the Ringing cedars of Russia
Vladimir Megre English translation by John Woodsworth

Book 8, part 2. The Rites of Love (2006)

A mysterious manoeuvre


Chronicles, modern historical sources and church literature all talk about a mysterious and even secretive manoeuvre on the part of Batu Khan , grandson to Genghis Khan, on the outskirts of the city of Vladimir in 1238. What is the mystery here? This is how the chronicles tell it:

“Having taken Riazan  in 1237, in the spring of 1238 Batu Khan and his cavalry pushed their way into the city of Suzdal...” As subsequently reported in a multitude of ecclesiastical sources, he burnt Suzdal, exterminated part of the population and took the remaining part captive. A lot is said in these sources about the “atrocities committed against the people”.

Secular historians, on the other hand, describe the situation more accurately and impartially Thus, for example, in the materials available in the Vladimir-Suzdal State Museum the event is described as follows:

The Tatars set up their camps at the city of Vladimir, while they themselves went and took Suzdal, and plundered the Holy Mother of God (cathedral), and burnt the prince’s court, and burnt the monastery of Saint Dmitry, and plundered others; and the old monks and nuns, and the priests, and the blind, and the lame, and the deaf, and the labour- weary and all other people were slaughtered, while the young monks, and monks, and priests, and their wives, and the deacons with their wives, and their daughters, and their sons — all these were led away to the Tatars’ camps, and they themselves went to Vladimir.

As we can see, Batu Khan did not take anywhere near the whole population captive. And he killed off the old high- ranking monks and took the young ones captive. He didn’t burn and plunder the whole city, but only the prince’s residence along with Suzdal’s churches and monasteries.

And now let us try to solve a superhistorical mystery Why (as the document says) did the Tatars “set up their camps at the city of Vladimir, while they themselves went and took Suzdal”?

Any military historian — as, indeed, any modern army commander — will tell you that this manoeuvre completely goes against standard military tactics.

To establish a camp under the walls of a major fortified city and then leave it and move one’s troops to a smaller target — that is tantamount to suicide.

The distance between the cities of Vladimir and Suzdal at the time was equivalent to 35 kilometres. With the roads rendered impassable by the spring rains, it was a good day’s journey on horseback.

The taking of Suzdal required a minimum of several more days, and then a day’s journey back.

It wouldn’t have taken any more than a day for the soldiers defending Vladimir to go out of their fortified city on a foray and rout the defenceless enemy camp. All they had to do was seize the spare horses, the spare quivers of arrows, the supplies, the wall-storming ladders and stone-throwing devices, and they would have shorn the enemy not only of the possibility of launching an attack on them, but of their battle- readiness in general.

But they never went out. Why not? Perhaps they didn’t know that Batu Khan’s troops had left the camp? But they knew They could have easily seen that from their battlements; besides, their scouts would have reported it.

Possibly Batu Khan’s forces were in such great numbers that more than enough guards had been left behind to repel an attack on the camp?

This is the way historians initially explained it. They said the Golden Horde’s troops numbered almost a million. Then they changed their minds and reduced their estimate to 130,000, some even to as few as 30,000.

Naturally it is tempting to explain one’s defeat by citing the enemy’s significantly superior numbers. More objective scholars have begun to say that moving a million-strong army at that time was an absolute impossibility.

A million swordsmen together with equipment would mean three million horses. If a herd like that were kept in one place, even in the summertime, they would die of hunger, since the grass all around would be trampled down. And in the wintertime no amount of feed supplies would be enough.

So the figure was reduced to either 130,000 or 30,000. A humiliating figure indeed. With a scant hundred and thirty thousand men Batu Khan quietly went about conquering Russian principalities and whole countries too.

But even this figure is inflated. To subjugate the Russian princes of that time using the knowledge left by Genghis Khan to his descendants, there was simply no need for even a fifty- thousand-strong army Ml that was required was knowledge

of the way of life of the Russian people, Russian families, and the proper strategy based on such knowledge.

After setting up camp at the city of Vladimir, Batu Khan did not go with a whole army to Suzdal, but sent a small detachment to take it. This is why the people of Vladimir did not leave their fortified city to rout the camp and destroy the enemy’s military facilities.

Do you know how many days and nights it took for Batu Khan’s small detachment to conquer one of Rus’s spiritual capitals of the time, surrounded as it was by more than a half- dozen monastery fortresses — this legendary city of Suzdal?

No time at all. He simply arrived, entered the city and burnt the prince’s residence. The prince, meanwhile, had fled together with his armed garrison. It was no effort to cut down every last one of the high-ranked clergy and take the young monks captive. And the Mongols later caught up with the prince and his garrison at the Sit’ River and destroyed them too.

How could that be? someone may wonder. Where were the brave Russian people, their indomitable and freedom-loving spirit?

I can tell you right off that there was nothing wrong with the Russian people and their spirit. Logic suggests that the people applauded Batu Khan’s small detachment on its return journey from Suzdal. They served kvas and bragal€> to the warriors along the whole route back to their camp at Vladimir.

The reason is that the people of that time did not look upon Suzdal as their city Rather, they viewed its royal inhabitants as traitors and its clergy as foreign aggressors and enslavers.

This led to the flare-up of a number of rebellions on the part of the people against unbearable oppression.

Documents at the Vladimir-Suzdal State Museum put it this way:

By the end of the thirteenth century Suzdal had eight mon-asteries. Founded by the princes and representatives of the Christian religion, they played a major role in assimilating new territories and served as fortresses in the event of enemy aggression. ...

In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the Church owned a third of the best lands in the country and was endeavouring to subjugate the power of the Grand Princes to itself. From the end of the fifteenth century on, the State made repeated attempts to limit the landholdings of monasteries and churches, along with attempts at secularisation (in other words, complete eradication). The question of land provoked two ideological tendencies within the Church: Josephism    and the Non-Possessors Movement.11 The first defended the monasteries’ property interests, while the second emphasised the idea of inner self-perfection and condemned the monasteries’ acquisi-tive pursuits. The ideological leader of the Josephites was Father Joseph, abbot of the Volokolamsky Monastery, while the Non-Possessors Movement was championed by a monk of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, Nil Sorsky. The monasteries and clergy of Suzdal, as major landholders, came down solidly on the side of the Josephites. However, in the sixteenth century the authority of the Grand Princes did not manage to carry out its intended secularisation of the Church’s wealthy landholdings, which continued to increase, even though on a limited scale.

Quite a trick! A third of Russian lands ended up in the hands of the Constantinople-derived  clergy and its puppets. Monasteries were transformed into large-scale slave-owners. And it wasn’t the monks who tilled the ground and raised cattle, but the peasant serfs.

The princes were already trying to reclaim part of the country they had lost. But that was by no means easy!

And just how was this ‘enriching’ the souls of the peasants, whose primordial family lands had now become monasterial property at one fell swoop? What was offered to people in exchange for their centuries-old traditions and rites, which were now labelled ‘barbarian’? The same archival documents show what happened here:

Fees and penalties imposed on the peasant serfs

of the Pokrovsky Nunnery in 1653

From each household — two altyns,  a chicken and lamb’s wool from the first shearing.

On the purchase of a:

Horse — 2 dengas.24 Cow — 1 denga.

On the sale of:

Grain, horses, cows, hay — 1 altyn for each rouble received. Log houses — 1 denga per internal corner.

For settling disputes:

Regarding field-lands — 2 altyns, 2 dengas.

Regarding household lands — 4 altyns, 2 dengas.

Court fees:

For travel to the site of a dispute — 1 denga per verst.25 For travel in cases of acquittal — 2 dengas per verst.

From the guilty party — 1 altyn for each rouble assessed. From the vindicated party — 7 altyns, 2 dengas.

For taking an oath — 4 altyns, 2 dengas.

Wedding fees:

From the groom — 3 altyns, 3 dengas.

From the bride for a table — 2 altyns, 2 dengas.

From a groom from outside the district — 2 grivnas.26

From holiday beer-making

for weddings or funerals — 1 bucket of beer.



For alcohol distillation for one’s self without a permit, or for sale — 5 roubles, a beating with a cane, and arrest.

For consumption of wine except on holidays — 8 altyns, 2 dengas, and a beating with a cane.

And here is a description of the property of the highest- ranked church official:

List of people and property

belonging to Metropolitan Illarion

16 elders, 6 overseers in charge of properties, 66 personal bodyguards, 23 servants, 25 singers, 2 sextons, 13 bell-ringers, 59 craftsmen and labourers. In total: 180 persons.

Weaponry numbering 93 pieces, silver dishes weighing 1 pood  20 pounds, pewter dishes weighing more than 16 poods, 112 horses belonging to the Metropolitan’s horse farm, 5 carriages, 8 sleighs and chariots, 147 books.

(From the inventory of the Metropolitans household, iyoi)

A most extraordinary document. It is free of any kind of historical inaccuracies. It simply provides an impartial inventory of the Metropolitan’s household property. Flowever, it also begs a great many questions.

What kind of properties did the Metropolitan have that required the services of six overseers? Why a whole twenty- three servants for one man? And were the ninety-three pieces of weaponry also intended for the conducting of church rites?

Note that none of this was the monastery’s property — it was just the Metropolitan’s personal effects. The monastery had its own.

Just who was such a large contingent of guards supposed to protect the Metropolitan from? He had more bodyguards than the first American presidents.

The large contingent of guards, like the high monastery walls, were designed to protect the Metropolitan from the Russian people, of course. The walls of the Suzdal monasteries had no strategic significance in terms of military policy

But why then do almost all historical sources describe the high monastery walls with their embrasures as fortresses, designed to protect the people from the enemy? Why were not these so-called fortresses capable of holding out for at least a month?

Because they weren’t at all designed for defence against any external aggressor, let alone a smart one.

For the soldiers under Genghis Khan’s grandson, in any case, such fortifications were no more than a distraction. If the possessors of these mock fortresses had not acceded to the enemy’s demand for immediate surrender, the Mongols would have thrown up an embankment a little higher than the walls and dragged their stone-throwing devices up onto it. There are many possible scenarios here. One of them involved putting a bag into the stone-launcher attached to a long rope, and launching the bag over the monastery wall. Before it hit the ground, the bag would become undone, showering the people hiding behind the wall with infected meat. After that, all they had to do was shoot the people as they attempted to escape through the main entrance gate.

The only thing that the high monastery walls served as a protection against was their own people, the peasant serfs — or, rather, the monastery slaves — who from time to time rebelled.

It was none other than the Constantinople clergy who applied their lofty ‘spirituality’ to the inculcation of serf law  in Rus’.

One document from the Suzdal Museum archives attests to the following:

Church landholdings prevailed in Suzdal in the seventeenth century, as they had before. Monasteries and the Metropolitan’s residence were major feudal landlords, with enormous financial resources at their command, not to mention the free labour of many thousands of peasants.

Thus, the Spaso-Yevfimiev Monastery  placed fifth among all Russia’s church-based feudal landlords. Its prosperity depended wholly upon land grants and contributions. In the second half of the seventeenth century the earlier established fiefdoms did not increase in size, as the inordinate expansion of monastery lands was held in check by the State. The peasants were subject to a double exploitation — first by the landowners (the corvee and tribute system) and secondly by the State (taxes payable in both money and kind).

Or take this quote from a similar document on the history of the Sviato-Pokrovsky Nunnery:

The full and free life enjoyed by the nuns was made possible by the labours of peasant serfs and the enormous staff of servants; the landholdings of the Pokrovsky Nunnery grew, thanks to rich donations and grants on the part of Russia’s most elite families, including princes and tsars.

So there we have it: more lands — more serfs and more wealth.

But let us return to the thirteenth century

What, then, actually happened with the arrival of Batu Khan’s detachment at Suzdal? And where do traditions and love enter the picture?

The population of Suzdal at that time was fewer than 4,000 inhabitants. It consisted mainly of the prince’s armed garrison and servants, craftsmen and clergy with their host of unpaid servants, hiding from the people behind the monastery walls.

All around Suzdal and Vladimir lived tens of thousands of peasant families, who were the only ones capable of worthily resisting an aggressor. But they didn’t do this, they didn’t rise up in arms, they didn’t go to the monastery walls to protect the clergy. To put it simply, they hated the clergy Note that they didn’t hate God, only their oppressors. The people loved and revered God.

It was for this reason that the people didn’t rise to the defence of the city of Vladimir.

Batu Khan waited six days before storming Vladimir. He waited until the news spread that it wasn’t the people he was taking captive, but their enslavers.

He waited and took the well-fortified city in a single day It was to this end that he made the foray against Suzdal. The foray was of no military importance, but it served to deprive the authorities of support from the populace at large.

And then what did the Mongols do?

Realising that they could find no better overseers and tax collectors than the princes in collaboration with the clergy, they began to issue the princes licences to govern and the right to collect taxes from the Russian people, a portion of which was to be handed over to the Horde. Many monasteries were exempted from taxation.

AH of this is confirmed by specific documents. Just so people don’t go pointing the finger at me or the scientists or secular his-torians, let us turn directly to literature from the Church itself.

There is a fairly decent historical book published by the Sviato-Pokrovsky Nunnery — with the blessing of Evlogii,  Archbishop of Vladimir and Suzdal, which states:

Saint Fiodor, the first Bishop of Suzdal, was from a Greek

family. He arrived in Rus’ in 987  in the entourage accom-panying Saint Michael from Constantinople.

Saint Michael baptised Grand Prince Vladimir at Korsun,  and subsequently became the first Metropolitan of Kiev

After the baptism of the Kievans in 988, the prince, who had been accorded apostolic status, travelled around the Russian cities together with his sons and Saint Michael, on a zealous proselytising campaign. Bishoprics were established in Chernigov, Belgorod, Pereyaslavl, Novgorod and Vladimir-Volynsk.

As can be seen from these reports, as well as from other sources, foreign ideologists were descending upon Rus’ en masse. Complete with hired bodyguards and the prince’s own contingent, they began to travel around the Russian cities, breaking down foundations that had been in place for millennia, planting an ideology profitable to the Church and government of the day and establishing foreigners in charge of cities.

Many historical documents testify to how the people resisted, though it appears they were poorly organised, and they did not expect treason on the part of their own prince. It was this treason that was largely responsible for the massive foreign invasion that befell Rus’. The saddest part was that it was done in the name of God. What an incredible sacrilege!

What if Prince Vladimir and the bishops from Constantinople actually believed sincerely in Christ’s commandments?



But subsequent events show that their real masters were the exact opposite of God. They were the servants of this opposite, with the advanced ability to manipulate the people, to subjugate to themselves their spirit and their will. They suggested to Man: you are God’s slave, actually meaning: you are my slave. And Man began to forget that God has not and cannot have slaves. Man is the son of God, His beloved son.

All the quotations reproduced in this book are taken from historical documents. I gained access to them not by going to some super-secret archives, but simply by paying 15 roubles  to get into the State Museum and 30 roubles for the right to take pictures. I photographed the displays set up for general viewing. One of them was entitled: Monasteries as ecclesiastical feudal landlords.

And that is by no means the only official State source. There are many of them.

One that exerts an immeasurably greater influence, for example, especially on the young, is a Grade 10 high-school textbook published by Prosveshchenie  in 2003 and recommended by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. This is a high-quality publication under the editorship of A. N. Sakharov  and V I. Buganov  On page 63 it says:

Along with this the Church persecuted the old folk pagan culture and came out against the Roman model of Christianity, calling it ‘Latinism’ and apostasy. This damaged Rus’s relations with countries confessing the Catholic faith, and contributed to Rus’s isolation from Western European culture. Church facilities began to introduce slave labour. Some clerics and monasteries engaged in usury and victimised people. There were cases where prominent politicians active in the Church took part in political machinations. Thus there frequently arose a discrepancy between the words of the Church and its deeds, and this provoked a feeling of discontent among the people.

The textbook also mentions that Prince Vladimir, who baptised Rus’ in 987, “...was the son of Sviatoslav  by a slave of his mother’s named Malusha. Consequently he was accorded a secondary ranking among the Prince’s sons”.

It further states:

Vladimir spent more than two years in foreign parts, and when he was approaching Novgorod, he had with him a strong Varangian  contingent. He quickly took control of

Novgorod and began preparing for his trek south. Along the way Vladimir conquered Polotsk, where he killed the reigning Varangian prince Rogvolod and his sons, raping Rogvolod’s daughter Rogneda and forcibly taking her to wife.

The textbook goes on to describe how the Kievan prince Yaropolk, Vladimir’s brother, came to negotiate with him. “No sooner had he entered the hall than Vladimir’s bodyguards ran their swords through him.”

We also read an account of the baptism and the imposition of a sacramental obligation to pay the Church 10% of the tribute collected from the people. It should be remembered that at that time the Church was in subjugation to the Patriarchate of Constantinople (Russia still did not have its own patriarch), which means that 10% of the tribute money collected from the Russian people was at the disposal of Constantinople.

Might it not be in historical facts like these that we uncover an answer to the question as to why the people didn’t rise to the Church’s defence when Peter the Great closed a third of all Russian monasteries and melted down church bells to produce cannon, or when Catherine the Great went about ‘secularising’ (i.e., confiscating) monastery landholdings, which meant that formerly wealthy monks were obliged to beg for food and live at the mercy of the tsar. Or, when the Bolsheviks started killing clerics and blowing up churches, why some of the people themselves participated in the plunder of church property

My remarks on the subject of the Church are based on his-torical facts and documents. I have resolved to call upon sen-sibly-minded members of the Church hierarchy and its wise elders who I am sure are out there, to transform the modern Church into a highly spiritual institution, one capable of helping society escape from its economic and spiritual crisis.

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