Christianizing Crimea: Shaping Sacred Space in the Russian Empire and Beyond.
Mara Kozelsky's Christianizing Crimea explores the process by which Russian Orthodoxy claimed Crimea as Christian territory in the nineteenth century. Based on extensive printed and archival primary sources, Kozelsky argues that the Orthodox Church "Christianized" Crimea, not through missionary efforts, but through archeology, history, and architecture, claiming the landscape for Christianity.
The Crimean peninsula on the northern shore of the Black Sea had been inhabited by various peoples throughout history, including ancient Greeks and later Byzantines. It was conquered by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, and after the collapse of the Golden Horde it became a khanate (at first independent, after an Ottoman vassal) that served as a continual threat to the Eastern Slavs who attempted to cultivate the fertile steppe to its north. The Russian Empire annexed Crimea in the late eighteenth century under Catherine the Great. No serious effort was made to Christianize the territory, however, until the mid-nineteenth century. Although the Russian Orthodox Church was the state church and in many ways privileged, as Kozelsky demonstrates, religious policy of the Russian Empire was full of paradoxes. Thus the bureaucrats who administered the Crimea feared provoking the Crimean Tatars and, therefore, hampered any missionary efforts the Church might have initiated. Moreover, there were legal disincentives to conversion, since Muslim Crimean Tatars were legally superior to Russian Orthodox peasants in that they could not be subject to serfdom or the military draft.
Kozelsky further examines the changing image of Crimea for the Russians. In the age of Catherine the Great, the ancient Greek legacy was emphasized above all because ancient Greece was in vogue in Western Europe at the time and Catherine was eager to assert Russia's European credentials. In the mid-nineteenth century, Church historians turned the focus to the Byzantine (and therefore Christian) period. In particular, historians such as Makarii Bulgakov (1816-1882) argued that Crimea had been part of the Apostle Andrew's missionary territory, and even more importantly as the place of Prince Vladimir's conversion in the tenth century (in Chersonesos), thereby making it the "cradle of Russian Christianity." These arguments were bolstered not just by textual evidence but also archeology--and Kozelsky notes that many Russians at the time "perceived science and religion as complementary pursuits" (59) rather than conflicting ones.
The central figure in Kozelsky's work is Innokentii (Borisov, 1800-1857), archbishop of Kherson-Tauride from 1848 to 1857. Through sermons and efforts of expansion, Innokentii asserted that Crimea was holy and identified it with Orthodoxy. Since Orthodoxy was identified with Russia, this reinforced the connection between Crimea and Russia so that Russians did not see themselves so much as imperial conquerors, but as rightful heirs. Thus Innokentii sought to Christianize Crimea, not through efforts of converting Muslims to Christianity, but rather by re-interpreting and reclaiming the landscape itself for Christianity. However, before the Crimean War the majority of Orthodox Christians were Greeks, Bulgarians, and Armenians--not Russians. In part because of this international Orthodox presence, in part because of its geography (a peninsula) and climate, Innokentii styled Crimea as a "Russian Athos" and fostered the development of monasticism there, especially on ancient sites (the one where Vladimir was supposedly baptized, and locations of older monasteries), which furthered the Christian claim to the territory. Ironically, the Greeks managed to keep the St. George Balaklava Monastery open during the centuries of Crimean Tatar rule only to have it taken over by the Russians in the 1850s.
The Crimean War (1853-1856) was a major turning point. The war was interpreted by Tsar Nicholas I (whom Kozelsky repeatedly describes as a "devout Orthodox Christian") and Church leaders in religious terms as a conflict between Orthodox Russia and the Muslim Ottomans, unfortunately clouded by the involvement of Western European powers. According to Kozelsky, Church leaders such as Innokentii even regarded the war as a "crusade" and a "holy war," although it would have been particularly useful if she had interrogated these concepts more deeply since Orthodoxy does not even have a developed tradition of "just war," let alone those of "crusades" or "holy war" that had quite specific connotations in Western Christianity (violence as a penitential activity). The war also permanently transformed the peninsula: to begin with, Innokentii's sermons reached a far broader audience with his reinterpretation of the region. Second, the Church and its clergy in Crimea were seen as heroic in their service of the war and the troops (especially Innokentii's sermons given in Sevastopol during the siege). Perhaps most importantly, one consequence of the war was a population exchange, with a mass emigration of Crimean Tatars to the Ottoman Empire, who were replaced mostly by Bulgarians. From that point, Crimea was Christianized, not just in terms of the landscape and in the Russian imagination, but literally in terms of population. This Christianization was supported by the creation of a separate diocese for Crimea in 1860.
The epilogue skips over the tragic history of the Soviet period (both in terms of anti-religious policies and the mass deportations of Crimean Tatars under Stalin) to discuss the post-Soviet situation and all the complexities of recovering land and holy sites between different Christians and also Crimean Tatars returning from the deportation. The book is illustrated with a few nineteenth-century prints as well as some contemporary photographs, although the reader would have greatly benefited from a map since there is so much focus on geography.
Christianizing Crimea is a well-written, solidly researched, and convincingly argued monograph. It will be of interest to those who work on Eastern Orthodoxy as well as those with interests in Christianity and empire, geography, or war.
Scott M. Kenworthy
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|Author:||Kenworthy, Scott M.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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