Russian Orthodox Church

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Russian Orthodox Church
Moscow Patriarchate
Russian Orthodox Church.png
Abbreviation ROC, MP
Existence 988—present
(autocephalous since 1589)
Type Orthodox Church
Headquarters Moscow, Russia
Leader Kirill Gundyayev (2009-)

The Russian Orthodox Church (Russian: Русская Православная церковь), also refered to as the Moscow Patriarchate, is an autocephalous church of the Orthodox Church united under the Patriarch of Moscow. The organisation is most prominent in Russia itself and is a cornerstone of Russian national identity. It also exists in much of the former Russian Empire, including European countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as having diocese in places where Russian diaspora have moved. Today, Russian Orthodoxy has 150,000,000 living adherents worldwide.

When the medieval Rus' converted to Christianity, it was under the influence of the Byzantine Empire and it's culture, which claimed to be the legitimate continuation of the Roman Empire. The faith was spread in the 9th century amongst the leading elements of society and Orthodoxy became the official state religion for the masses under St. Vladimir the Great in 988. It would remain under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople until 1589, when the Russian Church became autocephalous. The Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 and after this Sophia Palaiologina married Grand Prince Ivan III Rurikid, leading some Russians to view Moscow as the Third Rome and successors of the Empire.


The Russian Orthodox Church traces its roots to the Baptism of Kiev in 988, when Prince Vladimir I officially adopted the religion of Byzantium as the state religion of the Rus' state. Thus, in 1988, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated its millennial anniversary. It therefore traces its apostolic succession through the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The Church was originally a subsidiary of the Patrarchate of Constantinople and the Byzantine patriarch appointed the metropolitan who governed the Church of Rus'. The Metropolitan moved from the Rus' capital of Kiev to Suzdal, then to Vladimir, then to Moscow in 1326 following Kiev's devastation by the Mongols.

In 1439 at the Council of Florence, a meeting of the Catholic and Orthodox Church leaders agreed upon terms of reunification of the two branches of Christianity. The Russian people, however, rejected the concessions to the Catholics and Metropolitan Isidore was expelled from his position. The Russian Church remains independent from the Vatican.

In 1448, the Russian Church became autonomous from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but remained in communion with it. 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.

In 1589, Metropolitan Job of Moscow became the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus'; making the Russian Church autocephalous. The other Eastern patriarchs recognized the Moscow patriarchate as fifth in honor.

In 1652, Patriarch Nikon attempted 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 Russians cross themselves with three fingers, rather than the traditional two. This aroused great antipathy among a large section of the population who saw the changed rites both as heresy and as a pretext for Nikon's usurpation of power. This group became known as the Old Believers and they reject the teachings of the new Patriarch. Tsar Aleksey (who was simultaneously centralizing political power) upheld Nikon's changes, however, and the Old Believers were persecuted until the reign of Peter the Great who agreed to let them practice their distinct flavour of Orthodoxy.

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced phenomenal growth. In the 1686, the Metropolia of Kiev was transferred from Constantinople to Moscow bringing millions more faithful and a half dozen dioceses under the general control 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 Innocent of Irkutsk, Herman of Alaska, Innocent of Siberia and Alaska. They learned local languages and translated the gospels and the hymns. Sometimes those translations required the invention of a new system of transcription.

In 1700 following Patriarch Adrian's death, Peter the Great prevented a successor from being named, and in 1721 he established the Holy and Supreme Synod to govern the church instead of a single primate (see Caesaropapism). This was the situation until shortly after the Russian Revolution in 1917, at which time the bishops elected a new patriarch, Patriarch Tikhon.

Modern condition

Jews who called themselves Bolsheviks persecuted tens of millions of Russian Orthodox Christians during the course of the 20th century.

During most of the 20th century, the Russian Orthodox Church had to coexist with deeply Jewish/atheist government of Soviet Union. Although freedom of religious expression was formally declared by one of the first decrees of revolutionary government in January 1918, both the Church and its followers were deeply disadvantaged and sometimes persecuted. Prior to the Russian Revolution, there were some 54,000 functioning parishes and over 150 bishops. During the 1920-30s, most churches were razed or converted into secular buildings; over 50 thousand priests were either executed or sent to labor camps ( many of these suffered as part of the Great Purge of 1936-37 ). By 1939, there were less than 100 functioning parishes and only four bishops.

After the World War II, the religious persecution in Soviet Union gradually became less pronounced. Years 1944-45 saw the reopening of several seminaries that were closed in 1918. Despite that, public expression of religious beliefs - christian or otherwise - was generally frowned upon; known churchgoers would be unlikely to become members of the Communist Party, which, in turn, severely limited their career opportunities. Until Perestroika, all Soviet university students were required to take courses in "Scientific Atheism". Finally, well into 1970-80's many priests of Russian Orthodox Church, as well as other churches in Soviet Union, were secretly employed by KGB. At the same time, large number of people remained overtly or covertly religious. In 1987 in Russian Federation between 40% and 50% of newborn babies (depending on the region) were baptized and over 60% of all deceased received Christian funeral services.

Fall of Communism in 1991 allowed for the Church to expand even further. Today, the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Over 90% of ethnic Russians identify themselves as Russian Orthodox. The number of people regularly attending church services is considerably lower, but growing every year.

Since 2002 there is considerable friction between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican, when Patriarch Alexius II condemned the Vatican's creation of a Catholic diocesean structure for Russian territory. This is seen by the leadership of the Russian church 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 churches, and that as such, it is straying into the territory "belonging" to another co-equal church.

The issue of enroachment by other Christian denominations into Russia is a particularly sensitive one to some in the Russian Orthodox Church, since the church has only recently come out from under considerable persecution during the regime of the Soviet Union. Those holding this point of view in the Russian Orthodox Church, see the proselytizing by Catholic and Protestant denominations as taking unfair advantage of the still-recovering condition of the Russian Church, having just come out of 70 years of Communist oppression.

The Russian Orthodox Church should not be confused with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (also known as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad), which was founded by Russian communities outside of Russia, which refused to recognize the authority of the then-Communist-dominated Russian church.


See also

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