Home Moxel - Muscovy - Russia Voltaire described the effect of Muscovite Orthodox religion: Encouragement to Wickedness

Voltaire described the effect of Muscovite Orthodox religion: Encouragement to Wickedness


Voltaire (1694-1778) was a French Enlightenment writer, philosopher, satirist, and historian. One of Voltaire’s best-known histories is History of Charles XII (1731). The quotes below are taken from the 1851 translation of the work into English published in New York by Leavitt Company. It is available at Archive.org. One of the values of the History is that Voltaire was a contemporary of the great events he described in his work. Please note that Voltaire mostly uses the name Muscovy when depicting the realm.

Their religion was, and still is, that of the Greek church, intermixed with many superstitious rites, to which they are the more strongly attached, in proportion as they are the more ridiculous, and their burden the more intolerable. Few Muscovites would venture to eat a pigeon, because the Holy Ghost is painted in the form of a dove. They regularly observed four lents in the year; and during those times of abstinence, they never presumed to eat either eggs or milk. God and St. Nicholas were the objects of their worship and next to them the czar and the patriarch.

The authority of the last was as unbounded as the people’s ignorance. He pronounced sentences of death, and inflicted the most cruel punishments without any possibility of an appeal from his tribunal. Twice a year he made a solemn procession on horseback, attended by all his clergy in order. The czar on foot held the bridle of his horse and the people prostrated themselves before him in the streets, as the Tartars do before their grand lama. Confession was in use among them; but it was only in cases of the greatest crimes. In these absolution was necessary, but not repentance. ‘They thought themselves pure in the sight of God, as soon as they received the benediction of their papas. Thus they passed, without remorse, from confession to theft and murder; and what among other Christians is a restraint from vice, with them was an encouragement to wickedness. On a fast day, they would not even venture to drink milk; but on a festival, masters of families, priests, married women and maids, would no scruple to intoxicate themselves with brandy.

An ancient law, which they held to be sacred, forbade them, under pain of death, to leave their native country without permission of their patriarch. This law, made with a view to preclude them from all opportunities of becoming sensible of their slavery, was very acceptable to a people, who, in the depth of their misery and ignorance, disdained all commerce with foreign nations.

The czar not only subjected the church to the state, after the example of the Turkish emperors… Peter, who always carried justice to the extreme of cruelty, caused some of these wretched creatures, who were called Vosko-jesuits to be committed to the flames.

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