The Meaning of Holy Orthodoxy in the History of the Russian State by Archbishop John (Maximovitch)Let us bring to mind the character of Rus up until the time of Vladimir, and what she became after he baptized her.
Here is Rus in the time of "the old Igor," or in the time of Vladimir's father, Sviatoslav. Each tribe lived its own life, detached from the rest; the separate clans often warred among themselves and not infrequently engaged in mass annihilation following the laws of blood vengeance. The princes of pagan Rus were better characterized as warring chieftains than as fathers and benefactors of their people; campaigns and plunder held a greater attraction for them than the task of caring for their subjects. Many tribes were still at a very low level of mot al and cultural development; some had the custom of abducting young women to make them their wives.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that the Slavs were characterized solely by negative traits and that they were an exclusively barbarian people. On the contrary; they possessed a great deal of inherent goodness. They were hospitable, valiant and honest. The women were faithful companions of their husbands, often remaining true to their spouse even after his death. The Slavs honored their elders and were obedient to them in matters both personal and social.
But alongside these positive traits, they exhibited treachery, cruelty and wickedness. At times, especially during seasons of war, they became terrifying to all those around. The peaceful Slav became a wild beast, and woe to those upon whom he projected his wrath; it spared no one! Byzantium trembled before its northern neighbors, and the latter were often afraid of one another.
And so the Slav world stood at the crossroads between good and evil, manifesting at times those fine and most worthy qualities of a man created in God's image, while at other times showing the dread signs of a beast in human form.
What kind of high ideals existed among these Slavs? What inspired their thoughts, their feelings? Who were their heroes?
The gods in whom they believed possessed all the characteristics of their worshippers; they incarnated both their good-and their bad qualities. In serving these gods of their own creation, the Slavs confirmed themselves in their own faults, finding justification in the traits of their idols. Serving their vicious Perun, the Slavs conducted cruel warfare, massacring their neighbors. It is hard to say just what would have become of eastern Europe had SS. Cyrill and Methodius not poured the light of Christ over the Slavic land and laid the foundation for the enlightenment of the Slavic people..·
The influence of Christianity soon made itself apparent and drew them into the family of Christian peoples. Those territories where Christianity was accepted in a short time became transformed. But the great majority of Slavs--the eastern Slavs-continued to live as before· At times one could have feared that their warring princes, the likes of Sviatoslav, would destroy even those young sprouts found growing on their brothers' fields which had been watered by Christian teachings. The darkness hanging over the eastern Slav tribes was so thick and obscure that even the "morning star," the first Christian ruler of Rus, Princess Olga, was unable to dispel it.
It was necessary for the "Bright Sun" itself to appear--and this, for Rus, was Olga' s grandson, Great Prince Vladimir ....
His penetrating conversion transformed a pleasure-loving and impetuously passionate youth into a righteous man. And through his example and his appeals, Vladimir drew his subjects after him.
The baptized land of Rus manifested a no less radical transformation. The baptism of Kiev, followed by the rest of Rus, opened a new life for the eastern Slavs and inaugurated a glorious history.
With the acceptance of Christianity the divided Slavic tribes which comprised Vladimir's realm sensed their unity. This awareness was heightened by the fact that for the course of several centuries all of Rus was ecclesiastically organized under a single metropolia in spite of its earlier division into appanages·
Under the shelter of the holy Orthodox Church, Rus was strengthened and grew into a great empire occupying I/6 of the world. The Russian people, having accepted Christianity not by force but voluntarily, essayed from the very first years after baptism to embody the Gospel teaching in their life. Baptism effected a rebirth and an inner transformation of a previously crude people. Preserving their traditional good qualities, they became liberated from those bad traits which had formerly characterized them. The struggle between good and evil took place not only in Vladimir’s soul, but in the people as a whole, and there was a decided turn toward the good. After the Baptism, the Russian people were no longer what they had been before; they were, in truth, a new people.
This is not to say that everything suddenly became perfect, that evil disappeared from men’s hearts and no longer existed in the land. No, within each person the eternal struggle continued. But the driving force behind the Russian populace became Orthodoxy which took hold of all facets of life – personal, social and civil. Life in the family and in society became penetrated with the Gospel spirit; opinions were formed under the influence of church principles, and civil law was guided by the canons. The prevailing orientation of Russian life was the search after God’s truth…
Not everything in Rus fell in with this tendency – far from it. In the course of centuries much evil was also perpetrated within her borders. If “There is no man who shall live and not sin,” then it is even less possible for the history of a nation to be without sin and evil. However, just as the best and strongest qualities which stand out in a man are important for his overall characterization, so too, in order to characterize a people it is necessary to define that which forms the principle substance of its moral fiber. For Rus and the Russian people, regardless of all the various deviations and even downfalls, its primary focus was to serve truth and to stand fast in the faith. When we recall ancient Greece, the words of Apostle Paul come to mind: “The Greeks seek after wisdom,” although there were, of course, many among them who did not seek after wisdom. Likewise, Sparta is associated with physical discipline; Phoenicia with trade; Rome prided itself in its civic virtues; while the Russians acquired the name of a God-bearing people, and the land became known as “Holy Rus.”
FROM HOLY RUSSIA TO THE MOST "PREMEDITATED" COUNTRYOnly by trying to understand certain features of Russia's historical past is it possible to conceive the tragic consequences of spiritual and moral deterioration of the educated Russian elite which brought about the collapse of the one thousand year old Orthodox world. A sincere and intellectual effort is needed to try and overcome hostile prejudice and ingrained alien clichés (such as "Russians have always been slaves") and free oneself of the concept of Russia being "backward and stagnant", a concept imposed by secular world which has long since "buried" God in its soul. This may help to understand why Russia of old has become the object of animosity and the focal point of the struggle between good and evil.
Not wishing in the least to belittle the piety of our Orthodox brothers in Christ, particularly Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, a.o., one nevertheless must emphasize the purely Russian features of piety. First of all, we have in mind the Muscovite period, when the everyday life of Russian people warranted Russia to be called Holy .
Spiritual exploits and praying practiced by our ancestors which were unimaginable not only in the Latin West but also in the Orthodox East, is discussed in the book by Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo, who in 1654-1656 accompanied Patriarch Macarios of Antioch in his travels in Russia: "These people are truly Christian and extremely pious ...  Who would believe this? They have surpassed the desert hermits !" .
The duration of services, strictness of fasts and strenuous daily exertion of piety of the Russians aroused not only amazement and admiration of the visiting Antiochian monks but also their real laments: "Just imagine, they stand motionless throughout the service, like rocks, they make countless prostrations and all together, as if in one voice sing the prayers; and, most amazingly, small children participate in all this. Their zeal in faith made us marvel. O God, o God! their prayers, singing and Liturgy drag on and on !" .
The way of life of the Russian people was ascetic in character. According to Archdeacon Paul "by the extent of their praying the Muscovites probably surpass the saints themselves, and this applies not only to simple and poor folk, peasants, women, young girls and small children, but also to high officials, dignitaries and their wives" .
Indeed, both lay people and monastics practiced asceticism regardless of social class. Thus, the great ascetics -- Saints Joseph of Volotsk and Nilus of Sora, were boyars. And they were not an exception: many distinguished people sought their salvation in monasteries; among them were many princes. A monastic, angelic image has always been an ideal for a Russian worthy of imitation. Lay people were distinguished from monastics only in that they did not make a vow of celibacy, and lived outside a monastery. And if the circumstances of their life, or their family obligations prevented them from becoming monks during their lifetime, then facing death many of them, both young and old, would usually bequeath all or a significant part of their possessions to the Church, and take the monastic vows. And many Great Princes, like Saint Alexander Nevsky (Alexy in schema) became monks.
Monastic rules extended to the secular life as well. Paul of Aleppo noted that quite often even in secular environment, they "felt like being in a monastery" . Russia was radiant in its piety: "We marveled at their church customs... There is no difference between the monastic ritual and that of a parish church -- they are the same" .
All aspects of the old Russian way of life -- like organization of time, daily routine, rules of conduct, social and family relations, food, clothing, etc. -- was inspired by church customs. The ideal of Holy Russia was the people's aspiration for sanctity, and their striving towards Christ. Orthodox faith determined all manifestations of life of the people and formed its basis. A heartfelt faith in Christ and love for Him engendered also love for one's neighbors, which along with compassion and hospitality has been the most distinctive feature of the Russian people.
History tells us that Great Princes often were the models of charity. Great Prince Ioann, was popularly nicknamed "Kalita" (Tatar: "bag") because he would always carry a bagful of money for distribution of alms. Well-to-do people were building old people's homes, hospitals and orphanages, and the homes of boyars and merchants provided shelter and food for a large number of wanderers and destitutes.
Devotion to the Church in Holy Russia was remarkable. Besides the general concern for building and adorning churches and monasteries, the religious decor was favored in Russian homes as well, both in princely palaces and huts of ordinary folk. "Everyone's home displays numerous icons embellished in gold, silver and precious stones, and not only inside, but also outdoors...; this is the case not just with the boyars, but also with peasants in villages, because their love for icons and their faith are rather remarkable" .
he external piety was the result of the inward spiritual labor. Following the monastery rules our ancestors prayed not only at church services, but at home as well. Lay people tried to be steadfast in carrying out the prayer rules as instructed in service books, despite the difficulty of combining them with their daily work. There was nothing unusual about a Russian Orthodox person completing the reading, or listening to, the entire Psalter in a week; many of them would make up to 1200 prostrations with the Jesus prayer. The Lord's Prayer, Prayer to the Mother of God and the Creed were read several times a day. As well as that, they would pray at any time while working, so as not to be distracted by vain and sinful thoughts .
Great Princes and Tsars who were spiritually nourished by their religious mentors, often set astonishing examples of piety. Such were, among many others, St. Andrei Bogolyubsky whose name already speaks of his love for God ("Bogolyubsky" is a Russian word for "God-loving"); St. Daniel, Prince of Moscow, known for his piety and mildness, who received schema shortly before his death (in 1303); righteous Tsar Fedor Ioannovich (listed as a miracle-worker of Moscow in the Russian Church calendar; and Tsar Alexei Mikhallovich . The latter was a great authority on the Typicon (Rules for Church services), and would sometimes remind monks of Eirmos and Troparion to be read and their tones. (He is known to have corrected even Paul of Aleppo when the latter made a small mistake occasionally.) The Tsar would attend services which sometimes lasted six to seven hours, and spend an entire night in prayers . Besides, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich observed strict fasting. During the entire Lent, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he would abstain from food altogether, and partake of one simple meal on the other days. "His ceremonial festive dinners, as a rule, were by no means feasts, but rather monastic meals, when not even the Tsar was offered any meat in the presence of clergy, and which were accompanied by the reading of the Lives of Saints of the given day, as is the custom in monasteries" .
When observing such confession of faith in everyday life, "unheard of in any other country"  Paul of Aleppo exclaimed... "Isn't this a blessed country? Undoubtedly, Christian faith is observed here in all its purity... O, how fortunate they are!" 
In citing the above examples we are nevertheless far from trying to idealize the moral life of our ancestors, nor do we consider them to be irreproachable. After all, human nature, which is damaged by sin, is the cause of falls and prevents the full realization of holy ideals. "The soul of a Russian is very generous, and, along with the exploits of great sanctity Russian life abounded in many vices and manifestations of grave sins... But though our ancestors were capable of committing grave sins, they were also capable of profound repentance."  Along with the heart-felt repentance as a means of spiritual purification, the centuries-long steadfast abiding in the Orthodox faith helped the Russian people to avoid pernicious godlessness which enveloped the humanistic West. There still exists a gulf between the beliefs of repenting and praying Russia and of the "progressive" West. While ignoring the spiritual substance of Russia its antagonists "declare that this concern for preserving the religious integrity in piety and the fear of God, which they are unable to understand, to be backward barbarity; they regard these people as slaves only because in their foremost care for the experience of religious reality they turn out to be alien to political ambitions... The West, on the contrary, persistently instills in Russian minds that which it calls progress and which has always caused harm to the integrity of the Russian soul and to its spiritual aspiration" .
Worthy of attention is also the fact that the ill-wishing pro-Western researchers of Russia's history more often than not used the yardsticks which distorted its holy past. They were inclined to attach primary significance to such historical and literary works which served as an outlet for the feelings of discontent and protest, usually manifested in people with an acute awareness of their personality. "It is precisely the personality and its manifestations that received the greatest significance in the eyes of our researchers. Meanwhile, the spiritual formation of the Muscovite Russia rested upon a completely different disposition filled with an awareness of such a lofty and selfless service that very little space was left for anything "personal". It is precisely in this service that the spiritual quality of the Moscow society, of all its classes, manifested itself. This spiritual quality alone allowed the Muscovite Russia to accomplish its great task, that of building an Orthodox Kingdom, which indeed met the requirements of the ideology of the "Third Rome" (i.e. the mission of preserving Orthodoxy in the world -- L.P.), which was perceived not as a conceited smartening of the country's earthly national structure, but as an all-determining task of the life of the Russian people as a whole, from the Tsar down to the last serf who was devoted to God" .
During the Soviet regime two peoples lived side by side in one country: the Soviet people and the Russian people. The first and the more numerous one has been living without God even until now when the USSR no longer exists, and sinning gravely in its rush to perdition: "and all around, as if on a parade, the whole country is marching in wide strides towards hell" . But the Russian Orthodox people, although small in numbers and exhausted by an unequal and almost a century-old struggle, shines with its God-fearing life, self-sacrifice and the power of prayers, just like its pious ancestors. Is, then, this people the immortal heir of Holy Russia, this pinch of spiritual salt, the last spiritual hope of the world which has become impoverished in virtue?
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