The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC); or The Moscow Patriarchate (Russian: Русская Православная Церковь (Russkaya Pravoslavnaya Tserkov), or Московский Патриархат (Moskovskiy Patriarkhat) (the latter designation being another official name) since 1943, Поместная Российская Православная Церковь (Pomestnaya Rossiyskaya Pravoslavnaya Tserkov) before the reinstitution in 1943), also known as the Orthodox Christian Church of Russia, is a body of Christians who constitute an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow, in communion with the other Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and second only to the Roman Catholic Church among Christian churches, numbering over 135 million members worldwide and growing numerically since late 1980s. Up to 65% of ethnic Russians and a significant number of Belarusians and Ukrainians identify themselves as "Orthodox". According to the data made public December 12, 2008, the Church had 157 dioceses including 29,263 parishes served by 203 bishops (another 14 are on retirement), 27,216 priests and 3,454 deacons; there were 804 monasteries, including 478 in the Russian Federation (another 25 are within the ROCOR jurisdiction), 87 theological schools, including 5 theological academies and 38 seminaries.
The ROC should not be confused with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (also known as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, or ROCOR), headquartered in New York. The ROCOR was instituted in the 1920s by Russian communities outside then-Communist Russia who refused to recognize the authority of the Moscow Patriarchy headed by Metropolitan Sergiy Stragorodsky. The two Churches reconciled on May 17, 2007; the ROCOR is now a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church.
- 1 Structure and organization
- 2 History
- 2.1 Founding and earliest history
- 2.2 Monastic reform of St. Sergius and its aftermath
- 2.3 Consolidation and codification
- 2.4 Autocephaly and Schism
- 2.5 Peter the Great
- 2.6 Expansion
- 2.7 The fin-de-siècle religious renaissance
- 2.8 Russian revolution
- 2.9 Under Communist rule
- 2.10 Post-Soviet recovery and problems
- 3 The Orthodox Church in America (OCA)
- 4 Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR)
- 5 Russian church architecture
Structure and organization
Administratively, the Church is organized in a hierarchical structure. The lowest level of organization, which normally would be a single church building and its attendees, headed by a priest who acts as Father superior (Russian: настоятель, nastoyatel), constitute a parish (Russian: приход, prihod). All parishes in a geographical region belong to an eparchy (Russian: епархия — equivalent to a Western diocese). Eparchies are governed by bishops (Russian: епископ, episcop or архиерей, archiereus). There are around 130 Russian Orthodox eparchies worldwide.
Further, some eparchies are organized into exarchates, or autonomous churches. Currently these include the Orthodox Churches of Belarusian exarchate; the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; the Latvian, the Moldovan, and the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. The 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 a single bishop. Larger eparchies, exarchates, and autonomous Churches are governed by Metropolitan archbishop and sometimes also have one or more bishops assigned to them.
The highest level of authority in the Church is vested in the Local Council (Pomestny Sobor), which comprises all the bishops as well as representatives from the clergy and laypersons. Another organ of power is the Bishops' Council (Архиерейский Собор). In the periods between the Councils the highest administrative powers are exercised by the Holy Synod which includes 7 permanent members and is chaired by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Primate of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Although the Patriarch of Moscow has extensive powers, unlike the Pope, he does not have the direct authority over matters pertaining to faith. Some of the most fundamental issues (such as the ones responsible for the Catholic-Orthodox split) could not be decided even at the level of the Local Council and would have to be dealt with by a council of representatives from all Eastern Orthodox Churches. The last time such a council was held was in 787.
Founding 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, 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 Kievan 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 successor, Metropolitan Peter moved the residence to Moscow in 1325.
Monastic reform of St. Sergius and its aftermath
Following the tribulations of the Mongol invasion, the Russian Church was pivotal in the survival and life of the Russian state. Despite the politically motivated murders of Mikhail of Chernigov and Mikhail of Tver, the Mongols were generally tolerant and even granted tax exemption to the Church. 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.
The monastic reform of St. Sergius, which culminated in the foundation of the monastery known as Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra near Moscow, was one of the defining events of medieval Russian history. The monastery became the setting for the unprecedented flourishing of transcendent, spiritual art, exemplified by the work of Andrey Rublev, among others. The followers of Sergius founded four hundred monasteries, thus greatly extending the geographical extent of his influence and authority.
The spiritual resurgence of the late 14th century, associated with the names of St. Sergius, the missionary Stephen of Perm and the writer Epiphanius the Wise, contributed to the consolidation of the Russian nation. Lev Gumilev has observed that, having received the blessing of St. Sergius to make a stand against the Tatars, "the Suzdalians, Vladimirians, Rostovians, Pskovians went to the Kulikovo Field as representatives of their principalities but returned after the victory as Russians, although living in different towns", a dictum which has been endorsed by modern church functionaries.
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 Russia. 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.
Consolidation and codification
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 Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra to found hundreds of monasteries across Russia. Some of the most famous monasteries were located in the Russian North, even as far north as Pechenga, 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 codified Russian hagiography and 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. Reinforced by these reforms, the Church felt strong enough to challenge the policies of the tsar. Philip of Moscow, in particular, decried many abuses of Ivan the Terrible, who eventually engineered his defrocking and murder.
Autocephaly and Schism
During the reign of tsar Theodor I his brother-in-law Boris Godunov contacted the Ecumenical Patriarch, who "was much embarrassed for want of funds," with a view to establishing a patriarch see in Moscow. As a result of Godunov's efforts, Metropolitan Job of Moscow became in 1589 the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus', making the Russian Church autocephalous. The four other 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 help run the state along with (and sometimes instead of) the tsars.
At the urging of the Zealots of Piety, Patriarch Nikon resolved in 1652 to centralize power that had been distributed locally, while conforming Russian Orthodox rites and rituals to those of the Greek Orthodox Church, as interpreted by pundits from the Kiev Ecclesiastical Academy. 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 the extent to which these changes can be regarded as minor or major ritual significance remains open to debate. After the implementation of these innovations at the church council of 1666–1667, the Church anathematized and suppressed those who acted contrary to them with the support of Muscovite state power. These traditionalists became known as "Old Believers" or "Old Ritualists".
Although Nikon's far-flung ambitions of steering the country to a theocratic form of government precipitated his defrocking and exile, Tsar Aleksey deemed it prudent to uphold many of his innovations. During the Schism of the Russian Church, the Old Ritualists were separated from the main body of the Orthodox Church. Archpriest Avvakum Petrov and many other opponents of the church reforms were burned at the stake, either forcibly or voluntarily. Another prominent figure within the Old Ritualists' movement, Boyarynya Morozova, was starved to death in 1675. Others escaped from the government persecutions to Siberia and other inhospitable lands, where they would live in semi-seclusion until the modern times.
Peter the Great
With the ascension of Emperor Peter the Great to the throne of Russia (1682–1725), with his radical modernization of Russian government, army, dress, and manners, Russia became a formidable political power.
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced phenomenal geographic expansion. 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 and St. Herman of Alaska. In emulation of Stephen of Perm, they learned local languages and translated the gospels and the hymns. Sometimes those translations required the invention of new systems of transcription.
In the aftermath of the Treaty of Pereyaslav, the Ottomans (supposedly acting on behalf of the Russian regent Sophia Alekseyevna) pressured the Patriarch of Constantinople into transferring the Metropoly of Kiev from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to that of Moscow. The controversial transfer brought millions of faithful and half a dozen dioceses under the pastoral and administrative care of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus', leading to the significant Ukrainian domination of the Russian Orthodox Church, which continued well into the 18th century, with Feofan Prokopovich, Epifany Slavinetsky, Stephen Yavorsky and Demetrius of Rostov being among the most notable representatives of this trend.
In 1700, after Patriarch Adrian's death, Peter the Great prevented a successor from being named, and in 1721, following the advice of Feofan Prokopovich, Archbishop of Pskov, the Holy and Supreme Synod was established under Archbishop Stephen Yavorsky to govern the church instead of a single primate. 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 lay persons) 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 late 18th 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, personified by such figures as Demetrius of Rostov and Platon of Moscow. Aleksey Khomyakov, Ivan Kireevsky, and other lay theologians with Slavophile leanings elaborated some key concepts of the renovated Orthodox doctrine, including that of sobornost. The resurgence of Eastern Orthodoxy was reflected in Russian literature, e.g., the figure of Starets Zosima in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov.
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 of 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, including Sergei Bulgakov, Peter Struve, and 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.
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).
The Russian Orthodox Church supported the White Army in the Russian Civil War (see White movement) after the October Revolution. This may have further strengthened the Bolshevik animus against the church.
Even before the end of the civil war and the establishment of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church came under pressure from the secular Communist government. The Soviet government stood on a platform of antireligion, 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 tolerance, in practice the government discouraged organized religion and did much to remove religious influence from Soviet society.
Under Communist rule
Before and after the October Revolution of November 7, 1917 (October 25 Old Calendar) there was a movement within the Soviet Union to unite all of the people of the world under Communist rule (see Communist International). This included the Eastern European bloc countries as well as the Balkan States. Since some of these Slavic states tied their ethnic heritage to their ethnic churches, both the peoples and their church were targeted by the Soviets.
The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed. Orthodox priests and believers were variously tortured, sent to prison camps, labour camps or mental hospitals, and executed. Many Orthodox (along with people of other faiths) were also subjected to psychological punishment or torture and mind control experimentation in order to force them give up their religious convictions.
Thousands of churches and monasteries were taken over by the government and either destroyed or converted to secular use. It was impossible to build new churches. Practicing 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.
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.
In November 1917, following the collapse of the tsarist government, a council of the Russian Orthodox church reestablished the patriarchate and elected the metropolitan Tikhon as patriarch. But the new Soviet government soon declared the separation of church and state and nationalized all church-held lands. These administrative measures were followed by brutal state-sanctioned persecutions that included the wholesale destruction of churches and the arrest and execution of many clerics. The Russian Orthodox church was further weakened in 1922, when the Renovated Church, a reform movement supported by the Soviet government, seceded from Patriarch Tikhon's church (also see the Josephites and the Russian True Orthodox Church), restored a Holy Synod to power, and brought division among clergy and faithful.
In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed.
The Stalin era
The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited.
The sixth sector of the OGPU, led by Yevgeny 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). In the period between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to less than 500. Between 1917 and 1935, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested. Of these, 95,000 were put to death. Many thousands of victims of persecution became recognized in a special canon of saints known as the "new martyrs and confessors of Russia".
In January 1918 Patriarch Tikhon proclaimed anathema to the Bolsheviks (without explicitly naming them), which further antagonized relations. When Tikhon 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 Sergius, 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 allegedly remained faithful to the Canons of the Apostles, declaring the part of the church led by Metropolitan Sergius schism, sometimes coined 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.
After Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. On September 4, 1943, Metropolitans Sergius, Alexy and Nikolay had a meeting with Stalin and received a permission to convene a council on September 8, 1943, which 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. A new patriarch was elected, theological schools were opened, and thousands of churches began to function. The Moscow Theological Academy Seminary, which had been closed since 1918, was re-opened.
Between 1945 and 1959 the official organization of the church was greatly expanded, although individual members of the clergy were occasionally arrested and exiled. The number of open churches reached 25,000. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated his own campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and forced the closure of about 12,000 churches. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active. Members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had ties with the KGB.
Persecution under Khrushchev and Brezhnev
A new and widespread persecution of the church was subsequently instituted under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. A second round of repression, harassment and church closures took place between 1959 and 1964 during the rule of Nikita Khrushchev.
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.
Some Orthodox believers and even priests took part in the dissident movement and became prisoners of conscience. The Orthodox priests Gleb Yakunin, Sergiy Zheludkov and others spent years in Soviet prisons and exile for their efforts in defending freedom of worship. Among the prominent figures of that time was Father Aleksandr Men. Although he tried to keep away from practical work of the dissident movement intending to better fulfil his calling as a priest, there was a spiritual link between Fr Aleksander and many of the dissidents. For some of them he was a friend, for others - a godfather, for many (including Yakunin) - spiritual father.
By 1987 the number of functioning churches in the Soviet Union had fallen to 6893 and the number of functioning monasteries to just 18. 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.
Beginning in the late 1980s, under Mikhail Gorbachev, the new political and social freedoms resulted in many church buildings being returned to the church, to be restored by local parishioners. 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.
In the words of those who were allowed to view the KGB archive dicuments in the early 1990s, the Moscow Patriarchate was "practically a subsidiary, a sister company of the KGB". The archives showed the extent of active participation of the top ROC hierarchs in the KGB efforts overseas. George Trofimoff, the highest-ranking US military officer ever indicted for, and convicted of, espionage by the United States and sentenced to life imprisonment on September 27, 2001, had been "recruited into the service of the KGB" by Igor Susemihl (a.k.a. Zuzemihl), a bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church (subsequently, a high-ranking hierarch - the ROC Metropolitan Iriney of Vienna, who died in July 1999).
Post-Soviet recovery and problems
Under Patriarch Alexy II (1990-2008)
Metropolitan Alexy of Leningrad, ascended the Patriarchal throne in 1990 and presided over the partial return of Orthodox Christianity to Russian society after 70 years of repression, transforming the ROC to something resembling a state religion; under him, Orthodoxy began to fill the ideological vacuum left by the end of communism, and even, in the opinion of some analysts, became "a separate branch of power".
Under Patriarch Alexy, 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 in schism, after breaking off from 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).
There has been increasing friction between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church. A recent example of such friction was seen at the meeting in Ravenna in early October 2007 of participants in the Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue. The representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, walked out of the meeting due to the presence of representatives from the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church which is in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. At the meeting, prior to the departure of the Russian delegation, there were also substantive disagreements about the wording of a proposed joint statement among the Orthodox representatives. After the departure of the Russian delegation, the remaining Orthodox delegates approved the form which had been advocated by the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The disagreement occurred because Moscow insists that Estonia is its canonical territory for historical reasons, and has incorporated Orthodox parishes in Estonia into the Orthodox Church of Estonia, a self-governing part of the Church of Russia. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, however, has setup its own jurisdiction in Estonia, called the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, an action that prompted the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia to announce, in 2000, that it will not take part in any pan-Orthodox meeting where members of the EAOC are present. The Ecumenical See's representative in Ravenna said that Hilarion's position "should be seen as an expression of authoritarianism whose goal is to exhibit the influence of the Moscow Church. But like last year in Belgrade, all Moscow achieved was to isolate itself once more since no other Orthodox Church followed its lead, remaining instead faithful to Constantinople."
In 2008, a Russian Orthodox church in Ukraine was accused of fomenting anti-Semitic and anti-Ukrainian propaganda in Kamenets-Podolsky through leaflets accusing Jews of being behind the masterminds of the 1917 Russian Revolution and of the 2004 Orange Revolution and also questioning the right of Ukraine to exist as a separate nation-state from Russia.
Canon Michael Bourdeaux, former president of Keston Institute, believed in January 2008 that "the Moscow Patriarchate acts as though it heads a state church, while the few Orthodox clergy who oppose the church-state symbiosis face severe criticism, even loss of livelihood." Such view is backed up by other Russia's political life observers. Clifford J. Levy of New York Times wrote in April 2008: «Just as the government has tightened control over political life, so, too, has it intruded in matters of faith. The Kremlin’s surrogates in many areas have turned the Russian Orthodox Church into a de facto official religion, warding off other Christian denominations that seem to offer the most significant competition for worshipers. <...> This close alliance between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church has become a defining characteristic of Mr. Putin’s tenure, a mutually reinforcing choreography that is usually described here as working “in symphony”.»
Throughout Patriarch Alexy's reign, the massive-scale program of costly restoration of re-opened churches and monasteries (as well as the construction of new ones) was criticized for having eclipsed the Church's principal mission of evangelizing.
On 5 December 2008, the day of Patriarch Alexy's death, the Financial Times said: "While the church had been a force for liberal reform under the Soviet Union, it soon became a centre of strength for conservatives and nationalists in the post-communist era. Alexei's death could well result in an even more conservative church."
Under Patriarch Kirill
On January 27, 2009, the ROC Local Council (the 2009 Pomestny Sobor comprised 72 women, both nuns and lay members; the majority of its delegates were not Russia's citizens) elected Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus; he was enthroned on February 1, 2009.
The Orthodox Church in America (OCA)
Russian traders settled in Alaska during the 1700s. In 1740, a Divine Liturgy was celebrated on board a Russian ship off the Alaskan coast. In 1794, the Russian Orthodox Church sent missionaries -- among them Saint Herman of Alaska -- to establish a formal mission in Alaska. Their missionary endeavors contributed to the conversion of many Alaskan natives to the Orthodox faith. A diocese was established, whose first bishop was Saint Innocent of Alaska. The headquarters of this North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church was moved from Alaska to California around the mid-19th century.
It was moved again in the last part of the same century, this time to New York. This transfer coincided with a great movement of Greek-Catholics to the Orthodox Church in the eastern United States. This movement, which increased the numbers of Orthodox Christians in America, resulted from a conflict between John Ireland, the politically powerful Roman Catholic Archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Alexis Toth, an influential Ruthenian Catholic priest. Archbishop Ireland's refusal to accept Fr. Toth's credentials as a priest induced Fr. Toth to convert to the Orthodox Church, and further resulted in the conversion of tens of thousands of other Greek-Catholics in North America to the Orthodox Church, under his guidance and inspiration. For this reason, Ireland is sometimes ironically remembered as the "Father of the Orthodox Church in America." These Greek-Catholics were received into Orthodoxy into the existing North American diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. At the same time large numbers of Greeks and other Orthodox Christians were also immigrating to America. At this time all Orthodox Christians in North America were united under the omophorion (Church authority and protection) of the Patriarch of Moscow, through the Russian Church's North American diocese. The unity was not merely theoretical, but was a reality, since there was then no other diocese on the continent. Under the aegis of this diocese, which at the turn of the century was ruled by Bishop (and future Patriarch) Tikhon, Orthodox Christians of various ethnic backgrounds were ministered to, both non-Russian and Russian; a Syro-Arab mission was established in the episcopal leadership of Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, who was the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in America.
In 1920 Patriarch Tikhon issued an ukase (decree) that dioceses of the Church of Russia that were cut off from the governance of the highest Church authority (i.e. the Holy Synod and the Patriarch) should be managed independently until such time as normal relations with the highest Church authority could be resumed; and on this basis, the North American diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (known as the "Metropolia") continued to exist in a de facto autonomous mode of self-governance. The financial hardship that beset the North American diocese as the result of the Russian Revolution resulted in a degree of administrative chaos, with the result that other national Orthodox communities in North America turned to the Churches in their respective homelands for pastoral care and governance.
A group of bishops who had left Russia in the wake of the Russian Civil War gathered in Sremski-Karlovci, Yugoslavia, and adopted a pro-monarchist stand. The group further claimed to speak as a synod for the entire "free" Russian church. This group, which to this day includes a sizable portion of the Russian emigration, was formally dissolved in 1922 by Patriarch Tikhon, who then appointed metropolitans Platon and Evlogy as ruling bishops in America and Europe, respectively. Both of these metropolitans continued to entertain relations intermittently with the synod in Karlovci.
Between the World Wars the Metropolia coexisted and at times cooperated with an independent synod later known as Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), sometimes also called the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. The two groups eventually went their separate ways. ROCOR, which moved its headquarters to North America after the Second World War, claimed but failed to establish jurisdiction over all parishes of Russian origin in North America. The Metropolia, as a former diocese of the Russian Church, looked to the latter as its highest church authority, albeit one from which it was temporarily cut off under the conditions of the communist regime in Russia.
After World War II the Patriarchate of Moscow made unsuccessful attempts to regain control over these groups. After resuming communication with Moscow in early 1960s, and being granted autocephaly in 1970, the Metropolia became known as the Orthodox Church in America. However, recognition of this autocephalous status is not universal, as the Ecumenical Patriarch (under whom is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) and some other jurisdictions have not officially accepted it. The reasons for this are complex; nevertheless the Ecumenical Patriarch and the other jurisdictions remain in communion with the OCA. The Patriarchate of Moscow thereby renounced its former canonical claims in the United States and Canada; it also acknowledged an autonomous church established in Japan that same year.
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR)
Russia's Church was devastated by the repercussions of the Bolshevik Revolution. One of its effects was a flood of refugees from Russia to the United States, Canada, and Europe. The Revolution of 1918 severed large sections of the Russian church—dioceses in America, Japan, and Manchuria, as well as refugees in Europe—from regular contacts with the mother church.
Based on an ukase (decree) issued by Patriarch Tikhon, which stated that dioceses of the Church of Russia that were cut off from the governance of the highest Church authority (i.e. the Holy Synod and the Patriarch) should be managed independently until such time as normal relations with the highest Church authority could be resumed, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was established; by bishops who had left in Russia in the wake of the Russian Civil War. They first met in Constantinople, and then moved to Sremski-Karlovci, Yugoslavia. After World War II, they moved their headquarters to New York City, New York, where it remains to this day.
On December 28, 2006, it was officially announced that the Act of Canonical Communion would finally be signed between the ROC and ROCOR. The signing took place on the May 17, 2007, followed immediately by a full restoration of communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, celebrated by a Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, at which the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexius II and the First Hierarch of ROCOR concelebrated for the first time.
Under the Act, the ROCOR remains a self-governing entity within the Church of Russia. It is independent in its administrative, pastoral, and property matters. It continues to be governed by its Council of Bishops and its Synod, the Council's permanent executive body. The First-Hierarch and bishops of the ROCOR are elected by its Council and confirmed by the Patriarch of Moscow. ROCOR bishops participate in the Council of Bishops of the entire Russian Church.
In response to the signing of the act of canonical communion, Bishop Agafangel, and some parishes and clergy broke communion with ROCOR, and established a separate jurisdiction. Some others opposed to the Act have joined themselves to other Greek Old Calendarist groups.
Currently both the OCA and ROCOR, since 2007, are in communion with the ROC.
Russian church architecture
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, as well as to emphasize that the depiction is primarily of a spiritual truth rather than of visible reality (which emphasis is also achieved through other iconographic techniques and traditions).
Most Russian Orthodox churches have an iconostasis, which separates the nave 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, which 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, crescents on crosses were widespread during the pre-Mongolian period of Russian history and have no relation to the Islamic symbol. The crescent symbol actually is meant to resemble an anchor, which symbolizes the hope for salvation.
- ROC Statute, Chapter I, § 2
- The ROC does not keep any formal membership records, wherefore the claim is based on the public polls and the number of parishes. The actual number of regular church-goers in Russia varies between 1% and 10%, depending on the source.
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