Orthodoxy, Russian

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ORTHODOXY, RUSSIAN. When the East Slavs adopted Christianity in the tenth century, they acquired portions of Scripture, church services, and selected Byzantine religious writings from Constantinople (old Byzantium) that had already been translated into Slavic.


Whereas Roman Christianity spread in Europe in the Latin language, Christianity emanating from the eastern regions of the old Roman Empire tended to spread not in Greek, the predominant language of Constantinople prior to the Turkish conquest in the fifteenth century, but in the local languages of the peoples being proselytized. Such are the origins of the "national" churches of the Georgians, Armenians, Russians, and so forth. Among the benefits of adopting Christianity, the East Slavic princes, beginning with Grand Prince Vladimir I of Kiev in 988/989, acquired a church system that gave some degree of cultural unity over a widely dispersed population practicing local paganisms. The Slavic language of this Christian cultural acquisition was South Slavic, essentially Bulgarian, which was at the time close enough to the vernacular of the East Slavs to be understood. Subsequently, East Slavic vernacular languages evolved into Ukrainian, Belorussian, and (Great) Russian, whereas the language of the church, known today as Old Church Slavonic (or Slavic), remained fixed. Thus did the East Slavs adopt Christianity in a language that grew to be archaic in the early modern period. Both in church language and in vernacular, the East Slavs were religiously and linguistically separated from other East Orthodox churches, from the non-Slavic peoples of western and central Europe, and from the Latin Church of western Slavic neighbors such as Poland. In Muscovite Russia (the principality of Moscow) in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, few churchmen knew either Greek or Latin. The Muscovite Church therefore functioned without significant understanding of Greek textual sources, and most Christian scholarship was limited to examination of translated Slavic texts. In 1518 a monk from the monastic center of Mt. Athos, Maxim the Greek (c. 14751556), was imported to review Muscovite church texts, make corrections from Greek sources, and compose standardized Slavic texts. His recommendations, however, were not popular among churchmen, who were resistant to change, nor did he win favor in government circles when he opposed the divorce of Moscow Grand Prince Vasilii III from his childless first wife in 1525. Most of Maxim's attempts to provide accurate translations of Greek and Latin Christian texts were ignored.


Although various ecclesiastical jurisdictions arose among the East Slavs, the focus of this article is on the Russian Church headquartered first in Moscow (fourteenth to seventeenth centuries), then St. Petersburg (eighteenth century). With the official conversion to Christianity in the tenth century, Kievan Rus' (the first "state" of the East Slavs, tenth to twelfth centuries) acquired a metropolitan to head the church, appointed at first by the patriarch of Constantinople, who was senior among the four patriarchs of the eastern Mediterranean. Rus' metropolitans were, variously, Greek or Slavic. Beginning in the 1320s, and reflecting its rising power and wealth among East Slavic principalities and city-states, Moscow became the seat of the "all-Russian" (all the Rus' territories) metropolitan. In the eleventh century, long-standing differences between Rome and Constantinople had resulted in a formal schism between Western and Eastern Christianity. The cultural and geographic distance between Moscow and Constantinople was exacerbated in the mid-fifteenth century when, under pressure from invading Ottoman Turks, the emperor and patriarch of Constantinople sought assistance from the West by agreeing to a union of Eastern and Western Christianity in which the Roman pope would be recognized as head of a single Christian Church. The Moscow metropolitan at the time, a Greek named Isidore, attended the Council of Florence-Ferrara in 14381439, accepted the union, returned to Moscow, and proceeded to pray for the Roman pope in Kremlin services. The Moscow political and ecclesiastical hierarchy, shocked by this intrusion of foreign elements, deposed Isidore and in 1448, without consulting the patriarch in Constantinople, elected as metropolitan the Russian Bishop Iona (Jonah) of Ryazan. With the fall of Constantinople to the "infidel" Turks in 1453, the Florence-Ferrara Union was renounced by all eastern parties, and the Muscovite Church achieved de facto autocephaly (independence). There was another attempt to unite Eastern and Western Christianity at the Union of Brest in 1596, wherein some Orthodox Christians of Poland-Lithuania accepted allegiance to the Roman pope in exchange for, among other considerations, the right to retain services in Slavonic and a married parish clergy. In 1589 the Moscow political and ecclesiastical authorities successfully manipulated all four eastern patriarchs to agree to the elevation of the Moscow metropolitan to the status of patriarch, thereby achieving the formal independence of the Russian Orthodox Church under the patriarch of Moscow.

As of the mid-seventeenth century, the Muscovite Church had one metropolitan, two archbishops, and seven bishops. Evidence is plentiful that the prelates (bishops and above) had relatively little control over church people and institutions within their vast eparchies (equivalent to dioceses in the Roman Catholic Church). Parallel with the secular government's Law Code of 1550, the church hierarchy attempted to extend its control more effectively throughout the large territories and widely dispersed population of Muscovite Russia. The Moscow Church Council of 1551, in its protocols known as the Stoglav ('Hundred Chapters'), replicated some dozen provisions of the 1550 Law Code, particularly regarding collection of taxes and fees owed to, in this case, the prelates. The fact that many Stoglav rulings are frequently repeated later is testimony that the church, like the secular government, was not tightly organized or centralized.

Muscovy inherited Byzantine principles of harmony between church and state. Most scholars recognize that in Muscovy the churchthough powerful in matters regarding marriage, family, wills, and contracts (which were frequently finalized by kissing a cross), and court cases involving church persons or peasants living on church landsdid not enjoy significant political authority. Moscow grand princes generally did not interfere in matters of faith (caesaropapism), but they frequently played a determining role in the hiring and firing of church prelates and abbots. An extreme illustration of secular power dominating the church occurred in 1569, when Moscow Metropolitan Filipp, who dared to criticize the policies of Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible's government, was assassinated, apparently on government orders.


Much has been made in scholarly literature of the "double faith" in Russia of coexisting Christian and pagan beliefs and practices. Recent scholarship has deemphasized the uniqueness of the Russian experience, noting that all Christian societies retain pre- or extra-Christian beliefs, and that Christian and native beliefs tend to blend together rather than exist separately. Evidence of that blending is profuse in the 1551 Stoglav, in which the Church Council rails against pagan practices and superstitions not only among the laity, but also among the clergy. From the beginnings of Christianity among the East Slavs, resistance to Christianization was rare, at least in part because the church was not sufficiently unified and strong to eradicate and supplant local beliefs and customs. Heresies were rare within the church. Minor heresies surfaced in the commercial city-states of Novgorod and Pskov, which, until their absorption by Muscovy in the fifteenth century, were relatively independent and more exposed to ideas from western Europe through trade contacts. The "Judaizer" heresy in fifteenth-century Novgorod was apparently rationalist, anti-Trinitarian, and anticlerical, but its suppression was so effective that little else about it is known.


Theological scholarship and debate were largely absent in the Muscovite Church. Muscovy was untouched by the skeptical and questioning spirit of Renaissance scholarship. Indicative is the admonition in the Stoglav to study God's law in books, because "Books are created by the Holy Spirit," the Stoglav instruction to scribes to "copy only from good translations." As noted above, however, Muscovite scholars, lacking knowledge of Greek, were ill prepared to assess the accuracy of Slavic translations. When printing finally came to Moscow in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the first three books to be publishedselected Acts of the Apostles, the Book of Hours, and the Psalterwere printed in Slavic without reference to Greek texts. The church clung to tradition and custom, as inherited from Byzantine Christianity and as interpreted by East Slavic experience. Innovative thought and critical scholarship were frequently and specifically condemned. Most rulings in the 1551 Stoglav are simply repetitions of previous documents of Byzantine and Slavic church sources.

Many clergy were only half-literate priests' sons who had memorized enough prayers and portions of services from their fathers to act as priests (parish priests were required to be married). There were no organized church schools until the mid-seventeenth century, and then only in Moscow and Novgorod. The latter was closed by Peter I the Great (ruled 16821725). The practice of the faith was largely ritualistic. Pastoral teaching through sermons was mostly absent in the Muscovite Church until the mid-seventeenth century, when Western influences entered from left-bank Ukraine, newly incorporated into Muscovy.


Orthodoxyin Russian pravoslavie, the 'true worship'shares with Western Christianity basic Christian sources of the first millennium after Christ: the rulings of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the canons and writings of the church fathers of approximately the second to the eighth centuries, and the Bible. Russians had no complete Bible until the 1490s, when the scholarly Archbishop Gennadii of Novgorod oversaw the compiling of one; a handful of scholars was assembled who could translate from Greek texts to fill in what had until then not been available in Slavic translation. Orthodox liturgical and monastic traditions rely heavily on Basil the Great (c. 330379), John Chrysostom (c. 347407), and monastic rules of fifth- and sixth-century Constantinople and Jerusalem. Among differences with Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy does not teach that there is a single moment of transubstantiation of the elements during the liturgy (Mass), rather that Christ is present at the Eucharist and the elements really change, but that the mystery of the transformation is, like the mystery of God Himself, ultimately unknowable (= apophatic theology). The Muscovite Church inherited, but did not debate until the seventeenth century under foreign influence, certain concepts that split the Christian Church in 1054for example, the Filoque controversy, in which Eastern Orthodoxy rejected the Roman Catholic addition to the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son (filioque, 'and the son'). There are seven sacraments in Orthodoxy, but their identity and number have never been defined so precisely as in Roman Catholicism.


No separate "orders" evolved in Russian monasticism, although some prominent monasteries and abbots developed particular rules and customs that were emulated by other monasteriesfor example, St. Sergii of Radonezh (c. 13141392), and his many disciples, who spread monasticism into remote territories to the north and northeast of Moscow. Two concepts of the purposes of monasticism, inherited from ancient and Kievan times, coexist in Russian monasticism, both modeled on Christ's life: the first emphasizes prayer, contemplation, and non-involvement with the secular, material world; the second stresses social and community service. Somewhat related to these two trends are the three principal types of monastic organization: the first is eremitic, consisting of hermit monks who may live in close proximity; the second is cenobitic, or communal, in which monks live, work, dine, and worship as a brotherhood; the third is a combination of the first two and is called a skete, or idiorhythmic monastery, in which monks may live independently but come together for certain occasions like meals and church services. Two famous representatives of allegedly opposing points of view on monastic life were Iosif of Volokolamsk and Nil Sorskii, both late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Iosiflabeled later by historians a "possessor" or "acquisitor"argued that a monastery should be wealthy and on good terms with secular authorities, the better to serve the community. Nillabeled later a "non-possessor" or "non-acquisitor"stressed monastic poverty, independence from secular authority, and contemplative prayer. On the subject of prayer, Nil advocated continual repetition of the "Jesus Prayer" (some variant on the simple prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner") and hesychastic (quiet, contemplative) prayer, both practiced at the time in monasteries at Mt. Athos, a Greek center of Orthodox monasticism. In fact, Iosif and Nil had much in common as sincere, devout monastics. Their differing emphases on monastic wealth versus poverty came to be exaggerated later in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the context of wealthy monasteries trying to protect their assets against government encroachment. Both Iosif and Nil were canonized as saints.


Prieststhat is, churchmen ordained to celebrate the liturgy, or Mass, and deliver the sacramentswere (and are) of two types. The first is known as the "white," or secular, clergy. The second is the monastic, or "black," clergy (from the color of their robes); they are monks, called hieromonks, who conduct services in monasteries and also, as necessary, in parish churches. Prelates (bishops and above) can only come from the ranks of celibate monastics. Parish priests (the white clergy) must be married. Parish priests were typically barefoot peasants, like their parishioners, and unsystematically trained.


The relative unity of Muscovite Orthodoxy was shattered in the seventeenth century under pressures both domestic and foreign. Pressures included the government's growing recognition, in the wake of disastrous defeats in the early seventeenth century by Polish and Swedish troops (during Muscovy's "Time of Troubles"), that Muscovy needed to look to western Europe for fresh ideas, at least in military strategy and ordnance. Some church leaders also saw the Time of Troubles as a wake-up call for fresh thinking: God had obviously not favored Orthodox Russia in the confrontation with foreign armies; it was time to examine and reinvigorate the Russian Church according to "true traditions." A loose movement of so-called Zealots of Piety formed, consisting mostly of educated churchmen dedicated to reforming the tenets and practices of the faith. Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich (ruled 16451676), sympathetic to the Zealots, promoted one of its members, Nikon, first to be metropolitan of Novgorod, then patriarch of Moscow in 1652 (another example of the power of the state over the church). At the same time, Muscovy was incorporating left bank Ukraine, from which Orthodox clerics, many of them trained in Polish Jesuit seminaries and academies, began to appear in Moscow, their new capital, to seek their fortunes. Nikon turned to these Ukrainian clerics, who knew Greek and Latin, for advice on returning the Muscovite Orthodox Church to its "true" texts and rituals. Their advice in fact reflected current Ukrainian Orthodox practice more than it represented "original" Christian practice (however the latter might be determined). Nikon, unable to judge such distinctions, accepted their recommendations and forcefully introduced a set of reforms in church and liturgical practice. Traditional scholarship has pointed to the liturgical changes as catalysts for the Great Schism in the Russian Church, formalized by the Moscow Church Council of 16661667, in which those who refused to accept the liturgical changes were excommunicated and became known as Schismatics. In contrast to the Western Protestant Reformation, where the reformers split from the official church, it was the official church in Muscovy that instituted reforms, thereby separating itself from the traditionalist "Old Believers," or "Old Ritualists," who persist to this day.

Ironically, Patriarch Nikon himself was deposed by the same council that made his reforms official. Nikon's political pretensions angered Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, and Nikon's inflexible insistence on his reforms alienated many in the church. The schism was in fact complex, reaching beyond liturgical reforms themselves. Recent scholarship has pointed out political and social aspects of the schism as it played out in both Moscow and the provinces. However one interprets the Old Believer movement, the repression of a significant portion of devout Christians by the state (especially for resistance to paying taxes and serving in the military) marked a fundamental shift in the previous unity of Muscovite Orthodoxy.


Peter I the Great (ruled 16821725) ushered in an era in which the church was fundamentally transformed: church administration effectively became a government ministry, the church lost much of its landed wealth, and a system of clerical education was established for the first time in Russia. Tsar Peter inflicted numerous reforms on his country that were designed to create and pay for a new government and a military and naval system that would enable Russia to trade with, compete with, and, as necessary defend Russia's European interests by force of arms. The ruthlessness with which he implemented his governmental and tax collection reforms, and the forced buildup of his new capital city, St. Petersburg, augured poorly for the independence of the church. When Patriarch Adrian (in office 16901700) died in 1700, Peter prevented the election of a new patriarch, and instead appointed Stefan Yavorskii as patriarchal "exarch," or locum tenens. Yavorskii was a young professor from the Kiev Orthodox Academy who had trained at a Jesuit academy in Poland, and who argued in favor of a strong patriarchate and the independence of the church. Gradually Peter came to favor another professor from the Kiev Academy, Feofan Prokopovich, whose 1719 Spiritual Regulation argued in support of a Russian national church under the authority of the tsar as "supreme bishop" and argued that an ecclesiastical council would be more appropriate to govern the church than a single patriarch. In 1721 Peter established the Ecclesiastical College to govern the church ("college," or kollegia, a word borrowed from the Swedish governmental system, was the term Peter used for his government ministries, each one headed by a committee instead of a single minister). The Ecclesiastical College was soon renamed the Holy Governing Synod, and was administered by a lay director, or Oberprokurator. The synod changed in composition over time, but basically it remained a committee of churchmen headed by a lay appointee of the tsar/emperor (the title "emperor" was instituted in 1721).


Under imperial state regulation, the church became less recognizably Muscovite. Most bishops and metropolitans appointed under Peter were Ukrainians or Belorussians. Monasteries lost territory and were more closely regulated, resulting in a reduction of monks and nuns from twenty-five thousand in 1734 to fourteen thousand in 1738. That we can begin in the eighteenth century to speak statistically about the church is in itself evidence of "modernization," at least in terms of record keeping. The churchparticularly monasterieslost landed wealth gradually during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but under Empress Catherine II the Great (ruled 17621796) monastic lands were effectively nationalized, and some one million peasants on monastery land overnight became state peasants. A new ecclesiastic educational system was begun under Peter the Great and expanded to the point that by the end of the century there was a seminary in each eparchy. The curriculum of schools for youth and for the clergy was heavy on Latin language and subjects, close to the curriculum of Jesuit academies in Poland, and light on Greek language and the Greek Church Fathers, even light on the Russian and Church Slavonic languages. The result was that more monks and priests were formally educated than before, but their training was poor preparation for serving a Russian-speaking population and conducting services in Church Slavonic. Catherine the Great was inclined toward rationalist Enlightenment ideas, which included religious tolerance. Old Believers enjoyed a degree of religious freedom, although they continued to be taxed at a double rate. Under Catherine the various offices and institutions of the churchbishops, monasteries, seminaries, the twenty-six eparchies, and so forthwere placed under detailed regulations that governed appointments, conduct, and salaries.

See also Catherine II (Russia) ; Clergy: Russian Orthodox Clergy ; Old Believers ; Peter I (Russia) ; Reformations in Eastern Europe: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox ; Russia ; Time of Troubles (Russia) ; Uniates ; Union of Brest (1596) .


Bushkovitch, Paul. Religion and Society in Russia: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. New York and Oxford, 1992.

Kollmann, Jack E., Jr. "The Moscow Stoglav ('Hundred Chapters') Church Council of 1551." Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1978.

Michels, Georg Bernhard. At War with the Church: Religious Dissent in Seventeenth-Century Russia. Stanford, 1999.

Pospielovsky, Dimitry. The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia. Crestwood, N.Y., 1998.

Prokurat, Michael, Alexander Golitzin, and Michael D. Peterson, comps. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church. Lanham, Md., and London, 1996.

Ware, Timothy (Kallistos). The Orthodox Church. New ed. London and New York, 1993.

Jack Kollmann