Set expressions reflecting Slavonic mentality transformation during Christianization

Cover Page

Cite item


The article deals with the socio-historical and axiological informativity of phraseological units in the Old Church Slavonic language in the aspect of the history of Russian phraseological system. The author pays her attention to the superword language units in Slavonic manuscripts of the 10-11th centuries. The purpose of the research is to identify through the prism of phraseology the origins of Slavonic key values, which were transformed during Christianization, and their superword nominations. The novelty of the study lies in the fact that besides the canon sources, the article analyzes the sources which were ignored by the authors of the Old Church Slavonic dictionaries. The object of the research is the Old Church Slavonic phraseological units reconstructed with the continuous sampling method from the texts created in different parts of medieval Slavia. To analyze the linguistic material, comparative-historical, linguoculturological, linguocognitive methods and methods of component and contextual analysis were used. As a result, adjustments were made to the idea of the activities of medieval Christian communities. Old Slavonic phraseological units testify that the former pagan Russians were attracted to Christians by their boundless faith in the truth of Christ’s teaching, their ability to defend their beliefs, personal courage, love for neighbor and mercy. The relevance of this study is that in the context of globalization, the Christian values assimilated by the Eastern Slavs during Christianization, which contributed to the powerful take off of Russian culture, today need to be protected. The research direction outlined in this article opens up the prospects of establishing the origins of the Russian Christian phraseological corpus and its rules.

Full Text


Despite the fact that the article deals with a language that existed as a common literary language of the Slavs for only two centuries, the constant interest of linguists in it is quite understandable: N.I. Tolstoy called “the presence of an international supraethnic literary language” to be “the brightest cultural and linguistic feature of medieval Slavia” (Tolstoy, 1998b: 49). The discovery of Old Slavonic manuscripts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries marked the beginning of comparative-historical Slavistics. In it, besides the activity of Cyril and Methodius, the history of the appearance of Glagolitic and Cyrillic, and the publication of Old Slavonic monuments, a considerable place took the studies of palaeography, phonetics, and grammar of the ancient Slavonic texts, which was reflected in teaching Old Slavonic language at Slavic departments of Russian and European universities. Only in the second half of 20th century the proper Old Slavonic dictionaries appeared. The first of them appeared in Heidelberg. It was an academic dictionary of L. Sadnik and R. Eitzetmüller, addressed to students, where the Slavonic vocabulary from 20 manuscripts, rendered in Latin script, is accompanied by commentaries in German.1 Almost 40 years later, under the editorship of R.M. Zeitlin, R. Vecherka and E. Blagova in Moscow there was published the Old Slavonic Dictionary on manuscripts of the 10–11th centuries. It describes the origin (with Greek equivalents) and the meaning of nearly 10,000 Old Slavonic words from 18 monuments; examples of lexeme usage and their exact “passports” are given.2 At the same time, a two-volume dictionary of the Old Bulgarian literary language, edited by D. Ivanova-Mircheva in Sofia, was prepared in Bulgaria3. The authors of this dictionary based on a greater number of sources of the 10–11th centuries, but were limited to manuscripts and inscriptions written in Bulgaria.

The successes of Old Slavonic lexicography helped to intensify the systematic description of the lexicon of the common Slavonic literary language of the Middle Ages. Based on the materials of the 1994 “Old Slavonic Dictionary,” T.I. Vendina, the head of the Center for Areal Linguistics of the Institute of Slavonic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote a unique book “Medieval Man in the Mirror of the Old Slavonic Language” (Vendina, 2002). Later monographs ‘Old Slavonic Word-Formation Morphemics’ (Efimova, 2006) and ‘Names of People in Old Slavonic Language’ (Efimova, 2011) were published by the famous Slavist V.S. Efimova with a focus on the same dictionary.

Despite the considerable progress made by linguists during more than two centuries, Slavionc studies still has a lot of unresolved problems. In connection with the topic of this article, let us dwell on only two of them. Among the most acute are, first of all, the problem related of the composition of the sources for studying the common Slavonic literary language of the Middle Ages. Most Slavists do not consider Old Slavonic manuscripts of the 10–11th centuries, including dated manuscripts created in the East Slavonic lands. Old Slavonic canonical monuments usually include 18 manuscripts created in Bulgaria, excluding the richest manuscript heritage of the East Slavs. R.M. Zeitlin includes the monuments of the 10–11th centuries originating in the territory of Ancient Russia among the “indirect sources” for studying the Old Slavonic language (Zeitlin, 1977: 12, 15–17).

The underestimation of the significance of monuments of East Slavonic origin, which had a great influence on the formation of the Russian literary language, is connected with the second problem of modern Slavonic studies – the low level of studying the phraseological fund of the Old Slavonic language. Scientists, who in the second half of the 20th century began to systematically study the Old Slavonic vocabulary, were very skeptical about the possibility of pointing out phraseological units from Old Slavonic texts. This position is justified by the small number of Old Slavonic texts, which is imaginary, in our opinion: even Ostromirovo Gospel, which A.Kh. Vostokov reasonably attributed to the monuments closest to Cyril and Methodius translations, are not recognized by most researchers as Old Slavonic. With such an approach to the sources of the Old Slavonic language, the following statement by R.M. Zeitlin is quite expected: “One should take into account that in the Old Slavonic language, it is often extremely difficult to determine the boundaries between stable and free phrases, given the limited material that manuscripts provide” (Zeitlin, 1994: 52). It is no coincidence that phraseologists-Slavists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries study mainly the contemporary state of the corpus of biblical phraseological units. Among the studies on this subject, the essay by the famous Polish phraseologist W. Chlebda “Biblizmy jako skrzydlate jednostki polszczyzny” (Chlebda, 2005, 2015), which considers phraseological units of biblical origin as winged units; the monograph “Bible Phraseological Units in Russian and European Culture” (Dubrovina, 2012), the author of encyclopedic dictionary of biblical phraseological units;4 comparative studies of the leaders of the Phraseological Commission at the International Committee of Slavists V.M. Mokienko and H. Walter (Mokienko, 2010, 2018), who are the authors of modern biblical dictionaries,5 as well as other – West Slavonic, South Slavonic and Russian specialists (Koziara, 2007; Fedulenkova, 2019; Balakova, 2020; Bakina, 2021 and others).

But historical Slavonic studies does not stand still, because “...the Cyril and Methodius question, the Cyril and Methodius tradition still remains the cornerstone of Slavonic historical philology, because it is a question of the beginning, the origin of Slavonic written literature, ancient Slavonic literatures, literary languages, finally, Slavonic national consciousness, without which there could be no Slavonic statehood, no full-fledged historical development of the Slavonic peoples” (Tolstoy, 1998a: 43–44). In the second decade of the 21st century, adjustments were made to the theoretical attitudes concerning the sources of studying the Old Slavonic language and Old Slavonic phraseology, as well as to the practical dictionary work concerning the possibility or impossibility of identifying phraseological units in Old Slavonic texts. One of the leading paleoslavologists of Russia, Doctor of Philology E.M. Vereshchagin, managed to put an end to the eternal dispute about the place of the Ostromir Gospel among the other monuments of the ancient Slavonic written language. Comparing the monthly records of the Ostromir Gospel with the monthly records of the oldest manuscripts of Bulgarian origin, Vereshchagin established that “...the antigraph of Ostr was rewritten before 885 (i.e. during the life of Methodius. – S.S.), the antigraph of Sav – after 885, and the antigraph of Ass – after 916” (Vereshchagin, 2012: 470). Furthermore, the phonetic-morphological and lexical analysis of the monument showed that “Ostr is generally written in the language of Cyril and Methodius (or, in accordance with the customary term, in the Old Slavonic language)” (Ibid: 477). The richness of the Old Slavonic corpus of phraseological units and its significance for studying the history of Russian phraseological expressions is evidenced by the results obtained by the researchers of the Magnitogorsk Vocabulary Laboratory. See, for example, published in 2011 “The Phraseological Dictionary of the Old Slavonic Language,”6 the being published “Big Phraseological Dictionary of the Old Slavonic Language”7 as well as theoretical works (Mishina, 2007; Zhigulina, 2013; Komshina, 2014; Shulezhkova, 2017; Shulezhkova, Kostina, 2020, etc.). The analysis of the phraseological units of the 10–11th centuries showed, first of all, that the manuscripts created in the territory of Old Russia, united by Christian themes, the same time frame, close in genre manifestations, not to mention the common grammatical and phonetic systems, have a common with South Slavonic monuments not only lexical, but also phraseological composition. Secondly, the commonality of the phraseological corpus of the monuments written in different parts of Slavia is proof of the real existence of a living supra-dialectic common Slavonic protolanguage in the 9 and 11th centuries. The active variation of the phraseological units is a natural result of “diachronic translation of the biblical texts” (see about it: Khukhuni et al., 2021). Thirdly, the phraseological corpus of the Old Slavonic language is an invaluable source for studying the influence of Christianity on the medieval Slavs, which left a noticeable trace in the Russian linguistic picture of the world as well.

The aim of the study is to reconstruct the system of values and ideals of the newly converted Christian Slavs through the analysis of Old Slavonic phraseological units, proving the importance of Old Slavonic phraseological corpus of Christian themes as a source for studying the history of concept formation, which occupy key positions in the Russian language picture of the world.

Methods and materials

The study is based on 32 monuments of the Old Slavonic language created in different parts of medieval Slavia in the 10–11th centuries (including manuscripts found at the turn of the 21st century – the Vatican Gospel of the 10th century, the Novgorod codex of the first quarter of the 11th century and part of the Sinaitic Psalter of the 11th century). A phraseological index card (around 4,500 units of approximately 25,000 uses) was created on base of a continuous sampling of these monuments. When analyzing phraseological units, we were guided by two principles: first of all, anthropocentrism, as well as systematicity, which is characteristic of all language levels, including the lexical-phraseological one, where the connection between language units is most clearly manifested through synonymic, antonymic and hyper-hyponymic relations. During the study of phraseological material, we used comparative-historical, linguocultural, and linguocognitive research methods, involving the methods of component and contextual analysis.


The observation of the phraseological corpus of Old Slavonic monuments made it possible to ascertain, firstly, that, regardless of the place of manuscripts appearance, the same common Slavonic literary language functioned on the vast territory of Slavia in the Middle Ages. Secondly, it has become evident that linguists in the second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries underestimated the system of super-vocabulary language units as a source to describe the Old Slavonic language and its role in studying the history of the Russian language and Russian mentality. The Old Slavonic dictionaries of this time described the vocabulary; as for phraseological units, they, if they came into the attention of lexicographers, were placed in the dictionary entries devoted to the lexemes, which were the components in the phraseological units. In addition, a comprehensive study of the phraseological units confirmed our assumption of the high informative value of the Old Slavonic phraseological corpus. Thanks to the linguocultural and historical and etymological analysis of the superword linguistic units, the reconstruction of the Christian stratum in the Roman Empire of the Early Middle Ages was carried out; the place which Christians occupied in the structure of medieval society was established; we identified the groups into which the followers of Christ were divided according to their merits and their position in the community; we clarified the details of their behavior in confrontation with the authorities, when Christians had to endure mockery, torture, and even death for their beliefs in defense of their views. Process and subject phraseological units made it possible to trace the transformation processes of the Slavonic system of values due to Christianization and to identify the block of Christian phraseological units, which over time have been “embedded” in the Russian language system and serve as verbalizers of key concepts of our mentality.


The book “Medieval Man in the Mirror of the Old Slavonic Language” precisely defines the relationship between language and man of the era in which we are interested: “Medieval culture, like modern culture, lived and developed in the ‘linguistic shell,’ determining that world of meanings, world of values and ideals, which is reflected in the language. That is why we hope that reliance on linguistic means will make it possible <...> to avoid subjectivity in assessing medieval man and his culture and, in a certain sense, to ‘reconstruct’ cultural facts and spiritual values of the medieval man” (Vendina, 2002: 6).

The Christians in Old Slavonic texts are characterized multifacetedly not only by single-word, but also by superword linguistic units. They were a new stratum in medieval society, and very often the phenomena associated with them, especially abstract religious concepts, when translated from Greek into Slavonic, could not be conveyed by ordinary words. In such a case, Cyril and Methodius used a translation technique which the famous biblical scholar E.A. Nida formulated theoretically basing on his experience in the middle of the last century: by refusing “word-for-word translation” (Nida, 1947). Like Nida in the 20th century, the brethren of Thessalonica a thousand years ago used “contextual paraphrasing” as well as “the component construction of new phrases suitable to a certain context <...> The concept of functional equivalence is in general terms reduced to the use of these two techniques” (Vereshchagin, 2012: 245).

According to one version, medieval society “was divided into those ‘ruling and governing,’ ‘fighting,’ ‘praying’ and ‘working’ ” (Vendina, 2002: 28). On the face of it, one could count Christians among the “praying.” But they, as the data of the Old Slavonic texts testify, represented not a separate social group, but a moral and religious stratum in the Roman Empire, which penetrated various social strata. The Christians were among the “workers” (slaves and free people), among the “fighters” (soldiers, guards), among the “rulers” (kings, princes, governors), among the “prayers” (monks, hermits), and among the “governors” (officials in the church hierarchy). In the hagiographies of the Suprasl collection the phrases “We are Christians” are heard from the representatives of the most diverse strata. In Martyrdom of St. Paul and Julian, Aurelianus, who had just become emperor of Rome (270–275) and who was already planning his persecution of the Christians, talked to Paul (whose social status the author does not mention), who was arrested by the soldiers because he inscribed the sign of the cross on his head as Aurelianus was passing triumphantly through Phoenicia after another victory. It was necessary for the emperor that Paul, having denied Christ, have made a sacrifice to the Roman gods: Foolish and godless man! Until when will you insult the gods? Bring sacrifice to the gods! If not, I will put you to an evil death, and no one will save you. But Paul and Julianne cried out, “We are Christians! We trust in Christ. But we will not serve your demons, and we are not afraid of your torment!”8

This scene characterizes the typical behavior of the Christians (no matter what social group they belonged to) when they found themselves in the hands of their persecuting religious opponents. Despite the terrible torments to which they were subjected and the threats to take their lives, the Christians demonstrated unswerving fidelity to the teachings of Christ. In Old Slavonic texts, there are about a half dozen superword names for their faith: Christian faith, good faith, right faith, new faith, New Testament, new law, saint Christian faith, etc. All of them, being marked by positive connotations, call ‘religious teaching based on the recognition of the Holy Trinity – the Triune deity (God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit),’ in addition assessing its appealing qualities – novelty, truth, goodness, holiness and legality. It is no coincidence that one of the key concepts of the transforming linguistic picture of the world of the southern and eastern Slavs was a concept that in the 11th century was called “Orthodoxy.” Orthodoxy became the basis of the moral values of ancient Rus, and then Russia. Opposite to the nuclear verbalizers of the concept “Orthodoxy” in the Old Slavonic monuments stood the phrases Arian faith, the God – fearing heresy, idol service, filthy faith, as well as the phraseological unit evil faith, which is a hyperonym in this antonymic series, are used.

The Christian neophytes-characters of the Old Slavonic texts seriously considered the most important doctrines of Christ – the belief in One God, in the immortality of the human soul, in the resurrection of the dead; they expected the Second Coming/appearance of God, were afraid of the Last Judgement, hoped that Christ would save humanity and dreamed of entering the Kingdom of Heaven, so they tried to follow the commandments/laws of God. We can prove it by some examples from various monuments of the 10–11th centuries:

If he is alive (and) says to you: ‘I don’t know God’s law well, I don’t understand the true Christian faith,’ so (you should) teach him, saying: ‘Hear, child, and understand: God is alone and He created everybody (men and animals), having no beginning from nowhere..;”9 “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what God said to you: ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’;”10 “These the 12 Jesus sent, commanding them: ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons. You got this by free, so give it away by free.”11 “The prophet, having seen with his spiritual eyes the future salvation of mankind, prays that it will happen soon...”12

In the common Slavonic literary language of the Middle Ages, there were about two dozen of phraseological units naming the followers of Christ. All of them together are sometimes called the Christian kin in Old Church Slavonic monuments. So, in the above mentioned “Martyrdom of St. Paul and Julian,” King Aurelian, having heard that wild beasts and birds had not touched the bodies of the executed Christians, exclaimed: O godless demonization of the Christian race! Even the dead I could not overcome them!13 And in the Christian Basilisk, when he saw his brothers and his mother, he asked them: “Abide in the Christian faith and pray to the Lord for me, that I may die in this faith. I am leaving you, and you will no longer see me in the flesh. Going to the lord, I will pray for you and for the whole Christian race.14

In the Christian Denominations block, there is a group of phraseological units, which describe all Christians, regardless of their social status as adherents of the new faith (slaves of God, slaves of the Highest God, slaves of the Lord, slaves of Christ, slaves of Christ) and subgroups that include the names of Christians who have attained a certain status within the Christian community for some merit (confessors of God) or for suffering in the name of Christ (martyrs of Christ, passionates of Christ), as well as the names of Christians, who have received some honorary title for their zeal and diligence in monastic life or in church activities (venerable shepherd, the elder person of the Church, the shepherd of the people of the world).

By embracing the new faith, the former pagans adjusted another view of the world. According to their beliefs, the god-king of heaven rules over a multitude of angels, executors of his will and intermediaries between him and people. In the Old Slavonic texts, these immaterial spiritual beings are called aggeli/angels of God/angels of heaven/angels of the Lord, the celestial army. They are opposed to the angels/angels of Satana, that is, the army of Satana, whose dwelling place is hell/hell’s village, otherwise known as hell, geono fire and located in the darkness of the darkness:

And the angel of the Lord told him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, because your prayer has been heard, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son’;”15And he who refuses of me before men will be rejected before the angels of God;”16I glorify your name in heaven, for your mercy to me is great. You have delivered my soul from the hell of the underworld.”17

Under the influence of the new religion the system of values of the Christianized peoples, including the medieval Slavs, was also transformed. The transition from polytheism to monotheism required a reorientation in the forms and essence of religious rites; instead of pagan temples with their stone and wooden idols, churches, temples and cathedrals were built. Services (now in honor of One God) and sacrifice, prayers, and religious rituals themselves, which were to accompany a Christian from the moment of his birth to his death, became different. In the limited scope of the article, we shall mention only some of the phraseological units found in the studied texts, reflecting the relationship of medieval Christians with the One God.

God, not a stone, not an idol, but a living, all-powerful, all-seeing, all-merciful and punishing for sins, became the most important value of a person who accepted Christianity. Dozens of the Old Slavonic manuscripts referred to God as the Triune Being (Saint Trinity), and as each of his hypostases: God the Father – God of the Gods, God of all, Tsar of Heaven, Lord God, etc. God’s son – lamb of God, lamb of the Immaculate, son of God, son of David, son of Man, etc.; the Saint Spirit – the Spirit of God, the Lord Spirit, the life-giving Spirit, etc. The praseological units also reflect different facets of the believer’s relationship with the Most High. The first Christian commandment required us to love the Lord God with all our hearts and souls, because from him came the grace/goodness of God; only he could give the soul of a righteous believer the vicarious life/life in eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven and save him from the hell of the Hereafter.

The procedural and subject phraseological units in the Old Slavonic texts characterize the feelings that Christians have for God (love, trust, admiration and fear); they name the actions performed in his honor: love (to God), faith (in God), to say words of hosanna (to the Most High), to give praise (to Christ), to bring sacrifice (to God), to pray (to God), to be afraid of the wrath of God, to cast away from God, to have fear of God, etc. At the same time, the phraseological corpus of the ancient Slavonic texts names the actions and deeds of a Christian, contrary to the moral laws of the new faith: to blaspheme, to commit robbery, murder, to debauch, to wallow in debauchery, to get rid of the fetus, to have an abortion, to break the laws of the Lord, to be an atheist, not to honour God, to make sacrifice to pagan gods, to perjure, etc.

Among the most important values of the Slavs who got baptized was the human soul, which, being opposed to the body, was intimately connected with another value – love. The inseparable connection between the human soul and body, according to the new faith, with the leading role of the soul, is able to make man whole and harmonious, living in harmony with the plan of God, capable of fully, with his whole being, give himself to something good, corresponding to love for the One God and be faithful to the ideas of Christ. Of the numerous phraseological units reflecting the attitude of the medieval Christian toward the soul, let us mention just a few: to save one’s soul ‘to deserve/earn by righteous living a place for one’s immortal soul in the Kingdom of Heaven after physical death;’ to spoil one’s soul ‘to defile/desecrate the soul;’ to kill one’s soul ‘to lead an immoral life and thereby lose the right to eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven;’ to give one’s soul for your friends ‘to give one’s life for whom/for what:’

“And (Jesus) said to them, ‘Shall you do good or evil on Saturday, shall I save my soul or kill it?’ ”18He who wants to save his soul will kill it, but he who kills his soul for the sake of me and the gospel will save it;”19No one has more love than the love of one who gives his soul for his friend. You are my friends, if you do as I have told you.”20

The formula of readiness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of a kinsman, companion, friend or someone who needs to be protected (give your soul for your friends), going back to the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus Christ pronounced it, entered the moral code of the Eastern Slavs, and then the Russians, as corresponding to their pre-Christian ideas about the need to protect one’s family and one’s land. At the same time this formula naturally reinforced the commandment of the Old Testament, renewed in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus Christ believed that love, not only for our neighbor, but also for other people, should be the basis for a new relationship between all people. Whereas the Old Testament said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” Jesus formulated a new principle of human life: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who hurt you and persecute you, and be sons of your Father who is in heaven...” (Matthew 5: 43–44). How firmly these values are anchored in the mentality of the eastern Slavs is evidenced by thousands of years of their history. A lot of people wrote about the mysterious Russian soul, and the deeds of self-sacrifice of Russian soldiers, and not just soldiers. The founder of the regular Russian army, Peter the Great, thought that: “He who is cruel is not hero!” The motto of the never defeated legendary commander Alexander Suvorov and the famous Soviet commanders not only contained appeals to self-sacrifice in the name of one’s fellow man (Destroy yourself and help your friend”), but also reminded of the need to spare the defeated enemy, to show benevolence. Suvorov said: “The victor should be magnanimous!;” “We should treat prisoners with humanity and be ashamed of barbarism!;” “The soldier is not a robber!;” “Without virtue there is neither glory nor honor!” In fact, this is what the idea of the Eastern Slavs in general and of the Russian man in particular as a “collective personality” is based on. “We are a truly collectivist people, we can exist only together with society, which we constantly arrange, hunt, worry about <...> our society, our group is a mediator, a link between us and this world. To become a personality, independent in relation with the cosmos, we must become a collective personality,” – the author of the book devoted to the Russian national character writes (Kasyanova, 1994: 180).

One of the values that were formed in the pre-Christian period among the Slavs was the monogamous family. Christianity supported this value and strengthened its position by sanctifying the beginning of family life with the wedding ceremony and introducing the most important moral principle – the inviolability of marriage: “For this (marriage), a man shall leave his father and mother and join his wife, and you both shall be one flesh.”21 The Old Slavic “condemning” phraseological units wife-adulteress, words of adultery, the sin of Sodom, to commit adultery, etc. confirm the conclusions of lexicographers that the Slavonic Christians considered adultery and marital infidelity to be a great sin. This was inherited by the Russians, who “are just as emotional and prone to extremes when expressing moral delight as they are when expressing moral condemnation” (Vezhbitskaya, 1997: 83). The primary purpose of a man and woman in marriage, according to Christian teaching, is to bear and raise children.

Family, married life, children were the most important values among the Slavs in pagan times, too. But after baptism, as phraseological units testify, a new value was born – religious ascesis, with its stylites, reclusion, xerophagy, land sleeping, sleeping on hard places, which implied the rejection of family life. These forms of self-limitation had little in common with the moral principle of giving soul for one’s friends. Other researchers regarded this value differently. So, N.V. Ufimtseva, agrees with K. Kasyanova and writes that self-denial and ascesis is “one of <...> deep values that is most strongly ‘suppressed’ by ideals and standards that have come into our consciousness from other cultures” (Ufimtseva, 2006: 131). “What does one achieve through self-restraint?” – Kasyanova asks and continues: “...he achieves in this way power over his physical nature, and thus the victory of the spirit” (Kasyanova, 1994: 199). Let us emphasize that the Old Slavonic texts refer to personal self-limitation for the victory of one’s own spirit over one’s own physical nature. And the Eastern Slavs, to which the Russians belong, are, after all, people of the collective type. And we cannot agree that religious ascesis is the deepest Slavonic value. It is one thing when self-limitation and sacrifice are made in the name of the happiness of the people or in the name of saving specific people in need of protection. As Christians, the Slavs and later Russian people revered hermits, stylites, the ones who have taken a vow of silence, and other lonely prayer-men who broke away from their families and went into hermitages, living in caves far away from people. Synaxaric and monthly records of the gospels testify that the Slavs, including the Russians, honored the memory of hundreds of holy martyrs who were killed by executioners for the Christian faith. But still, the greatest love they had for those saints who were canonized for their deeds for the fatherland, defended their native land. These were princes like Alexander Nevsky or saint monks who, in times of national distress, came out of their cells to help those who suffered most and blessed those who fought against the invaders.


We have analyzed only a part of Old Slavonic phraseological units, which allowed to trace the emergence of new ethical values among the Slavs after baptism or the transformation of their most important pre-Christian values. Many of these phraseological units have entered the Russian language system and are still verbalizers of key concepts reflecting the moral foundations of the national mentality. Each value received “verbal clothing” in the Middle Ages as a response to the active rejection of negative manifestations of its anti-value. For example, the values of love for one’s neighbor and love for the enemy preached by Jesus Christ were born at a time when human life was worthless and when sophisticated tortures and public executions were a common sight for the crowd. Jesus Christ did not see “neither Greek nor Jew,” representatives of all ethnicities could feel equal in the community, just as representatives of different estates could feel equal. This is confirmed by the phraseological system of the Old Slavonic language. Thanks to the linguocultural and historical-etymological analysis of the superword linguistic units, it has been established that Christians were not a separate social group: they could be among people of different strata of the population in the vast Roman Empire. Numerous phraseological units, serving as names of the Christian faith, the followers of Christ and the object of their worship, made it possible to establish the attractiveness of the new religion for both the barbarians conquered by the empire and the Romans. Processual, subject, adverbial, and predicative superword language units help reconstruct the images of the first Christians. These are people of firm convictions, capable of defending their views before the authorities, ready to be exposed to torture and even death in the name of the new faith.

The research opens the prospect of further studies of the Old Slavonic phraseological units, verbalizing other fragments of the moral system of the Slavs, modified under the influence of Christianization, and then inherited by the Russians. These are the dyads of values and anti-values: “Life” and “Death,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of Earth,” “Present Age” and “Future Age,” “Poverty” and “Wealth,” “Truth” and “Lie,” etc. An extended analysis of the Old Slavic phraseological corpus will help to solve one of the most important tasks of historical Slavonic studies – the scientific description of the common Slavonic language, which is connected with the problem of “proto-language reconstruction” that requires “systematic analysis of a considerable amount of specific material” (Glushchenko, Piskunov, 2021: 27). And most importantly, it will allow us to describe systematically and with proper completeness the history of the formation of the “morally charged,” connected with Christianization, phraseological fund of the Russian language.


1 Sadnik, L., & Aitzetmüller R. (1955). Handwörterbuch zu den altkirchenslavischen Texten. Heidelberg: Carl Winter-Universitätsverlag.

2 Tseytlin, R.M., Vecherka R., & Blagova, E. (Eds.). (1994). The Old Slavonic dictionary (from manuscripts of X–XI centuries): About 10,000 words. Мoscow: Russky Yazyk Publ. (In Russ.)

3 Ivanova-Mircheva, D. (Ed.). (1999–2009). The Old Bulgarian Dictionary. Sofia: Valentin Trajanov Publ. (In Bulgarian.)

4 Dubrovina, K.N. (2010). Encyclopedic dictionary of biblical phraseology. Мoscow: Flinta Publ., Nauka Publ. (In Russ.)

5 Mokienko, V.M., Lilich, G.A., & Trofimkina, O.I. (2010). The explanatory dictionary of biblical expressions and words: About 2000 units. Мoscow: AST Publ., Astrel Publ. (In Russ.); Walter, H. (2018). Biblische Sprichwörter. Deutsch-Russisch-Polnisches Wörterbuch mit histirisch-etymologischen Kommentaren. Greifswald: Universität Greifswald.

6 Shulezhkova, S.G. (Ed.). (2010). The phraseological dictionary of the Old Slavonic language: More than 500 units. Мoscow: Flinta Publ., Nauka Publ.

7 Shulezhkova, S.G. (Ed.) (2020). The big phraseological dictionary of the Old Slavonic language (vol. 1). Мoscow: Flinta Publ.

8 The Imperial Academy of Sciences. (1904). Suprasl manuscript. The work of Sergei Severyanov. Monuments of the Old Slavonic Language, II(1), 12. (In Russ.)

9 Nachtigal, R. (1941–1942). Euchologium sinaiticum. Fotografski posnetek (pp. 179–180). Ljubljana.

10 Jagić, V. (1879). Quattuor evangeliorum codex glagoliticus olim Zographensis nunc Petropolitanus (p. 32). Berolini: Apud Weidmannos.

11 Yagich, I.V. (1883). Mariinskiy Tetraevangelion. Glagolic Manuscript (p. 29). Saint Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Sciences. (In Russ.)

12 Pogorelov, V.A. (1910). Chudovskaya psalter XI century. An extract of the interpretation of Theodorite Kirrsky on the psalter in the ancient Bulgarian translation. Old Church Slavonic Manuscripts, III(1), 88. Saint Petersburg : Imperial Academy of Sciences. (In Russ.)

13 The Imperial Academy of Sciences. (1904). Suprasl manuscript. The work of Sergei Severyanov. Monuments of the Old Slavonic Language, II(1), 15. (In Russ.)

14 Ibid., 16. (In Russ.)

15 Krstanov, Tr. (1996). Vatican Gospel. Old Bulgarian Cyrillic Aprakos X c. in palimpsest codex Vat Cr 2502 (p. 183). Sofia: SIBAL. (In Bulgarian.)

16 Pogorelov, V.A. (1910). Chudovskaya psalter XI century. An extract of the interpretation of Theodorite Kirrsky on the psalter in the ancient Bulgarian translation. Old Church Slavonic Manuscripts, III(1), 88. Saint Petersburg : Imperial Academy of Sciences. (In Russ.)

17 Russian State Academic Printing House. (1922). The Sinaitic Psalter. The Glagolitic Monument of the 11th Century. Monuments of the Old Slavonic Language (vol. IV, p. 115). Petrograd. (In Russ.)

18 Archangel’s Gospel of 1092: Aprakos brief gospel (p. 196). (1666). Мoscow. (In Russ.)

19 Krstanov, Tr. (1996). Vatican Gospel. Old Bulgarian Cyrillic Aprakos X c. in palimpsest codex Vat Cr 2502 (p. 107). Sofia: SIBAL. (In Bulgarian.)

20 The Imperial Academy of Sciences. (1903). The Book of Savva. The work of Vyach. Shchepkin. Monuments of the Old Slavonic Language, I(2), 94. (In Russ.)

21 Kurz, J. (1955). Evangeliář assemanův. Kodex Vatikánsky 3. slovanský. l II. Úvod, text v epise cyrilském, poznámky textové, seznamy čterní (p. 86). Praha: Nakladatelství Československé Akademie Vĕd. (In Czech.)


About the authors

Svetlana G. Shulezhkova

Nosov Magnitogorsk State Technical University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0314-6721

Professor, Doctor of Philology, Professor of the Department of Russian Language, General Linguistics and Mass Communication, Institute of Humanitarian Education

38 Prospekt Lenina, Magnitogorsk, 455000, Russian Federation


  1. Bakina, A.D. (2021). The conceptosphere of the bible phraseology. In Y.V. Nechiporchik (Ed.), Slavic Phraseology and Paremiology. National and International. Stable and Changeable. To the 70th Anniversary of the Birth of Professor V.I. Koval: Collection of Scientific Articles (pp. 47-53). Gomel: F. Skorina GSU Publ. (In Russ.)
  2. Balakova, D.Z. (2020). Výsledkov sociolingvistického slovensko-ruského výskumu (parémie biblického pôvodu). In V. Mokienko (Ed.), Jȩzyk i Pamięć. Księga Jubileuszowa Dedukowana Panu Profesorowi Chlebdzie z Okazji 70 Urodzin (pp. 63-76). Opole: Uniwersytet Opolski. (In Polish.)
  3. Chlebda, W. (2005). Biblizmy jako skrzydlate jednostki polszczyzny. Szkice o Skrzydlatych Słowach. Interpretacje Lingwistyczne (pp. 209-252). Opole: Uniwersytet Opolski. (In Polish.)
  4. Chlebda, W. (2015). Czy skrzydlate słowa są prototypowymi obiektami frazeografii? Jeszcze raz o statusie skrzydlatych słów. In A.A. Osipova & N.V. Pozdnyakova (Eds.), On the Wings of the Word: Proceedings of the International Correspondence Scientific Conference (pp. 102-107). Magnitogorsk: Magnitogorskii Dom Pechati Publ. (In Polish.)
  5. Dubrovina, N.K. (2012). Bible phraseologisms in Russian and European culture. Moscow: Flinta Publ., Nauka Publ. (In Russ.)
  6. Efimova, V.S. (2006). Old Church Slavonic word-forming morphemics. Moscow: Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. (In Russ.)
  7. Efimova, V.S. (2011). Names of persons in the Old Church Slavonic language: Methods of nomination and priorities of choice. Moscow: Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. (In Russ.)
  8. Fedulenkova, T.N. (2019). Characteristic of prototypes of biblical phraseology and ways of their transformation to language units. Language and Culture, (1(45)), 108-120. (In Russ.)
  9. Glushchenko, V.A., & Piskunov, A.V. (2021). The phenomenon of a parent language in the works of scholars of the Moscow Linguistic School. Tomsk State University Journal of Philology, (72), 27-41. (In Russ.)
  10. Kasyanova, K. (1994). About Russian national character. Moscow: Institut Natsional'noi Modeli Ekonomiki Publ. (In Russ.)
  11. Khukhuni, G.T., Valuitseva, I.I., & Osipova, A.A. (2021). Variation in diachronic translation of Bible. RUDN Journal of Language Studies, Semiotics and Semantics, 12(3), 547-558. (In Russ.)
  12. Komshina, P.M. (2014). The kernel area of the concept “crime” in old Slavonic texts of the 10-11th centuries (experinece of lexicographical description). Journal of Historical, Philological and Cultural Studies, (3), 13-21. (In Russ.)
  13. Koziara, S. (2007). Obrazy świata biblijnego utrwalone w polskiej frazeologii (w prowadzenie do opisu). In W. Chlebda (Ed.), Frazeologia a Jȩzykowe Obrazy Świata Przełomu Wieków (pp. 183-190). Opole: Uniwersytet Opolski. (In Polish.)
  14. Mishina, L.N. (2007). Set phraseological units of the phraseosemantic field “Torment” in the text of the Suprasl manuscript as material for recreating the linguistic picture of the world of the medieval Slavs. From the Linguistic Picture of the World of the Medieval Slavs to the Modern Linguistic Picture of the World: Collective Monograph (part 1, pp. 8-21). Magnitogorsk: Izd-vo MaGU Publ. (In Russ.)
  15. Mokienko, V.M. (2010). Bible set units in the modern Russian text. In V.M. Mokienko, G.A. Lilich & O.I. Trofimkina (Eds.), Dictionary of Bible Expressions and Words (pp. 3-14). Moscow: AST Publ., Astrel’ Publ. (In Russ.)
  16. Mokienko, V.M. (2018). Bibleizmen und Europäisierung nationaler Sprichwörter und Phraseologismen. In H. Walter (Ed.), Biblische Sprichwörter. Deutsch-Russisch-Polnisches Wörterbuch mit histirisch-etymologischen Kommentaren (pp. 4-11). Greifswald: Universität Greifswald.
  17. Nida, E.A. (1947). Bible translating: An analysis of principles and procedures, with special reference to aboriginal languages. New York: American Bible Society.
  18. Shulezhkova, S., & Kostina, P. (2020). The linguistic world-image of the medieval Slavs through the phraseological prism. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences, 86, 1548-1553.
  19. Shulezhkova, S.G. (2017). The problem of the Slavs unity in the age of globalization on the basis of common cultural background and mentality. Nasledie, 14(37), 147-156. (In Russ.)
  20. Tolstoy, N.I. (1998a). Ancient Slavic writing and the formation of ethnic identity among the Slavs. Slavic Literary and Linguistic Situation. Selected Works, (2), 49-65. Moscow: Yazyki Russkoi Kul'tury Publ. (In Russ.)
  21. Tolstoy, N.I. (1998b). Cyril-Methodius tradition among the Slavs. Slavic Literary and Linguistic Situation. Selected Works, (2), 43-48. Moscow: Yazyki Russkoi Kul'tury Publ. (In Russ.)
  22. Ufimtseva, N.V. (2006). Byzantine heritage in the linguistic consciousness of modern Russians. Linguistic Personality: Text, Vocabulary, Image of the World. For the 70th Anniversary of Yu.N. Karaulov: Collection of Articles (pp. 124-131). Moscow: RUDN Publ. (In Russ.)
  23. Vendina, T.I. (2002). A medieval man in the mirror of the Old Church Slavonic language. Moscow: Indrik Publ. (In Russ.)
  24. Vereshchagin, E.M. (2012). Kirillo-Methodiev book heritage: Inter-language, intercultural, inter-temporal and interdisciplinary studies. Moscow: Indrik Publ. (In Russ.)
  25. Vezhbitskaya, A. (1997). Russian language. In A. Vezhbitskaya (Ed.), Language. Cultutre. Cognition (pp. 33-88). Moscow: Russkie Slovari Publ. (In Russ.)
  26. Zeitlin, R.M. (1977). Vocabulary of the Old Church Slavonic language. Experience of analyzing motivated words based on the materials of ancient Bulgarian manuscripts of the X-XI centuries. Moscow: Nauka Publ. (In Russ.)
  27. Zeitlin, R.M. (1994). Plan of a dictionary entry. Old Slavonic dictionary (based on the manuscripts of the X-XI centuries) (pp. 44-55). Moscow: Russky Yazyk Publ. (In Russ.)
  28. Zhigulina, D.V. (2013). Earthly marriage and spiritual marriage in the Old and New Testaments. Orthodox Heritage in the Culture of Russia: History, Relevance of the Dialogue: Proceedings of All-Russian Science Conference: XI Slavic Scientific Cathedral “Ural. Orthodoxy. Culture” (pp. 272-278). Chelyabinsk: The Chelyabinsk State Institute of Culture and Arts. (In Russ.)

Copyright (c) 2022 Shulezhkova S.G.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies