The Medieval Nation of Rus’: The Religious Underpinnings of the Russian Nation

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The Medieval Nation of Rus’: The Religious Underpinnings of the Russian Nation

Michel Bouchard

There are a number of people and funding agencies that I would like to thank. I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. John-Paul Himka. His talk at the University of Northern British Columbia challenged my assumptions of nation and nationhood and inspired me to do this work. Dr. Himka comments were invaluable to my writing of this article. Likewise, Dr. Oleg Kharkhordin was instrumental in my completing this paper. His comments and his expertise was greatly appreciated. Dr. James McDonald, Chair of Anthropology at UNBC and Sarah Ramage, a graduate student at this same university were equally kind enough to read the text and provide comments and corrections. I also want to acknowledge my Ph.D. committee who has been overseeing my work these past years. This includes Dr. Cliff Hickey, my supervisor, and Drs. Derek Sayer and Claude Denis. Finally, I want to thank a number of funding agencies for their contribution to the research that lead to this paper: the Estonian Studies Fund, the Canadian Circumpolar Institute and the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada.


Russians often speak of the “1000-year history” of Russia. In the past, I have been quite willing to disregard this as purely nationalistic fantasy. After all, had not Modernist theorists demonstrated that nationalism did not exist before the French Revolution and, in the words of E. Hobsbawm, citing a Polish nationalist Colonel Pilsudski, more states had created nations than nations states.[1] How could there be a Russian nation before the Russian state, an occurrence that L. Greenfeld[2] links with Peter the Great. But is this truly the case? For reasons I will explain, I now recognize that modernist theory overlooks the rich medieval history that precedes the arbitrary cut-off point to modernity. Prior to Peter the Great, there is a rich literary tradition that spans six centuries and is closely linked to the Russian Orthodox Church. Despite the important work of some Western authors who have attempted to better understand this rich historical period, notably Charles Halperin who examined the ancient concept of “Russian land” and the role of the Mongol invasion in the development of medieval Russian history,[3] their research has not influenced the development of theory on nation and nationalism. Even if one concurs that nationalism is a modern phenomenon, there is increasing evidence that a sense of nation was being consolidated in the medieval period. It could be argued that without this medieval sense of nationhood modern Russian nationalism could never exist. Also, if Russian nationhood existed in the medieval period, then it could be argued that nation and nationalism cannot be studied as a purely political phenomenon, rather that it must equally be understood as a cultural phenomenon, one that was deeply influenced by the Christian religious tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. Russian nationhood, then, is from this perspective the result of 1000 years of history.

This paper will focus on a very limited and narrow aspect of medieval history. The goal is to trace the earliest origins of the Russian term best approximating the English concept of nation, the word narod – among others – in Old Slavonic (or Old Church Slavonic) texts. One type of text of particular importance is the Psalter. The significance of this Biblical text cannot be underestimated in that it was central to the religious practice of Christians both in the East and the West. More importantly, this text delimits the meaning of nation: a community sharing a common God, language, territory and traditions. Adrian Hastings demonstrates how nation and nationalism would have not been possible had it not been for the Bible that served as a template for nationhood.[4]

The words in the Bible and Psalter may change, from the original Semitic text, to Greek, Latin and a variety of other languages including Church Slavonic, but a sense of nationhood is consistently evoked in the Bible. The words evolve in the Russian Orthodox Church, until their culmination in the translation into the modern Russian usage where the word narod is present throughout. In the modern Russian Psalter, God is depicted as judging the nations, narody, reinforcing the importance of the nation in the minds of Russian Orthodox Believers – which, at the time of the Revolution would have included the overwhelming majority of the [ethnic] Russian population. This tradition is present in the earliest of the Psalters, including the Sinai Psalter dating back to the 11th century. Other texts, which I will analyze, will serve to flesh out the understanding of nation in this early medieval period. It is clear that the Psalter and other religious texts shaped the ways in which nationhood was understood. These early religious texts do not use the word narod to signify nation, rather they consistently use the older term yazyk – not to be confused with the usage of the word as signifying language – when translating the Greek term ethnos. The word narod was in use in other contemporary texts, but it’s meaning was not national, but rather signified a multitude, a gathering of large numbers of people.[5] In addition to these texts, I will also examine the Russian Primary Chronicle to better understand the ways in which the terms for nationhood were applied to Kievan Rus’.

Drawing upon the ideas put forward by Hastings, I will examine the emergence of nationhood among Russians using medieval texts, notable early Slavonic religious texts, and the earliest recorded texts, notably the Primary Chronicle, dating back to the 11th century. Although I began this research with a modernist slant, a close reading of these medieval texts clearly demonstrate that the foundation of the Russian nation is to be found not in the Modern period, but several centuries earlier in the era of Kievan Rus’. The nation was defined in this very early period through the prism of Biblical texts, although many of the words expressing nationhood clearly predate the Christian period. The idea of a Rus’ nation, later renamed the Russian nation, was maintained into the modern period, at which time much older ideas and concepts were integrated into the continually evolving political discourse. Having demonstrated that the idea of nationhood was well entrenched in the medieval period, I will suggest ways in which these ideas of nationhood could have been shored up in the peasantry: again, as these terms are widespread among Slavic populations East, West and South, and likely indicate that they predated the arrival of Christianity (both Catholicism and Orthodoxy), there is no reason why they could not have been maintained in the peasantry. The arrival of Christianity would not have displaced these words, simply reaffirmed their meanings, consolidating a national sentiment among a pre-existing ethnic population.


For close to two decades, the modernist school of thought has been predominant in the theory of nation and nationalism. Such authors as B. Anderson,[6] E. Gellner,[7] E. Hobsbawm,[8] J. Breuilly[9] and others, ushered in the modernist position. However, in the last few years, dissenting voices have emerged and a new school of thought is beginning to take shape. Scholars of medieval history have led the charge. One of the leading authors in this revisionist school is Adrian Hastings whose work “The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationhood”[10] challenges the very assumptions that have guided the modernist analysis of nationhood. Hastings demonstrates the way in which the Bible served as a mirror for the nation.

Adrian Hastings’ research clearly demonstrates that a new approach is necessary to the study of nations and nationalism. An element that has been overlooked in the study of nations is the role of religion in the formation of nations. Certain ‘modernist’ authors such as Anderson have examined religion, yet rarely is the actual content of the Christian message ever examined. Hastings work is original in that he examines the actual content of the Bible in order to fully appreciate its impact of on the formation of nations. He demonstrates the ways in which the Vulgate Latin “natio” translated into the Early English word “nacioun”. Prior to this, the Vulgate word “natio” was translated from the Greek word “ethnos” and was not as prevalent in the Vulgate Bible as the word “nation” is in the King James Bible: the words “gens” and “populus” were used more frequently in the Latin Vulgate Bible than they are in English translations of the Bible.[11] Nonetheless, the impact of the Bible cannot be underestimated, as Hastings notes: “No other book had half so wide or pervasive an influence in medieval Europe as the Vulgate Bible and it is simply perverse to seek odd meanings for the word ‘natio’ elsewhere while ignoring its use in this absolutely central text.”[12] According to Hastings, by the Middle Ages the word ‘natio’ was being used in a very modern sense as representing a people “distinct by ‘language, laws, habits, modes of judgement and customs.’”[13] Later I will demonstrate that at virtually the same time as Bernard, Norman Bishop of St. David’s, was using the term ‘natio’ as described by Hastings in reference to the Welsh ‘natio’, the Chroniclers of Rus’ were defining the equivalent term in their language in virtually the same ways.

Hastings clearly demonstrates that in the English language by the 14th century the word ‘nation’ was already being used in virtually the same sense as a post-19th century nationalist would have used it.[14] The question remains as to why Christianity, and especially the New and Old Testaments, proved to be particularly amenable to the creation, if not the maintenance, of ethnic groups and nations. The answer lies in part in one biblical verse: Matthew 22:19 which reads as follows in the King James Bible: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”[15] Though different versions of the English Bible – the New American Standard, the American Standard, the Basic English Bible, Webster’s Bible, etc. – have phrased this verse in slightly different ways, each version contains the word “nations”. If we examine this verse in the Biblical languages, the Latin Vulgate Bible prefers the term “gentes” rather than “natio,” this does not necessarily imply that the English translators inserted the word “nation” inappropriately. The Biblical Greek New Testament uses the word “ethnos” – closer in meaning to natio than gentes – the word that was translated as “nation” in the English Bibles.

This cursory analysis of Biblical texts demonstrates that Christianity did conceive of the possibility of a number of Christian nations as it does not specify that the nations would become one Christian nation after their conversion. This is in direct contrast with the Islamic faith. The Koran, a text that appeared many centuries after the Christian texts, specifies: “(All) people are a single nation; so Allah raised prophets as bearers of good news and as warners, and He revealed with them the Book with truth, that it might judge between people in that in which they differed; and none but the very people who were given it differed about it after clear arguments had come to them, revolting among themselves; so Allah has guided by His will those who believe to the truth about which they differed and Allah guides whom He pleases to the right path.” [16] Whereas the faith of Islam militates against nations among the believers of Islam, the central Christian text – the New Testament – allows for the existence and maintenance of different Christian nations. Admittedly, there are passages in the New Testament that could be used to justify a unified Christendom, these include Colossians Chapter 3 verse 11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all.” However, even this passage does not specifically state that there must be one Christian nation. Rather, in its context, this passage is affirming that Christians need not follow Jewish ceremonial law, thus denying Jewish religious privileges, and opening the Christian church to Jew and Gentile where even the “Barbarian” can gain redemption in Christ.[17] Overall, the Christian Bible does provide, as Hastings argues, a model for nationhood, whereas the Koran provides few positive references to nationhood: the few times the word appeared in the online search I conducted, it usually had negative connotations and referred to those who were not Muslims.[18] Although this does not preclude a sense of nationhood among Muslims, the Koran would not have facilitated the emergence and maintenance of nationhood in the same fashion as the Christian Bible would have done, as the primary texts present nationhood in different ways.

It is only through examination of the actual Biblical texts that it is possible to understand how the concept of nationhood was propagated in medieval times both in Western Europe, and as I shall argue, in Eastern Europe. Modernist theorists of nation and nationalism point to the utilization of Latin, the universal language of communication, as the major stumbling block towards national self-consciousness. According to Anderson, it was through the propagation of vernacular texts produced in large quantities with the printing press that nations could truly be imagined. Hastings refocuses the debate by examining not simply the language of communication, but equally if not more important, the actual content of the message. Hastings’ central argument is that the Bible served as a mirror for emerging nations and nationalism with the Biblical nation of Israel serving as a model for all future nations. To cite Hastings: “Perhaps it was an almost terrifyingly monolithic ideal, productive ever after of all sorts of dangerous fantasies, but it was there, an all too obvious exemplar for Bible readers of what every other nation too might be, a mirror for national self-imagining.”[19] Although Hastings does use the existence of a written vernacular as the defining distinction that separates an ethnic group from a nation, he nonetheless does not accept Anderson’s argument that the translation of the Bible in a vernacular and its wide circulation are enough to understand nation and nationalism. Hastings writes: “Not enough, because it remains less important for us whether a translation was made than whether and how it was used. Only extensive use can bring with it a nationalizing effect, and that means use at a popular, and not merely academic, level.”[20] Later, I will examine how religious texts could have influenced the “nationalizing” of the peasantry, even if rates of literacy remained quite low.

This revisionist theory may account for the existence of national sentiments as observed by historians. Josep Llobera a historical sociologist at the University of London is equally critical of the nation as modern theory that predominates the study of nation and nationalism. As is the case with Hastings, Llobera is critical of modernist theory that presents the nation as if created ex nihilo. Rather, he views the nation as the product of a longue durée which necessitates an examination of medieval structures in order to fully understand its origin. Llobera writes: “To say, then, that nation and nationalism as we understand them today, did not exist in the Middle Ages is mere truism. To abandon for this reason any search into the process of national formation and into the forms of national identity in this period is a recipe for sociological disaster.”[21] Llobera argues that powerful national forces were emerging by the end of the Middle Ages and that it is important to study medieval structures in order to understand how nations were formed. Llobera’s central argument states that the idea of nation existed in the Medieval period and that there was a clear sense of national identity in many Medieval polities, even though this was necessarily widely shared among the entire population. It is this medieval sense of nationhood and the accompanying national identity, that would have served as the foundation for nationalism witnessed in the modern period.

In another article by Llobera, “State and Nation in Medieval France,”[22] a clear link can be made between Llobera’s work and that of Hastings. In this article, Llobera cites Kerhervé in that there is little doubt that by the 14th century a clear sense of Breton identity existed expressed in terms of natio and pais. As Hastings emphasizes, the word natio figures in the Latin Vulgate Bible. Additionally, the Latin Vulgate Bible also the term patria to designate “homeland” a term that would be associated with “pais,” or land, or country.[23] In addition to Llobera and Hastings, other researchers examining the Middle Ages likewise conclude that there was a process of nation formation that predates the modern epoch. Some of the best known researchers include Anthony Smith and John Armstrong, who both share the conviction that the precursors to modern nations existed in the medieval period even if the ideological concept of nationalism is modern.[24]


As is the case for other regions, the study of Russian nationalism and the origins of the Russian nation by Western scholars has been dominated in recent years by the modernist stance. A great many authors would argue that there was not a Russian nation prior to the Soviet period, let alone prior to the 18th century. Recent publications by David Laitin[25] and Rogers Brubaker,[26] building upon the works of authors such as R. Suny[27] and Hobsbawm,[28] present theories of nation and nationalism as being dependent upon institutions for their formation. Naturally, as is the case with most modernist writing, the primary institution that is seen as responsible for nation-building is the state. Liah Greenfeld allows for a somewhat earlier emergence of the Russian nation, locating its origins in the reign of Peter the Great. To cite Greenfeld: “It is indeed disconcerting to realize, when one thinks about the huge territory bearing the name of Russia today, and 150 million people seeing themselves as belonging to it in the deepest sense of the word, or deriving their very identity from it, that it all began with two people – a seven-foot tall, wild-tempered Russian tsar and Sophia Augusta Frederika, a comely German princess-who started speaking words [such as otechestvo or fatherland] which few around them understood and drummed them into their subjects’ heads.”[29] I too examine the origins of words in the section to follow, beginning with the 11th century rather than with the 18th century. I will demonstrate that some of the “new” words that Greenfeld uses to prove the modern origin of the Russian nation are, are in fact centuries older.

In this study, I intend to examine the modernist analysis of Russian nationhood using Hastings’ revisionist theory of nation and nationalism. If Hastings’ basic theory is correct, then there should be ample evidence which demonstrates how Biblical texts contributed to shaping the Russian nation, serving as a template for the emerging nation of Rus’, and later, Russia. There should also have been an emerging national consciousness as certain segments of the population became literate. From this perspective, the emergence of nation and nationhood need not be limited to state intervention: the Church, by promoting an understanding of certain Biblical texts, may have promoted a deep understanding of the nation in a given population. I will argue that this is possible even in circumstances in which the population is largely illiterate. Taken as a whole, the Russian medieval period will provide evidence of an emerging concept of nation that should have been accepted by, at the very least, the educated elite, and perhaps seeped down into the popular culture. The texts that I have chosen to analyze for the purposes of this discussion include a number of Orthodox Psalters including an Early Slavonic Psalter from Rus’ dating back to the 11th century; several Early Slavonic apocryphal texts whose were likely composed in the same period from the 11th to the early 12th century, the Primary Chronicle (although the surviving copies date back to the 14th century, this Chronicle was likely composed at the turn of the 12th century) and finally, a number of other texts predating the 17th century. This is but a small sample of the texts written during the Russian medieval period, however, they are adequate to demonstrate the existence of a concept of Russian nationhood (or more accurately for the early period, a concept of the nation of Rus’). By examining the words used to describe the “nation” and the “patria”, I will demonstrate that Peter the Great and his followers added little to the Russian understanding of nation and nationhood. By the 12th century, the major words describing nation and people in Russian were already in circulation. There were competing words, but the fundamental meaning of natio as understood in medieval Europe was virtually identical to the ways in which words such as narod and yazyk – in the old sense of “people” – were understood in both Kievan Rus’ and medieval Russia. Likewise, the central Christian texts of Eastern Orthodoxy propagated and reaffirmed the importance of these words in both medieval and modern Russia.

The importance of the Psalms in Christian belief cannot be overstated: “The most widely read book was, however, not the Gospel, but the Psalter, thanks to its extensive liturgical use. It was the first reader for the child, a common devotional book for the layman and a book used even for divinations.”[30] The psalter or “psaltyr” was one of the first texts to be translated into Old Church Slavonic. If there was one text that the greatest numbers of Christians were be familiar with, it was the Psalter, and this tradition dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. According to Shchepkina “The reason for the wide usage was that the themes and characters from the Psalter were traditionally interpreted as preceding and foretelling the New Testament events. The text of the Psalter formed the nucleus of the divine service of the early Christian community, which also helped its spreading.”[31]

The importance of the Psalter was maintained throughout Christian history. During the early modern period, in the wills of wealthy Muscovites, money was set aside to pay for an individual to read the Psalms day and night for a period of 40 days and 40 nights.[32] D. Scheffel notes, for example, that the Psalter was one of the core texts of the Old Believers.[33] Likewise, Vera Shevzov, in her analysis of chapels and the religious practices of Russian peasants in the prerevolutionary period notes that according to ethnographic data collected in the late 19th century, peasants would often gather in a village chapel and spend the day reading from the holy books that included the Psalter.[34] What is particularly interesting is the role of the literate in a largely illiterate society. According to one source cited in the Vologodskoi Oblast State Archive (GAVO): “Some of the literate peasants would read books of a spiritual-ethical content, while others would listen and learn.”[35] All of these examples demonstrate the importance of the Psalter in the daily lives of Orthodox believers, but further examination is required. Shevzov notes that little research has been done in the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and how it was understood and observed by the peasantry. Nonetheless, the actual words of the Psalms can shed light into how the concept of nation would have been understood by the peasantry and these examples demonstrate the ways in which knowledge of the Psalms would have been transmitted to peasant populations, from medieval period onward.

Before turning to the medieval Psalters, it is important to understand the language of the Psalters and the ways in which the biblical nation of Israel – as depicted in the Psalms – served to define nationhood. In order to fully review the impact of the Psalms, I will examine a turn of the century Psalter published in 1904 in order to demonstrate the use of the word narod – for all practical purposes the most direct and widespread equivalent of the word “nation” as it is understood in English – in a few key psalms. One of the most enlightening psalms when it comes to understanding Russian concepts of people and nations is Psalm 7, verses 8 and 9. In the 1904 Psalter, these verses read as follows: “сонмъ людей станеть вокругь Тебя; надъ нимъ поднимись на высоту. Господь судитъ народы. Суди меня, Господи, по правде моей и по непорочности моей во мне”[36] (1904 official Russian Orthodox Psalter printed in Saint Petersburg). Psalm 7, verse 8 is particularly meaningful: in this verse we read: “The Lord shall judge the nations (i.e. narody).”

It should be noted that in the English translations of this verse, there is some ambiguity. In the King James Version of the Bible, we read: “The LORD shall judge the people”. In other versions, we read that God shall judge the peoples (plural, signifying different nations). The Russian version is particularly powerful in that is seems to indicate that nations will be judged as a collective entity. This belief in the judgement of nations is central to Orthodoxy in general and Russian Orthodoxy in particular. To cite George P. Fedotov’s classic work, “The Russian Religious Mind (I): Kievan Christianity. The 10th to the 13th Centuries”:

All peoples are called by God, and Russia among them. It is a view taken from a universal, oecumenical standpoint, and not from a national one. On the one hand, the nation is not an indifferent category in the kingdom of God. As man stands before God, responsible for his own life, so stand all nations, as spiritual entities, with their sins and their holiness, in the earthly Church and in eternity.[37]

Fedotov continues that such religious ideas of the nation could not have emerged in medieval Western Europe, but that it was a natural development within the Eastern Church with its plurality of languages and cultures. If Hastings is, as I believe, correct in his interpretation of medieval history, this may not be entirely correct. However, I hypothesize that this concept of a national spiritual entity that is to be judged by God is expressed in Russian culture through the concept of the Russian Soul. Again, as the Psalter states that God shall judge the nations individually, it could logically be presumed that individuals within the nation would share certain propensities, based on this shared collective entity. Fedotov himself states this when he uses the term “soul of the people.”[38]

The occurrence of the word nations (narody) is not isolated to the 7th psalm. In the first verse of the second psalm, we read: “Зачемъ мятутся народы, и племена замышляютъ тщетное?” and followed by verse 9: “Отъ Господа – спасение. Надъ народом Твоимъ благословение Твое”. Psalm 4:7 reads: “Не убоюсь темъ народа, которыя со всехъ сторонъ ополчились на меня.” Psalm 9:6 reinforces psalm 7:8 as it reads: “Ты вознегодовалъ на народы, погубилъ нечестиваго, имя ихъ изгладилъ на веки и веки”. (1904 Psalter cited above) The first line of this psalm is translated in the King James Bible as follows: “Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.” Again, as was the case for Psalm 7:8, God rebuked not only a collective of individuals, but rather rebuked, in the Russian Psalter, nations. I could continue with excerpts from the prerevolutionary Psalter, as there are 150 psalms in a Psalter. However, what is evident in these first Psalms is that by the end of the 19th century, the Russian Psalter has subsumed most collective identities under the rubric nation/narod,[39] and that nations stand before God as collective entities to be judged. It is also clear from the Psalter that even a cursory reading would have inculcated a very clear understanding of nationhood to the reader – or as Shevzov’s research indicates – to the illiterate listening to the psalms being read and then explained to them. This counters the arguments put forward by the extreme modernists such as Laitin, Brubaker and N. Melvin[40] that see the Russian nation/narod as a creation of the Soviet state. Given the importance of the Russian Orthodox Faith in the life of the average Russian peasant, and the central importance of the Psalter in Orthodox religious practice, it is difficult to conceive how the peasantry could not have understood that they belonged to a nation/narod. The question would not be whether a peasant belonged to a particular nation, but simply to which nation they belonged whether it be Russian, Georgian, Armenian, German to name but a few possibilities.

I contend that the late prerevolutionary Psalters – along with other religious documents – effectively reaffirmed nationhood among all believers (and likely non-believers of other faiths given the weight of Russian Orthodox Culture in Imperial Russia). The question remains as to whether this was the case in the first Psalters, those dating back to the 11th century. The argument that I will be making, based upon these original documents, is that these early Psalters do convey a sense of nation and nationhood.

A case in point is the Old Slavonic Sinai Psalter containing this passage: “Възвратять ся грешьници въ адъ: въси языци забываящин ба[41] [Бога]”. The meaning is simple: sinners will be sent to hell along with those nations that have forgotten God. The King James Bible presents this passage, Psalm 9:17, thus: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, [and] all the nations that forget God.” The 1904 Russian Orthodox Psalter I consulted labels this passage Psalm 9:18 and reproduces it thus: “Да обратятся нечестивые въ адъ, – все народы забывающие Бога.” The Sinai Psalter, dating back to the 11th century, does depict a world being peopled in part by nations, as expressed in the basic term языкъ/yazyk (though the word often appears as языци/yazytsi[42]).

Additionally, the Sinai Psalter introduces the term отъчъство or отечество (otechestvo), the term that in modern English is translated as the “Fatherland”. Psalm 22:27 in the Sinai Psalter reads as follows: “И поклонять ся предь нимъ въсе отъчъства язъчъна.”[43] The King James Bible translates this passage as follows: “and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” In this psalm, the Greek patria – signifying lineage, kindred and family – was translated as “otechestvo”. As noted previously, the Greek patria is not to be confused with patris, the word signifying native country, fatherland or native place, which was translated in Old Slavonic as simply “land” or “zemla.”[ href="#smt"onclick="openWin(44)">44] In this passage we can see the clear origins of the term “fatherland” though it is clear that the meaning of the word shifted over time. Interestingly enough, the word designating “kindred” came to be seen in Russian as an equivalent for “fatherland”. It may not be all that surprising in that kinship metaphors are often used to describe nationhood. Closer analysis and attention to the use of the word “otechestvo” will help to clarify the origins and use of the word through the centuries. Nonetheless, we can see that the term predates Peter the Great by well over 6 centuries, and demonstrates that Greenfeld’s analysis is somewhat misplaced. Peter the Great may have begun using the term in the 18th century, but the word had a long pedigree in the religious texts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The final term that is important in our understanding of nation in the psalms is the general word for “people”. In Old Slavonic, both demos and ethnos were translated as “nation” whereas the Greek term laos was translated as people, or in modern Russian люди (lyudi). Strong’s Lexicon defines the Greek term laos as: “1) a people, people group, tribe, nation, all those who are of the same stock and language 2) of a great part of the population gathered together anywhere.” [45] The Sinai Psalter uses the term, for example, to refer to an individual’s or God’s people. The term is often used in a psalm when addressing God, and referring to “His people.” It can also be used to refer to people in the more general sense. However, over time, the term narod replaces the term lyudi even in the Psalters. Psalm 67 in the Sinai Psalter[46] uses the word for people or laos on a number of occasions, whereas the 1904 Psalter uses only the term narod in the same Psalm, completely excluding the term lyudi.[47] This does not mean that the word did not exist in Old Slavonic, simply that as the language evolved, as it moved towards modern Russian, the word narod came to be used in the place of a number of words signifying people/nation. I will be examining the first traces and use of the word narod and will then demonstrate how the words for “nation” in Old Slavonic had within them the meaning associated with the word “natio” or “nation” in both medieval and modern Western Europe.


Even though the word narod does not appear in the Sinai Psalter, it was in use in other equally old religious texts. One of the most striking examples of this is the Apocalypse of Abraham, an apocryphal text that was translated into Church Slavonic. The composition of the original text written in a Semitic language, likely Hebrew, dates to the period between 70 A.D. and 120 A.D., and, according to Ryszard Rubinkiewicz, likely between between 79 and 81 A.D. Interestingly, no Greek copy of this text has been located and the first Old Slavonic translation appears at the turn of the 12th century. As is often the case with such documents, the existing copies date to a later period: mainly between the 14th and 16th centuries. Nonetheless, this text does provide an indication of the origins of the central words describing nation and people among the Slavic populations of Russia and elsewhere.

The word narod is a relatively archaic word if we examine its dispersion across the various Slavic populations: variations of the word exist in Russian, Church Slavonic, Bulgarian, Serbian, Czech and Polish[48] which indicates the widespread use of such words before their conversion to Christianity. By examining this particular apocryphal text, it is possible to understand how the word would have been used by the 12th century. This Apocalypse of Abraham is a useful text not only for understanding the linguistic history of Slavic languages, but equally to better understand the origins of Russian Orthodoxy: the apocrypha were popular religious texts among early Christian Slavs. These apocrypha included Jewish and Christian legends that were rejected by the Greek Orthodox Church, but which were never entirely banned in Russian Orthodoxy. According to Fedotov, the Russian Orthodox Church considered all religious writings divine – except those deemed heretical. The impact of the apocrypha cannot be underestimated. Fedotov believed: “The Russian people had a particular prediliction for the apocryphy because of its fabulous content which appealed to their imagination.”[49] The only other writings that would have equalled in importance to the Psalms, other books from the Holy Scripture and the apocrypha were the highly popular accounts of the lives of the saints. Other apocryphal writings include the Book of Enoch, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Gospel and Nicodemus, the Gospel of Saint James and a number of other such texts. The importance of such texts in the shaping of a national consciousness cannot be underestimated, even among the largely illiterate peasant populations of Kievan Rus’ and medieval Russia. The Book of Enoch, for example, makes continuous use of two terms: people/lyudi and nation/yazyk. The first term – lyudi – refers to the people of Enoch whereas the second is used when describing the times in history when nation fought nation (yazyk na yazyk) and people fell upon people in war.[50]

The Apocalypse of Abraham parallels the Sinai Psalter in that it does use the word yazyk in all its various forms to designate the nation. However, the word narod is sometimes used to designate a multitude of people. An example of the use of these terms: “оть страны шюяя язычныя и изыдоша моужи и жены и дети отъ страны языкъ народ<ъ> многъ и покланяхуся емоу.”[51] Rubinkiewecz translates this as meaning from the side of the Pagans there emerged a nation with a multitude of men, women and children that bowed before him.[52] The Apocalypse uses the expression много народ/mnogo narod to signify a multitude, a crowd. At times, there is some ambiguity – the Apocalypse for example seems to use the term narod to signify a nation of pagans – народ<ъ> языченъ/narod yazychen.[53] The term narod is equally used when describing a collection of people that is not yet known. Abraham asks the angel accompanying him: “То кто естъ народъ въ образавании...?” or “What is this nation on one part and another of the painting?” Abraham asks, using the word narod on its own to describe the group of people he was seeing in this painting depicting future events shown to him by an angel sent by God.[54]

What is clear is that narod, by the 12th century, had become an important word in its own right in Old Slavonic, and by extension, Old Russian, though it does not clearly indicate nationhood. Though the term narod is rarely used in medieval Psalter, I encountered the word once, for example, in the 11th century Chudovskaya Psalter, which refers to the narod in jubilation (“народа празднующа/naroda prazdnuyushcha”).[55] However, the Psalters do seem to maintain the use of yazyk in preference to narod until the 17th century: upon examination of a Psalter dating to the year 1640[56], I noted that the words and phrasing when referring to the “nations” had remained largely unchanged with the terms yazyk, in all its forms, still predominant to the exclusion of narod. However, the term narod was in use quite early, possibly as early as the 12th century and perhaps prior to then. In Metropolitan Ilarion’s Sermon on Law and Grace the word is used to signify a gathering of people, a crowd, whereas this same text uses the term yazyk to denote the nation. In all of these Old Slavonic texts, the word narod is never used on its own to designate nationhood.[57]

The question arises as to why the term narod eventually displaced the term yazyk. It may be due to outside influence – the impact of Polish or other Slavic languages – or it may simply be due to the internal evolution of the Russian language in which one word supplants another. The process by which narod acquires the meaning of “nation” and gradually eclipses the word yazyk is visible in the 1683 translation of the Psalter into the “simple language” as the Russian vernacular was called, by Avramii Firsov.[58] Whereas the word narod only made a rare appearance in earlier Psalters, in this translation, the term is dominant, though not exclusively used. The competing term yazyk is used in this translation and at times both words are used in the same verse of a psalm. Likewise the term “otechestviya” is used in this psalter: “вся отечествия языковъ/vsya otechestviya yazykov or all the kindreds of the nations.[59] The presence of both narod and the competing terms does suggest that the term narod was gaining in usage whereas yazyk was in decline. To put the date of 1683 in perspective, it must be remembered that Peter the Great was only 11 years old when this first translation of the Psalter was published and though he was officially the Tsar, along with his brother, he was too young to have any real influence on either the state or the language. However, I can only speculate as to whether this Psalter influenced Peter: if Peter read this Psalter he would have been influenced by this essential Christian text, thus ensuring a sense of nationhood in the young Tsar.


Having demonstrated that the concept of ethnos/natio existed in both Kievan Rus and medieval Russia, the questions remains as to how these terms were understood. In Western Europe, authors such as Hastings have demonstrated that by the 14th century, the term natio was being used in a variety of countries with a meaning very similar to the modern usage of the term. By carefully examining one of the earliest texts – the Primary Chronicle – I will demonstrate that the Chroniclers did have a clear conception of a nation, similar to that of other Europeans, and that they had already conceived of a nation of Rus’.

In reading the first few pages of the Primary Chronicle, it is clear that the terminology used to describe nations is identical to that being used by the Sinai Psalter. The Chronicle, however, identifies what would have been contemporary peoples, naming a number of nations (or “yazytsi”) whom were still Pagan: the Merya, the Muroma, the Chud’ and many others.[60] It then goes on to equate the nation of Rus’ with other nations that are said to be descended from the Biblical Japeth: “the Varangians, the Swedes, the Normans, the Gotlanders, the Russes [Rus’], the English, the Spaniards, the Italians, the Romans, the Germans, the French, the Venetians, the Genoese, and so on.”[61] The Chronicle then uses the term “yazyk,” and specifies that while building the Tower of Babylon there was one nation (“yazyk”) and that following God’s dispersion of this one nation into 72 different nations (“yazyki”) and scattered them across the earth, with the Chronicle tracing the origin of the Slavs.

In the Chronicles, I would argue that the term “nation” refers to more than the ruling elite based on this prior analysis of the Old Slavonic religious texts. The Chronicles are quite specific in identifying who belongs to the Slavic nation of Rus’ and who is excluded. S. Cross and O. Sherbowitz-Wetzor translate one passage from the Chronicles thus:

For the Slavic race in Rus’ includes only the Polyanians, the Derevlians, the people of Novgorod, the Polotians, the Dregovichians, the Severians, and the Buzhians, who live along the river Bug and were later called Volhynians. The following are other tribes which pay tribute to Rus’: Chud’, Merya, Ves’, Muroma, Cheremis’, Mordva, Perm’, Pechera, Yam’, Litva, Zimegola, Kors’, Narva, and Liv’. These tribes have their own languages and belong to the race of Japheth, which inhabits the lands of the north.[62]

In the original text, the wording is somewhat different. The term that the authors translate as race is, in actuality “yazyk”. The Chronicle states: “Словянескъ языкъ в Руси”[63] (Slovyaneski yazyk in Rusi) or put another way, that there is a Slovyanian [Slavic] nation in Rusia, what has been referred to previously in the Chronicles as the nation of Rus’. The term that the authors translate as “tribes” is, in the original text, “yazytsi”; or to use the Biblical terminology, it would be best to translate the Chronicle as indicating: “The [Heathen] nations pay tribute to Rus’.”[64]

A few comments on the ways in which these two terms are used, noting that nationhood is associated with language. The Primary Chronicle, specifies that each of the yazytsi paying tribute to Rus’ has its own language. The Slovyanski yazyk of Rus, although they were divided into different territorial units they nonetheless shared a common language (in this case, the word used is грамото/gramota).[65]

The Chronicle thereby indicates the geographical contours of Rus’ by defining the territories of the various groups of Slavs making up the Slavic yazyk. Populations are not only associated with specific territories and languages, they also share particular customs, traditions and laws.

The Chronicle presents a quasi-anthropological account of the various Slavic peoples making up the yazyk of Rus’ specifying that each had its customs. To cite Cross and Sherbowitz-Wetzor’s translation: “These Slavic tribes [or simply Slavs] preserved their own customs, the law of their forefathers, and their traditions, each observing its own usage.”[66] Not content with describing the customs of the Slavs, the Primary Chronicle cites another Chronicler Georgius in describing the customs of a variety of peoples both real and fantastic (the mythical Amazons). Nonetheless, this extraordinary account leads to a description of how Rus’ came to be: the Chronicle specifies that in the year 6360 (852), the land of Rus’ was first named,[67] though in the Primary Chronicle, the land of Rus’ is referred to as “Руска земла/Ruska zemla.”[68]

It is interesting to note that the Chronicle demonstrates the role religion plays in defining and validating the “nation”. The Primary Chronicle specifies that at the time of conversion (988 A.D.) there was still one Slavic people [yazyk] and that the princes asked for the translation of the sacred texts into their language. Hearing their requests, the Eastern Roman Emperor Michael sent two brothers – Methodius and Constantine – to the Slavic lands in order to begin the work of translation. These brothers composed a Slavic alphabet, translated the Acts and the Gospel. They then set about translating the Psalter and other religious texts.[69] This information in itself is not new, however, the debate presented as to whether the Slavs should have these texts in their own language only reaffirms the understanding of nationhood and the way in which the Bible serves as a mirror for nationhood. The Chronicle cites the Roman Pope as saying:

Let the word of the Scripture be fulfilled that ‘all nations shall praise God’ (Ps. Lxxi, 17), and likewise that ‘all nations shall praise God’ (Ps. Lxxi, 17), and likewise that ‘all nations shall declare the majesty of God according as the Holy Spirit shall grant them to speak’ (cf. Acts ii, 4). Whosoever condemns the Slavic writing shall be excluded from the Church until he mends his ways.[70]

To communicate these Biblical passages, the Chronicle uses the term yazyki (and its variant yazytsi).[71] The Bible only serves to reinforce the notion of nationhood, and in this case the translation of Biblical texts into the Slavic language was allegedly acceptable to the Pope, as it furthered the primary aim of Christianity, as set out in the New Testament, which was to convert the nations to God.

In a preliminary reading of the Primary Chronicle, I did not encounter the term “narod”. This in itself is not necessarily an indication that the word was not in use. The Primary Chronicle follows the lead of the Sinai Psalter in using the terms yazyk to the exclusion of the narod. Nonetheless, other chroniclers do make use of the term, notably in the Suzdal Chronicle.[72] These early writings are composed of thousands of pages of text. More research is required to fully understand all of the nuances and ways in which the terms for nationhood were used in medieval literature both in Kievan Rus’ and later in Muscovy.

I will conclude with the final observation that in Metropolitan Hilarion’s Sermon on Law and Grace we can find striking uses of both yazyk and narod. In this text, we find that the basic patterns are maintained: yazyk is used to signify nationhood, whereas narod is used to indicate a multitude of people. What is most striking in the Sermon on Law and Grace is the use of the expression “Rusian nation” or Ruskii yazyk. In the opening passage of the Sermon, the Metropolitan Ilarion recounts how Christianity had spread to all the nations (yazyky) all the way to “our Rusian nation” (до нашего языка рускаго/do nashego yazyka ruskago).[73] The importance of this sermon cannot be underestimated: Ilarion was the first non-Greek Metropolitan to head the Orthodox Church in Rus’. He assumed this role in 1051, and this sermon likely predates the Primary Chronicle. The fact that it is a Sermon equally indicates how the concept of nationhood could have been disseminated in a largely illiterate population: the clergy intended that all parishioners understand their sermons. Further research is necessary to understand the impact this sermon and others would have had on the largely illiterate populations of Eastern Europe.


If anything, this preliminary research into the roots of Russian nationhood demonstrated the importance of studying the last 1000 years of Russian history in order to fully appreciate the origins of nationality and nationhood in Eastern Europe. Additionally, all of Russian history must be examined, notably the early Orthodox texts that shaped the emerging Russian national consciousness. In the Psalms and the Apocrypha we can see clearly how religious texts were instrumental in defining nationhood. As Hastings eloquently demonstrated: “Without it [the Bible] and its Christian interpretation and implementation, it is arguable that nations and nationalism, as we know them, could never have existed.”[74] Alhough Hastings’ research concentrates mainly on Western Europe, the same could be said of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It is clear from the first Slavonic Psalters and other religious documents that the concept of “nation” was prevalent and that it was transferred from the Bible to the extant populations of Kievan Rus’.

The question that remains is how long would it have taken for this understanding of nationhood to seep into the consciousness of the peasantry? The extreme view that this occurred during the Soviet regime is untenable: by the time of the Revolution, the Psalter had been rendered into a fully modern Russian, and the reading of these Psalms was central to the religious practice of the Russian Orthodox faithful. If the peasantry could not read, then the literate would read and explain the psalms to the illiterate, and this is applicable to the non-schismatic Orthodox. David Scheffel’s research[75] demonstrates that the Old Believers (schismatic Orthodox believers), not having any clergy, learned from childhood to read the Old Church Slavonic texts. All told, it is difficult to imagine from a theoretical perspective how the peasantry could not have acquired a national consciousness, as the Russian Orthodox Church taught that God judged nations. The question, then, is not whether the late 19th century peasantry had acquired a nationality, but rather how early the peasantry would have acquired this sense of nationhood.

There are some indications that believers were exposed to the psalms in the medieval period. As D. Kaiser’s research[76] demonstrates, wealthy residents of the Muscovite principality would pay for someone to read the Psalter at their graves for a period of 40 days and nights. There is no reason why any person listening to the psalms being read at this period should not have understood the meaning of the text and its use of the word yazyk. In addition to the funerary readings of the psalms, other avenues existed. John-Paul Himka is doing highly original research examining the icon of the Last Judgement. In a chapter currently in press, “On the Left Hand of God: ‘Peoples’ in Ukrainian Icons of the Last Judgement”, Himka examines the ways in which peoples – for example, Jews, Turks, Tatars, Poles, Germans, Armenians, and even the Rus’ themselves – are depicted in traditional Ukrainian culture. Of particular importance in this icon is the representation of those peoples that are being judged. Invariably they include the Jews and other non-Orthodox populations (Poles, Germans, Tatars, Moors, etc…), though problematically, the icons also include the Rus’ from time to time.[77] What is interesting is the way in which these populations are typically depicted in the icon: they tend to be grouped together, they are wearing distinctive clothing – one could label it “national” or “ethnic” dress – and their physiognomy is represented in a stereotypical manner (John-Paul Himka, personal communication). Not only are these populations represented in a manner suggesting “nationality”, they are named to ensure that there can be no confusion. The icons that Himka has been studying date back to the 15th century and demonstrate how the concept of nationhood could have been transmitted visually to a largely illiterate population. This suggests that it is not necessary for the entire population to be literate in order for the impact of a written language to be felt. It suffices for some of the literate to communicate the message to the remaining population (Himka, in press).

As an anthropologist, my concern is to study history in order to understand the processes that shape extant populations. My survey of medieval Russian texts does not pretend to be exhaustive, but even a cursory review of the rich literary tradition of Rus’ and Muscovy demonstrates a need for researchers to revise their assumptions about the formation of the Russian nation and nationalism. It is clear that we cannot begin with the 18th century (or even the 20th) if we are truly going to understand the origins of the Russian nation. By the 12th century, the terminology describing nationhood was already clearly established by the Biblical texts. These ideas were then integrated into the earliest Chronicles and maintained themselves throughout the medieval period. If we are to fully understand what was occurring during this period, then we have to seriously examine this historical legacy. Not only were the words for nation in use in the Primary Chronicle, we also have various usages and forms of the term “Russkaya zemla”, Russian land, indicating a sense of “patris” (patria in Latin). This is addition to words such as otechestvo and otchina that were in use in the Old Slavonic religious texts. We cannot exclude religion and culture in the formation of nations. Rather, we need more research into the ways in which Orthodoxy influence the peasantry. Also, this reading into the Russian Psalter and other texts indicates some interesting paths for future research into the more recent past. Questions that come to mind are, among others, how Stalin’s training in the Georgian Orthodox Church influenced his vision of nation. Did he acquire an Orthodox view of the world in which God judges nations collectively? It is only by understanding processes of the longue durée, and in particular how religion influenced the emergence of nationhood prior to the Revolution that we will better understand the political history of the Soviet period and the question of nation and nationalism in the modern Russian Federation and among Russians and others in the Russian Diaspora.
[1] Eric J. Hobsbawm. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780. Cambridge, 1990. Pp. 44 – 45.

[2] Liah Greenfeld. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge and London, 1992.

[3] Charles Jerome Halperin. Master and Man in Muscovy // Alexander Presniakov. The Tsardom of Muscovy. Translated by Robert F. Price. Gulf Breeze, Fl., 1978.; Idem. Russia and the Golden Horde. Bloomington, 1985; Idem. The Russian Land and the Russian Tsar: The Emergence of Muscovite Ideology, 1380-1408. Columbia University, 1973; Idem. The Tatar Yoke. Columbus, Ohio, 1986.

[4] Adrian Hastings. The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism. Cambridge, 1997.

[5] The word narod still signifies a multitude of people in modern Russian as well as having the meaning of “nation.”

[6] Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. Ed. London, 1991.

[7] Ernest Gellner. Nations and Nationalism. Oxford, 1983.

[8] Eric J. Hobsbawm. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780. Cambridge, 1990.

[9] John Breuilly. Nationalism and the State. 2[10] ed. Manchester, 1993.

[11] Adrian Hastings. The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism. Cambridge, 1997.

[12] Ibid. P. 17.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. P. 18.

[16] For the present exegesis, I have relied upon Biola University’s web-based Biblical research tool, The Unbound Bible. This site provides a powerful tool for the analysis of the Bible with search engines. The Biblical texts are available online in a number of versions and languages, including the oldest Biblical languages–Latin Vulgate and Greek. The site is located at the following address: (Site visited in January, 2001)

[17] This citation was taken from the University of Virginia’s electronic text, the online Koran. This passage can be found in the chapter “The Cow” verse 2.213. To go to the online Koran, visit this site: Site accessed on November 30, 2000.

[18] Matthew Henry, a 17th and early 18th Century minister of the Gospel in Chester, England, understood this particular passage thus: “There is now no difference arising from different country or different condition and circumstance of life: it is as much the duty of the one as of the other to be holy, and as much the privilege of the one as of the other to receive from God the grace to be so” –, January 28, 2001.

[19] The Koran, as the Russian Orthodox Psalters, does indicate that those nations not true to faith and word of Allah will be judged collectively. This passage from the Koran, “The Ant” verses 27.82-85 provides a description of the Final Judgment: “And when the word shall come to pass against them, We shall bring forth for them a creature from the earth that shall i wound them, because people did not believe in Our communications. And on the day when We will gather from every nation a party from among those who rejected Our communications, then they shall be formed into groups. Until when they come, He will say: Did you reject My communications while you had no comprehensive knowledge of them? Or what was it that you did?” (Citation from the online Koran: November 30, 2000).

[20] Adrian Hastings. The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism. P. 18.

[21] Ibid. P. 23

[22] Josep R. Llobera. The God of Modernity: The Development of Nationalism in Western Europe. Berg European Studies Series. Oxford and Providence, 1994. P. 3.

[23] Josep R. Llopera. State and Nation in Medieval France // Journal of Historical Sociology. 1994, Vol. 7. № 3. Pp. 342-62.

[24] The usage of the word patria in Latin diverges from the meaning of the word in the Greek language. The Latin patria signifying land is equivalent to the Greek patris defined as one’s native country, one’s fatherland or one’s native place – i.e. a city. The Greek word patria signified lineage, kindred, family (see the Unbound Bible’s online Greek and Latin Lexicon for a discussion of these words. Site,, consulted January 26, 2001.

[25] See: John Armstrong. Nations Before Nationalism. Chapel Hill, 1982; Anthony D Smith. The Problem of National Identity: Ancient, Medieval and Modern? // Ethnic and Racial Studies. 1994, Vol. 17. № 3. Pp. 375-99.

[26] David D. Laitin. Identity in Formation. Ithaca and London, 1998.

[27] Rogers Brubaker. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe, 1996.

[28] Ronald Grigor Suny. The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford, 1993.

[29] Eric J. Hobsbawm. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780. Cambridge, 1990.

[30] Liah Greenfeld. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge and London, 1992. P. 203.

[31] George P. Fedotov. The Russian Religious Mind (I): Kievan Christianity. The 10th to the 13th Centuries. // Collected works by George P. Fedotov. Vol. 3. Belmont, Mass., 1975. P. 42.

[32] M. V. Shchepkina. Miniatyury Khudovskoy Psaltyri. Moscow, 1977. P. 315.

[33] Daniel H. Kaiser. Death and Dying in Early Modern Russia // Nancy Shields Kollman (Ed.). Major Problems in Early Modern Russian History (Articles on Russian and Soviet History 1500-1991). New York and London, 1992. P. 237.

[34] David Scheffel. In the Shadow of the Antichrist: The Old Believers of Alberta. Peterborough, Ontario, 1991. P. 106.

[35] Vera Shevzov. Chapels and the Ecclesial World of Prerevolutionary Russian Peasants. // Slavic Review. 1996, Vol. 55. № 3. Pp. 585-613.

[36] Ibid. P. 595.

[37] Prerevolutionary orthography was slightly different from modern Russian orthography. A few additional letters were in use. To simply these citations, I have simply inserted the equivalent modern Russian letters representing the sounds of the older Russian letters no longer in use. Likewise, when presenting excerpts from Old Slavonic texts, I will substitute the modern Russian letters in lieu of the archaic lettering, while striving to maintain the sound and integrity of the original.

[38] George P Fedotov. The Russian Religious Mind (I): Kievan Christianity. The 10th to the 13th Centuries. P. 405.

[39] Ibid. P. 325.

[40] It should be noted that by this period the word nation (нация/natsiia) was already known in Russia. However, in late 19[41] century dictionaries, the reader is directed from нация (nation) to народ (narod). Likewise, when looking up национальность (nationality), the reader was directed to the word народность (narodnost).

[42] Neil Melvinl. Nations Abroad : Diaspora Politics and International Relations in the Former Soviet Union. Boulder, Colorado, 1998; Russians Beyond Russia: The Politics of National Identity. London, 1995.

[43] Again, I have substituted modern Russian letters for the archaic letters of Old Slavonic and Old Russian. It should be noted that in the older Psalms the word for God is rarely spelled out. The name of God is presented as a contraction.

[44] When I first examined the Old Slavonic Psalms, I assumed the words языки(ы)/языци to be the same word with perhaps variations due to factors that I did not understand. However, in examining this word in its context and comparing it to various Biblical translations, I came to the conclusion that these were two unique words, one representing pagan nations (языци). It seemed that the two were used consistently with two slightly different meanings attached to them. However, in conferring with other scholars, I was told that the two spellings are likely different grammatical forms of the same word. Irregardless, whether one word or two, the essence does not change: Old Church Slavonic had at least one word that clearly delimited the concept of nation and this word is found not only in the Psalter and other Biblical texts, but equally in other early Church Slavonic texts. At times, the meaning denoted is that of “Heathen nation” at other times simply “nation”. This is not necessarily inconsistent with the original Greek texts as the word ethnos depending on its context was used to signify Gentiles, nation, heathen, and people (information gathered from the Unbound Bible Greek Lexicon ( on February 6, 2001. What is particularly interesting is that the word for ethnos in Old Church Slavonic is the same as the principal word for language, which is not the case in Biblical Greek.

[45] Lavoslav Geitler. Psalterium Glagolski Spomenik Manastira Sinai Brda (Psalter From the Mount Sinai Monastery). Zagreb, 1883. P. 43.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Information obtained from the Biola University online Greek and Hebrew Lexicon located at the following site:

[48] Lavoslav Geitler. Psalterium Glagolski Spomenik Manastira Sinai Brda. Pp. 134 – 135.

[49] Psaltyr'. St. Petersburg, 1904. P. 78.

[50] Franz Mikosich. Dictionnaire Abrégé De Six Langues Slaves (Russe, Vieux-Slave, Bulgare, Serbe, Tchèque Et Polonais) Ainsi Que Français Et Allemand. (Abbreviated Dictionary of Six Slavic Languages in Addition to French and German). Moscow, St. Petersburg and Vienna, 1885. Pp. 382-383.

[51] George P Fedotov. The Russian Religious Mind (I): Kievan Christianity. The 10th to the 13th Centuries. P. 43.

[52] For an example of the use of these terms, see: André Vaillant. Le Livre Des Secrets D'Hénoch: Texte Slave Et Traduction Française. Paris, 1952. P. 70.

[53] Ryszard Rubinkiewicz. L'Apocalypse D'Abraham En Vieux Slave. Introduction, Texte Critique, Traduction Et Commentaire. Lublin, 1987. P. 192.

[54] Ibid. P. 193.

[55] Ibid. P. 186.

[56] Ibid. P. 174.

[57] See Valerii Pogorelov. Chudovskaya Psaltyr' XI Veka, Otryvok Tolkovaniya Feodorita Kirrskogo Na Psaltyr' v Drevne-Bolgarskom Perevode.C Prilojeniem Dvukh Fototipicheskikh Snimkov. (Chudovskya Psalter XI Century). // Pamyatniki Staroslavyanskogo Yazyka. Vol. III. Part 1. St. Petersburg, 1910. P. 19.

[58] Psaltyr’ so vozledovaniem. Moscow. 1640. Manuscript available at the University of Alberta on microfilm.

[59] See John Fennell and Dimitri Obolensky. Metropolitan Ilarion: Sermon on Law and Grace // John Fennell and Dimitri Obolensky (Eds.) A Historical Russian Reader. Oxford, 1969.

[60] Psaltyr' 1683 Goda v Perevode Avramiya Firsova / Preparation of text, lexical index and introductory remarks by Elena A. Tselynova. München, 1989.

[61] Ibid. P. 60.

[62] See Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisey. Leningrad, 1926. P. 4.

[63] Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds. and transl.). The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. Cambridge, Mass., 1953. P. 52.

[64] Ibid. P. 55.

[65] As was the case elsewhere in this text, I am reproducing the text using modern Russian orthography. Barring any misspellings I may unintentionally introduce to any of these texts, the meaning is nonetheless preserved in the transcription.

[66] See Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisey. Leningrad, 1926. P. 11.

[67] Ibid. P. 6.

[68] Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds. and transl.). The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. P. 56.

[69] Ibid. P. 58.

[70] See Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisey. Leningrad, 1926. P. 18.

[71] Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds. and transl.). The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. Pp. 62-63.

[72] Ibid. P. 63.

[73] See Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisey. Leningrad, 1926. P. 27.

[74] Ibid. Vol. 2. Leningrad, 1927. P. 313 as one example of the use of narod in the sense of the people of Kiev.

[75] John Fennell and Dimitri Obolensky. Metropolitan Ilarion: Sermon on Law and Grace // John Fennell and Dimitri Obolensky (Eds.) A Historical Russian Russian Reader. Oxford, 1969. P. 1.

[76] Adrian Hastings. The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism. P. 4.

[77] David Scheffel. In the Shadow of the Antichrist: The Old Believers of Alberta.

[78] Daniel H. Kaiser. Death and Dying in Early Modern Russia.

[79] Himka (in press) suggests that this inconsistency is the result of two iconic traditions being merged. In one, the damned peoples are represented and in the other, those peoples waiting to be judged are being represented by the icon painters. To cite Himka: “The presence of Moses and the Jews probably inspired the painters to choose mainly condemnable nations for that section of the icon, but the universality of the judgement probably led some painters to include Rus’ (and Greeks and Cossacks)”.

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