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The Church Statute of Yaroslav the Wise — is a normative legal act of state origin that regulates social relations pertaining to church jurisdiction. It was compiled during the reign of Prince Yaroslav the Wise. [1]wikipedia

It has been preserved in two main versions: the Western Russian and Eastern Russian, with the latter being represented in various lists to varying degrees. It is one of the main written sources of Russian law.

Scheme “The Church Statut of Yaroslav the Wise”
Scheme “The Church Statut of Yaroslav the Wise”

Origin of the Statut

At the beginning of the Ustav of Prince Yaroslav concerning ecclesiastical courts, it is stated:

«Behold, I, the Great Prince Yaroslav, son of Volodimir, by the order of my father, have agreed with Metropolitan Ilarion and compiled the Greek Nomokanon. It is not fitting for princes or boyars to judge in such serious matters, so I have given it to the Metropolitan and bishops.»[2]Beneshevich V.N. Collection of Monuments on the History
of Ecclesiastical Law, Primarily of the Russian Church
Before the Era of Peter the Great. St. Petersburg,
1915, p. 78.

Professor A.S. Pavlov believes that the “Ustav of Yaroslav” was formed by the private codification of norms of ecclesiastical law, prompted by the vital need to transfer the same system of buying and selling into the sphere of ecclesiastical court, which was adopted in the “Russian Truth”. He dates the composition of the Ustav text to the 12th century.[3]Pavlov A.S. “Course of Ecclesiastical Law (1900-1902)”.
St. Petersburg, 2002.

Another viewpoint is held by the historian Ya.N. Shchapov. He believes that the text of the “Ustav” belongs to the 11th century and that the mention of its compilation by Prince Yaroslav in agreement with Metropolitan Ilarion is quite reliable. According to him, the extensive version of the “Ustav” of Prince Yaroslav appeared earlier than the brief version, at the turn of the 12th-13th centuries, and the brief version dates back to the mid-14th century, although it more accurately reproduces its original text.[4]Tsypin Vladislav, Archpriest. “Ecclesiastical
Law” (ch. 14)

Brief description

“The Statute” is divided into three parts:

  • Introduction — It states that Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich, on the advice of Metropolitan Illarion, reviewed his father’s statute in comparison with the Nomocanon and confirmed it. But from the text of “The Statute,” it is evident that Yaroslav did not limit himself to confirming “The Statute of Prince Vladimir”: he supplemented the judicial part of the statute with new provisions that expanded the scope of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
  • Establishing part — It contains the following headings: “On crimes and offenses subject to ecclesiastical court”; “On marriage cases”; and “General provision on ecclesiastical jurisdiction over persons subject to it.”
  • General conclusion and oath — It indicates that all disputes and matters concerning church people are exclusively subject to the court of the diocesan bishop. The oath defines the moral responsibility of the prince-descendant who would want to violate the ancestor’s statute and the legal responsibility of the violator – the official: “trial and execution according to the law,” that is, according to the Nomocanon.

On crimes and offenses subject to ecclesiastical court

The statute divides offenses into ecclesiastical-civil and exclusively ecclesiastical. The former were subject to joint jurisdiction of the princely and ecclesiastical authorities, while the latter fell within the exclusive competence of the ecclesiastical court.


Of the crimes of this kind, only a few are recognized by the “Charter” as church-civil. They include:

  1. Rape and abduction of a girl (the latter with the aim of rape). The fine and private compensation here are commensurate with the origin of the victim. Accordingly, the fine is determined from 5 gold hryvnias to 1 silver hryvnia. Private compensation is almost always equal to the fine, but regardless of the social class of the victim, she is paid, that is, compensation “for shame” is no less than 5 silver hryvnias.
  2. Toloka. This is a special kind of shame inflicted on a girl – rape with the participation of other persons. The guilty party is subject to punishment by both the spiritual and secular authorities; the fine for such an act is 3 silver hryvnias to the diocesan bishop, and the compensation for the victim “for shame” is of the same amount.
  3. Adultery by a husband from his wife also requires double church-civil punishment, and the fine going to the spiritual authority is not determined: probably, it depended on the discretion of the judge.
  4. Adultery with a sister: punishment by the secular authority is death penalty, and the fine for the spiritual authority is 100 hryvnias; the same applies to adultery with a daughter-in-law (father-in-law).

Other types of adultery are subject to spiritual court without the participation of secular authorities. Of these crimes, the most severe were considered to be adultery with a nun and adultery of two brothers with one woman – for both of these crimes, a fine of 100 hryvnias is due, and the guilty party (in the latter case) is sentenced to a monastery for repentance.

Sending a woman guilty of adultery to a monastery is also encountered in other cases, for example, in the case of failure to preserve virginity. A woman guilty of this was sent to a monastery, from where her relatives were supposed to redeem her. The amount of this ransom is not determined and probably depended on the discretion of the judge (bishop).

Some types of adultery were subject to joint spiritual-civil liability – this applied only to cases where laypeople were guilty. Clergymen guilty of adultery were subject exclusively to the judgment of the diocesan bishop and were punished at his discretion, regardless of the form of adultery they were guilty of.

Personal Offense

In the “Statute,” personal offense is divided into two types: offense by action and offense by word.

Offense by action
Offenses by action listed in the “Statute” can be divided into: physical assault, fights, cutting someone’s hair or beard with the intention of causing offense.

Severe physical assault inflicted by a man on a woman who is not his wife was punishable by a fine and compensation to the victim (both equal amounts) – according to the origin of the latter. The punishment for light physical assault inflicted by a man on a woman who is not his wife differs only in that the spiritual authority imposes a uniform fine of 6 kun. As for physical assault inflicted by a mother-in-law or brother-in-law on a woman, such assaults are considered an offense only if they were committed without the victim’s fault. In addition, in such cases, there is no distinction between severe and light offenses: the punishment was always imposed for light offenses. In this punishment, secular authorities do not participate, as in the case of physical assault inflicted by a man.

For assaulting one’s parents, the punishment was death, and the fine (from the offender’s property) was determined, as seen from the text of the “Statute,” at the discretion of the judge (bishop).

Regarding fights, the “Statute” particularly emphasizes fights or brawls committed by agreement or at a wedding. For such crimes, a joint trial of secular and spiritual authorities was required, and the fine was divided in half.

Cutting someone’s hair or beard was considered as offensive as pulling out someone’s beard or mustache. The punishment for this was a fine (equal for both spiritual and secular authorities) – 12 kun.
Offense by word
The “Statute” provides only one offense of this kind: calling someone else’s wife a prostitute. For this, a huge fine was imposed – from 5 gold kun to 1 silver kun. Secular authorities participated in the punishment for this offense only if the offended woman was from the upper class.

Property Offenses

Only theft of important household items in agriculture and peasant life, such as bread, hemp, flax, and pieces of cloth, falls under the jurisdiction of the spiritual court. The penalty for all these types of theft is divided equally between representatives of the spiritual and secular authorities. Additionally, the “Charter” states that both men and women are responsible for these thefts. Moreover, theft committed by a wife against her husband in the family also falls under the jurisdiction of the spiritual court. The guilty party is subject to a 3-hryvnia penalty to the spiritual judge, i.e., the diocesan bishop, and also faces punishment from the husband, which replaces secular punishment in this case. The provision regarding theft by a wife from her husband was included in the Charter not only because such cases required a special law but also because, in the past, such a transgression by a wife led to divorce. The Yaroslav’s Charter abolished this custom – “for this, she will not be separated.”

According to the Charter, this property offense falls under the jurisdiction of the church-civil jurisdiction. The penalty for it is determined as a fine of 100 hryvnias in silver and the princely execution according to the Nomocanon.

Spiritual Offenses
These offenses are subject exclusively to the spiritual court. They include inappropriate behavior by clergy and monks, leaving monasticism, consuming forbidden foods, associating with unbelievers, and performing a service by a priest in a foreign parish without extreme necessity. For all these transgressions, a penalty was imposed. The imposition of a spiritual penalty (epitimia) was left to the discretion of the diocesan bishop.

Marital Affairs

This section contains articles about illegal marriages, refusal to marry after agreement, and divorce.

Illegal marriages.The Statute of Yaroslav distinguishes several types of crimes against the legality of marriage. These include:

  1. Bigamy: If the guilty party is the husband, he is subject to punishment appointed by the bishop, and the second wife is sent to a monastery. The wife who marries while her husband is alive is also sent to a monastery, and the second husband pays a fine to the spiritual judge at his discretion.
  2. Incestuous marriages: For these, epitemia and a fine were imposed, and the marriage was subject to dissolution.
  3. Marriages without the consent of parents: Such marriages were not dissolved, but the husband paid compensation to the parents and a fine to the bishop, based on the position of the wife.
  4. Forced marriages: Parents are only responsible for such marriages if the coerced party harms themselves.

Refusal to marry after agreement: In the event of refusal to marry after “the cheese was sliced for the bride,” the guilty party was subject to a fine of 5 hryvnias, secular punishment, and payment of expenses.

Divorce: The Statute of Yaroslav counts five legitimate reasons for divorce:

  1. If the wife learns of a conspiracy against the prince and hides it from her husband;
  2. Proven adultery of the wife;
  3. If the wife learns of a conspiracy against her husband and does not warn him about it;
  4. Dissolute life of the wife, even despite the husband’s admonitions;
  5. If the wife instigates her husband to steal or steals herself and hands it over to others, or if she learns of someone’s desire to steal from the church and does not inform her husband.

Divorce was considered illegal if it was carried out without the consent or fault of the wife, and the guilty party was fined based on their social status. However, even voluntary divorce, carried out with the consent of both spouses, was considered illegal; in this case, the husband paid a fine of 12 hryvnias, and if the marriage was entered into without the sacrament of marriage (pagan marriage), then 6 hryvnias. Secular authorities did not participate in punishment.

The Importance of the Yaroslav’s Statut

The main significance of the Yaroslav’s Statut is in the separation of the ecclesiastical and secular judicial jurisdiction, as well as the identification of cases to be heard jointly by representatives of both authorities in the church court. According to V. O. Klyuchevsky, the ecclesiastical court described in the Code deepened the notion of crime and expanded the concept of accountability. The legislator, guided by Christian values, aimed at correcting the offender rather than merely punishing the offense, thus seeking to prevent it by acting on the will of the offender. The Code not only imposed monetary fines but also imposed morally corrective penalties for certain acts, such as “epitimia” and house arrest near the church, which probably involved compulsory labor for the church.

Section “Yaroslav the Wise”

Список литературы

  1. wikipedia
  2. Beneshevich V.N. Collection of Monuments on the History of Ecclesiastical Law, Primarily of the Russian Church Before the Era of Peter the Great. St. Petersburg, 1915, p. 78.
  3. Pavlov A.S. “Course of Ecclesiastical Law (1900-1902)”. St. Petersburg, 2002.
  4. Tsypin Vladislav, Archpriest. “Ecclesiastical Law” (ch. 14)
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Опубликовано: 28.02.2023
Изменено: 28.02.2023