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Christianization of Ukraine

Image - Grand Prince Volodymyr dismisses envoys during the process of choosing religion for Rus'-Ukraine (an illumination from the Rus' Chronicle). Image - The institution of Christianity in Ukraine (an illumination from the Rus' Chronicle).
Image - Petro Kholodny: Icon The Christianization of Rus' from the iconostasis in the Holy Spirit Chapel of the Greek Catholic Theological Seminary in Lviv (1920s).

Christianization of Ukraine. Because of the geographical location of Rus’ close to the Black Sea and the Near East, Christianity was known on the present territory of Ukraine as early as the first century AD.

Origins. At first Christianity won converts among the Greek colonists who settled the northern coasts of the Black Sea (see Ancient states on the northern Black Sea coast) and Sea of Azov. The Primary Chronicle mentions Saint Andrew's mission on the Black Sea coast at Synope and his blessing of present-day Kyiv. There is no documentary evidence that the apostle Andrew visited the Kyiv region, but it is almost certain that he was assigned Scythia (ie, the territory of present-day Ukraine) for his mission, as Eusebius of Caesarea wrote, basing himself on Origen. From Synope Andrew was said to have traveled to Transcaucasia, the Black Sea, and Scythia (A. Kartashev). Evgenii Golubinsky and Stepan Tomashivsky believe that the story of Andrew's mission to Ukraine was of later origin, but Mykola Chubaty argues that it is largely historically true.

According to traditional belief the popes Saint Clement I (90–100) and Saint Martin (649–55) were exiled to the Crimea, which belongs to Ukraine today. The proximity of the Slav-settled lands to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea must have been an important factor in the spread of Christianity among the Slavic tribes.

More concrete data on the presence of Christianity on Ukrainian territories extend back to the 3rd century, when the Goths invaded these territories from the north. At first the Goths destroyed the Christian colonies and then conducted forays into Asia Minor, bringing back slaves from as far away as Cappadocia. These slaves acquainted the Goths with Christianity. The bishop of the Visigoths, Ulphilas, translated the Bible into Gothic, and this text, known as Codex Argenteus, is preserved today in Uppsala, Sweden. Theophilus, the bishop of the Goths, participated in the Council of Nicea in 325. Theophilus's successor was Bishop Unilo, who was consecrated by Saint John Chrysostom and made his residence in Dora in the Crimea.

The invasion of the Huns in 375 interrupted the spread of Christianity on Ukrainian territories for a long time, although not all the Goths migrated west under pressure from the Huns, some staying behind in the southern Crimea. Archeological excavations show that there were churches on the Black Sea coast in the 4th–5th century. The oldest church articles discovered in Chersonese Taurica and Kerch date back to the 4th and 5th centuries.

After capturing Kyiv in 860, the princes Askold and Dyr are said to have embraced Christianity, and Patriarch Photius wrote in one of his letters that in about 864 he had sent a bishop to Rus’. It is uncertain, however, where the eparchy was established—whether in Kyiv or in Tmutorokan. It is traditionally believed that Saint Nicholas's Church was built on Askold's grave (see Askoldova Mohyla), and this would indicate that the prince was a Christian. During the reign of Prince Oleh the pagan reaction suppressed Christianity, but it did not disappear completely. There is evidence that during Prince Ihor's rule Saint Elijah's Church existed in Kyiv, and during the signing of the treaty of 944 with the Greeks some of Ihor's deputies took an oath on the Bible while others swore by the pagan deity Perun.

Christianity entered Ukraine from the West as well, specifically from Moravia, where Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius and their disciples worked as missionaries. Both ‘Slavic apostles’ visited the Crimea on their way to the Khazars and found the relics of the pope, Saint Clement I. According to tradition Christianity spread from Moravia to Galicia and then to Volhynia, where (according to Nataliia Polonska-Vasylenko) a bishop resided in Volodymyr-Volynskyi before Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great adopted Christianity. Mykola Chubaty contends that an eparchy was established in Peremyshl at that time (see Peremyshl eparchy).

After Prince Ihor's death in 945 his wife, Princess Olha, was baptized (most likely in Kyiv in 955) before her voyage to Constantinople in 957. Presbyter Hryhorii, who is mentioned by Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, was a member of her retinue. In 959 she sent a delegation to Emperor Otto I and in reply was sent a delegation from him headed by Bishop Adalbert. Olha's son Sviatoslav I Ihorovych remained a pagan, but his sons Yaropolk I Sviatoslavych and Oleh Sviatoslavych were probably Christians. In 979 Pope Benedict VII sent deputies to Yaropolk.

Christening under Volodymyr the Great. At first the Grand Prince, Volodymyr the Great, was the leader of the pagan movement in Kyiv, but, having concluded that the new faith would strengthen the state and increase its prestige among his Christian neighbors, he adopted Christianity and christened all his people. Volodymyr himself was baptized in about 987, probably through the influence of his friend Olaf I Tryggvason (according to F. Dvornik) or his Christian wives and Princess Olha, his grandmother (according to Nataliia Polonska-Vasylenko). Furthermore, Volodymyr sought to establish family ties with the Byzantine court. Having helped the emperor crush the rebellion of Bardas Phocas, Volodymyr demanded the hand of the emperor's sister Anna, which he had been promised. When the emperor refused to carry out his promise, Volodymyr captured the Byzantine colony of Chersonese Taurica and forced the emperor to sign a peace treaty. In fulfillment of its terms Volodymyr ordered that all his people be baptized in 988–9. The christening was probably carried out either by priests (including Nastas) from Chersonese Taurica who knew the Slavic language or by priests from Tmutorokan (according to George Vernadsky and Mykola Chubaty). It is also possible that priests were brought in from Bulgaria. The baptism of the Kyiv residents is described dramatically in the Primary Chronicle. First Volodymyr ordered all the pagan images (statues), including the statue of Perun, to be destroyed. Some residents grieved over the old gods, but everyone obeyed the prince's order to accept baptism in the Dnipro River. Members of every estate and every age waded into the river while the priests conducted the Divine Liturgy and baptized them. According to the chronicle this event took place on 1 August (OS) or 14 August (NS), which is now a holy day in the Ukrainian church.

The population of Kyivan Rus’ along the main water routes was baptized gradually. The larger centers were converted first, followed by the outlying regions. The process did not always take place as smoothly as it had in Kyiv. Most of the opposition came from the pagan priests (see Volkhv), who had little influence in southern Rus’ but in the north—in Novgorod the Great, Suzdal, and Belozersk—incited the people to hostile acts against the Christian priests. For a long time the pagan religion, mostly its rites, was practiced alongside the Christian religion.

To normalize religious life in his country, Volodymyr issued a law assigning a tenth of the state's property (see Tithe) to the church and recognizing various rights of the clergy. The first mention of a metropolitan for Rus’ dates back to 1039, but there must have been an archbishop in charge of the Rus’ church before then (according to F. Dvornik). The first-mentioned metropolitan of Rus’ was the Greek Theopemptos (see Kyiv metropoly and History of the Ukrainian church).

With the adoption of Christianity, Christian writings and culture spread throughout Ukraine. Volodymyr the Great established schools and built churches, first in Kyiv and then in other cities. Priests from Chersonese Taurica (Korsun), who spoke the Slavic tongue, served as teachers. The liturgy was in Slavonic, and this made the religion less alien. The introduction of Christianity did not lead to #Byzantium's political domination of Rus’, but rather to new contacts between Rus’ and its closer and more distant neighbors. Volodymyr attempted to secure for the new church the same position in the structure of his state as it enjoyed within the Byzantine Empire. Christianity gave religious unity to Volodymyr's domain.

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