Russian Orthodox Church

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RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH . Vladimir I, grand prince of Kiev (9601015) was the first Christian ruler of Russia. Having sent ambassadors to investigate the religions of his day, Vladimir was persuaded to embrace Greek Christianity when, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle, his envoys reported that at the liturgy in Constantinople they did not know whether they were in heaven or on earth. Vladimir's marriage to the Byzantine princess Anna and his economic dealings with the empire also played a significant part in his decision to align his principality with the imperial Church of Byzantium. Vladimir was baptized in 988.

Kievan Christianity

After the baptism of the Kievan peoples by prince Vladimir, Orthodox Christianity flourished in the lands of Rus'. Before the Tatar devastations in the thirteenth century, Kiev was a cosmopolitan city with commercial and cultural ties with Europe and the East. Its spiritual center was the Kievan Monastery of the Caves founded by Anthony of Kiev (d. 1072) and Theodosius (d. 1074). The monastery provided the first literary and historical as well as religious writings in the Russian lands; for centuries it served as the theological and spiritual center of Russian church life. In the early years of Christian Kiev, several remarkable churches were constructed, such as the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia, 1037); these churches conformed to Byzantine patterns of architecture, iconography, and mosaic decoration. The leader of church life was the bishop of Kiev, often a Greek by nationality, who had the title metropolitan.

The city-republics of Novgorod and Pskov to the north also developed vibrant Christian societies after their conversions, boasting wonderful architectural and iconographic achievements that early began to show independence and originality. Spared attacks by the Tatars, these areas were threatened by crusading Christians from the West who desired to enforce Latin Christianity in the region. Grand Prince Aleksandr Nevskiy (d. 1263) led the Russians in their defeat of the invading Swedes (1240) and the Teutonic Knights (1242), thus preserving the Orthodox faith. He also managed to maintain peace with the Tatars through skillful diplomacy accomplished by extensive visits to the khans, to whom he paid homage and tribute.

Muscovite Christianity

After the devastation of Kiev by the Tatars in 1240, the center of Russian political and ecclesiastical life shifted to Moscow. The Muscovite princes succeeded in bringing the rival cities of the region into submission, and with the final defeat of the Tatars by Grand Prince Dmitri Donskoi in 1380, their city reigned supreme among the Russians. The ascendancy of Moscow could not have occurred without the efforts of church leaders, particularly the metropolitans, such as Alexis (d. 1378), who for a time served as governing regent, and the abbot Sergiy of Radonezh (d. 1392).

Sergiy is considered by many to be Russia's greatest saint and the "builder" of the nation. A simple monk who became famous for his ascetic labors and mystical gifts, he was appointed abbot of the Saint Sergius Trinity Monastery, which he founded in the wilderness north of Moscow. The monastery soon became the center of social and economic as well as religious and spiritual life in the region. Its members and their disciples provided Russia over the centuries with hundreds of bishops, abbots, missionaries, thinkers, artists, and secular leaders, many of whom were canonized saints of the church. One such figure was the monk-iconographer Andrei Rublev (c. 13601430), whose painting of the Trinity in the form of three angels who visited Abraham is among the great masterpieces of Russian art. Closed after the 1917 revolution, the monastery was reopened after World War II; it attracts thousands of pilgrims annually and houses the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary.

The Imperial Period

In the fifteenth century, with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453), the theory developed that Moscow was the "third Rome," the last center of true Christianity on earth. Job, the metropolitan of Moscow, was elected patriarch. This election was confirmed by Jeremias II of Constantinople in 1589, thus giving the Russian Church a status of self-governance and honor equal to that of the ancient patriarchates of the Christian empire: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The patriarchate existed in Russia de facto until 1700, de jure until 1721, when Peter the Great (16721725) issued the Ecclesiastical Regulation, which created a synodical form of church government patterned after that of the Protestant Churches of Europe. The patriarchate was restored to the Russian Church only in 1918, when the All-Russian Church Council, the first such assembly allowed since before Peter's rule, elected Tikhon Belavin (d. 1925), a former archbishop of the North American mission, to the office.

In the seventeenth century Patriarch Nikon (d. 1681) attempted to reform the Russian Church according to the practices of the Church of Constantinople. He corrected the liturgical service books and instituted Greek forms of ritual, such as the practice of making the sign of the cross with three fingers instead of two, as was the practice among the Russians. Nikon's reform was taken as an assault on the "third Rome" theory because it radically questioned any special calling of the Russian Church and nation. Its result was not only the resignation of the unyielding patriarch but the schism of great numbers of "old ritualists" from the established church.

During the time of the westernization of Russia under Peter the Great and subsequent czars, the Russian Church became the virtual captive of the state. The patriarchate was abolished and replaced by the Holy Synod, consisting of bishops, presbyters, and laypeople. Church councils were forbidden, ecclesiastical properties were appropriated and secularized, and church schools began to teach in Latin. The clergy were alienated from the people, particularly the intellectuals, and the church structure was bureaucratized, with the lay government official for ecclesiastical affairs, the Ober-procuror of the Holy Synod, at its head.

Latinization in the Ukraine

From the end of the fifteenth century the church in the Kievan area, by now a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, was canonically attached to the patriarchate of Constantinople and not to Moscow. In 1596 in Brest-Litovsk, the metropolitan of Kiev signed an act of union with the Church of Rome, a move opposed by some bishops and most leading laypeople. Great numbers of believers in the territories of these bishops became Uniates at this time and, over the centuries, developed into strongly committed members of the Catholic Church. In the early twenty-first century the Ukrainian and Ruthenian Eastern Rite Churches remain staunchly anti-Russian and anti-Orthodox.

The defense of Eastern Orthodoxy during this period was led by the Orthodox metropolitan of Kiev, Petr Moghila (d. 1647). Though violently anti-Catholic, Petr was himself trained in the West and became responsible for bringing many Latin doctrines and liturgical practices into the Orthodox Church through his publications and the school he founded in Kiev, which influenced not only the whole Russian Church but the entire Orthodox world. In addition to the theological school in Kiev, higher faculties of theological study specializing in preparing missionaries for the Eastern regions were established in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kazan.

Russian Missionary Activity

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the missionary efforts of the Russian Church were extensive. The Scriptures and services of the church were translated into many Siberian languages and Alaskan dialects as the eastern regions of the empire were settled and evangelized. Russian missionaries reached the Aleutian Islands in Alaska in 1794, thus beginning the history of Russian Orthodoxy in the New World. The monk Herman (d. 1830), a member of the original missionary party, was canonized a saint of the church in 1970 by both the Russian Church and the Orthodox Church in America. The latter, formerly the Russian missionary diocese in North America, was recognized in the same year by the Russian Church as the fifteenth autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Church in the world.

Joining Herman in the Orthodox calendar of saints were two other great missionaries. Innokentiy Veniaminov (d. 1879) was a young married priest who traveled extensively through Siberia and North America, reaching as far as San Francisco. He created several Alaskan alphabets, translated many texts, wrote many books, and converted countless people before becoming head of the Russian Church as metropolitan of Moscow, which post he occupied until his death. Nikolai Kasatkin (d. 1912) was the first Orthodox archbishop of Tokyo and the founder of the now autonomous Orthodox Church of Japan. In addition to contributing to the conversion of thousands, he translated Scriptures and services into Japanese and built the cathedral of Nikolai-Do in Tokyo.

Spiritual Revival of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also saw a revival of traditional Orthodox ascetical and mystical life, uninfluenced by the westernizing tendencies of the ecclesiastical institutions. Paisiy Velichkovskiy (d. 1794) brought the hesychast method of mystical prayer, rooted in the invocation of the name of Jesus, into the Ukraine and Russia from Mount Athos, an important monastic center in northern Greece. He translated into Church Slavonic many ancient texts, including the anthology of writings on the spiritual life by the church fathers titled the Philokalia (Dobrotoliubie). (Church Slavonic, the language created for the Slavs by the Greek brothers Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century, is still used liturgically in the Russian Church.) Bishop Feofan Govorov (d. 1894) translated into modern Russian many of the same works, including several contemporary Greek and Latin spiritual classics. Feofan also wrote many treatises on the spiritual life that continue to exercise wide influence in the Orthodox Church. He accomplished this task after retiring as bishop and spending twenty-five years as a monastic recluse. Another retired bishop canonized for his ascetic life and spiritual writings was Tikhon of Zadonsk (d. 1783), who inspired the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (18211881) to name after him a character in The Possessed.

During this same period there emerged in Russia a tradition of spiritual eldership (starchestvo ), the most famous center of which was the hermitage of Optina, where such elders (startsy ) as Leonid, Macarius, and Ambrose spent several hours each day instructing and counseling people of all classes, including many philosophers, intellectuals, and statespeople, among whom were Leo Tolstoy (18281910), Dostoevsky, Vladimir Soloviev (18531900), and Konstantine Leontiev (18311891).

The most famous saint of the time, however, was an elder from the Sarov monastery, the priest-monk Serafim (d. 1833), whose teachings on the Christian life understood as the "acquisition of the Holy Spirit" still have great influence among the Orthodox. Ioann of Kronstadt (d. 1908), a parish priest from the port town of Kronstadt near Saint Petersburg, also was acclaimed at this time throughout the nation as an "all-Russian pastor." He is glorified in the church as a man of prayer and preaching who called the people to spiritual and sacramental renewal on the eve of the Russian revolution, which both he and Serafim had predicted.

The beginning of the twentieth century also saw a revival of patristic studies and a recapturing of the authentic Orthodox theological and liturgical tradition in the ecclesiastical schools as well as a religious renaissance on the part of a significant number of Russian intellectuals, many of whom either perished in Joseph Stalin's prison camps, like Pavel Florenskiy (d. 1937), or who were exiled to the West. Among the latter group were the philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev (d. 1948) and the theologian Sergei Bulgakov (d. 1944), who served as dean of the émigré Russian Orthodox Theological Institute of Saint Serge in Paris. The institute educated scores of pastors and church workers and sent scholars, such as George Fedotov (d. 1951), Georges Florovsky (d. 1979), Alexander Schmemann (d. 1983), and John Meyendorff (d. 1992), to Saint Vladimir's Seminary in New York.

The Era of Persecutions

When the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in October 1917, one of the main points on their ideological program was the war against all manifestations of religion. This battle turned into full-fledged genocide in the 1920s and 1930s: the repressive wave of militant atheism spared nobodyneither bishops, priests, monks, nuns, nor laypeople. The bitter fate of persecuted clergy was shared by their wives and their children, who were declared "children of the enemies of the people" and placed in special boarding schools, where they were raised in an antireligious spirit. People from all religionsChristians (Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants), Muslims, Jews, and Buddhistssuffered equally from the persecutions. All of this took place while slogans of the struggle for freedom, equality, and fraternity, inherited from the French Revolution, were proclaimed.

The notion of freedom had a limited meaning when it came to religion. The Stalinist constitution of 1929 allowed the freedom to exercise a religious cult and to propagate atheism. It was therefore possible to promote only atheism, because the preaching of religion was officially forbidden. In practice mere membership in a church was seen as a threat to the entire Soviet society and almost inevitably led to dismissal from one's job and the loss of social status. In many cases, especially during the bloody 1920s and 1930s, to be a believer meant risking one's life and the lives of one's loved ones.

During the twenty years of revolutionary terror that began during Vladimir Lenin's (18701924) time and continued during the rule of Joseph Stalin (18791953), the church was almost totally annihilated. By 1939 all monasteries and theological schools were closed, and tens of thousands of churches were either blown up or shut down. Of the more than 60,000 prerevolutionary churches, only about a hundred remained open; of the more than 150 bishops serving before the revolution only 4 remained free. The overwhelming majority of the clergy and monastics (whose number before the revolution exceeded 200,000) were either shot to death or tortured in concentration camps.

The catastrophic course of combat at the beginning of World War II forced Stalin to mobilize all the national resources for defense, including the Russian Orthodox Church as the people's moral force. Some churches were opened for services, and some bishops and priests were released from prisons. The Russian Church did not limit itself to giving spiritual and moral support to the country in danger. It also rendered material aid by providing funds for all kinds of things, including army uniforms. This process, which can be described as a rapprochement between church and state in a "patriotic union," culminated in Stalin's receiving Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergiy (Stragorodsky) and Metropolitans Alexy (Simansky) and Nikolay (Yarushevich) at a meeting on September 4, 1943.

From that historic moment a thaw began in relations between church and state. Later in September 1943 in Moscow, with the permission of state authorities, a Bishops' Council convened and elected Metropolitan Sergiy (Stragorodsky) patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. His successor was Metropolitan Alexy (Simansky), elected patriarch in 1945. During and after World War II some theological schools and monasteries were reopened, and some churches were restored. The church, however, remained always under state control, and any attempts to spread its work outside its walls were met with strong rebuffs, including administrative sanctions.

The 1960s, when Nikita Khruschev (18941971) was in power, brought a new wave of repressions, when thousands of churches throughout the Soviet Union were closed "for ideological reasons." State control over the church affairs continued under Leonid Brezhnev (19061982), when Patriarch Pimen (19711990) was the primate of the church. One of the leading hierarchs of that time was Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad (d. 1978), who invested great efforts into the struggle for better understanding between the church and the state and greater independence of the former from the latter.

Until the end of the 1980s it was impossible to confess one's faith openly and at the same time occupy any more or less significant position in society. The entire activity of the church was under the strictest control of the authorities, the number of churches and clergy was severely regulated, and missionary, educational, and charitable work was forbidden.

In the last years of the Soviet era the Russian Orthodox Church in the U.S.S.R. had the legal right to hold church services in buildings authorized by the state for such purposes. A council of twenty laypeople was needed to petition for the use of a church. Because few churches and monasteries were functioning at that time, church services were normally crowded. The church had no right to teach, preach, or pray outside of these buildings, because "religious propaganda" was still expressly forbidden by Soviet law. Admission to the three operating theological schools was strictly monitored by the state. There were no church schools for children and laypeople, who received daily instruction in Marxist-Leninist doctrines with accompanying antireligious propaganda that was legally supported and officially enacted by the state.

Russian Orthodox Church in the Twenty-First Century

The situation changed drastically after the collapse of the Soviet regime. In the 1990s millions of people returned to their faith and were baptized, and thousands of churches, hundreds of monasteries, and dozens of theological schools were opened. The number of bishops more than doubled and by 2004 was approximately 150, and the number of priests and deacons and their parishes more than quadrupled and in 2004 stood at about 30,000. The growth statistics of monasteries and church educational institutions was particularly impressive: in 1988 there were eighteen monasteries in the jurisdiction of the Russian Church, and by 2004 there were over six hundred; and the number of theological schools during this period grew from three to approximately one hundred.

According to 2003 statistics, about 70 percent of Russians think of themselves as belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church. The majority of believers in the Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova belong to the Russian Church, and most Orthodox Christians in the Baltic (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) count themselves members of the Russian Church. The total number of faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church living in Russia, the above-mentioned countries, and elsewhere (particularly in western Europe) comprises over 150 million.

This unprecedented quantitative growth in the 1990s was accompanied by radical changes in the church's sociopolitical situation. After more than seventy years the church once again became an integral part of society in all the countreis of the former Soviet Union and was recognized as a highly authoritative spiritual and moral power. And after many centuries the church acquired the right to define independently its place in society and its relations with the state without any interference from secular authorities.

This change in the church's status required from it tremendous efforts in overcoming the "ghetto mentality" that had formed during the many years of forced isolation. Previously clergy had associated only with their parishioners, but now they had to confront a great number of people unfamiliar with the church's teaching and practices and whose knowledge of religion was either rudimentary or nonexistent. Previously priests did not preach outside the walls of their churches, but now they had opportunities to appear on television, on radio, and in print. Previously society and the church had followed their own separate courses, but now the church was drawn into society's discussions of the fundamental questions of human existence.

Ten years of intensive work in understanding and analyzing the contemporary issues were crowned with the adoption of a document titled The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church at the Bishops' Council of 2000. The significance of this document is conditioned by the fact that it reflects the church's position on questions involving church-state relations and contemporary society in general. The document is intended to serve as a spiritual and moral guide for the entire Russian Orthodox Churchnot just for the clergy but in no lesser way for the laity as well.

Church and State Relations

Orthodoxy was the state religion of Russia for many centuries, which meant the church not only enjoyed a respected position in society and a substantial income but also was totally dependent on the government. During the synodal period (17001917) the church was essentially part of the bureaucratic system; consequently its freedom was violated, and its activities were limited. During Soviet times it was even more enslaved to the state, and although the principle of separation of church and state had been proclaimed, it worked only in favor of the authorities: the church received nothing from the government, whereas the latter interfered in the affairs of the church and controlled its workings.

On account of the persecutions in the twentieth century, the Russian Orthodox Church, when it became free from government control, categorically declined to be associated with the government and to become a state church. In 2000 in the Bases of the Social Concept the church declared both its loyalty to and its independence from the state and reserved for itself the right, if necessary, of civil disobedience. Cases of such civil disobedience can be of either a personal or a general nature:

The Christian, following the will of his conscience, can refuse to fulfil the commands of state forcing him into grave sin. If the church and her holy authorities find it impossible to obey state laws and orders, after a due consideration of the problem, they may take the following action: enter into direct dialogue with the authorities on the problem, call upon the people to use democratic mechanisms to change the legislation or review the authority's decision, apply to international bodies and world public opinion and appeal to her faithful for peaceful civil disobedience.

The Bases of the Social Concept is the first document in the history of world Orthodox Christianity that includes an official statement on the possibility of disobedience to the state. The document also maintains that

the state should not interfere in the life of the church or her government, doctrine, liturgical life, spiritual guidance of her flock, etc., or the work of canonical church institutions in general, except for those aspects where the church is supposed to operate as a legal entity obliged to enter into certain relations with the state, its legislation and governmental agencies. The church expects that the state will respect her canonical norms and other internal statutes.

According to the Bases of the Social Concept, the Russian Orthodox Church can effect its participation in state affairs by cooperating in those areas that touch upon its sphere of interests, such as peacemaking at the international, interethnic, and civil levels, fostering mutual understanding and cooperation among peoples, nations, and states; concern for the moral state of society; spiritual, cultural, moral, and patriotic education; works of mercy and charity and the development of joint social programs; the protection, restoration, and development of the historical and cultural legacy, including the care of historical and cultural monuments; dialogue with organs of state government of any kind and at all levels on questions significant to the church and society, including those involving the creation of relevant legislation, decrees, and decisions; pastoral care for soldiers and law-enforcement personnel and their spiritual and moral education; crime prevention and pastoral care for prisoners; scholarship, including research in the area of humanities; health; culture and creative activities; the work of church and secular mass media; activities for the conservation of the environment; economic activity for the benefit of the church, state, and society; supporting the institution of the family, motherhood, and childhood; and opposing the activities of pseudo-religious organizations harmful for the individual and society.

Church Governance

The Russian Orthodox Church (which is also known officially as the Moscow Patriarchate) has a hierarchical structure of governance. The supreme bodies of church authority and governance are the Local Council, the Bishops' Council, and the Holy Synod, which is chaired by the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

The Local Council consists of the bishops and representatives of the clergy, monastics, and laity. It interprets the teaching of the Orthodox Church, preserving the doctrinal and canonical unity with the local Orthodox Churches. It also deals with internal matters of church life, canonizes saints, elects the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and establishes the procedure of such elections.

The Bishops' Council, which is convened every four years, consists of the diocesan bishops and those assistant bishops who direct synodal departments and theological academies, or have canonical jurisdiction over parishes in their charge. The Bishops' Council is responsible for, among other things, preparation for convening a Local Council and monitoring the implementation of its decisions. It also adopts and amends the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church; resolves basic theological, canonical, liturgical, and pastoral issues; canonizes saints; adopts liturgical offices; gives competent interpretation to church regulations; expresses pastoral concern for contemporary problems; defines the nature of relations with governmental bodies; maintains relations with local Orthodox Churches; establishes, reorganizes, and dissolves self-governed churches, exarchates, dioceses, and synodal institutions; and approves ecclesiastical awards.

The Holy Synod, chaired by the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, is the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church between Bishops' Councils. It is convened several times a year. Apart from the patriarch, it includes seven permanent and five temporary members. The permanent members of the synod are the metropolitans of Kiev and All Ukraine, of Minsk and All Belorussia, of Kisineu and All Moldova, of Krutitsy and Kolomna, and of Saint Petersburg and Ladoga as well as the chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate and the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations. Temporary members of the Holy Synod are invited by rotation from among diocesan bishops to each session.

The patriarch of Moscow and All Russia is the first in honor among the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church. He governs the Russian Orthodox Church together with the Holy Synod, which he chairs. The patriarch is elected by the Local Council from among those bishops who are at least forty years old; enjoy a good reputation and confidence among the bishops, clergy, and people; are higher theological school graduates; have sufficient experience of diocesan governance; are distinguished by their commitment to the canonical order; and "have a good report of them which are without" (1 Tm. 3:7). The patriarch is elected for life. In 2004 the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church was His Holiness Alexy II (Ridiger), patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, who in 1990 succeded Patriarch Pimen.

The synodal institutions are executive bodies under the patriarch and the Holy Synod. There are a Department for External Church Relations, a Publishing Board, an Education Committee, a Department for Catechism and Religious Education, a Department for Charity and Social Service, a Mission Department, a Department for the Co-Operation with the Armed Forces and Law-Enforcement Bodies, and a Youth Department. The chancellery is also part of the Moscow Patriarchate with the status of synodal institution.

Internal Organization

The Russian Orthodox Church is divided into dioceses, which are local churches headed by a bishop and uniting diocesan institutions, deaneries, parishes, monasteries, church representations, theological educational institutions, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, and missions. Some dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church are consolidated in exarchates. This consolidation is based on the national-regional principle. In 2004 the Russian Orthodox Church had the Byelorussian exarchate located in the Republic of Belarus and headed by the metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, patriarchal exarch for All Belarus.

The Moscow patriarchate incorporates autonomous and self-governed churches. Self-governed churches function on the basis of and within the limits provided by the patriarchal tomos issued by the decision of the Local Council or the Bishops' Council. In the early twenty-first century the self-governed are the Latvian Orthodox Church (primatethe metropolitan of Riga and All Latvia), the Orthodox Church of Moldova (primatethe metropolitan of Kishinev and All Moldova), and the Estonian Orthodox Church (primatethe metropolitan of Tallinn and All Estonia).

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a self-governed church with the right of broad autonomy. Its primate is the metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.

The three Russian Orthodox dioceses in the Republic of Kazakhstan are united into one metropolia headed by the metropolitan of Astana and Alma-Ata. The parishes in Kyrgyzstan, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan belong to the diocese of Tashkent and Central Asia headed by the metropolitan of Tashkent and Central Asia.

The Russian Orthodox Church has eight dioceses "in the distant abroad": Argentine and South America, Berlin and Germany, Brussels and Belgium, Budapest and Hungary, the Hague and the Netherlands, Korsun (in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland), Sourozh (in the United Kingdom and Ireland), and Vienna and Austria. The patriarchal parishes in the United States and Canada are consolidated into deaneries governed by assistant bishops.

The Russian Orthodox Church has representations to the European Institutions in Brussels, to the World Council of Churches in Geneva, to the United Nations in New York, to the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Cairo, to the Patriarchate of Antioch in Damascus, to the Patriarchate of Serbia in Belgrade, to the Patriarchate of Bulgaria in Sofia, and to the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia in Prague. The Russian Orthodox Church also has representations in Dusseldorff, Strasbourg, Bari, Dublin, and in some other cities as well as the ecclesiastical mission in Jerusalem.

The Japanese Autonomous Orthodox Church and the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church are independent churches free in their internal affairs and linked with Universal Orthodoxy through the Russian Orthodox Church. The primate of the Japanese Autonomous Orthodox Church is the archbishop of Tokyo, metropolitan of All Japan. The primate is elected by the Local Council of the Japanese Autonomous Orthodox Church, and his nomination is approved by the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. In the early twenty-first century the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church consists of several communities of believers who because of political circumstances are deprived from permanent pastoral care.

The so-called Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is a self-governed metropolia headed by its first hierarch, the metropolitan of New York and Eastern America. It separated from the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1920s for political reasons. In the early twenty-first century it is not recognized as canonical either by the Moscow Patriarchate or by any other local Orthodox Church. However, the process of its rapprochement with the Moscow Patriarchate is underway, which may eventually lead to restoration of full communion between it and the world Orthodoxy.

See Also

Uniate Churches.


Arseniev, Nicholas. Russian Piety. 2d ed. Crestwood, N.Y., 1975.

Bolshakoff, Serge. Russian Mystics. Kalamazoo, Mich., 1980.

Bulgakov, Sergei. The Orthodox Church. Revised translation by L. Kesich. Crestwood, N.Y., 1988.

Ellis, Jane. The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History. London and Sydney, Australia, 1986.

Fedotov, George P. The Russian Religious Mind, vol. 1: Kievan Christianity: The Tenth to the Thirteenth Centuries, vol. 2: The Middle Ages: The Thirteenth to the Fifteenth Centuries (19461966). Belmont, Mass., 1975.

Fedotov, George P. A Treasury of Russian Spirituality. Belmont, Mass., 1975.

Kovalevsky, Pierre. Saint Sergius and Russian Spirituality. Crestwood, N.Y., 1976.

Lossky, Vladimir. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Cambridge, U.K., 1957.

Meyendorff, John. The Orthodox Church. Crestwood, N.Y., 1981.

Pospielovsky, Dimitri. The Russian Church under the Soviet Regime, 19171982. 2 vols. Crestwood, N.Y., 1984.

Ramet, Petra, ed. Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Durham, N.C., and London, 1988.

Ramet, Sabrina. Nihil Obstat: Religion, Politics, and Social Change in East-Central Europe and Russia. Durham, N.C., and London, 1998.

Schmemann, Alexander. The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy. Crestwood, N.Y., 1977.

Struve, Nikita. Christians in Contemporary Russia. New York, 1967.

Ware, Bishop Kallistos. The Orthodox Church. New York, 1993.

Zernov, Nicolas. The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century. New York, 1963.

Zernov, Nicolas. The Russians and Their Church. New York, 1964.

Thomas Hopko (1987)

Hilarion Alfeyev (2005)

Russian Orthodox Church

views updated May 11 2018


orthodoxy in the late eighteenth century
institutional orthodoxy in the nineteenth century
popular orthodoxy
orthodoxy in an age of revolution

A bedrock institution in medieval Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church remained an important component of the political order and popular culture in imperial Russia. Despite the reforms of Peter the Great (r. 1689–1725) and the secularization of church property under Catherine the Great in 1764, the church remained distinct from the state, with its own administration and law, hereditary caste of servitors, and deep sense of special privilege and rights. Greater challenges, however, were to come in the nineteenth century—not only from unbelievers and other confessions but also from a secular state and lay believers intent on pressing their own respective interests. By the early twentieth century, the church was in the throes of profound crisis and openly acknowledged the urgent need of reform. During the final years of the old regime, however, it failed to resolve these problems and, as the country plunged into war and revolution, found itself ill-prepared to combat the new Bolshevik regime seeking to dismantle the church (as "counter revolutionary") and to excoriate popular belief ("superstition").

orthodoxy in the late eighteenth century

Despite attempts by eighteenth-century rulers to restrict the church's power, it remained juridically, economically, and socially separate. Peter the Great sought both to tame the church (by replacing the unruly patriarchate with a "spiritual college," soon renamed the Holy Synod) and to make it into an instrument of cultural change. More dramatic still was the decision in 1764 to sequester the church's lands and peasants, a step that greatly diminished its resources and power. Nevertheless, the church retained its operational autonomy, contested further encroachments, and defended its traditional prerogatives and privileges.

Indeed, the eighteenth-century incursions actually helped the church to enhance its functional role in the strictly spiritual domain. Thus, consonant with the Petrine reforms, the church attended increasingly to the religious needs of the folk, sought to instruct and enlighten, and enforced canons on such important spheres as marriage and divorce. Ironically, whatever the motive for the secularization of church property in 1764 (with the state's fiscal greed doubtless playing a major role), it freed the church from this-worldly administration of estates and enabled it to concentrate on the purely religious mission. Over the subsequent decades, the church expanded its administrative system, intensified efforts to "Christianize" a believing but ignorant folk, and sought to redefine and secure the place of Orthodoxy in a changing society and culture.

institutional orthodoxy in the nineteenth century

While the eighteenth-century rulers significantly altered the status of the church, the major assault of ecclesiastical privilege actually did not come until the nineteenth century. Only then did the chief procurator (a state official charged with overseeing the ecclesiastical domain) build a large apparatus and greatly expand his role in church decision-making and administration. In the judgment of ranking prelates, moreover, he did so in an effort to serve the interests of the state, not the church. Nor was he alone: state officials, in general, showed a growing sensitivity to the multi-confessional character of the empire and hence were less willing to uphold the special status of the church. That was especially apparent in the issue of religious freedom; on purely practical grounds, state officials showed a growing willingness to ameliorate the plight of religious minorities, especially those deemed politically loyal. Rebuffing the church's demand that apostates be prosecuted and punished, leading officials blamed such disaffection on the church's own shortcomings and argued that the clergy should rely only on suasion, not coercion, to combat the challenge of dissent and other confessions.

The church did indeed become more active, and aggressive, in defending and propagating Orthodoxy. By the late eighteenth century, it had significantly improved central and diocesan administration, achieving a marked increase in the volume and quality of its paperwork and documentation. The church gave tightened supervision over diocesan administration and systematized procedural rules for consistories (Ustav dukhovnykh konsistorii, 1841). As a result, the church substantially increased its control over religious life and, most notably, in such vital secular spheres as marriage and divorce. The church established an elaborate system of ecclesiastical schools, seminaries, and academies to train and "professionalize" the clergy. It succeeded in obtaining some state funding for parishes (initially for "poor" parishes, later for those in borderland provinces, and eventually for other areas as well) and for parish schools to serve the needs of the laity.

That institutional development brought significant changes in the clergy itself. The episcopate not only increased in size (accompanying the establishment of smaller, more manageable dioceses) but also changed in its social complexion. Drawn almost exclusively from the offspring of the parish clergy, it initially consisted mainly of "learned monks" but by the late nineteenth century promoted men with a more "practical" profile (as educators, missionaries, and widowed parish priests). Whatever their origin, these bishops had served in various dioceses across the empire and hence gained a close familiarity with the diverse problems facing the church in different parts of this far-flung realm. While radical priests were wont to castigate bishops as "bureaucrats in cassocks," most prelates were not only efficient administrators but also men fervently devoted to the church, its traditions, and its interests.

Catherine's secularization of ecclesiastical land and peasants not only expropriated the vast wealth of monasteries but also brought a massive reduction in the number of monasteries and monastic clergy. Monasticism languished for several decades (with strict obstacles to the tonsure of new monastics and opening of new institutions) but finally began to grow again in the 1830s and 1840s and, by 1914, had even recovered its pre-sequestration level. More important, the social profile of monasticism also underwent a significant translation, with much of the increase being concentrated in female monasticism. No less important was a spiritual renaissance, reflected most dramatically in the phenomenon of "elderhood" (starchestvo), whereby individual monks acquired extraordinary fame and influence for their spiritual power and guidance. This revival of monasticism—intellectual, spiritual, economic—naturally provoked a rise in anti-monastic sentiment, not only among the secular intelligentsia but also among married white (secular) clergy.

The secular clergy (composed of priests, deacons, and sacristans) manned the forty thousand parishes that dotted the Russian landscape. Required (by custom, not canon) to marry prior to ordination, the priesthood thus had a substantial population that demanded material support (in contrast to the celibate Catholic clergy), including a plethora of male offspring who naturally tended to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. In the eighteenth century that predilection turned into a rigid caste-like order, with virtually no outsiders gaining entry to the clergy, for three main reasons: state policy (above all, a poll tax that impeded the transfer of townspeople and peasants to the tax-exempt clergy), specialized ecclesiastical education in schools open only to the clergy's sons, and the clergy's own vested interest in ensuring positions for their own sons. While this hereditary status ensured a steady rise in the educational qualification of ordinands (with virtually all new ordinands in the mid-nineteenth century holding a seminary degree), it produced far too many candidates (for a parish system that grew only marginally) and too few with a genuine sense of vocation (with many becoming priests out of inertia, not choice). To rejuvenate the secular clergy, the Great Reforms of the 1860s sought to facilitate the education and recruitment of male youths from other social estates. The reforms, however, served mainly to promote the exodus of priests' sons and did little to attract qualified ordinands from other social groups—in large measure, because of the failure to improve the social and material status of secular clergy. As a result, by the late nineteenth century the church faced a shortage of qualified candidates and had to ordain candidates with an incomplete seminary education.

popular orthodoxy

The post-Petrine church sought to carry out an "Orthodox reformation"—that is, to standardize parish religious practice, raise the believers' comprehension of Orthodoxy, and combat superstition and heresy. In part, the church relied on better administrative control at the central, diocesan, and local levels to identify and combat religious deviance. But no less important was the vision of "enlightened Orthodoxy," whereby the church (in emulation of the German Aufklärung) endeavored not only to regulate but also to instruct and thereby help the faithful to understand, not merely blindly believe. It therefore expanded the publication of religious literature (sermons and catechisms) and intensified demands that parish clergy preach and catechize. To be sure, even zealous priests met with such obstacles as irregular attendance (because of the difficulties of attending distant churches in bad weather and because of distractions during peak times in the agricultural cycle), lack of public and parish schools, and the cultural gulf between the well-educated priest and his illiterate flock. Nonetheless, the church gradually made headway, first in the towns and eventually in the villages, after the expansion of schools to rural areas in the second half of the nineteenth century. While the local deans and bishops still bewailed the ignorance of the pious folk, they increasingly attested to signs of substantial improvement.

The Russian Orthodox Church also reported phenomenally high rates of religious observance.

Most impressive were the official statistics on confession and communion, an annual obligation that provided a common (if crude) measure of religious practice. Although such data may tell more about conformity than piety, they do indicate the willingness of the laity to perform—or flout—these two key sacraments. And, compared to western Europe, where such indices plummeted in the course of the nineteenth century, the rates for Russia remained extraordinarily high and showed no significant decline even in the tumultuous decades leading up to the revolution of 1905–1907, with the vast majority—well over 80 percent for men as well as women—continuing to perform these annual rites.

To be sure, the clergy did discern signs of dissent and disbelief. The erosion of piety seemed particularly evident among the young and, above all, migrant laborers. As the latter left their villages to work, seasonally or permanently in the ever growing complex of factories and plants, they often left their "local Orthodoxy" behind and proved highly susceptible to the new mores and religious indifference of the city. No less important was the surge in religious dissent: not only disbelief, but also other faiths came to pose an ever growing challenge. In addition to the growing population of Old Believers (schismatics who rejected the seventeenth-century liturgical reforms and the official church that embraced them), the church now also had to combat a plethora of sects—from the infamous self-castrators (skoptsy) to various evangelical sects. In that sense, Russia was undergoing not so much a "secularization" as "sectarianization"—the formation of vigorous, energetic movements seeking not to inculcate Unbelief but rather New Belief and Old Belief.

Significantly, however, the challenge to the Orthodox Church also emanated from its own ranks of stalwart lay believers, who, especially from the mid-nineteenth century, became increasingly restive and intent upon asserting their own rights and prerogatives. Over the previous century or so, the church had gradually established tight control over the parish, claiming the right not only to regulate religious practice but also to appoint clergy and to siphon off parish assets for "general" church needs. The issue of parish finance was particularly intense: as the church diverted parish revenues to finance the church's bureaucracy and clerical seminaries, it deprived the laity of an opportunity to renovate their church and to appoint extra clergy—steps that, for the laity, were critical in enhancing the aesthetics of the liturgy. In the new atmosphere that emerged after serf emancipation in 1861, parishioners—like others in society—became increasingly assertive in claiming their rights and resisting traditional authority.

orthodoxy in an age of revolution

By the early twentieth century, the Orthodox Church—like the rest of imperial Russia—found itself in the throes of profound crisis. The strains in church-state relations reached a new level of intensity under the chief procurator, Konstantin Pobedonostsev (1880–1905); attempts by the last emperor, Nicholas II (r. 1894–1917), to reinforce the eroding foundations of autocracy with religion (most notably, in the controversial canonization of Serafim of Sarov in 1903) only deepened clerical resentment. The final blow came amid the revolution of 1905–1907: the imperial manifesto of 17 April 1905 (Old Style), granting freedom of conscience and decriminalizing conversion from Orthodoxy, shattered any remaining illusions about the willingness of the secular state to defend the vital interests of the church. The Duma monarchy (a hybrid of monarchy and parliamentarianism) that emerged in 1906 only aggravated resentment and distrust among prelates and priests; it did nothing to address key issues and enable reform in the church. After 1914, as the country plunged into war and revolution, the church suffered a sharp fall in its administrative control, material resources, and popular confidence. In 1917, after the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty, the church council made a desperate attempt to embark on reform and convoke a church council to address a broad range of issues. But it was too late: a new—Bolshevik—regime would soon come to power and wage a relentless campaign against "reactionary" clergy and "superstitious" folk.

See alsoCatholicism; Jews and Judaism; Protestantism; Russia.


Primary Sources

Belliustin, Ioann S. Description of the Clergy in Rural Russia: The Memoir of a Nineteenth-Century Parish Priest. Edited and translated by Gregory L. Freeze. Ithaca, N.Y., 1985.

Hauptmann, Peter, and G. Stricker, eds. Die Orthodoxe Kirche in Russland: Dokumente ihrer Geschichte (860–1980). Göttingen, Germany, 1988.

Secondary Sources

Freeze, Gregory L. The Parish Clergy in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Crisis, Reform, Counter-Reform. Princeton, N.J., 1983.

——. "Policing Piety: The Church and Popular Religion in Russia, 1750–1850." In Rethinking Imperial Russia, edited by David L. Ransel and Jane Burbank, 210–249. Bloomington, Ind., 1998.

——. "A Pious Folk? Religious Observance in Vladimir Diocese, 1900–1914." Jarbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 52, no. 3 (2004): 323–340.

Kivelson, Valerie A., and Robert H. Greene, eds. Orthodox Russia: Belief and Practice under the Tsars. University Park, Pa., 2003.

Smolitsch, Igor. Geschichte der russischen Kirche, 1700–1917. 2 vols. Leiden, Netherlands, and Berlin, 1964–1991.

Gregory L. Freeze

Russian Orthodox Church

views updated May 21 2018


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


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

Russian Orthodox Church

views updated May 18 2018

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.

Russian Orthodox Church

views updated May 29 2018