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Russian Orthodox Church

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH

In 988 Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev adopted Eastern Orthodoxy from Byzantium and inaugurated a gradual Christianization of his realm. First affected were elites, with churches and observance limited to cities; several centuries elapsed before the church could penetrate the hinterland. Although the devastating Mongol conquest of 12371240 temporarily interrupted this process, the Mongols' religious tolerance (and tax exemptions) enabled the church to resume the building of parishes and monasteries. Simultaneously, the church emerged as an important political force, symbolizing Slavic unity amidst inter-princely conflict; the relocation of the metropolitan to Moscow played a key role in the triumph of Muscovy. There it was instrumental in formulating a new political culture based on the "Third Rome" theory, with Muscovyafter the fall of Constantinople in 1453claiming leadership over Eastern Orthodoxy. Church councils codified the new Russian Orthodoxy, defended ecclesiastical ownership of lands and peasants, and achieved formal autocephalous status for the church (with its own patriarch) in 1589.

That triumph turned to schism (raskol ). The conflict erupted in the 1650s when reformist clergy attempted to modify liturgical texts and ritual practices. At issue was the model for such changes: Reformers advocated Greek models, but opponents deemed the Orthodoxy of the Third Rome inviolable and any change tantamount to apostasy. The result was a split between the official church, supported by the state, and an underground of disaffected clergy and laity, pejoratively labeled "schismatics" by the official church but self-described as "Old Believers."

The eighteenth century brought still more profound change. Driven by the needs of war and inspired by Western models, Peter the Great seized ecclesiastical resources, restricted the church's role in secular affairs, and in 1721 replaced the patriarchate with a more tractable Synod. Although Peter drew short of secularizing church property (a common device of new monarchies hungry for resources), Catherine the Great proved less inhibited: In 1764 she sequestered church lands and peasants and allocated a small budget (ravaged, over time, by inflation). These clouds had a silver lining: The church now concentrated on its strictly religious mission, founded seminaries to train clergy, and tackled the daunting task of catechizing the mass of pious but uncomprehending believers.

Despite such gains, nineteenth-century observers discerned serious problems and shortcomings in the church. One was competition from dissenters (Old Believers, sectarians, and disbelievers) and, in borderland areas, from established faiths such as Catholicism and Lutheranism. A further cause of concern was ecclesiastical administrationin particular, its stifling centralization, the monocratic rule of bishops, and the increasingly intrusive role of the chief procurator (lay overseer of the Synod). Dismaying too was the performance of parish clergy, a hereditary caste that proved lacking in personal commitment, suitable material support, and professional training. The parish itself, the nuclear institution of the church, appeared increasingly moribund, chiefly because the atrophy of parishioners' rights undermined their interest and active involvement. Another highly contentious issue was marriage and divorce: Having retained total control over this sphere, the church severely restricted marital dissolution, a policy that aroused growing discontent among elites, urban groups, and the peasantry.

The church did endeavor to address these issues. Before mid-century, it constructed an elaborate network of seminaries, secured subsidies for clergy in the poorest parishes, and expanded its internal mission. Far more systematic attempts came during the Great Reforms of the 1860s, including measures to abolish the hereditary caste, professionalize seminary training, restructure the parish (investing power in parish councils), and improve ecclesiastical administration and courts. But the reforms misfired and stalled, even before the "counter-reforms" of the 1880s. The revolution of 1905 triggered a new phase of desperate reformism, but it all came to naught, largely because of a skeptical, conservative state. Thus, by 1914, despite the immense size of the institution (54,923 churches; 953 monasteries; 94,629 in monastic orders and 117,915 in the parish clergy), the church suffered from a host of long-festering and debilitating problems.

The revolutions of 1917 promised relief, but ended in disaster. The reform expectations culminated in the Church Council of 19171918; the first since the seventeenth century, it reestablished the patriarchate (to ensure the church's autonomy) and tackled the long list of overdue reforms. But it had to operate under extremely adverse conditions, especially after October 1917: The new Bolshevik regime abolished the church's juridical status, banned clergy from education, and nationalized all church assets. The civil war of 19171922 brought antireligious campaigns (including the exhumation of saints' relics to expose "clerical fraud"), the closure of many ecclesiastical (especially educational, monastic, and administrative) institutions, and the arrest and execution of clergy. By 1921 the church as an institution had virtually disappeared; it existed only as individual parish churches registered by committees of laity.

Worse was to come. Even the New Economic Policy brought no respite. In 1922 the Bolsheviks ordered the confiscation of church valuables, ostensibly to feed famine victims, but actually to precipitate a schism between the "reactionary" patriarchal wing and pro-Soviet "renovationists." But that strategy failed abysmally, and, alarmed by signs of religious revival, in 1929 the Stalinist regime declared open war on the church. By 1939 all but 1,744 churches (of the 28,560 in 1928) were closed; vast numbers of believer-activists, not just clergy, were arrested and many executed in the Great Terror. Although the exigencies of World War II forced some concessions (including election of a new patriarch in 1943 and an increase in churches, although mainly in Ukraine), the postwar regime gradually returned to its antireligious policies. The post-Stalinist "thaw" of Nikita Khrushchev brought no relief; on the contrary, his antireligious campaign reduced the number of churches from 13,414 (1958) to 7,773 (1964). The subsequent Brezhnev regime eschewed such traumatic campaigns, but used its powers of repression to cause a steady decline in the institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church.

During the mid-1980s the church experienced recovery. The reformist Mikhail Gorbachev cautiously restored ties to the church and permitted it to reopen parishes, monasteries, and seminaries. The breakup of the USSR in 1991 removed the last barriers. Since 1991 the church has greatly expanded the number of parishes, monasteries, and seminaries (e.g., parishes increasing from 6,794 in 1986 to over 22,000 in 2002, including 9,000 in Ukraine). The church also assumed a prominent role in public life, guardedly under President Boris Yeltsin, at least until he signed the "Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" in 1997, privileging the traditional confessions and imposing limits on the activity of newer, foreign religious movements (i.e., Pentacostals). The links between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state became still more pronounced under President Vladimir Putin. Although the church faced stiff competition from other faiths (especially the proselytizing sects), it rebuilt its institutional structure and carved out a salient role in Russian post-communist life and culture.

See also: byzantium, influence of; holy synod; metropolitan; old believers; orthodoxy; patriarchate; religion; saints

bibliography

Curtiss, John S. (1953). The Russian Church and Soviet State, 19171950. Boston: Little, Brown.

Ellis, Jane. (1988). The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History. London: Routledge.

Ware, Kallistos. (1993). The Orthodox Church. New York: Penguin Books.

Gregory L. Freeze

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Russian Orthodox Church

Russian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow. Although Christianity spread into Russia early (1st cent.), it was insignificant until the 10th cent. St Vladimir of Kiev proclaimed Greek Christianity the faith of his realm in 988, and baptism was ordered. In the 14th cent., leadership moved from Kiev to Moscow, and independence from Greek Orthodoxy was established. Monasticism played a key role during the Mongol invasion and rule (13th–15th cents.) especially notable being St Sergius of Radonezh, whose Monastery of the Holy Trinity became particularly famous. After the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the defeat of the Mongols (1480), the powerful Russian state under Ivan IV (‘the Terrible’) enhanced Moscow's claim to be the ‘Third Rome’. A close alliance (eventually subservience) between Church and State ensued, reinforced by the Possessors controversy.

In 1727, Peter the Great abolished the patriarchate, (established in 1589) and set up a Holy Synod of twelve members nominated by the Tsar, so that the church became a department of state. Its institutional subservience was counteracted by the religious renewal initiated by a monk, Paissy, who emphasized continual prayer and obedience to a staretz (elder). In the period of the startsi, St Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833) was especially revered.

The Patriarchate of Moscow was re-established in 1917 by a Council which met between the February and October Revolutions: however, after the October Revolution, the Church's status in the USSR became very precarious. After an easier period during the Second World War, in which the church was encouraged to promote the patriotic efforts of the people, a determined programme of closing churches and seminaries followed under Khruschev between 1959 and 1964. The church had been guaranteed its freedom to worship by art. 124 of the Constitution of 1936, but activities and ‘propaganda’ outside regular worship were forbidden. Glasnost and perestroika led to a remarkable resurgence of Christian confidence, allied to the role of other Christian churches (notably the Roman Catholic) in overthrowing Communist regimes in E. Europe.

The largest body of Russian Orthodox in America, the ‘Orthodox Church in America’ was declared autocephalous and independent of Moscow in 1970. There is also an independent ‘Paris jurisdiction’ in W. Europe, under the direct control of the Oecumenical Patriarch.

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Russian Orthodox Church

Russian Orthodox Church: see Orthodox Eastern Church.

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Russian Orthodox Church

Russian Orthodox Church See Orthodox Church

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