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Collection Meeting of Frontiers

Russian Missionary Activity

This essay was published in 2000 as part of the original Meeting of Frontiers website.

The spread of Christianity was an important part of the Russian colonization of Siberia. As early as the fourteenth century, the Orthodox Church began pushing east from European Russia with the evangelizing mission of Saint Stephen of Perm among the Komi of the middle Volga region.

Onanski Datzan. LC Kennan Photograph Collection. A Buddhist monastery in the Trans-Baikal region.

The Orthodox Church established its first archbishop of Siberia in Tobol'sk in 1621, and gradually built a network of churches and monasteries to minister to the Orthodox settlers and to convert the indigenous peoples and non-Christian settlers who practiced a range of shamanistic faiths, Buddhism, and Islam.

The policies of the government and the Orthodox Church varied greatly over time, alternating between forced conversion and gradual spiritual and educational enlightenment. Some of the most successful missions worked to spread literacy and translated scriptures, liturgies, and catechisms into native languages. The Altaic mission, for example, which began in 1830, created dozens of schools, published numerous religious works in the Turkic Altayan language, and converted thousands of shamanistic indigenous people.