In Old Russia

Article excerpt

"In Old Russia, the stratum of high Christian culture was comparatively thin and did not affect the rural masses. The vast majority of Russia's population was illiterate and obeyed the oral versions more than their ecclesiastical sources. On the other hand, Christianity existed for a long time among the folk in tandem with pagan traditions that went back to ancestral beliefs and primeval magic. These pagan elements did not exist apart, as a rule, as a "second faith," but mingled with Christianity. The Russian muzhik adapted Christian norms and ideas to the needs of his peasant household, to his seasonal calendar and everyday life. ... In the religious hierarchy, folk belief occupied a lower, subordinate position that left the dominant role--the sacral, educational and supervisory functions--to the ecclesiastical culture. And yet this lower stratum of social existence and consciousness often turned out to be broader, freer, and more varied than the pure, canonical Orthodoxy that it sometimes nourished and supported. The result was a sort of diffusion, an intermingling and mutual enrichment of the cultures--folk and official."

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Christianity was not the first major world religion to attain official status within the territory of what is today the Russian Federation. It was preceded by Judaism (adopted by the Turkic-speaking Khazars in the late 8th-early 9th century), and by Islam, which became the dominant religion of the Volga Bulgars--who are believed to have played an important role in the ethnogenesis of the Kazan Tatars--in the early 10th century. …