By Irina Yakubin and Mariya Gershkovich
Religion has played a significant role in the history of the Slavs. Though Orthodox Christianity is practiced today by millions of people in Russia and Eastern Europe, it was not the first religion of Kievan Rus’. A polytheistic religion, which attributed natural occurrences to gods and goddesses, prevailed among the early Slavic people. Toward the end of the tenth century, Prince Vladimir of Russia adapted the Byzantine Empire’s version of Christianity, supposedly converting all of Kievan Rus’ to monotheism. In truth, converting Rus’ was a centuries-long process that required modifying the Byzantine faith to traditional beliefs. In other civilizations, the Christian religion underwent similar modifications intended to accommodate local customs; thus the conversion of Rus’ is not an isolated case study. Some argue that Rus’ did not truly convert until the fourteenth century when the Czar enforced tougher laws aimed at upholding religious piety (Fedotov). As evidenced by the renewed popularity of pagan beliefs in Russia and Eastern Europe in the twenty-first century, contemporary Slavs are rediscovering their Pagan roots.
Before the advent of Christianity, the European population practiced various forms of paganism. Pagan beliefs were not centralized or codified; they exhibited specific regional characteristics that developed within relatively small territories (Afanas’ev). Slavic cities had differing pantheons comprised of deities whom the inhabitants considered to be most important. Overlapping did exist, however, and scholars as well as modern Slavic pagans have reconstructed pantheons based on some of the major deities. Like the Greeks, the head of the Slavic pantheon was a thunder god, Perun, who is said to be the ancestor of all the other gods.
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