Russian Culture: A look at its Religion and Art

Many things reflect Russia’s diverse culture but two main things are art and the church. Like many other countries, the church has played a great role in the formation of Russia. Russia’s main church is known as the Russian Orthodox Church, which is about one thousand years old and roughly half of the country’s population belongs to it. However, the vast majority of Orthodox believers do not attend church on a regular basis. Also most Russians don’t adhere strictly to a single belief. Instead, they combine traditional faiths with other alternative beliefs. Among these are witchcraft and astrology, which are especially popular among young people. Russians have also turned to numerous new beliefs, sects, and religious denominations. Nonetheless, the Russian Orthodox Church is widely respected by both believers and nonbelievers, who see it as a symbol of Russian heritage and culture.

The Russian Orthodox Church was originally one of the metropolitanates of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was not until 1448 that the Russian Church became independent of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It then continued to gain strength as the Russian state became stronger. Its role as the single unifying factor of the Russian people during the feudal divisions and during the Tartar invasions made it even more an integral part of Russian culture. People looked towards to church during those times and even now for a source of comfort. Even during the reign of the czars, they had to be ordained by the church as God’s chosen one in order to ‘rightfully’ hold the throne. Additionally its contributions during war and the periods of restorations that occur after war have given it a powerful statue throughout Russia’s history. The most recent example of this was during WWII when the church was originally heavily suppressed by the Soviet government, but because of its contributions to the war, restrictions were relaxed and now people can enjoy more religious freedom then they have had for decades.

Other religious groups that inhabit Russia include the Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and Buddhists. The Muslims form the second largest religious group in Russia. They are concentrated mostly in the ethnic republics of Tartarstan and Bashkortostan in the middle Volga region, and in the republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Alania (North Ossetia), Kabardino-Balkaria, and Dagestan. The Jews and Christians are dispersed throughout the country and the Buddhists live chiefly in the republics of Buryatia and Tuva on the Russian border with Mongolia and in Kalmykia on the northwest shore of the Caspian Sea. (Microsoft Encarta)

Religion as one can clearly see had a direct impact on the Russian people but it also had a direct influence on Russian art. Since art is a reflection of every culture, it is important that one studies it when one is studying another culture.

The introduction of Christianity into Russia spurred the development of the country’s fine arts. For 600 years, Christian forms of art dominated Russian painting, music, architecture, and literature. Russian artists, however, applied their unique vision and dramatically altered the style imported so it became their own. Especially in painting, the blending of foreign influences with native genius produced some of the world’s most beautiful icons. In the early 15th century Andrey Rublyov, one the greatest of Moscow’s artists, painted icons that surpassed those of his Byzantine collaborators in quality and brilliance. Then during the Time of Troubles and Peter the Greats’ reign, invasions and westernizing policies exposed Russia’s artists to new influences. As a result, the focus of Russian art shifted to more western ideals. Art forms that had been forbidden by the medieval Russian Orthodox Church—such as portraiture, instrumental music, and dramatic productions—entered the mainstream of the nation’s cultural life. By the mid-18th century Russians were producing ballets, operas, chamber music, baroque architecture, and novels.

One example of brilliance of Russian artists is the city of St. Petersburg. The artists of the time borrowed art forms from the West and added their own unique touch to raise the level brilliance and achievement. St. Petersburg became known as Russia’s “window on the West.” The achievements at St. Petersburg by Bartolomeo Rastrelli and Carlo Rossi also set standards which the rest of Russia followed. In the model that was St. Petersburg, it blended the artistic influences of Russia’s past and present with those of ancient Greece and Rome.

Architecture was of course not the only form of art in Russia which achieved great heights. In the 19th century the Russian genius for blending foreign and native art forms produced the romantic poetry of Aleksandr Pushkin; the realist novels of Nikolay Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Leo Tolstoy; and the brilliant operas and ballets of Mikhail Glinka, Aleksandr Borodin, Peter Tchaikovsky, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, and Modest Mussorgsky. (Microsoft Encarta)

Of these individuals, it was Aleksandr Pushkin who started the trend in what has become Russian literature. The advances made in his period have made it known as the Golden Age of Poetry. Although he was educated in the tradition of 18th-century classicism-which set down strict rules for literary form and style-he was able to absorb and move beyond romanticism, a movement that emphasized individual creativity and the imagination. At the same time, Pushkin captured the vitality of native Russian traditions, creating an “expressive and natural literary language”. Although his life was brief he left examples of nearly every literary genre of his day: lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, the short story, the drama, the critical essay, and even the personal letter.

Pushkin’s most renowned and loved work is his novel Evgeny Onegin. It is about the undying love of a naive provincial girl named Tatiana for a jaded sophisticate Eugene. The story is not only based on this simple love story but it also reflects Russian society. This, however, isn’t why many Russians still continue to hold this piece of literature as central to their culture. Although, it tells of their heritage and society, it is the simple genius of the structure of the novel of –14-line stanza form-and his lyrics, which are complex and meticulous but are written with such ease that they appear effortless, simple, and natural.

Pushkin was followed by Zhukovsky and Gogol. They and their successors have managed to carry Russian art through to our modern times. As one can see art and religion together have come to shape much of what Russia has become. Through the voices of the metropolitanates and the art and literature of its writers and artists such as Pushkin, the image of what we now know as Russia has largely been created. Art and Religion have helped form the past and they will no doubt continue to influence Russian culture through the 21st century and beyond.

Bibliography

http://www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru/hist_en.htm

Microsoft Encarta

http://www.und.edu/dept/lang/russian/162/culture.html

http://www.auburn.edu/~mitrege/russian-culture/internet-resources.html

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