Russian Orthodox Church is more than one thousand years old. According
to tradition, St. Andrew the First Called, while preaching the gospel,
stopped at the Kievan hills to bless the future city of Kiev. The fact
that Russia had among her neighbors a powerful Christian state, the Byzantine
Empire, very much contributed to the spread of Christianity in it. The
south of Russia was blessed with the work of Sts Cyril and Methodius Equal
to the Apostles, the Illuminators of the Slavs. In 954 Princess Olga of
Kiev was baptized. All this paved the way for the greatest events in the
history of the Russian people, namely, the baptism of Prince Vladimir and
the Baptism of Russia in 988.
the pre-Tartar period of its history The Russian Church was one of the
metropolitanates of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The metropolitan
at the head of the Church was appointed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople
from among the Greeks, but in 1051 Russian-born Metropolitan Illarion,
one of the most educated men of his time, was installed to the primatial
churches began to be built in the 10th century. Monasteries began to develop
in the 11th century. St. Anthony of the Caves brought the traditions of
Athonian monasticism to Russia in 1051. He founded the famous Monastery
of the Caves in Kiev which was to become the center of religious life in
Old Russia. Monasteries played a tremendous role in Russia. The greatest
service they did to the Russian people, apart from their purely spiritual
work, was that they were major centers of education. In particular, monasteries
recorded in their chronicles all the major historical events in the life
of the Russian people. Flourishing in monasteries were icon-painting and
literary art. They were also those who translated into Russian various
theological, historical and literary works.
the 12th century, the period of feudal divisions, the Russian Church remained
the only bearer of the idea of unity of the Russian people, resisting the
centrifugal aspirations and feudal strife among Russian princes. Even the
Tartar invasion, this greatest ever misfortune that struck Russia in the
13th century, failed to break the Russian Church. The Church managed to
survive as a real force and was the comforter of the people in their plight.
It made a great spiritual, material and moral contribution to the restoration
of the political unity of Russia as a guarantee of its future victory over
Russian principalities began to unite around Moscow in the 14th century.
The Russian Orthodox Church continued to play an important role in the
revival of unified Russia. Outstanding Russian bishops acted as spiritual
guides and assistants to the Princes of Moscow. St. Metropolitan Alexis
(1354-1378) educated Prince Dimitry Donskoy. He, just as St. Metropolitan
Jonas (1448-1471) later, by the power of his authority helped the Prince
of Moscow to put an end to the feudal discords and preserve the unity of
the state. St. Sergius of Radonezh, a great ascetic of the Russian Church,
gave his blessing to Prince Dimitry Donskoy to fight the Kulikovo Battle
which made the beginning of the liberation of Russia from the invaders.
made a great contribution to the preservation of the Russian national self-consciousness
and identity during the Tatar yoke and in the times of Western influences.
The 13th century saw the foundation of the Pochayev Laura. This monastery
and its holy abbot Ioann (Zhelezo) did much to assert Orthodoxy in western
Russian lands. Some 180 new monasteries were founded in the period from
the 14th to the mid-15th century in Russia. Among major events in the history
of old Russian monasticism was the foundation of the Trinity Monastery
by St. Sergius of Radonezh (c. 1334). It is in this glorious monastery
that St. Andrew Rublev developed his marvelous talent at icon-painting.
itself from the invaders, the Russian state gathered strength and so did
the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1448, not long before the Byzantine Empire
collapsed, 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
growing might of the Russian state contributed also to the growing authority
of the Autocephalous Russian Church. In 1589 Metropolitan Job of Moscow
became the first Russian patriarch. Eastern patriarchs recognized the Russian
patriarch as the fifth in honor.
beginning of the 17th century proved to be a hard time for Russia. The
Poles and Swedes invaded Russia from the west. At this time of trouble
the Russian Church fulfilled its patriotic duty before the people with
honor, as it did before. Patriarch Germogen (1606-1612), an ardent patriot
of Russia who was to be tortured to death by the invaders, was the spiritual
leaders of the mass levy led by Minin and Pozharsky. The heroic defense
of St. Sergius' Monastery of the Trinity from the Swedes and Poles between
1608-1610 has been inscribed for ever in the chronicle of the Russian state
and the Russian Church.
the period after the invaders were driven away from Russia, the Russian
Church was engaged in one of the most important of its internal tasks,
namely, introducing corrections into its service books and rites. A great
contribution to this was made by Patriarch Nikon, a bright personality
and outstanding church reformer. Some clergymen and lay people did not
understand and did not accept the liturgical reforms introduced by Patriarch
Nikon and refused to obey the church authority. This was how the Old Believers'
beginning of the 18th century in Russia was marked by radical reforms carried
out by Peter I. The reforms did not leave the Russian Church untouched
as after the death of Patriarch Adrian in 1700 Peter I delayed the election
of the new Primate of the Church and established in 1721 a collective supreme
administration in the Church known as the Holy and Governing Synod. The
Synod remained the supreme church body in the Russian Church for almost
the Synodal period of its history from 1721 to 1917, the Russian Church
paid a special attention to the development of religious education and
mission in provinces. Old churches were restored and new churches were
built. The beginning of the 19th century was marked by the work of brilliant
theologians. Russian theologians also did much to develop such sciences
as history, linguistics and Oriental studies.
20th century produced the great models of Russian sanctity, such as St.
Seraphim of Sarov and the Starets of the Optina and Glinsky Hermitages.
in the 20th century the Russian Church began preparations for convening
an All-Russian Council. But it was to be convened only after the 1917 Revolution.
Among its major actions was the restoration of the patriarchal office in
the Russian Church. The Council elected Metropolitan Tikhon of Moscow Patriarch
of Moscow and All Russia (1917-1925).
Tikhon of Moscow exerted every effort to calm the destructive passions
kindled up by the revolution. The Message of the Holy Council issued on
11 November 1917 says in particular, "Instead of a new social order
promised by the false teachers we see a bloody strife among the builders,
instead of peace and brotherhood among the peoples - a confusion of languages
and a bitter hatred among brothers. People who have forgotten God are attacking
one another like hungry wolves... Abandon the senseless and godless dream
of the false teachers who call to realize universal brotherhood through
universal strife! Come back to the way of Christ!"
Bolsheviks who came to power in 1917 the Russian Orthodox Church was an
ideological enemy a priori, as being an institutional part of tsarist Russia
it resolutely defended the old regime also after the October revolution.
This is why so many bishops, thousands of clergymen, monks and nuns as
well as lay people were subjected to repression up to execution and murder
striking in its brutality.
in 1921-1922 the Soviet government demanded that church valuables be given
in aid to the population starving because of the failure of crops in 1921,
a fateful conflict erupted between the Church and the new authorities who
decided to use this situation to demolish the Church to the end. By the
beginning of World War II the church structure was almost completely destroyed
throughout the country. There were only a few bishops who remained free
and who could perform their duties. Some bishops managed to survive in
remote parts or under the disguise of priests. Only a few hundred churches
were opened for services throughout the Soviet Union. Most of the clergy
were either imprisoned in concentration camps where many of them perished
or hid in catacombs, while thousands of priests changed occupation.
catastrophic course of combat in 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. Without delay churches were
opened for services, and clergy including bishops were released from prisons.
The Russian Church did not limit itself to giving spiritual and moral support
to the motherland in danger. It also rendered material aid by providing
funds for all kinds of things up to army uniform. Its greatest contribution,
however, was expressed in financing the St. Dimitry Donskoy Tank Column
and the St. Alexander Nevsky Squadron.
process, which can be described as a rapprochement between Church and state
in a "patriotic union", culminated in Stalin's receiving on September
4, 1943 Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergiy Stragorodsky and Metropolitan
Alexy Simansky and Nikolay Yarushevich.
that historic moment a "thaw" began in relations between church
and state. The Church, however, remained always under state control and
any attempts to spread its work outside its walls were met with a strong
rebuff including administrative sanctions.
Russian Orthodox Church was in a hard situation during the so called 'Khrushchev's
thaw" as well when thousands of churches throughout the Soviet Union
were closed "for ideological reasons".
celebrations devoted to the Millennium of the Baptism of Russia, which
acquired a national importance, gave a fresh impetus to church-state relations
and compelled the powers that be to begin a dialogue with the Church, building
these relations on the basis of recognition of the great historical role
it had played in the fortunes of the Motherland and its contribution to
the formation of the nation's moral traditions.