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Religious Factor

The Church of Transfiguration on Kizhi island 

If Russia’s geopolitical characteristics have shaped its ‘body’ and also the temperament, skills and habits of the Russian people, then the religion of the Russian people - the eastern form of Christianity known as Orthodoxy - have shaped its ‘soul’ and left an indelible mark on the Russian spiritual, cultural and political traditions. 

Both Russia and the West represented predominantly Christian civilizations. However, Christianity had reached them by different channels. Rome had been the West’s main mediator of Christianity, while in Russia’s case it was the Byzantine Empire that had acted as her Christian ‘god-mother’. Byzantium was the Eastern part of the Roman Empire and saw itself as its heir after the collapse of the Western Empire in 476. The Western form of Christianity - Catholicism - reflected the peculiarities of the Roman civilization, while the Eastern form of Christianity - the Orthodoxy - was imbued with the spirit of the Greek civilization that dominated Byzantium at the time of the implantation of Christianity to Russia.

Andrei Rublev's "Holy Trinity"

Central to Orthodox Christianity was the idea of joining together the earthly order with the heavenly one. The authority of the emperor was the power that linked these two worlds together. When exercised properly, the emperor’s power was capable of resolving all tensions and contradictions between the imperfect world of mortals and the ideal celestial order. It was able to bring this world in harmony with the next. For this reason, the authority of the ‘true’ orthodox tsar was seen by the Orthodox religion as a guarantee of  salvation after death.

In Western Europe, particularly after the sixteenth-century Reformation, the Christian religion motivated individuals to engage in some kind of profitable economic activity. Economic success strengthened the person’s belief that he was a ‘chosen’ one, destined for a future individual salvation. In Russia, however, the Orthodox religion promised its people not an economic but a political way of collectivist  salvation. In contrast to western Christianity, which roused Europeans to seek economic prosperity and encouraged them to develop civil society as a means of protecting their business interests and civil rights, the Russian people was prescribed by its religion to engage in a centuries-long quest for a ‘true’ Christian tsar.

The gradual secularization of these beliefs had crystallized into two divergent value-systems. In the West, professional success became one of the chief criteria for the evaluation of a person’s activity, whereas in Russia, the idea of bringing closer the existing, imperfect world with the divine order resulted in a collectivist movement in search of a better future, in a continual quest for an ideal of social justice. With the collapse of tsarism in 1917, the charismatic power of the communist leader and of the State replaced the divine authority of the emperor as the force that bridged the divide between the earthly order and the radiant collectivist future.

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Pre-Petrine Russia

Origins of Kievan Rus
Emergence of Muscovy
Imperial Expansion
Key Historical Factors
Environment and Climate
Geopolitical Factor
Religious Factor
Social Organization
"Service State"
Consolidation of Serfdom
Vast Powers of the State
Traditional Society
Political Regime


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Alexander I
Nicholas I
Alexander II
The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
The Last Romanovs
The Birth of Bolshevism
The Revolution of 1905-7
Between Revolutions
The Revolutions of 1917
Interpretations of 1917
The End of an Empire
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