How Russian Religion Changed Under Mongol Rule

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While you may first think that an institution like religion would have struggled under the Mongols, in fact, the Russian Orthodox Church took advantage of Mongol practices in order to become even stronger than before.

Taking Advantage of Mongol Practices

Unlike most other institutions of lands conquered by the Mongols, religious orders tended to fare pretty well under the invaders. The Mongols never really had an interest in spreading a religious belief to anyone they conquered, and often saw missionary activity of their own as wildly inefficient. After all, violence, or the threat thereof, was often more than enough to get the Mongols anything that they wanted. However, few groups took advantage of this latitude as much as the Russian Orthodox Church. Long independent of the Patriarch in Constantinople, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church soon set his mission to preserve as much of Russian culture as possible. The Russian people were more than happy to help, pouring much of their material wealth into the protection of the Church, all while avoiding Mongol taxes.

Gaining Influence

With this newfound wealth, the Russian Orthodox Church structured it to gain the maximum amount of influence without drawing the disapproval of the Mongols. Forced to focus on spiritual affairs rather than more earthly bothers, the Church focused greatly on building monasteries and building a tradition of monks and other ascetics, or holy men, who focused on a particularly Orthodox form of Christianity. One of the men who encouraged this emphasis on monasteries was Sergius of Radonezh. This also helped to keep the Church from falling under the sway of the many Roman Catholic ambassadors who came to visit the Russian Patriarch, or leader, in Kiev, hoping to find an ally against those who don't believe what the Roman Catholic Church was preaching.

Sergius of Radonezh
Sergius of Radonezh

Fleeing to Moscow

Eventually, however, the Church recognized that its continued existence in Kiev was detrimental. For starters, much of the money had fled the city! More importantly, the real influential city of the Rus was no longer Kiev, but Moscow. By 1325, it had moved to Moscow, further enhancing the prestige of a city that had been little more than a collection of log cabins less than 100 years before. While there, it kept up the practice of expanding the Church's role as a preserver of Russian and Slavic culture.

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