Russian history 15: Influence of the church in culture and spiritual life

The church influenced culture mainly in three ways:

  • practical examples of life in the Christian way;
  • literacy and books, both translated Greek and original Russian;
  • objects of art, created in Russia by Greek artists.

The examples of Christian life were given both by clerics and secular people. So, knyaz Vladimir himself after the baptism showed mercy and provided for the poor. The most influential clerics often became leaders of religious communities, or monasteries. Unlike later monasteries, they had no temples or walls. They retreated to secluded places, to the deep forests, and lived on their own, not communicating with the secular world. Their strict rules, brotherhood of priests, their unity often impressed people who visited them looking for guidance and brought gifts to the monks. So, the monastery became a rich centre of Christian education. Literacy flourished in the monastery and almost all Russian writers of that time were monks. The economy of the monasteries was based on Greek patterns and set an example for other landowners.

In the first years, the only books in Russia were the Greek and Bulgarian books brought by priests from Constantinople: Bible, history books, Nomocanon, etc. Under the influence of the Bulgarian writings, Russian literacy developed. The first Russian writers were simply literate people who imitated the translated books, but their writings were widespread and influenced the life of Russia.

The most important objects of Christian art in Russia are seen in architecture. Huge stone temples were erected in Kiev, Novgorod and other large cities. They were built by Greek architects and by Greek design. Other arts, besides architecture, were jewellery and enamel painting. The first artists in these areas were also Greeks and they had strong influence on Russian followers and the art of that period is called Russian-Byzantine.

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