Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Russian Orthodox Church
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Russian Orthodox Church

The Russian Orthodox Church (Русская Православная церковь) is that body of Christians who are united under the Patriarch of Moscow, who in turn is in communion with the other patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In this way Russian Orthodox believers are in communion with all other Eastern Orthodox believers.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Modern condition
3 Russian Orthodox Churches
4 See also


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 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.

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 modified version 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 US at California. Eminent people on that missionary was Innocent of Irkutsk, Herman of Alaska, Innocent of Sibelia and Alaska. They learned local languages and traslated the gospels and the hymns. Sometimes those translation needed invention of 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

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 Alexey 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. Prior to the Russian Revolution, there were some 54,000 functioning parishes and over 150 bishops. By 1939, there were less than 100 functioning parishes and only two bishops.

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.

Russian Orthodox Churches

Russian Orthodox churches are not the same as western-type churches. First, their interiors are very highly decorated, with frescos of many kinds covering every square centimetre of the interior. Some of these are of saints, others of more commonplace scenes. One particularly striking feature of many Russian churches is that the interior reaches all the way up into the dome or domes of the church, and inside each dome there is usually a huge painting of a member of the Holy Trinity, staring down into the church. God is believed to look out through the frescos at the people inside the church.

There are no pews. Most churches are lit with candles rather than electric light. This means that in many places the frescos and so on still suffer from the ill effects of smoke.

All Russian Orthodox churches have an Iconostasis which separates the main body of the church from the altar. Covered with icons, it is intended to stop physical sight, but to allow the spiritual sight of the worshippers through.

The colours of the domes of a Russian Orthodox church having meaning, as follows:

Silver domes are also found, but these simply indicate that the dome is modern, and has not been painted.

The number of domes also has meaning:

The crosses on top of the domes have a crescent shape with the horns upturned as part of their base. This is actually an anchor, indicating that the church is a ship of faith in the sea of vanity.

Gold is God's colour. When used as the background of an icon it is not flat, but is instead intended to be of infinite depth. Icons are drawn in a flat, non-perspective style. This is intentional, not just a reflection on the skills of the icon painters. The flat style of the painting allows the icon to be viewed equally by all, regardless of position.

Some churches were funded by merchants. These often have large crypts, which were intended to serve as warehouses for those merchants.

Many churches, such as Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, are not symmetric structures. This is also intentional, and is based on the assumption that symmetry is the enemy of beauty.

See also