Support Russia Insider - Go Ad-Free!

BOOK REVIEW: The Making of Holy Russia: The Orthodox Church and Russian Nationalism Before the Revolution

"Strickland carries the reader through the history of Russia ...  showing us that "for clerical Orthodox patriots, the national community was inseparable from the ecclesial community.” This is how the Byzantine Empire had been situated, and so Russia was determined to carry on this theology — this communal movement of the Gospel."

This article is republished from a new site about the Christian renaissance in Russia, called Russian Faith. Their introductory video is at end of this article.

Professor John Srickland’s book — The Making of Holy Russia: The Orthodox Church and Russian Nationalism Before the Revolution — provides an excellent overview of important historical facts, displaying Russia as an actual People of God. Strickland demonstrates that Russia cannot be accurately studied or understood, except in this light. The nationalistic aspect of Russian history is the history of God’s people.

Secular studies have failed to grasp the great value of the Russian people, and to understand how they have been able to survive as a leading nation of the world. But research that is done with the Church in mind is able to capture so much more. This book does just that!

The book provides valuable information, showing how key people understood Russia's place in history. For example, consider this quote from the introduction:

Russia’s first native Church primate, Metropolitan Ilarion of Kiev (1051-1055), declared that the Russian people were the successors to the ancient Israelites in that they were a national community that had become the bearers of the true faith in history.

This is an important theme that is highlighted throughout the book — that Russia is a community of Orthodox Christian people. The author points out that many writers have used the term "Russian nationalism" to describe this communal aspect of Russian life.

He says that when many secular historians study Russia, the role of the Church is often marginalized. It is refreshing to see that there are scholars like John Strickland who provide a more thorough overview of Russian history, focusing on important theological aspects of key people in Russia’s past.

Professor Strickland makes important points regarding historic theology and cultural studies. For example:

“When the Slavs of medieval Rus were in turn baptized in 988, they too adopted the Cyrillic alphabet and preserved a form of culture distinct from that of the Greek evangelists.”

In the early years of Russian history, when the Greeks brought the Orthodox Christian Faith to Kiev, how did that influence Russian identity? The Greeks did not migrate their communities from Constantinople to Russia. Rather, they converted the Russian people.The Russian people themselves are a unique community belonging to Christ.

Later, after the Muslims overtook Constantinople, the Russian people continued carrying forth the apostolic Faith into the modern age. The People of Russia had become, in essence, the Third and Final Rome. Strickland discusses this historic concept throughout the book, pointing out how it has shaped Russian culture and identity.

Strickland carries the reader through the history of Russia, identifying various theological and political movements, showing us that "for clerical Orthodox patriots, the national community was inseparable from the ecclesial community.” This is how the Byzantine Empire had been situated, and so Russia was determined to carry on this theology — this communal movement of the Gospel.

The book conveys an exciting theme, explaining how this church community is a part of what Christ calls the “kingdom of God”, and how the kingdom of God involves every reality pertaining to Christ’s people — including the political reality — within a concept of “divine intercourse” (bogoobshchenie). This is an aspect of theology which many western converts are not accustomed to considering.

When Protestants convert to Orthodox Christianity, they often merely expect to receive a more in-depth version of what western theology has already taught them. They don't expect Christian doctrine to cross certain political boundaries. Orthodox theology, on the other hand, has traditionally taught a Gospel that is very holistic and inclusive to all reality. As Strickland demonstrates in this book, Orthodox theology has an eschatological perspective. That is, it looks to the future, to the time when God will judge the nations and reveal the fullness of the heavenly kingdom.

When a large community of people are fervently expecting Christ's return, it shapes the entire culture. Historically, Russian culture has been shaped by this very expectation. It has also been shaped by their understanding of the eschaton — their expectations of the heavenly kingdom to come. Mindfully considering how the Gospel itself spans through time, the Russian people find their place within this eschatological framework. The People of God, both on earth and in heaven, have become a vital part of Russian national identity.

This book discusses the Church as “The New Israel” and the concept of an Emperor (Tsar), explaining why both of these things are important aspects of Russian Orthodox Christianity. As a supporting point, the author discusses the longstanding Russian tradition of sending all capable males to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage.

The Early Church Fathers taught that Christians are a distinct race, and Russians have traditionally taught this same concept. Regardless of genetics or national origin prior to baptism, to become an Orthodox Christian is to join the People of God.

God’s people experience life together and are in many ways inseparable. Ever wonder why Michael the Archangel has been so prominently displayed in Russian iconography? This book points out that Michael is the “protector of God’s chosen people through their experience on earth.”

Strickland briefly touches on ethnicity, but does not suggest it as a unifying factor for Russia as a nation. Instead, he speaks of reposed Christian saints and their importance to the Russian people. The saints guide the people, not only in written teachings, but also in constant prayer and intercession with God, just as any Christian alive on earth would do.

This book is scholarly, with many referenced resources. However, the reading style is not complex, and the author's most important points are clearly conveyed throughout the book, from beginning to end.

This book is an excellent addition to anyone's library, not only for Christian readers, but also for anyone who has an honest desire to understand Russian history.

Want to see more articles like this? Please help us, and do what you can to keep the Russian Faith website alive.

It takes a full time staff to sustain this website, and our workers need to feed their families. We have not yet met our fundraising goal, and we need your help. A recurring donation of even $5 or $10 per month would be a blessing, and will help keep us going.

A video introducing Russian Faith

Support Russia Insider - Go Ad-Free!

Our commenting rules: You can say pretty much anything except the F word. If you are abusive, obscene, or a paid troll, we will ban you. Full statement from the Editor, Charles Bausman.