Macedonian-Russian Church Relations and Interests
The ties between Ohrid and Russia as old Slavic centers have been continuous through the centuries, but the Russian Orthodox Church does not seem to have any noticeable support for the Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church protects the interests of the Serbian Church and does not recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church, priests said
Author: Sonja Rilkovska
The relations between the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric with Russia and the Russian Church date back a long time, from the time of the Thessalonian brothers Cyril and Methodius, when they were on a church educational and cultural mission to the Caucasus Khazars, which is quite understandable since the Khazar Empire bordered with Kievan Rus’, where exclusively Slavs lived.
THE RUSSIANS RECEIVED CHRISTIANITY IN OHRID?
According to Dr Petar Popovski, the old Russian chronicles by the famous Russian historian Priselkov state that “Princess Olga of Kiev and her grandson, Prince Vladimir, were baptized in Ohrid in 955 and 987, respectively.”
In an article published in August 2009 entitled: “The Russians received the Orthodox faith from Macedonia”, Popovski writes:
The Christianization of Kievan Rus’ chronologically coincides with the existence of Samuel’s Empire, and Samuel’s Church, the Ohrid Archbishopric, which in his reign was elevated to the rank of patriarchate (999), was the strongest Christian church, with the largest diocese having ties to many Slavic peoples.
Anyway, in 2009 in Ohrid there was an initiative to erect a memorial in honor of the Russian Princess Olga, who is believed to have been baptized in the tenth century in the “St. Sophia” church, where her grandson, Prince Vladimir was also baptized. However, that has not yet happened.
The famous, now deceased historian, researcher and archaeologist from Ohrid, Goce Agelichin Zhura, in 2017 published the book “The Role of Samuel’s Ohrid Patriarchate in the Christianization of Kievan Rus”, in which he, relying on exceptional documents from the Russian archives, written by world-renowned scholars and researchers, claims that Prince Vladimir was baptized in Ohrid.
The Diocese of Debar and Kichevo, on the other hand, told Truthmeter that there is no firm scientific evidence for this act, which is why no such memorial has been erected. They add that the MOC has decent relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, but they are mostly based on student exchanges and visits, with no support from the Russian Church in practice.
Russia has never had a special interest in Macedonia. The Russian Church has not yet recognized the Macedonian Church. The Russians are believed to have been christianized in Constantinople, and Christianity is officially considered to have been recieved there. Byzantine Emperor Basil II sought help from Russia to fight the usurpers. Prince Vladimir sent him 6,000 soldiers. As a reward, Basil II promised his sister Anna to be his wife, but on the condition that he converts to Christianity. He accepted the request. A Russian church was formed headed by a Russian metropolitan who was subordinate to the Russian patriarch. The Prince himself was baptized in 988 and ordered all subjects in the country to be christianized. The Christianization of Kievan Rus’ helped Prince Vladimir to strengthen the unity in the country, Professor Dr Sasho Cvetkoski told Truthmeter.
In December 2019, on the occasion of the December 8 holiday, the day of St. Clement of Ohrid, the portal “Fakulteti.mk” published part of the stories of academic Gjorgji Pop Atanasov, which refer to the life and work of St. Clement. In them, academic Pop-Atanasov points out that in the time of St. Clement the Slavic alphabet, literacy, and worship began to spread from Ohrid to Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, and even to Russia in the time of Tsar Samuel, when the Russians were Christianized (988).
Bishops, priests, deacons were sent from Ohrid and the Russian Orthodox Church was formed, whose first Head was a bishop of the Ohrid Patriarchate at that time. They even sent builders to them, because in Russia they did not know how to build churches, so the first – the Tithe Church in Kyiv was built by Macedonian builders. They sent writers to tell them how to write books. They had to write, collect, make a bind, then code. All this was done by our writers. A Russian woman even said that the first manuscripts were written by Macedonian writers. The Russians saw how it was done, so they learned from them. One Russian even says that the Ohrid Archbishopric is a pillar of Orthodox Russia – said academic Pop-Atanasov, theologian, scholar of Old Slavic literature and ancient manuscripts.
THE RUSSIAN SLAVIST GRIGOROVICH BROUGHT VALUABLE MANUSCRIPTS FROM THE OHRID AND MACEDONIAN CHURCHES
Academic Gjorgi Pop-Atanasov also wrote the book “Macedonian Literary Heritage in the Moscow Part – The Manuscript Collection of Viktor Grigorovich”.
In the book, he tells the story of the famous Russian collector Viktor Grigorovich, who took a large number of extremely valuable Old Slavic manuscripts from the Macedonian churches.
During his travels through the Balkans in 1844-1845, Grigorovich managed to collect several hundred Slavic and Byzantine manuscripts and parts of manuscripts, which he took with him to Russia.
Grigorovich’s manuscript collection contains Old Slavic manuscripts, which contain a large number of Macedonian manuscripts and separate fragments of Slavic manuscripts of Macedonian origin. It contains extremely important manuscript codes, such as the Glagolitic Gospel of Mary, the Parimejnik of Grigorovich (the oldest preserved transcript of the Cyril and Methodius translation of the Parimejnik), the Ohrid Apostle. Gligorovich visited the Macedonian churches in a traditional Russian fur coat with many pockets in which he hid the confiscated manuscripts and books.
In Ohrid, Gligorovich’s main preoccupation was the library of the church “Holy Mother of God Peribleptos.” During his stay in Ohrid, his guide was the exceptionally intelligent Georgi Bodlev from Ohrid, who knew the antiquities in Ohrid and its surroundings well. During a visit to the Ohrid Cathedral, he opened a cupboard full of old Byzantine and Slavic manuscripts, in which Grigorovich registered 69 Greek and 23 Slavic manuscripts. In one of the Greek manuscripts he discovered a transcript of Theophylact’s Extensive Hagiography of St. Clement of Ohrid, ripped off the pages with Clement’s hagiography and took them to Russia. This fragment (45 sheets) is now in the Moscow part of Grigorovich’s collection (M. 818) which besides the hagiography of St. Clement, also contains an apocryphal text about the Dormition of the Virgin and the hagiography of St. Nikola Mirlikiski, academic Georgi Pop Atanasov wrote in his book.
Most of these priceless manuscripts are today in the Moscow part of Grigorovich’s collection, with the exception of the Ohrid Glagolitic sheets in the Odessa part of his collection and the manuscript “Slovesa Vkratce”, which is kept in the library of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.
THE MACEDONIAN CHURCH DID NOT RECEIVE SUPPORT FROM RUSSIA FOR LIBERATION FROM OTTOMAN OCCUPATION
During the Turkish occupation, and especially in the period at the end of the 16th century, the severe and extreme poverty that hung on the doors of the Ohrid Archbishopric contributed to the renewal of the relations with Russia. Then many of the Ohrid archbishops and metropolitans went to European countries and asked for help and informed the world about the situation in the Balkans. One of the first archbishops to visit Russia was Archbishop Gabriel, who visited Russian Tsar Theodore in 1572. Thus, in the period from 1585 to 1650, in just 65 years, ten Ohrid archbishops left for Russia, while in the 18th century, only three archbishops left.
In the second half of the 17th century, Russian influence intensified in Macedonia. The archbishops of Ohrid and the people placed their hopes in Orthodox Russia, which began to rise internationally as a great power. Russian tsars with large donations to the churches and monasteries in the Balkans sought to encourage the Orthodox peoples and bind them to Russia in order to motivate them to fight against Turkey.
The expected help from the Russian army was lacking, Russia showed no interest. Immediately after the heavy defeat in the Crimean War, it was unable to go to war in the Balkans. And with the Treaty of Paris of 1856, it was obliged to respect the territorial integrity of the Ottoman state.
Before the end of the war, a radical change was made to the Russian position towards Macedonia and the Macedonian issue. Russia abandoned the solution of creating an autonomous Macedonian statehood and opted for a large Bulgarian state.
RUSSIAN SCIENTISTS WERE INTERESTED IN SAMUEL’S CHURCHES
The interest of Russian scientists is also noticeable in the 19th century.
The first scholar of medieval art in the Ohrid-Prespa region was the Russian archaeologist and historian Pavel Nikolayevich Milyukov. His studies are mostly exhausted by the discoveries in Samuel’s Basilica of Saint Achilles, which obsessed the scientists of that generation, noted academic Cvetan Grozdanov in the book “Kurbinovo”.
Milyukov visited Macedonia twice – the first time in 1898 after which he publishes the article “From the travels through Macedonia” in the “European Journal,” in 1899.
The second time in the summer of 1900 Milyukov visited Macedonia again but did not leave any transcripts. At the time he was a member of Kondakov’s expedition who himself accepted some of Milyukov’s views, especially since Milyukov was already considered in Russia as someone who knew the issue well. In fact, he plays a negative role for the Macedonian people, reporting his views, especially through Russia, but now as a commission that gives additional weight to the false image of Macedonia. If Grigorovich first discovered Macedonia as a Bulgarian country, Milyukov would be the first one to confirm this thesis. He pointed out the Russian version of the Ethnographic map of Macedonia by N. K’nchov (900), showing that Bulgarians live in Macedonia.
SAMUEL’S MANUSCRIPT BOOKS SENT TO RUSSIA AS A GIFT FROM OHRID
In the early ’80s of the last century, prof. Vladimir Moshin, Byzantine scholar, Slavist, and world-renowned specialist in archeography, originally from Russia, came to one of the most significant discoveries in the Macedonian and world archeography. He managed to prove with arguments that the Novgorod (Kupriyan) sheets are a remnant of a Macedonian manuscript code sent by Tsar Samuel to Russia at the time of their Christianization and that this Macedonian manuscript served as a template for writing the oldest Russian manuscript – Ostromir Gospel of 1056-1057.
According to academic prof. Dr Georgi Pop-Atanasov, in an extensive analysis of the text, palaeographic features, orthography, language, diacritical marks, phonetic notation, etc., both on the Novgorod sheets and the Ostromir Gospel, Academic Moshin came to the conclusion that the photograph of the Ostromir Gospel is the Macedonian code, whose remainders are the Novgorod, i.e. the Kupriyan sheets. Having in mind some historical circumstances, as well as the role of Samuel’s state in the Christianization of the Russians, the formation of the Russian Church, and the spread of Slavic literacy in Kievan Rus’, prof. Moshin argues that the Novgorod sheets are in fact a remnant of the Macedonian Gospel code from the treasury of Tsar Samuel, which at the time of the Russian Christianization was sent as a gift from Ohrid to Russia, along with other manuscripts needed for the normal performance of Orthodox Slavic worship. Prof. Moshin presented these scientific findings in a report on the Novgorod Sheets as a remnant of the Tsarist Gospel sent from Ohrid to Russia in 991. According to him, Tsar Samuel sent the imperial gospel of the Christianization of the Russians five years after taking power, when he became the sole ruler of the largest early feudal state in the Balkans.
According to prof. Vladimir Moshin, the gift of tsarist manuscripts from Ohrid to Kiev was brought by the first bishop of Novgorod, Joachim. There was only a small Christian community in Kiev at that time and the church “St. Elijah”, where some sort of Slavic literacy was developed under the influence of the Bulgarian and Macedonian missionaries.
The Novgorod sheets, which are today kept in the National Library in St. Petersburg, used to belong to the archaeologist J.K. Kupriyanov, which is why they are also known as Kupriyanov’s sheets. These sheets are written in a beautiful, large Cyrillic alphabet, in two columns of 20 lines each. The two preserved initials “V” and “R” have traces of blue, green, and white, as well as gold residues. These theses were confirmed by the Ohrid historian Goce Agelichin Zhura.
The State Archives of Macedonia keeps this extensive study by Academician Moshin of about 100 typewritten pages, of which only small, insignificant parts have been published so far.
THE RUSSIAN CHURCH DOES NOT RECOGNIZE THE MACEDONIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
The Russian Orthodox Church protects the interests of the Serbian Church and does not recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church, priests said.
Just before the end of World War II, In 1944, an Initiative Board for the Organization of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was formed in the village of Vranovci. On March 4, 1945, the First Church-People’s Assembly was held in Skopje, at which a resolution was adopted for the renewal of the Ohrid Archbishopric, as the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
In May 1962, accompanied by Patriarch German, with several bishops of the SOC, Patriarch Alexy of Moscow visited the MOC, accompanied by Metropolitan Nicodemus, Bishop Pimen, and several other high-ranking officials of the Russian Orthodox Church. On the holiday of Saint Cyril and Methodius in the church of the Most Holy Mother of God – Kamensko in Ohrid a hierarchical Liturgy was held, served by Patriarch Alexy of Moscow, in concelebration with Serbian Patriarch German and Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonian Metropolitan Dositej. This was the first communion of the Head of the MOC with the Heads of other autocephalous Churches.
The Holy Synod of the MOC convened the Third Church-People’s Assembly on July 17, 1967, in Ohrid, and at the solemn session in the Ohrid Church of St. Clement of Ohrid proclaimed the Macedonian Orthodox Church autocephalous.
On November 12, 2009, the Macedonian Orthodox Church added the suffix “Ohrid Archbishopric” to its name, as a direct successor to the old Ohrid Archbishopric. In addition to the suffix, MOC-OA also made a change in the coat of arms and the flag, i.e. instead of the display of the church of St. Holy Mary Perybleptos, the church of St. Sofia in Ohrid was introduced, as the seat of the archbishops of the Ohrid Archbishopric.
The Russian patriarch came to Ohrid for worship but did not give any support
In the case of autocephaly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, supporters of autocephaly and communist authorities in post-war Yugoslavia had high hopes that the Moscow Patriarchate would support the autocephaly of the Macedonian Church and the issue would be resolved. However, Moscow never recognized the Macedonian autocephaly, wrote Ines A. Murzaku American professor of church history.
The Russian Orthodox Church, that is, personally the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’, Kirill, awarded the Serbian Patriarch Irinej, with the highest recognition given by the ROC for merits for strengthening the unity of the Orthodox Church.
Patriarch Irinej received the award on May 23, 2018, in Moscow at a solemn ceremony. In his speech, the Russian Patriarch Kirill emphasized that Irinej has great merit for the unity of Orthodoxy in the Balkans, where among the other countries he listed as a canonical area of the SOC, he included Macedonia.
MOC declared autocephaly in 1967, but to this day has remained unrecognized by the sister churches.
RELATIONS BETWEEN MACEDONIA AND RUSSIA UNTIL THE MIDDLE OF THE 20TH CENTURY MAINLY AT UNOFFICIAL LEVEL
Relations between Macedonia and the Russian state in the period from the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century are mostly on an unofficial level. These are contacts that go through culture, science, church, politics, but mostly between individual connections,” historian Nikola Mitrovikj, director of the Ohrid State Archives, told Truthmeter.
In the period between the two World Wars, the connection of individuality with Russia is especially present, such as: Dimitrija Chupovski and the Macedonian Scientific and Literary Society, then Dimitar Vlahov and the Comintern with the revolutionary political organizations, and even Kocho Racin and the ideological-political manifestations in the country and implications with emigrants in Russia/USSR, Nikola J. Vaptsarov and others. The “Civil War” in Russia, marked by the exodus of millions of Russians who found themselves scattered around the world in that historical upheaval is significant as a point of contact in the relations. Some of them found refuge in Macedonia, where they were welcomed with warmth and hospitality, said Mitrovikj.
Let us also mention that the “Russian documents on Macedonia and the Macedonian Question 1859 – 1918” cover a very important period until the end of the First World War.
The topic of Macedonia, and thus the city of Ohrid, is a very important complex issue, but also an issue of significant interest for the Macedonian and Russian historical science. The book itself aims to show the attitudes of the Russian official policy towards Macedonia and the Macedonian question in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century through the publication of the books. The book itself covers and displays documents from the Central Historical Archive of Moscow, where there are documents that are important for the Macedonian church education. The books are especially important, i.e. the volume of “Documents on the Macedonian Question in the Documents of the Comintern” by Vlado Poposki and Lenina Zhila, in which a huge number of documents could be seen in the first part of 1923-1925, where the Macedonian revolutionary activists are most often mentioned, and related to the city of Ohrid, is exactly the revolutionary movement and activity in Ohrid and the surrounding and inherently that of the activists Petar Chaulev, Kiril Prlichev, and others, Mitrovikj told Truthmeter.
The ties between Ohrid and Russia as old Slavic centers have been continuous through the centuries, but the Russian Orthodox Church does not seem to have any noticeable support for the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Today there is a decline in church relations, but still, in the field of education, agreements have been reached for student exchanges – theologians and almost every year there are diplomatic meetings between delegations from the political and church leaders of the two countries.