The Military and Society in Russia: 1450-1917

By Eric Lohr; Marshall Poe | Go to book overview

BAPTIZING MARS: THE CONVERSION TO RUSSIAN
ORTHODOXY OF EUROPEAN MERCENARIES DURING
THE MID-SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
W. M. Reger IV

Religious conversion and the sacrament of baptism have been fundamental features of Christianity since New Testament times. For the Russians, conversion to the Orthodox faith through mass baptism under the leadership of Prince Vladimir has become a legendary motif woven into the fabric of Russian political and cultural life. At its broadest level, the baptism of Rus' was “a complex and multifaceted process; a lengthy and frequently punctuated event extending not over decades but over centuries.”1 One dimension of that multifaceted process was the significance of baptism, not only as a gate into the spiritual life of the church, but also as a way for aliens to cross into the Russian polity and to partake in political and economic communion with the Russians.

As Russia expanded its sphere of influence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we observe a growing incidence of newly baptized non-Russians, primarily among the non-Christian peoples to the south and east, but also, interestingly, among Europeans who entered Russian military service. The sacrament of baptism facilitated the assimilation of foreigners into Russian society since at least the late 14th century when the princes of Russia began to extend control over neighboring pagans through missionary activity.2

The conversion of European military officers, soldiers, merchants, and medical men, to Russian Orthodoxy was an important feature, both of Europe's cultural diffusion eastward, and of Russia's seventeenth -century emergence as a regional power. Officers and soldiers, however, were unique among the Europeans serving in Russia. Their frequent appearance in the day-to-day documentation of regimental

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1
Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology, trans. Robert Nichols, Chapter One. Accessed at http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/florovsky on June 20, 2001.
2
Janet Martin, Medieval Russia, 980–1584 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 226–27; John Fennell, A History of the Russian Church to 1448 (London: Longman Group Ltd., 1995), 98–99.

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