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Alexander Nevsky
 

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Alexander Nevsky

by Linda DeLaine

Aleksandre Yaroslavich was born in Vladimir and died in Gorodets. He was the prince of Novgorod {1236-52}, of Kiev {1246-52} and grand prince of Vladimir {1252-63}. He was the son of Yaroslav II, grand prince of Vladimir and a member of the Rurik Dynasty . At age ca. sixteen, Aleksandre was appointed prince of Novgorod. This was little more than a military commission. Three years later, he married the daughter of the prince of Polotsk.

In 1240, Sweden invaded Russia, attempting to block her access to the Baltic Sea. Aleksandre defeated the Swedes at the juncture of the Izhora and Neva Rivers. This victory gained him the nickname Nevsky, or of the Neva. Having defended his people well, Aleksandre took upon himself to become involved in local affairs. Historically, the people of Novgorod did not welcome such intervention into their city's life from the princes. They expelled the young prince in ca. 1241.

The Roman pontiff at the time was Gregory IX . He insisted that the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania ) be "Christianized." The region of Kiev Rus had been associated with the Byzantine Church of Constantinople since 988. This was due to the actions of another Rurik, Vladimir I. In response to the pope's request, the Tuetonic Knights invaded Russia. Novgorod, lacking military leadership, begged Aleksandre to return. In 1242, Aleksandre defeated the Tuetonic Knights in ,what is known as, the massacre on the ice, on the channel between Peipus and Pskov Lakes. He continued to fight the Swedes, stopping altogether their efforts to establish a foothold in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Mongols had invaded and conquered much of the politically fragmented eastern region of Russia. Aleksandre's father, the prince of Yaroslav, agreed to submit to the Mongol rulers. He was murdered in September 1246 when he returned home from a meeting with the Great Khan in Mongolia. This created a battle between his sons, Aleksandre and Andrew, the younger. By Russian protocol, the elder, Aleksandre, should have automatically become the Grand Prince. However, the decision lay with the Great Khan who appointed Andrew grand prince of Vladimir and Aleksandre, prince of Kiev, the center of modern Ukraine.

Andrew wasted little time before he began comspiring against the Mongols. This caused extreme hardship for the Russian people. Aleksandre reported the comspiracy to Khan Batu who deployed an army to dispose of Andrew, making Aleksandre the grand prince. Aleksandre allowed the Mongols to take a census of Russia and to tax the people. By doing so, he was able to rebuild Russia's cities and churches and to govern his people directly. When various towns revolted against the Mongol yoke, Aleksandre would travel to Mongolia to plead for their deliverance from reprisal. He succeeded in protecting his people and achieved exemption from the Mongol desire to draft Russian men into their army which was at war with Iran.

Thanks to Aleksandre's efforts, the Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed Mongol protection and a tax-free status. Aleksandre protected the Church against aggression from the Baltic princes who, with the backing of Rome, conspired against the Mongols. It may seem, on the surface, that Aleksandre sold out to the Mongols. In reality, his actions and intervention on behalf of his people, greatly improved the common mans' quality of life. The alternative would have been what happened after Aleksandre's death in 1263. Russia basically fell apart and turned into a collection of feuding states and principalities with no central power or unifying purpose.

Aleksandre managed to maintain the Russian way of life, religious freedom and averted much potential bloodshed. For these reasons, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Alesksandre Nevsky in 1547. His feast days are November 23rd and August 30th. In 1725, the Order of Aleksandre Nevsky was formed by Empress Catherine I , as an award for superior military service. The Order was re-established by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, in 1942, to honor Soviet Commanders in WWII (medal).

In the early 1700's, Peter the Great of Russia {Tsar; 1721-1725}, established the Alexander Nevsky Lavra {monastery} in St. Petersburg to honor of the saint and his 1240 victory over the Swedes. This is the home of the city's central church, the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Such notables as Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky are buried in the monastery cemetery.