Christianity as practiced in Byzantium, however, had the edge. Volodymyr’s grandmother, Olga, had embraced Christianity while in Constantinople and later brought it back to her realm. Another likely source for Volodymyr’s interest was the work of two missionary brothers from Byzantium, Cyril and Methodius, who worked among the Slavs of Moravia (862), created a Slavonic alphabet, translated scripture into Slavonic and introduced a Slavonic liturgy based on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
The disciples of Sts. Cyril and Methodius were later banished from Moravia, but they established Byzantine Christianity among the Southern Slavs and Bulgars of the Bulgarian kingdom. There, they helped the Bulgarian tsar forge a powerful empire that rivaled Byzantium and Kiev.
Ultimately, however, Volodymyr’s interest in a commercial and military alliance with Byzantium may have led to his baptism as an Eastern Christian in 988.
Golden Age. The rapid development of Byzantine Christianity in Rus’ — which Volodymyr pursued with vigor — coincided with the rise of the Kievan state. Its grand princes consolidated their power, promulgated the first code of law of the Eastern Slavs, constructed churches, sponsored monasteries and supported learning and the arts.
Volodymyr’s son and successor, Yaroslav the Wise (978-1054), achieved some ecclesial independence from Constantinople by overseeing the installation of a metropolitan archbishop of Kiev and all Rus’ in 1037. Eventually, Rusyn natives dominated the ecclesiastical province, whose eparchial seats were located in various regional centers governed by the family of the grand prince. This Rusyn metropolitan church, however, remained under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople.
The ascendancy of Kievan Rus’ was short lived. Rival cities resented Kiev’s control of trade and sought increased autonomy. To the far north of Kiev, Novgorod and Pskov declared independence in 1136. To the northeast, Rostov, Suzdal and Vladimir grew in economic and political independence. The northern cities of Polotsk and Smolensk asserted their autonomy as did Halych in the southwest, where Volodymyr’s descendants created an independent principality.
The weakening of Kievan Rus’ opened it to invasion from nearby rivals — Teutonic knights, Hungarians, Lithuanians and Poles — all of whom relished its wealth. The most devastating invasion, however, came from the east. The Mongols, a nomadic people from Central Asia, swept through the dominion of the Rus’ in the 13th century, burning and sacking its cities, including Kiev in 1240. They ravaged the realm, killed much of the population and enslaved those who survived. Kiev never recovered. For more than 200 years, Rusyn princes were mere vassals to the Mongol warlords.
Moscow. The destruction of Kievan Rus’ led to the unraveling of its metropolitan church. Survivors sought refuge in the northeast, migrating to it principalities. The de facto leader of the Rusyns, Maxim, Metropolitan of Kiev and all Rus’, left a depopulated Kiev and settled in Vladimir in 1299.
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