I have decided that for my 2015 reading I will write brief reviews or summaries after reading each book, rather than waiting to the end of the year as I did in 2013 and 2014. It is too much work to wait till the end like that! So here is a review of the first book that I finished reading in 2015. I had actually started it in 2014 after Putin invaded the Crimea. I read an article that mentioned that Putin is named after Vladimir the Great who converted to Christianity in the late 10th century at Cherson in the Crimea. So that got me interested in the Christianization of the Slavs.
Who are the Slavs? The Slavs exist in three main ethnic groupings: the east Slavs (e.g., the Russians and the Ukrainians), the west Slavs (e.g., the Czechs and the Poles), and the south Slavs (the ones living in the Balkans, such as the Bulgarians, Macedonians, Serbians, Albanians, and so on). If you want to understand these Slavic cultures then you have to understand their history. And in order to understand that, you have to read about the Byzantine Empire and its profound cultural and religious impact on these Slavic neighbors during the Middle Ages. This book is a collection of essays by the Russian-born professor of Russian and Balkan history at Oxford, Dimitri Obolensky (1918–2001). The 12 essays in this collection were written over a span of nearly 30 years, from 1945 to 1974. Sometimes the author repeats himself from essay to essay, which can be annoying. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile collection of essays to read from an expert on this subject, in spite of the repetition, because it provides a well-rounded examination of the topic, covering the issue from a variety of angles: Byzantine political diplomacy with its neighbors; ecclesiastical relations between Constantinople and its daughter orthodox churches, especially the Russian church; the missionary endeavors of the Byzantine church; and other aspects of the acculturation process. The three topics that stood out to me as being the most significant in terms of church history were the following:
- The 9th century missionary work of the two brothers from Thessalonica, St. Cyril and St. Methodius. Because they were the first to bring Orthodox Christianity to the Slavs in the region of Moravia, they are known as “the Apostles to the Slavs.” They translated portions of the Bible and the liturgy into Macedonian language, thus creating the first written Slavic literature. The language is referred to as Old Church Slavonic.
- A century later (in 988), we have the conversion of Vladimir the Great and the subsequent Christianization of Kievan Rus’. This is when the civilization that will eventually become Russia adopts Orthodox Christianity.
- The Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-45), called for the purpose of healing the schism between the Eastern and the Western churches. At this Council the Byzantine Emperor submitted to the Papacy in return for aid from the Latin West. Many Orthodox clergy, monks, and laity rejected this as apostasy and a betrayal of the Orthodox Faith. The fact that the capitulation did not yield the hoped-for military aid confirmed them in their view. The Russian Orthodox Church never accepted the union created by the Council of Florence. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks soon thereafter (1453) was interpreted as the judgment of God for the Greek betrayal of Orthodoxy. This generated the transfer theory whereby Moscow claimed for itself the title, “the third Rome” (Constantinople being the second Rome).