and also be able to answer the questions which are asked at baptism.” (Decree of the Holy Synod from 20 February, 1840). Indigenous people under 21 years of age were trained in the faith for 6 months. But this 6th month period for underage indigenous people should not be understood as a fixed period, but should be understood more to refer to the convert’s level of understanding and conviction. Those who were of age were catechised for 40 days, a period which could be shortened in the case of the candidate’s success. Those who were ill and sought baptism were baptised without delay, assuming that they were of sound mind and full consciousness (!) and that the diocesan hierarchy be informed in the case of their regaining their health, so that the appropriate member of the clergy might be requested to catechize the newly baptised person who had recovered his health. (See Decree of the Holy Synod from 13 March, 1862) “And in terms of putting off baptism for a long and altogether indetermined time, the priest should take all measures not to allow this harmful and in many cases dangerous practice.” (1, p. 604; Mavritskij. Corpus of Regulations and Notes on Questions of Pastoral Practice. (Svod uzakonenij i zametok po voprosom pastyrskoj praktiki). V., 1875, p. 54).
It is amazing what official language is used and what official demands are made! Externally they don’t seem so bad, but they are entirely bereft of salt and the Spirit, as well as understanding of the significance of the Christian catechetical tradition! In truth, the Church began to understand itself simply as an agency which people enter into given various conditions and where one must behave oneself in a particular way. Of course, as long as society took upon itself at least some semblance of Christian upbringing and education of its members, i.e. also held itself responsible for internal mission, this situation was possible to abide, even given that looking at the fruits, as we have seen, it is difficult not to have doubts regarding the Christian Enlightenment of Rus. So what should we say at this point? Shall we not indeed begin a new period of development of the Russian mission, starting with the Baptism of Rus?!
- Almazov, А., Istoria chinoposledovanij Kreshchenija I Miropomazanija. Kazan, 1884.
- Anthony, Metropolitan of Sourozh, Missija Russkoj Pravoslavnij Tserkvi v proshlom i nastojashchem. Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, 1982, № 5. pp. 49-59.
- Arranz, Fr Miguel (SJ), Istoricheskije zametki o chinoposledovanij tainstv (po rukopisjam grechestkogo Evkhologia), Leningrad Dukhovnaja Akademija, Leningrad,1979.
- Belennev, Fr Ioann, Materialy po istorii russkoj pravoslavnoj missii. Anthology. 1967 (handwritten).
- Golubinsky, Y.Y., Istorija Russkoj Tserkvi. 1st half of the Volume 1, 2nd edition, Moscow, 1901.
- Ibid, 2nd half of Volume 1, 2nd edition, Moscow, 1904.
- Ibid, 1st half of the Volume 2, Moscow, 1900.
- Dmitrievskij, A., Bogosluzhenije v russkoj Tserkvi v pervyje 5 vekov. “Pravoslavnyj sobesednik”, 1883, July-August.
- Dmitrievskij, A., Bogosluzhenije v russkoj Tserkvi v XVI veke, part 1, Kazan, 1884.
- Dobroklonskij, А., Rukovodstvo po istorii russkoj Tserkvi. Issues 1-2, 2nd edition, Ryzanj, 1889.
- Ibid, Issue 3, Moscow, 1889.
- Ibid, Issue 4, Мoscow, 1893.
- Znamensky, P., Uchebnoje rukovodstvo po istorii russkoj Tserkvi. 2nd Edition, St. Petersburg, 1904.
- Kartashev, A., Ocherki po istorii russkoj Tserkvi, Vol.1, Paris, 1959.
- Kudrjavtsev, A., Kratkij ocherk russkoj missionerskoj dejatelnosti voobshche I pravoslavnogo missionerskogo obshchestvo v osobennosti. Odessa, 1885.
- Mazharovskij, A., Izlozhenije khoda missionerskogo dela po prosveshcheniju kazanskikh inorodtsev s 1552 po 1867 gg., Moscow, 1880.
- Nasazhdenije pravoslavnoj khristianskoj very v Rossii. 988-1200 gg. 2nd Edition, St. Petersburg, 1900.
- Odintov, N., Porjadok obshchestvennogo i chastnogo bogosluzhenija v drevnej Rossii do XVI v., St. Petersburg, 1881.
- Odintov, N., Posledovanije tainstv v Tserkvi russkoj v XVI st., po rukopisjam Novgorodsko-Sofijskoj I Moskovsko-Sinodaljnoj bibliotek. Strannik, Vol. 1., St. Petersburg, 1880.
- Ranne, Fr. I., Vopros o kreshchenii kn. Vladimira i kreshchenija im Rusi v russkoj istoricheskoj literaturje. 1967 (handwritten).
- Sinjkovsky, F., Zapiski altajskogo missionera Chyorno Anujskogo otdelenija za 1878 g., Strannik, 1880, Vol. 2, St. Petersburg, p. 263-288.
- Ustav pravoslavnogo missionerskogo obshchestva. St. Petersburg, 1869.
- Schmemann, Fr. A., Istoricheskij putj Pravoslavija, New York, 1953.
Father Georgy Kochetkov
M.A. in Theology. Editor in Chief of The Quarterly Journal of St. Philaret’s Institute