Russian Orthodox Church
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- This article is about the present-day Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the history of the Russian Christianity before the 20th cenury. For other present-day Russian Orthodox Churches, see Eastern Orthodox Church organization.
The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian: Русская Православная Церковь Московского Патриархата since 1943, Поместная Российская Православная Церковь before the reinstitution in 1943), also known as the Orthodox Christian Church of Russia, is that body of Christians who are united under the Patriarch of Moscow, who in turn is in communion with the other patriarchs and primates of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In this way Russian Orthodox believers are in communion with all other Eastern Orthodox believers.
 Foundation and earliest history
The Russian Orthodox Church is traditionally said to have been founded by the Apostle Andrew, who is thought to have visited Scythia and Greek colonies along the northern coast of the Black Sea. According to one of the legends, St. Andrew reached the future location of Kiev and foretold the foundation of a great Christian city.   The spot where he reportedly erected a cross is now marked by St. Andrew's Cathedral
By the end of the first millennium AD, eastern Slavic lands started to come under the cultural influence of the Eastern Roman Empire. In 863-869, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius translated parts of the Bible into Old Church Slavonic language for the first time, paving the way for the Christianization of the Slavs. There is evidence that the first Christian bishop was sent to Novgorod from Constantinople either by Patriarch Photius or Patriarch Ignatios, circa 866-867 AD.
By the mid-10th century, there was already a Christian community among Kievan nobility, under the leadership of Greek and Byzantine priests, although paganism remained the dominant religion. Princess Olga of Kiev was the first ruler of Kievan Rus to convert to Christianity, either in 945 or 957. Her grandson, Vladimir the Great, made Kievan Rus' a Christian state.
As a result of the Christianization of Kievan Rus' in 988, Prince Vladimir I of Kiev officially adopted Byzantine Rite Christianity - the religion of the Eastern Roman Empire - as the state religion of Rus'. This date is often considered the official birthday of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, in 1988, the Church celebrated its millennial anniversary. It therefore traces its apostolic succession through the Patriarch of Constantinople.
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The Kievan church was originally a Metropolitanate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Byzantine patriarch appointed the metropolitan who governed the Church of Rus'. The Metropolitan's residence was originally located in Kiev. As Kiev was losing its political, cultural, and economical significance due to the Mongol invasion, Metropolitan Maximus moved to Vladimir in 1299; his successors, Metropolitan Peter and Theognostus, moved the residence to Moscow by 1326.
 The fifteenth century
During the 15th century the Russian Church was pivotal in the survival and life of the Russian state. Such holy figures as Sergius of Radonezh and Metropolitan Alexis helped the country to withstand years of Tatar oppression, and to expand both economically and spiritually.
At the Council of Florence 1439, a group of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church leaders agreed upon terms of reunification of the two branches of Christianity. The Russian Prince Basil II of Moscow, however, rejected the concessions to the Catholic Church and forbade the proclamation of the acts of the Council in Russia in 1452, after a short-lived East-West reunion. Metropolitan Isidore was in the same year expelled from his position as an apostate.
In 1448, the Russian Church became independent from the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Metropolitan Jonas, installed by the Council of Russian bishops in 1448, was given the title of Metropolitan of Moscow and All Rus'. This was just five years before the fall of Constantinople in 1453. From this point onward the Russian Orthodox Church saw Moscow as the Third Rome, legitimate successor to Constantinople, and the Patriarch of Moscow as head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
 Changes and reforms
The reign of Ivan III and his successor was plagued by numerous heresies and controversies. One party, led by Nil Sorsky and Vassian Kosoy, called for secularisation of monastic properties. They were oppugned by the influential Joseph of Volotsk, who defended ecclesiastical ownership of land and property. The sovereign's position fluctuated, but eventually he threw his support to Joseph. New sects sprang up, some of which showed a tendency to revert to Mosaic law: for instance, the archpriest Aleksei converted to Judaism after meeting a certain Zechariah the Jew.
Monastic life flourished in Russia, focusing on prayer and spiritual growth. The disciples of St. Sergius left the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra to found hundreds of monasteries across Russia. Some of the most famous monasteries were located in the Russian North, in order to demonstrate how faith could flourish in the most inhospitable lands. The richest landowners of medieval Russia included Joseph Volokolamsk Monastery, Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery and the Solovetsky Monastery. In the 18th century, the three greatest monasteries were recognized as lavras, while those subordinated directly to the Synod were labelled stauropegic.
In the 1540s, Metropolitan Macarius convened a number of church synods, which culminated in the Hundred Chapter Synod of 1551. This assembly unified Church ceremonies and duties in the whole territory of Russia. At the demand of the Church hierarchy the government canceled the tsar's jurisdiction over ecclesiastics.
 Autocephaly and reorganization
In 1589 Metropolitan Job of Moscow became the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus'; making the Russian Church autocephalous. The other Eastern patriarchs have recognized the Moscow Patriarchate as one of the five honourable Patriarchates. During the next half a century, when the tsardom was weak, the patriarchs (notably Germogen and Philaret) would run the state along with (and sometimes instead of) the tsars.
In 1652 Patriarch Nikon resolved to centralize power that had been distributed locally, while conforming Russian Orthodox rites and rituals to those of the Greek Orthodox Church. For instance he insisted that Russian Christians cross themselves with three fingers, rather than the then-traditional two. This aroused antipathy among a substantial section of the believers who saw the changed rites as heresy, although they had only a minor ritual significance. This group became known as the Old Ritual Believers or Old Believers, who rejected the teachings of the new patriarch. Tsar Aleksey (who was simultaneously centralizing political power) upheld Nikon's changes. During the so-called Raskol, the Old Ritual Believers were separated from the Orthodox Church. Avvakum Petrov, Boyarynya Morozova and many other dissidents were burned at the stake, either forcibly or voluntarily. Others escaped from the government persecutions to Siberia and other inhospitable lands, where they would live in semi-seclusion until the modern times.
 Expansion and the Holy Synod
In 1684, Moscow Patriarchate requested from Constantinople to subordinate the Metropolia of Kiev to Moscow, but received a refusal. Eventually, in 1686 after patriarch Parthenius IV was succeeded by Dionysius IV it was agreed to subordinate the Metropolia of Kiev to Moscow. But just a year later in 1687 such subordination was denounced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and those in charge were defrocked because of the bribe.
In any case this brought millions of faithful and a half dozen dioceses under the pastoral and administrative care of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch. In the following two centuries, missionary efforts stretched out across Siberia into Alaska, then into the United States at California. Eminent people on that missionary effort included St. Innocent of Irkutsk, St.Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent of Siberia and Alaska. They learned local languages and translated the gospels and the hymns. Sometimes those translations required the invention of new systems of transcription.
In 1700, following Patriarch Adrian's death, Peter the Great prevented a successor from being named, and in 1721, following the advice of Feofan Prokopovich, he established the Holy and Supreme Synod to govern the church instead of a single primate (cf. Caesaropapism). This was the situation until shortly after the Russian Revolution of 1917, at which time the Local Council (more than half of its members being laypersons) adopted the decision to restore the Patriarchy. On November 5 (according to the Julian calendar) a new patriarch, Tikhon, was named through casting lots.
The 19th century saw the rise of starchestvo under Paisiy Velichkovsky and his disciples at the Optina Monastery. This marked a beginning of a significant spiritual revival in the Russian Church after a lengthy period of westernization.
 The fin-de-siècle religious renaissance
During the final decades of the imperial order in Russia many educated Russians sought to return to the Church and revitalize their faith. No less evident were non-conformist paths of spiritual searching known as God-Seeking. Writers, artists, and intellectuals in large numbers were drawn to private prayer, mysticism, spiritualism, theosophy, and Eastern religions. A fascination with elemental feeling, with the unconscious and the mythic, proliferated along with visions of coming catastrophe and redemption. The visible forms of God-Seeking were extensive. A series of 'Religious-Philosophical Meetings' were held in St. Petersburg in 1901-1903, bringing together prominent intellectuals and clergy to explore together ways to reconcile the Church with the growing if undogmatic desire among the educated for spiritual meaning in life. Especially after 1905, various religious societies arose, though much of this religious upheaval was informal: circles and salons, séances, private prayer. Some clergy also sought to revitalize Orthodox faith, most famously the charismatic Father John of Kronstadt, who, until his death in 1908 (though his followers remained active long after), emphasized Christian living and sought to restore fervency and the presence of the miraculous in liturgical celebration. In 1909, a sensation-creating volume of essays appeared under the title Vekhi (Landmarks or Signposts), authored by a group of leading left-wing intellectuals, mostly former Marxists, who bluntly repudiated the materialism and atheism that had dominated the thought of the intelligentsia for generations as leading inevitably to failure and moral disaster. One sees a similarly renewed vigor and variety in religious life and spirituality among the lower classes, especially after the upheavals of 1905. Among the peasantry we see widespread interest in spiritual-ethical literature and non-conformist moral-spiritual movements; an upsurge in pilgrimage and other devotions to sacred spaces and objects (especially icons); persistent beliefs in the presence and power of the supernatural (apparitions, possession, walking-dead, demons, spirits, miracles, and magic); the renewed vitality of local "ecclesial communities" actively shaping their own ritual and spiritual lives, sometimes in the absence of clergy, and defining their own sacred places and forms of piety; and the proliferation of what the Orthodox establishment branded as 'sectarianism', including both non-Orthodox Christian denominations, notably Baptists, and various forms of deviant popular Orthodoxy and mysticism.
 Twentieth century and revolution
The year 1917 was a major turning point for the history of Russia, and also the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian empire was dissolved and the Tsarist government - which had granted the Church numerous privileges - was overthrown. After a few months of political turmoil, the Bolsheviks took power in October 1917 and declared a separation of church and state. Thus the Russian Orthodox Church found itself without official state backing for the first time in its history. One of the first decrees of the new Communist government (issued in January 1918) declared freedom of "religious and anti-religious propaganda". This led to a marked decline in the power and influence of the Church. The Church was also caught in the crossfire of the Russian Civil War that began later the same year, and many leaders of the Church supported what would ultimately turn out to be the losing side (the White movement).
Even before the end of the civil war and the establishment of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church came under persecution of the secular Communist government. The Soviet government stood on a platform of militant atheism, viewing the church as a "counter-revolutionary" organization and an independent voice with a great influence in society. While the Soviet Union officially claimed religious toleration, in practice the government discouraged organized religion and did everything possible to remove religious influence from Soviet society.
Thousands of churches and monasteries were taken over by the government and either destroyed or used as warehouses, recreation centers, "museums of atheism", or even Gulags. To build a new church was impossible. The sixth sector of the OGPU, led by Eugene Tuchkov, began aggressively arresting and executing bishops, priests, and devout worshippers, such as Metropolitan Veniamin in Petrograd in 1922 for refusing to accede to the demand to hand in church valuables (including sacred relics). Many thousands of victims of persecution became recognized in a special canon of saints known as the "new martyrs and confessors of Russia".
Practising Orthodox Christians were restricted from prominent careers and membership in communist organizations (the party, the Komsomol). Anti-religious propaganda was openly sponsored and encouraged by the government, which the Church was not given an opportunity to publicly respond to. The government youth organization, the Komsomol, encouraged its members to vandalize Orthodox Churches and harass worshippers. Seminaries were closed down, and the church was restricted from using the press.
Patriarch Tikhon anathematized the communist government, which further antagonized relations.
As he had died in 1925, the Soviet authorities forbade patriarchal elections to be held. Patriarchal locum tenens (acting Patriarch) Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky, 1887-1944), going against the opinion of a major part of the church's parishes, in 1927 issued a declaration accepting the Soviet authority over the church as legitimate, pledging the church's cooperation with the government and condemning political dissent within the church. By this he granted himself with the power that he, being a deputy of imprisoned Metropolitan Peter and acting against his will, had no right to assume according to the XXXIV Apostolic canon, which led to a split with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia abroad and the Russian True Orthodox Church (Russian Catacomb Church) within the Soviet Union, as they remained faithful to the Canons of the Apostles, declaring the part of the church led by Metropolitan Sergius schism, sometimes coined as sergianism. Due to this canonical disagreement it is disputed which church has been the legitimate successor to the Russian Orthodox Church that had existed before 1925.  On September 4, 1943, Metropolitans Sergius (Stragorodsky), Alexius (Simansky) and Nikolay (Yarushevich) were officially received by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin who proposed to create the Moscow Patriarchate. Then they received a permission to convene a council on September 8, 1943, that elected Sergius Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. This is considered by some violation of the XXX Apostolic canon, as no church hierarch could be consecrated by secular authorities. 
The history of Orthodoxy (and other religions) under Communism was not limited to this story of repression and secularization. Bolshevik policies toward religious belief and practice tended to vacillate over time between, on the one hand, a utopian determination to substitute secular rationalism for what they considered to be an unmodern, "superstitious" worldview and, on the other, pragmatic acceptance of the tenaciousness of religious faith and institutions. In any case, religious beliefs and practices did persist, in the domestic and private spheres but also in the scattered public spaces allowed by a state that recognized its failure to eradicate religion and the political dangers of an unrelenting culture war.
 Life under the Soviets
Relations between the Soviet government and the Church improved considerably during World War II, with such milestones as the reopening of the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary that had been closed since 1918. This came as a response to the opening of Orthodox Churches on Nazi occupied Soviet territory during the first months of the war. A second round of repression, harassment and church closures took place between 1959 and 1964 during the rule of Nikita Khrushchev. By 1987 the number of functioning churches in the Soviet Union had fallen to 6893 and the number of functioning monasteries to just 18.
The Church and the government remained on unfriendly terms until 1988. In practice, the most important aspect of this conflict was that openly religious people could not join the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which meant that they could not hold any political office. However, among the general population, large numbers remained religious. In 1987 in the Russian SFSR, between 40% and 50% of newborn babies (depending on the region) were baptized and over 60% of all deceased received Christian funeral services.
A pivotal point in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church came in 1988 - the millennial anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus'. Throughout the summer of that year, major government-supported celebrations took place in Moscow and other cities; many older churches and some monasteries were reopened. An implicit ban on religious propaganda on state TV was finally lifted. For the first time in the history of Soviet Union, people could see live transmissions of church services on television.
 Post-Soviet recovery
The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and has seen a resurgence in activity and vitality since the end of Soviet rule. Up to 90% of ethnic Russians and Belarusians identify themselves as Russian Orthodox (although to a large degree this is a cultural identification, rather than a religious one). In keeping with other Orthodox churches, which do not place a high importance on weekly church attendance, the number of people regularly attending services is relatively low, however it has grown significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In December 2006 the Church had over 27,000 parishes, 169 bishops, 713 monasteries, two universities, five theological academies and 75 theological schools in the territory of the former Soviet Union and has a well-established presence in many other countries all over the world. In recent years many church buildings have been officially returned to the Church, most of these being in a deteriorated condition.
There have been difficulties in the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican, especially since 2002, when Pope John Paul II created a Catholic diocesan structure for Russian territory. The leadership of the Russian Church saw this action as a throwback to prior attempts by the Vatican to proselytize the Russian Orthodox faithful to become Roman Catholic. This point of view is based upon the stance of the Russian Orthodox Church (and the Eastern Orthodox Church) that the Church of Rome is but one of many equal Christian organizations, and that as such it is straying into territory that was already Christianized by the Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, while acknowledging the primacy of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, believes that the small Catholic minority in Russia, in continuous existence since at least the 18th century, should be served by a fully developed church hierarchy with a presence and status in Russia, just as the Russian Orthodox Church is present in other countries (including constructing a cathedral in Rome, near the Vatican).
The issue of encroachment by other Christian denominations into Russia is a particularly sensitive one to many members of the Russian Orthodox Church. They argue that the Orthodox Church now finds itself in a weakened position as a result of decades of secular Communist rule, and is therefore unable to compete on an equal footing with Western Churches. Thus, proselytizing by mostly foreign-based Catholics, Protestant denominations, and by many non-traditional sects can be seen as taking unfair advantage of the still-recovering condition of the Russian Church. On the other hand, many of these groups have argued that the position of Russian Orthodoxy is today no weaker than that of most Western European Churches. Smaller religious movements, particularly Baptists and members of other Protestant denominations, that have become active in Russia in the past decade claim that the state provides unfair support to the Orthodox Church and suppresses others, referring to the 1997 Russian law, under which those religious organizations that could not provide official proof of their existence for the preceding 15 years were seriously restricted in their rights and ability to worship. The law was formally presented as a way to combat destructive cults, but was condemned by representatives of other religions and human rights organizations as being written in a manner that explicitly favored the Russian Orthodox Church, as the Soviet Union had prohibited the establishment of other religions. Consequently, this law gave full rights only to a small number of "first-rank" religions, such as Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. The situation is expected to normalise as the 15-year window starts to slide over the post-Communist period.
Due to its deep cultural roots, many members of the Russian government are keen to display their respect for the Church. It is common for the President of Russia to publicly meet with the Patriarch on Church holidays such as Easter (Paskha or Пасха in Russian). Meetings with representatives of Islam and Buddhism occur less frequently.
The Russian Orthodox Church should not be confused with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (also known as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad), based in New York. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was formed by Russian communities outside then-Communist Russia who refused to recognize the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, as they believed it had fallen under the influence of the Bolsheviks. The two churches have been steadily moving towards reconciliation.
 Structure and organization
Russian Orthodox Church is organized in a hierarchical structure. Every church building and its attendees constitute a parish (prikhod). There are over 23,000 parishes in the Church.
All parishes in a geographical region belong to an eparchy (eparkhiya - equivalent to Western diocese). Eparchies are governed by bishops (episkop or arkhierey). There are around 130 Russian Orthodox eparchies worldwide.
Further, some eparchies are organized into Exarchates or autonomous churches. Currently these include: Belarusian exarchate; Latvian, Moldovan, and Estonian Orthodox Churches. Chinese and Japanese Orthodox Churches were granted full autonomy by Moscow Patriarchate, but this autonomy is not universally recognized.
Smaller eparchies are usually governed by single bishops. Larger eparchies, exarchates, and autonomous churches are governed by Metropolitans and sometimes also have one or more bishops assigned to them.
The highest level of authority in the Church is represented by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, head of the Moscow Patriarchate.
It should be noted that, although the Patriarch of Moscow does have extensive powers, unlike the Pope, he is not considered infallible and does not have the direct authority over matters pertaining to faith. This authority is instead given to a council of bishops (pomestny sobor). Some of the most fundamental issues (such as the ones responsible for Catholic-Orthodox split) cannot be decided even on this level and have to be dealt with by a council of representatives from all Eastern Orthodox churches. Last time such a council has been held was in 787.
 Doctrine and practices
Like all other Orthodox Churches, Russian Orthodox Church places the emphasis on preservation rather than evolution or adaptation of its doctrine and practices. It does not recognize some developments and dogmatic definitions of the Western Catholic Church since the Great Schism. Its followers take pride in the fact that their beliefs and even ceremonies are largely the same as they were 1000 years ago.
The existence of full communion between most Eastern Orthodox Churches ensures that different churches do not drift apart significantly. As a result, there are few differences between practices of Russian and other Eastern Orthodox churches, and these don't go far beyond using different languages in liturgies, or using Gregorian vs. Julian calendar for Easter calculations.
 Russian Orthodox churches
Russian Orthodox Church buildings differ in design from many western-type churches. Firstly, their interiors are enriched with many sacramental objects including holy icons, which are hung on the walls. In addition, murals often cover most of the interior. Some of these images represent the Theotokos (who is particularly revered in the Russian Orthodox Church), saints, and scenes from their lives.
Gold is the color which resembles the Heavenly Kingdom. It is also used to add a sense of indefinite depth to icons, which would otherwise be perceived as flat. Painted icons are intentionally composed in a two-dimensional, non-perspective fashion to allow equal viewing regardless of the placement, position, and/or angle of the observing person.
Most Russian Orthodox churches have an iconostasis, which separates the naos from the holy altar, and signifies the Heavenly Kingdom. Covered with icons, the iconostasis is intended to stop physical sight, and allow the worshipers to achieve spiritual sight.
Another remarkable feature of many Russian Orthodox Church is, the icon screen may reach all the way up into the dome (or domes). On the ceiling of many churches (inside the main dome) is the iconography of Christ as Pantokrator ("Ruler of All"). Such images emphasize Christ's humanity and divinity, signifying that Christ is a man and yet is also God without beginning or end.
There are no pews. Most churches are lit with candles rather than electric light. Virtually all churches have multiple votive candle stands in front of the icons. It is customary for worshippers to purchase candles in church stores, light them up, and place them on the stands. This ritual signifies a person's prayer to God, the Holy Mother, or to the saints or angels asking for help on the difficult path to salvation and to freedom from sin.
Sometimes the bottoms of crosses found in Russian Orthodox churches will be adorned with a crescent. The common misconception attributes these to the fact that in 1552, Tsar Ivan the Terrible conquered the city of Kazan which had been under the rule of Muslim Tatars, and in remembrance of this, he decreed that from henceforth the Islamic crescent be placed at the bottom of the crosses to signify the victory of the cross (Christianity) over the crescent (Islam).
In fact, cresent on crosses was widespread during pre-Mongolian period of Russian history and bears no relation to the Islam.
 References and external links and sources
- ^ A. S. Pankratov, Ishchushchie boga (Moscow, 1911); Vera Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy on the Eve of Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Gregory Freeze, 'Subversive Piety: Religion and the Political Crisis in Late Imperial Russia', Journal of Modern History, vol. 68 (June 1996): 308-50; Mark Steinberg and Heather Coleman, eds. Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007)
- ^ John Shelton Curtis, The Russian Church and the Soviet State (Boston: Little Brown, 1953); Jane Ellis, The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); Dimitry V. Pospielovsky, The Russian Church Under the Soviet Regime 1917-1982 (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984); idem., A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Anti-Religious Policies (New York; St. Martin’s Press, 1987); Glennys Young, Power and the Sacred in Revolutionary Russia: Religious Activists in the Village (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997); Daniel Peris, Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998); William B. Husband, “Godless Communists”: Atheism and Society in Soviet Russia (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000; Edward Roslof, Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Revolution, 1905-1946 (Bloomington, Indiana, 2002)
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