Eastern Orthodox Church and Beekeeping

Christianity came to ancient Rus' slightly before 1 AD, existing alongside and eventually replacing paganism, or "i͡azychestvo." The Russian Orthodox Church had massive cultural, political, and economic power.

Beekeeping comes into the picture when we consider church candles. In Eastern Orthodoxy, candles hold significant symbolic meaning and church visitors will light candles while saying prayers for specific individuals. Church candles are traditionally 100% pure beeswax, as beeswax candles have symbolic connotations of purity in addition to burning cleanly. A portion of the Church's budget came from sales of candles, but the church had to compete with swindlers who would add materials such as paraffin to create cheaper candles, and pretend to be monks as they made sales door-to-door. The Russian government issued several decrees to combat this issue, but they never seemed to be quite effective enough. A Russian-language article on this topic is available online from S. A. Ikonnikov. However, numbers and dates have been omitted from the downloadable document. 

After the formation of the Soviet Union, the church was actively suppressed by the government, yet many beekeeping publications discuss a national shortage of beeswax throughout this time period. It might be interesting to look at the ways the Eastern Orthodox Church sourced its beeswax for candle production, whether these channels persisted after Soviet rule, and whether other beekeeping products were used by the Eastern Orthodox Church in less prominent ways. 

Cornell Libraries has a number of resources on the Eastern Orthodox Church that might be interesting to peruse. You may also want to explore this extensive blog dedicated to interpreting icon art, Russian Icons