Russian Orthodox Church
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The Russian Orthodox Church (Russian: Русская Православная церковь), also known as the Orthodox Catholic 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 sometimes said to have been founded by the Apostle Andrew. It is thought that he visited Scythia and Greek colonies along the northern coast of thp the river Dnieper, reached the future location of Kiev, and foretold the foundation of a great Christian city.
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, with the blessing of the popes, translated parts of the Bible into Old 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 Kiev 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 955 or 957. Her grandson, Vladimir the Great, made Kievan Rus' a Christian state.
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' (see Baptism of Kiev). 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 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 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.
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, 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. The archpriest Aleksei converted to Judaism after meeting Skhariyah (Zechariah).
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 labeled 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 reorganizationIn 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) become respectable and influential figures.
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 small 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. 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.
 Expansion and the Holy Synod
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced phenomenal geographic expansion. In 1686, the Metropolia of Kiev passed from Constantinople's control to that of Moscow, bringing millions more 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.
 Twentieth century and revolutionIn 1914 in Russia there were 55,173 Russian Orthodox churches and 29,593 chapels, 112,629 priests and deacons, 550 monasteries and 475 convents with a total of 95,259 monks and nuns.
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 "counterrevolutionary" 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 harrass worshippers. Seminaries were closed down, and the church was restricted from using the press.
Patriarch Tikhon anathematized the communist government, which further antagonized relations. In 1927 Metropolitan Sergius, who took over the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church after Patriarch Tikhon's death, decided to accept the new government as legitimate, leading to a split with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
 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, harrassment 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 2005 the Church had over 26,600 parishes, 164 bishops, 688 monasteries, and 102 clerical 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 archbishops (arkhiepiskop and 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.Further, 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 most 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.
All Russian Orthodox churches have an iconostasis, which separates the large hall of the church 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 worshipers 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).
 See also
- Eastern Orthodoxy
- History of Christianity
- Golden ring
- Old Believers
- Finnish Orthodox Church, since the October Revolution an autonomous church under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
|Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches of Eastern Orthodoxy|
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Russia | Serbia | Romania | Bulgaria | Georgia
Cyprus | Greece | Poland | Albania | Czechia and Slovakia | OCA*
|Sinai | Finland | Estonia* | Japan* | China* | Ukraine* | Western Europe* | Bessarabia* | Moldova* | Ohrid* | (ROCOR)|
|The * designates a church whose autocephaly or autonomy is not universally recognized.|