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Number of active churches in the Russian Empire/USSR/post-Soviet space from 1900 to 2000 via the blogger genby.


One element of Stalinist propaganda is that he presided over the rebirth of the Russian church. However, one graph is worth thousands of words, and we can immediately see that there was no such thing – there were far fewer active churches even after the Soviet regime’s war-mandated “reconciliation” with religion than there were during the NEP.

There were 29,500 active churches by 2010, and genby estimates there might be 35,000 today.


• Category: History • Tags: Religion, Russian Orthodox Church, Soviet Union 
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As the Russian Patriarch embarks on a five-day visit to China, Kommersant’s Pavel Korobov takes a look at the history, current reality, and future prospects of Orthodoxy in China.

The ROC Acquires Chinese Literacy

Patriarch Kirill arrived in China on a five-day official visit. The leadership of the PRC has already called the First Hierarch’s visit an historical event – never before has the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) been to the country. Experts believe that the visit will help the Orthodox Church acquire official status in China.

The visit of the ROC’s primate carries not only a religious character, but also a diplomatic one, as the Patriarch is accepted as an authoritative Russian representative in the PRC. “You are the first Russian religious leader who has visited our country,” Xi Jinping said upon meeting the First Hierarch. “This is a clear expression of the high level and special nature of Sino-Russian relations.” Sources in the Moscow Patriarchate likewise say that “the Patriarch’s visit is aimed at strengthening the friendly relations between the two countries.”

Orthodoxy first came to China in the 17th century, when the Russian priest Maxim Leontiev arrived in Beijing. The Russian Spiritual Mission to China was founded in 1713. In 1957, the Chinese Orthodox Church granted autonomy. In 1965, after the death of Simeon of Shanghai, the Church lost its episcopal leadership. The Synod of the ROC in 1997 made the decision that on account of the Chinese Church lacking its own primate, and while its Local Council had not yet elected another, care of the flock would be handled by the the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

The PRC officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. There are up to 300 million of the faithful in the country, including about 100 million Buddhists, 40 million Protestants, 13 million Catholics, and 20 million Muslims. The number of Orthodox is approximately 15,000. It should be noted that this isn’t the first time that the status of the Orthodox Church has been raised in discussions. In particular, the current Patriarch – who was once the chairman of the ROC’s Department for External Church Relations – had already visited the PRC in 1993, 2001, and 2003, but the talks were unsuccessful.

“The Patriarch’s visit to Communist China is an important event in the history of the Church. Its significance can be compared with Kirill’s visit to Catholic Poland last year,” according to Anatoly Pchelintsev, a professor at the Center for the Study of Religion of the Russian State University for the Humanities. “The Patriarch is trying to expand the spiritual influence of Orthodoxy as in the West, so too in the East, and to strengthen the ROC’s position in the world.” He believes that Patriarch Kirill is trying to convince the Chinese leadership to legalize Orthodoxy in China. “China is one of our closest neighbors, so the ROC should foster a dialog with the Chinese authorities, and build a spiritual bridge between Russia and the PRC – and for that, an official Church is needed in China,” says Pchelintsev.

“I hope that the parishes of the Chinese Orthodox Church will be officially registered. I very much that at some time, there will appear a Chinese bishop,” he said at a meeting of the Patriarchy with Orthodox Chinese. “Until this happens, it is the Russian Orthodox Church that is responsible before God for the fate of Chinese Orthodoxy.” According to him, the ordination of Chinese priests could open the road to the registration of Orthodox parishes.

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At least if you take Michael Bohm’s arguments in his latest Moscow Times missive on how Russia Is Turning Into Iran to its logical conclusion.

Look, I’m not a fan of blasphemy laws. The First Amendment is a wonderful thing and something that makes the US truly great… even exceptional, to an extent. Although it should be noted that there are limits even in the US: Some quite appropriate in my opinion, others ridiculous such as the taboo on boobs on TV.

Still, if Russia’s moves to criminalize blasphemy brings it “another step closer to becoming like Iran and other Muslim theocracies”, then we have to admit that the likes of Germany, Poland, Israel, and Ireland are already long there – and contrary to what Bohm claims, it doesn’t seem that any of those countries have ended up in “chronic economic stagnation, decline and high poverty rates.”

Just look at the Wikipedia article. About half the Western world has blasphemy laws on the books. In Germany, a man was sentenced to one year in prison (suspended) in 2006 for insulting Islam. In Poland, the singer Doda was fined 5,000 złoty for the fairly innocuous comment, made well outside church, that the Bible was written by “people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”

Also back in 2006 in Germany, a Berlin man was imprisoned for 9 months for disrupting a church service – but unlike the case with Pussy Riot, nobody nominated the poor bloke for the Sakharov Peace Prize. Nor did The Guardian hire a German journalist to write an oped about how Germany was becoming a “Protestant Iran” (as did Oleg Kashin).

Yet no Western commentator thinks to compare those countries to Islamic societies where apostasy is punishable by death and mobs demand the deaths of 12 year old girls who (supposedly) burn the Koran. And quite rightly so. Regardless of one’s view on the precisely where the boundaries between free speech and protecting religious feelings and social order are, it is intuitively obvious there are stark and clear lines separating today’s Christian civilization from a large chunk of the Dar al-Islam.

Russia on the other hand has yet to even sign the blasphemy bills into law, but shills like Michael Bohm are already rushing in to bracket it in with Iran. If this isn’t double standards then I really don’t know what is.

PS. I am not even going to comment on Bohm’s bizarre and absolutely illiterate musings regarding GDP.

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In my nearly 20 years experience as a Russian living in the West, I have found that almost all my fellows can be reduced to five basic types: 1) The White Russian; 2) The Sovok Jew; 3) The Egghead Emigre; 4) Natasha Gold-Digger; 5) Putin’s Expat.

My background and qualifications to write on this topic? My dad is an academic who moved to the UK with his family in 1994, i.e. an Egghead Emigre. Later on, I moved to California. Much of the Russian community in the Bay Area (though not Sacramento!) are in fact Russian Jews, who are culturally distinct from Russians, albeit the boundaries are blurred and there’s lots of intermingling though Russian cultural events. Topping off the cake, I have some White Russian ancestors, and am familiar with many of them as well as more recent expats via my hobby of Russia punditry.

I hope this guide will entertain American and Russian (and Jewish) readers interested in what happens when their cultures interact and fuse, as well as those very Russian Americans who will doubtless see traces of themselves in at least one of the five main archetypes.


Arrived in: 1917-1920′s, 1945
Social origins: Clerks, Tsarist officials, aristocrats, White Army officers, philosophers.
Culturally related to: Earlier Orthodox Slavic migrants from the Russian Empire who came from 1880-1914, though White Russians proper are more sophisticated than them as they tended to be high class whereas former were peasants.
Political sympathies (US): Moderate conservatism
Political sympathies (Russia): Putin, Prokhorov

No, I’m not talking about Jeff Lebowski’s favorite cocktail. The White Russians (or “White emigres”) are the officers, officials, and intellectuals who fled their country after the Russian Revolution. Prominent examples included Zworykin (TV), Sikorsky (helicopters), and Nabokov (writer). They did not necessarily come to the US straight away: Many came via the great European cities, like Berlin, or Paris, where in the 1920′s, old White Army officers sat around dinghy bars, drowning their sorrows in drink and spending what remained of their money on cockroach racing. Some took more roundabout ways. One girl I know originated from Russian exiles in Harbin, Manchuria (mother’s side) and Brazil (father’s side) who met up and stayed in the US.

White Russians tend to be well-assimilated into US society, and many of the younger generations no longer speak Russian. However, many of them retain a positive affinity with traditional Russian culture – even if it tends to the gauzy and superficial, an attitude that transitions into “kvas patriotism” when taken to an extreme (kind of like Plastic Paddies). The quintessential White Russian comes from an upper-middle class family, holds moderately conservative views, and goes to the occasional Orthodox service and Russian cultural event featuring zakuski, vodka, and traditional singing and dancing.

To the extent they have detailed opinions on Russian politics, they tend to respect Putin, seeing him as a conservative restorer. Needless to say, they never support the Communists – though the antipathy does not extent to Red Army victories or space race triumphs, of which they are proud. Solzhenitsyn is their spiritual figurehead. Many however are partial to liberal forces such as Yabloko and Prokhorov; especially those who are no longer Russophones, and have to rely on Western coverage of Russia. A few kvas patriots go well beyond the call of duty to their Motherland, “telling it like it is on Trans-Dniester” and exposing “court appointed Russia friendlys.”


Arrived in: 1970′s-early 1990′s
Culturally related to: The early wave of Jewish emigration from Tsarist Russia, which included Ayn Rand.
Social origins: Normal Jewish families, with smattering of colorful dissidents and black marketeers/organized crime; also many pretend Jews.
Political sympathies (US): Republicans, neocons, libertarianism
Political sympathies (Russia): Prokhorov, Russian liberals

The Sovok Jew is a very complex figure. At home with American capitalism, he nonetheless continues to strongly identify with Soviet mannerisms (but don’t tell that to his face).

The modern Russian diaspora began in the 1970′s, when many Soviet Jews began to leave for Israel and the US. It accelerated in the late 1980′s, when the Soviet government eased emigration controls (prior to that the US had sanctioned the USSR for limiting Jewish emigration with the Jackson-Vanik amendment; bizarrely, it remains in effect to this day).

Leveraging their intelligence and entrepreneurial talent, many became very rich in the IT (California) and finance (East Coast) sectors. The ultimate example is, of course, Google founder Sergey Brin, who once opined that Russia is “Nigeria with snow.” He is the rule, not the exception. Most Sovok Jews have very poor impressions of Russia, and like to tell funny anecdotes about ethnic Russians’ stupidity and incompetence:

Ivan: What if we have to fight China? They have more than a billion people!
Pyotr: We’ll win with quality over quantity, just like the Jews with the Arabs.
Ivan: But do we have enough Jews?

The above joke courtesy of a Silicon Valley bigwig. He must have assumed I’m Jewish, given my surname. (Reality: I’m not a Jew culturally, though I’ve calculated I’m about 10% Ashkenazi Jewish at the genetic level).

Two further important points must be made. First, while they’re very successful on average, far from all Soviet Jews made the American dream: While many are millionaires, the vast majority still consists of shop assistants, office plankton, and the driving instructor I hired for a refresher lesson prior to my California driving exam. The less successful they are in America, the fonder their recollections of Soviet life. Their biggest enclave, Brighton Beach (“Little Odessa”), used to be a dump; and was the original spawning ground of the so-called “Russian Mafia” abroad, as popularized by Yuri Orlov, the gunrunner antihero from Lord of War.

Second, despite that many famous Soviet dissidents were Jewish (e.g. Brodsky, Dovlatov, – and satirized by the fictional e-persona Lev Sharansky), not to mention their appreciation for capitalism, most Russian Jews regard the USSR in a far more positive light than Russia itself. (Of course, there are exceptions, e.g. Lozansky, and I believe the DR commentator Lazy Glossophiliac). This might sound surprising at first, but one needs to bear in mind that Jews did very well in the early USSR: As Jewish Russian-American author Yuri Slezkine argues in The Jewish Century, the three major homelands of the Jews in the 20th century were the US, Israel, and the USSR, while the traditional Russia of icons and cockroaches was not a homeland, but a pogrom-land.

Furthermore, the USSR’s early philo-Semitism reversed from later Stalinism on, with rhetoric about “rootless cosmopolitanism” and “anti-Zionism” even as the US became highly pro-Israel. In a neat ideological reversal, Soviet Jews in America whose parents had sung Communism’s praises turned to libertarianism and neoconservatism, and in the 2000′s, most became hardcore anti-Putinists.

A controversial assertion, perhaps… But one need only drop a few names: Anne Applebaum (Putin stole my wallet), Miriam Elder (Putin stole my drycleaning ticket), Julia Ioffe (I hate objectivity), Masha Gessen (Putin has no face), Anna Nemtsova (Russian dudes suck)*… Or recall the blood-curdling and frankly threatening responses I got from one Irina Worthey (“Ira Birman”) when trolling a pro-Khodorkovsky Facebook group with inconvenient questions about his actual democratic credentials. Or consider that Prokhorov got 90% of the votes at Palo Alto.

Yet while they harbor little love for Russia, Jewish Russian-Americans continue to speak Russian among themselves, play durak and eat borscht, and recite Radio Yerevan jokes. They remain stuck in the Soviet attitudes and tastes that they brought with them to American shores; arguably, far more so than ethnic Russians (who have co-evolved with post-Soviet Russia). But as the USSR is dead, this Soviet identity has no future; the children of Sovok Jews tend to undergo complete Americanization.


Arrived in: 1990′s
Social origins: Academia.
Political sympathies (US): No real pattern.
Political sympathies (Russia): Communists, liberals; but increasingly, some have learned to stop worrying and love Putin.

The third major group are the Egghead Emigres – those Russians, who left during the 1990′s “brain drain”, when the Russian state lost its ability to even pay salaries regularly. There are Jews among them (e.g. Andre Geim, recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics), as well as other nationalities, but most of them are ethnic Russians. They cluster around university towns; if there’s a campus, chances are there are a few Russians around. As an in-joke among them goes: “What’s an American university?”, “It’s a place where Russian physicists lecture to Chinese students.”

Though one would think that these Russian academics are entrepreneurial go-getters – after all, they were willing to gamble on a new life abroad, right? – most are actually risk-averse and ultimately limited in their horizons. They are highly intelligent, but their ineptness at office politics limits their chances for promotion – as in companies, so within universities – where far less accomplished but socially savvier native bosses leech off their work. While they are now almost uniformly well-off, the Egghead Emigre lacks the Sovok Jew’s entrepreneurial drive, and as such there are very few truly rich among them. But on second thought this ain’t that surprising. Academia is a very safe environment (in terms of employment) and guarantees a reliable cash flow and career progression but it won’t make you a millionaire. The truly entrepreneurial Soviet academics have long since abandoned academia and made big bucks in the business world.

Many Egghead Emigres seem to be stuck in the 1990′s when it comes to their perceptions of Russia, with which they have very bad associations; after all, they ended up leaving the country back then. They feel genuinely betrayed by the Russian state – which for a time didn’t even pay them their salaries – and at the same time, many also became big fans of their adopted countries. I suspect this is in large part born of their need to justify their own emigration to themselves. After all, many of them still have Sovok mindsets, in which emigration and betrayal are near synonyms; but is it still betrayal to betray a country that betrayed you?

Consequently, some even view any “defense” of Russia, no matter how justified, as a personal attack on themselves and respond ferociously. Furthermore, and logically, the more successful they are in the West, the more anti-Russian they tend to be; whereas many of the least successful Egghead Emigres have already gone back to Russia.

Their views on the Soviet Union are mixed: While most admire it for its educational system, they also criticize it for its politicized idiocies and censorship. Nonetheless, their overall impression of the USSR is far higher than that of Russia; at least in the former, they were paid salaries and socially respected.

There’s also a generational aspect. Whereas the migrant “fathers” tended to indulge in Russia-bashing (out of a genuine sense of betrayal; overcompensating need to justify their emigration; etc), and embraced all aspects of Westernization with the fanaticism of the new convert, the effect of emigration was sometimes quite different on their “sons”. A few followed in the footsteps of the “fathers”; some (perhaps most) are largely indifferent to Russia, and have blended into the socio-cultural mainstream of Anglo-Saxon society; and others appreciate Russia to an extent that the “fathers” find puzzling, annoying, or even intolerable.

As you may have deduced, the Egghead Emigre shares many similarities with the Sovok Jew. Nonetheless, many of them still retain a few patriotic vestiges; and politically, they are considerably to the left, with social democratic, socialist, and even Communist leanings being common (whereas Sovok Jews are right-leaning, ironically, unlike purely American Jews who tend to be more leftist). Though not many are still much interested in Russian politics, those who are typically vote for Prokhorov/Yabloko or the Communist Party. That said, it should be noted that in recent years, opinion about the old homeland has improved, especially as Russia recovered under Putin, and once again started paying researchers decent salaries and courting the Egghead Emigres with generous packages on condition they return. But thus far very few of them have taken up those offers.


Arrived in: From early 1990′s
Social origins: Ordinary families
Political sympathies (US): Year 0: Adventurous, naive, wants marriage to nice American guy; Year 2: Wants American betaboy’s nice money
Political sympathies (Russia): ?

Natasha Gold-Digger is the most (in)famous type of Russian American, her image having thoroughly permeated pop culture (e.g. films such as The Russian Bride, Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine). In practice however, Natasha isn’t only the rarest of the five major types of Russian American; frequently, she is not actually Russian, but Ukrainian or Moldovan.

A common delusion that feeds the “mail order brides” industry is that Russian women are less feminist than their over-entitled Western counterparts, eternally thankful for the opportunity to escape poor, barbaric Russia with its alcoholic Beastmen, and hotter to boot. Sounds like a good deal, no?

But while traditional gender roles are indeed far more prevalent in Russia than in the US or Britain, this does not extend into family relations – Russia’s divorce rate is over 50%, which is only slightly lower than in the US. Furthermore, the type of American man who actually orders a bride online is typically someone who does not have the social skills to compete for America’s admittedly much narrower pool of non-obese women. These Russian brides – strong and adventurous almost by definition, as per their choice to emigrate – don’t respect, let alone supplicate, to these Yankee betaboys.

The customer doesn’t get what he thought he signed up for, as his Russian wife gets her residency papers, empties his bank account, wins alimony for any children they had together, and dumps him to ride the alpha cock carousel. The embittered husbands then go on to vent their resentments to anyone who would listen and many who would not. But they have only their own loser selves to blame.


Arrived in: 2000′s
Social origins: Students, businesspeople, rich elites, yuppies
Culturally related to: The expats of all political persuasions who whirled about Europe in the time of Tsarism
Political sympathies (US): Democrat, anti-war, Ron Paul
Political sympathies (Russia): All over – Putin, Prokhorov, Communists

They might not support Putin – though many do. Take the student at Stanford University, son of a senior manager at a Russian tech company; or the Russian financier working working in New York – more likely than not, both would vote for Prokhorov, and maybe even participate in a picket of the Russian Embassy as part of a protest for free elections or the freeing of Pussy Riot. But in a sense they are all Putin’s children, as is the Russian middle class from whence it comes; a middle class that only began to develop beyond a narrow circle of oligarchs during the 2000′s.

In this sense, Russia has become a “normal country”, as this class of global expats – typically consisting of young, upwardly mobile and ambitious people – is common to all developed countries; and just as in Russia, they too tend to have specific political preferences (the US – Democrats; France – Sarkozy/UMP). And unlike previous waves of emigration, which encompassed all the four types of Russian American that I already covered, most of “Putin’s expats” will eventually go back once they finish their course of study or gain work experience in a Western country.

Paradoxically, spending a lot of time in the West does not make these expats significantly more liberal or anti-Putin; even the reverse, if anything. On closer analysis this is not surprising. Even when in Russia, they already have access to what Western “free journalists” write about their country – if not in the English-language original, then translation websites like Inosmi. When spending time in the West, many realize their own country isn’t that bad in comparison; and that typical American perceptions of Russia tend to be irredeemably skewed (“Is it always cold in Russia?”, “Do you drink vodka everyday?”, “What do you think about your dictator Putin?”). Consequently, even someone who may be relatively liberal in Russia not infrequently ends up defending many aspects of Russian politics and society that he otherwise hates when in the West.

In the future, Sovok Jews will almost all Americanize, as will a majority of Egghead Emigres and their progeny. Those Russian-Americans who survive as distinct social communities will be primarily the White Russians (largely through the Orthodox Church), as well as increasing numbers of Putin’s Expats who will continue traipsing across America and the globe even after their namesake retreats into history. And if Russia becomes a developed country, it is easy to imagine that more Russian Americans will become Putin’s Expats… or even, just Russians.




* One thing that really stands out is that it is female Jews who dislike Russia more than anything, at least among Western journalists. As this post has already pushed well beyond all respectable limits of political correctness, I might as well go the full nine yards and outline my theory of why that is the case. In my view, the reasons are ultimately psycho-sexual. Male Jews nowadays have it good in Russia, with many Slavic girls attracted to their wealth, intelligence and impeccable charm (if not their looks). But the position of Jewesses is the inverse. They find it hard to compete with those same Slavic chicks who tend to be both hotter and much more feminine than them; nor, like Jewish guys, can they compensate with intelligence, since it is considered far less important for women. This state of affairs leads to sexual frustration and permanent singledom (pump and dump affairs don’t count of course), which in turn gives rise to the angry radical feminism and lesbianism that oozes out of this piece by Anna Nemtsova bemoaning Russia’s “useless bachelors”. Such attitudes further increase male aversion to them, thus reinforcing their vicious cycle of singledom. And the resulting frustration indelibly seeps into their work…

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Sean recently suggested Russianists study the history of smell in Russia. I have an even better idea: a history of sex in Russia, or rather my translation of the tabloid article Сексуальные традиции на Руси (Russian Sexual Traditions). It’s historically and culturally inaccurate in more than a few places, but will hopefully make for a light relief from Sublime Oblivion‘s usual repertoire of the meaning of life and (alleged) “academic rationalizations of murder” – and perhaps even provoke a serious discussion of sexuality in history.


Hollywood’s rules of sex, the amatory emancipation of Western Europe, and yes the exotic Kama Sutra – these are a few samples of the love life which today’s Russian couples cautiously carry off to bed.

At one time, in a nation with new-found freedom, and including – sexual freedom, all we heard was: Indian Kama Sutra, French love, Swedish family… Is it really the case that Russia never had any sexual traditions of its own?

But it did! Every people has traditions, including sexual ones. Yet on the one hand, in the East there was great respect for written sources, hence we got the ancient Indian tracts on intimacy in their virgin form; on the other hand, since Western advertising is so much better than in Russia, many of us imagine that we are doing nothing more in bed than copying the Europeans.

And Russian historians are in no great hurry to defend doctoral dissertations on the topic of fornication in old Russia – partly because during the first decades of the Romanov dynasty, many priceless annals from the old times were destroyed due to various political reasons. So we are forced to reconstruct much of the history and traditions of the Slavic peoples, including their intimate relations, using “circumstantial evidence” – through foreign eyewitness accounts.

Ancient Bacchanals

Byzantine historians considered the Slavs to be a branch of the Huns. Procopius of Caesarea described our ancestors to be men of great height, big weight, and enormous physical strength, with golden-red complexions. Already in the 6th century it is known that most Slavs were fair-haired. By then patriarchal relations and polygamy (usually from two to four wives) predominated in old Russia. That said, wives were not considered as their husbands’ chattel in any of the Slavic tribes. Furthermore, “unloved” wives had the right to officially swap husbands without shame. And if they found a young, dashing cavalier who “offered them his heart”, promising to make her his “first” wife, the young Slavic maiden would change spouses.

Another Byzantine historian of the 6th century, Maurikios the Strategist, was struck by the Slavs’ favored way of copulation – amidst water: on lakes or river shallows, or even on a flowing river. He was particularly astonished at Slavic youths’ indulgence in group sex on the festive days before betrothal and marriage – nobody cared for their virginity.

For a long time, until as late as the 12th century, our ancestors associated sexuality with festivals, laughter, singing and musical accompaniments. One of these old Slavic festivals, in honor of the goddess of love Lada, later became Ivan Kupala Day. It is hard even to imagine the sheer degree of sexual abandon in honor of Lada, if one considers what Orthodox monks wrote about the rather more respectable festival of Ivan Kupala as late as the 17th century: “And hereupon is a great falling of husbands and adolescents on the women, and swaying of maidens; and in such spirit is there also the riotous defilement of the married women”.

The concept of a “loose woman” [bludnitsa] appeared around about the 7th century, and only signified that the girl was searching (‘wandering’) for a husband. At the end of the 8th century, when the Slavic shamans were given the hard task of defloration – that is, taking the virginity of any brides who hadn’t yet managed to lose theirs in the “girl baths” on the day before the marriage – the concept of “loose woman” changed. People started defining all women who lost their virginity under this term. From the 12th to the 17th century, unmarried women in intimate relations and widows receiving men to their homes were considered “loose women”. Only in the 18th century, thanks to the Church’s persistent efforts, did the word “loose woman” become a swear word (but not one of abuse, as the Church would have wanted). Accordingly, the level of sinfulness became subdivided linguistically and in jurisdictional practice. Blud, meant a relationship with an unmarried woman, whereas adultery [prelyubodejstwo] – meant a relationship with a married one. Prostitutes were called “shameless wenches” [sramnye devki].

Another “brand” feature of old Slavic intimate relations was the lack of zoophile or homosexual traditions, as well as a categorical aversion on the part of the men to making their carnal triumphs an object of general discussion (bragging about one’s successes with the ladies was common amongst ancient Indian heroes, and amongst Western European knights).

Sexual Taboos

The initiator of the struggle for old Russia’s “moral integrity” was probably… Princess Olga. In 953, she issued the first edict relating to the sex-wedding theme that we know of, stipulating monetary or material compensation if it was discovered that the bride was not a virgin.

However, it was only in 967 that Prince Svyatoslav came round to forbidding the shamans from taking the brides’ virginity, stating that henceforth, defloration would be the direct responsibility and pride of the husband. Svyatoslav also tried to ban dances during the “dispensable times” of the year, that is, the days when there were no all-Russian festivals. The fact of the matter is that amongst many of the world’s people, including amongst the Slavs, dances were considered to be an erotic indulgence – during the jumping and capering intimate places were revealed, that were usually covered by skirts, capes, or sweaters. But the sexual reformers clearly exceeded their mandate. The people protested and the decree had to be cancelled.

Satanic Temptations

The Russian Orthodox Church played the greatest role in curbing “Satanic temptations” in old Russia, starting its activities in earnest during the 12th century.

The shamans were liquidated as a class. Midwife wise women were proclaimed to be “God-defying witches”, to be subjected to annihilation. Even preventing conception by consuming herbal brews came to be treated as homicide.

The Tatar-Mongol yoke did not prevent Orthodoxy from beginning the struggle against bathing traditions, such as the girl baths (the day before the wedding) and the wedding baths (a shared spousal bath after the marriage). They were replaced by a mandatory and separate washing down of both spouses after indulgence in the “sin of intercourse”. Even sex between husband and wife came to be considered sinful, the exception being intercourse for reproduction.

The Church forbade women from “wearing make-up and colorings, for one’s grace lies not in beauty of the flesh”. Frequent fasting periods and fasting days (Wednesday and Friday) left married couples a window of opportunity lasting only fifty days in a year for legal sex. Furthermore, only one act of copulation was allowed per day – even on wedding days!

There was a ban on the “standing” position – since it was hard to become pregnant from this position, it was considered to be, “not for procreation, but merely to satiate weakness”, i.e. for pleasure. Those who performed sexual acts in the water were declared sorcerers and witches. Christian norms allowed a woman only one position during intercourse – face to face, lying still underneath the man. It was forbidden to kiss each other’s bodies. The Church held that a “good wife” had to be asexual, viewing sexual relations with distaste.

Newly-married youths who performed the old Slavic wedding rite to mark their loss of virginity, which involved grabbing a chicken’s legs and tearing it in half, were punished harshly. This custom was condemned as “demonic”.

During confession, everyone was expected to recount their intimate affairs. The priests were directed to ask many questions of their laity on this topic, a typical example being: “Didst thou insert thy mouth or fingers on thee-nearest, unto places uncalled-for and where thou dost not to?”

Boobies in Russia

The Russian people did not react well to the priests’ sermons. They developed a rich slang vocabulary to express their emotions in a world full of clerical bans. Just a mere six or seven linguistic roots yielded such a panoply of curses, that to this day could not be imagined of all the world’s other languages. These swear-words were used to compose ditties, tales, sayings, and proverbs. They were thrown around in quick quarrels, and in jokes, and in everyday conversations.

As for the Church’s bans on sexual indulgences, by the 18th century there was a common saying: sin – is when the legs go up; and once they are dropped – the Lord forgives.

The people’s reaction to the “role of the breast in Russia” is particularly interesting. The Church in its time mocked and ridiculed big female busts, to the extent that icons portrayed loose women as having hideous faces and big breasts. The men however reacted to this in a singular way – they tried to marry portly women, with size seven-eight breasts. And the girls themselves used many tricks to make their breasts bigger.

One of the recipes has come down to this day, which was used in the villages of Central Russia by girls with breasts smaller than size four. Three spoons of female breast milk, a spoon of honey, a spoon of vegetable oil, and a mug of peppermint broth. They used to say that the bust would grow instantly as a result.

I would also like to venture that the source of the strange relationship between the man and his mother-in-law could be found in the 16th century. In those days fathers wanted to marry off their daughters as early as possible, when they reached twelve or thirteen years of age. In the first night of the wedding, the girl’s caring mother would go to the bed of the bridegroom to safeguard her daughter from a possibly fatal outcome. She would continue protecting her young daughters’ health by sleeping with both her husband and her son-in-law for the next two or three years. These relations became the norm to such an extent that even the Church partially relented. Though ordinary adulterers were typically punished by up to ten years of hard labor, and sex outside marriage was punished by ten to fifteen years of daily repentance in church, the penalty for adultery between a man and his mother-in-law was a maximum of five years of repentance (which involved the sinner going to church daily, standing on their knees, and making the cross and bowing for two hours straight, beseeching forgiveness from God).

Demonic Orgy

According to the ethnographer Nikolai Galkovsky, our country reached its “sexual peak” in the 16th century – “the common folk were mired in depravity, and the nobles excelled in unnatural forms of this sin, with the acquiescence, if not the active participation, of the Church itself”.

There was intercourse not only in the taverns, but at times even on the streets. The most prominent brothels were to be found in the public baths, which in those days were mixed sex. Weddings typically lasted two to three days, and by the second day it was impossible to find anyone who was still sober. Few of the guests left without having had sexual experiences with three or four representatives of the opposite sex.

Things were even cooler at the classier gatherings. Their weddings lasted an entire week. As a rule, the oprichniks – Ivan the Terrible’s armed, black-cowled priesthood – were the heart and soul of the party. They were also the main culprits responsible for the spread of Sodom’s sin into Russia (homosexuality). Ever more deviants flocked to the monasteries. Things got so out of hand that the head of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Zosima, was observed engaging in bestiality even in the 15th century.

Grandest of all were the royal weddings, which went on for a whole two weeks. The only thing people were afraid of there was the evil eye. For instance, the third wife of Ivan the Terrible, Martha Sobakin, died two weeks after the wedding. Everyone was convinced that it was because of the evil eye. Of course, no-one had measured how much she had drunk and what she had eaten during this period, or whether she had suffered from syphilis. Speaking of which, according to the authoritative Russian historian Nikolai Kostomarov, syphilis was brought to Russia by foreigners at the start of the 16th century, and by the end of that century it had begun to affect Russians as badly as cholera or plague.

The Woman’s Arrival

The decisive struggle against Russia’s falling into sin was initiated by a woman. It’s well-known that Catherine the Great issued the decree on the formation of the first settlement in Alaska in 1784. But very few know that in that same year, she banned the mixed-sex use of public baths, ordering them to set up partitions between men and women.

However, from that same period we can date the appearance of cabinets and crannies within the baths for romantic trysts. And which continues to thrive to our days…

Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.