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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: July 2012

3 - Religion: Russian Orthodoxy


In Rus' the official conversion from paganism to Christianity took place in the tenth century. Paganism, thriving in the vast East European territory inhabited by different Slavic, Finno-Ugric, Lithuanian, and Turkic tribes was not an “organized” religion, which could be viewed as some kind of unified whole with common gods for all tribes or with a common level of world understanding. There were, instead, higher deities unifying the tribe or several tribes, and there were local deities, of particular settlements, and even of homes (for example, the house spirits or domovye).

With the adoption of Christianity in the population centers, only the higher deities, such as Perun (in Finno-Ugric Perkun, god of thunder and war), Veles (god of household animals and trade), and Dažbog (god of the harvest), were deposed. The “lesser” deities, the house gods, those imagined by the people to inhabit swamps, forests, rivers, and outbuildings, continued to be objects of worship – or, more exactly, superstition – into the twentieth century. Faith in them coexisted with belief in Christianity, just as superstitions continue to exist to the present day in different varieties of omens, fortune-telling, and so on.

Such cultural conditions among the lower classes – including the pre-existing beliefs regarding the land and nature that supported the ethics of common agricultural labor – made the transition from paganism to Christianity in the official sphere fairly rapid and painless.

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The Cambridge Companion to Modern Russian Culture
  • Online ISBN: 9781139030359
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