HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH

EARLY HISTORY OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH


Theokokos Iverskaya icon

The Russian Orthodox Church traces its origins to the time of Kievan Rus', the first forerunner of the modern Russian state. In A.D. 988 Prince Vladimir made the Byzantine variant of Christianity the state religion of Russia. The Russian church was subordinate to the patriarch of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), seat of the Byzantine Empire. The original seat of the metropolitan, as the head of the church was known, was Kiev. As power moved from Kiev to Moscow in the fourteenth century, the seat moved as well, establishing the tradition that the metropolitan of Moscow is the head of the church. In the Middle Ages, the church placed strong emphasis on asceticism, which evolved into a widespread monastic tradition. Large numbers of monasteries were founded in obscure locations across all of the medieval state of Muscovy. Such small settlements expanded into larger population centers, making the monastic movement one of the bases of social and economic as well as spiritual life.[Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the Russian Orthodox Church evolved into a semi-independent (autocephalous) branch of Eastern Christianity. In 1589 the metropolitan of Moscow received the title of patriarch. Nevertheless, the Russian church retained the Byzantine tradition of authorizing the head of state and the government bureaucracy to participate actively in the church's administrative affairs. Separation of church and state thus would be almost unknown in Russia. *

As Western Europe was emerging from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance and the Reformation, Russia remained isolated from the West, and Russian Orthodoxy was virtually untouched by the changes in intellectual and spiritual life being felt elsewhere. In the seventeenth century, the introduction by Ukrainian clergy of Western doctrinal and liturgical reforms prompted a strong reaction among traditionalist Orthodox believers, resulting in a schism in the church.

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Christian Denominations: Christianity.com christianity.com/church/denominations ; Christianity Comparison Charts religionfacts.com ; Difference between Christian Denominations Quoracom ; Holy See w2.vatican.va ; Catholic Online catholic.org ; Catholic Encyclopedia newadvent.org ; World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches oikoumene.org ; Wikipedia article on Protestantism Wikipedia ; Online Orthodox Catechism published by the Russian Orthodox Church orthodoxeurope.org ; Nihov's Worldwide Coptic Directory directory.nihov.org

Prince Vladimir Chooses among the Great Religions


Prince Vladamir

Prince Vladimir I (ruled 980-1015) is regarded as the father of Russia. His greatest achievement was the Christianization of Kievan Rus', a process that began in 988. He built the first great edifice of Kievan Rus', the Desyatinnaya Church in Kiev. Vladimir's conversion to the Byzantine (Orthodox) Christian faith in 988 is generally regarded as the moment when Russia was founded. The 1,000th anniversary of the event, 1988, was celebrated with great fanfare on the Soviet Union. Vladimir converted to Orthodox Christianity in 988 largely for the political and economic advantages it offered. [Source: Merle Severy, National Geographic, December 1983]

The Rus were initially pagans. Byzantines referred to Rus as "ax-bearing barbarians." Prince Vladimir reportedly gave great thought to choosing which religion was right for his people. He welcomed envoys from the great religions of the time—Judaism, Catholicism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity— and listened to their arguments. A devoted womanizer, he liked the Muslim promise after death of fulfillment of carnal desires but he didn't like the Jewish and Muslim required circumcision and prohibition on alcohol and the eating of pork.

According to Tales of Bygone Years, compiled two centuries after Vladimir in the 1180s, Vladimir listened to the Muslims, "for he was fond of women and indulgence...But circumcision and abstinence from pork, and wine were disagreeable to him. 'Drinking,' he said, 'is a joy to the Russes. We cannot exist without that pleasure."

Prince Vladimir was also greatly impressed the churches and clergy in Constantinople. After visiting the monuments and treasures in the Byzantine capital his emissaries reported back, "[we] knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor...We only know that God dwells there among men..."

Historian often dismiss this interpretation of events and argue that Vladimir most likely converted to Orthodox Christianity to unify the loose confederation of pagan tribes he ruled over, to strengthen his trade links Constantinople and to form an alliance against the Muslims who penetrated the Volga region.

Prince Vladimir Converts to Orthodox Christianity


Vladimir choosing Orthodox Christianity Over Catholicism

Prince Vladimir was baptized and converted to Orthodox Christianity. He was later canonized for converting Kievian Rus to Christianity. The choice of Orthodoxy created a distance between Russia and largely Catholic Europe but linked it the Byzantium Empire, based in Constantinople (Istanbul).

Vladimir's grandmother Princess Olga, the first Rus royal to be baptized, took the plunge on a visit to Constantinople in 957. Describing her Nestor wrote, "Olga was the precursor of the Christian land, even as the dayspring precedes the sun and as the dawn precedes the day. For she shone like the moon by night, and he was radiant among the infidels like a pearl in the mire."

Prince Vladimir gave the people of Russia and the Ukraine two choices: either they could be baptized too or loose their heads. He led his subjects en masse into the Dnieper in 988. They followed a route now occupied by Kreshchatic (Christening Street), Kiev's main thoroughfare. The baptized throw out their pagan idols and were baptized in the Orthodox faith.

Vladimir's choice of Eastern Orthodoxy reflected his close personal ties with Constantinople, which dominated the Black Sea and hence trade on Kiev's most vital commercial route, the Dnepr River. Adherence to the Eastern Orthodox Church had long-range political, cultural, and religious consequences. The church had a liturgy written in Cyrillic and a corpus of translations from the Greek that had been produced for the South Slavs. The existence of this literature facilitated the East Slavs' conversion to Christianity and introduced them to rudimentary Greek philosophy, science, and historiography without the necessity of learning Greek. In contrast, educated people in medieval Western and Central Europe learned Latin. Because the East Slavs learned neither Greek nor Latin, they were isolated from Byzantine culture as well as from the European cultures of their neighbors to the west. [Source: Glenn E. Curtis, Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Orthodox Christianity Develops in Russia


Vladimir married the sister of one of the Byzantine co-emperors and initiated a program to transplant the culture, art, alphabet, and architecture of Constantinople to Kiev, which he described as "a city glistening with the light of holy icons, fragrant with incense, ringing with praise and holy, heavenly songs."

The Kiev empire provided be a fertile ground for Orthodox Christianity to take root. Unlike the Slavic kingdoms in The Balkans, it was far beyond the reached of the old Roman empire. "Christianity in the old Russian empire was the frontier faith of a colonizing people," wrote Russian historian James Billington in Smithsonian magazine. "The rugged new converts sought to beatify their churches and worship services rather than to discuss the fine points of dogma. So they developed a 'theology in pictures' in pictures rather in words—filling their churches with frescoes, icons and candle, embellishing them in the northern climate with new, snow-shedding onion domes and tent roofs that differed from the hemispheric domes of the Mediterranean world."

The adoption of the Orthodox Church by the Russians proved to be crucial in the geopolitical development of Europe. Russia developed into a strong, militant Christian state that believed it possessed a special historical mission. Vladimir successors spread the faith to the Arctic Ocean and the forests of Siberia.

Orthodox Church in Tsarist Russia

Under Peter the Great the Orthodox church came under direct control of the government as part of Westernization campaign. Until 1917 the church “was deprived of self-government and subjected to oppressive bureaucratic supervision.”


Peter the Great

In the early eighteenth century, Peter the Great modernized, expanded, and consolidated Muscovy into what then became known as the Russian Empire. In the process of redefining his power as tsar, Peter curtailed the minimal secular influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was functioning principally as a pillar of the tsarist regime. In 1721 Peter the Great went so far as to abolish the patriarchate and establish a governmental organ called the Holy Synod, staffed by secular officials, to administer and control the church. As a result, the church's moral authority declined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the monastic tradition produced a number of church elders who gained the respect of all classes in Russia as wise counselors on both secular and spiritual matters. Similarly, by 1900 a strong revival movement was calling for the restoration of church autonomy and organizational reform. However, few practical reforms had been implemented when the October Revolution of 1917 brought to power the Bolsheviks, who set about eliminating the worldly and spiritual powers of the church. Ironically, earlier in 1917 the moderate Provisional Government had provided the church a few months of restoration to its pre-Petrine stature by reestablishing the patriarchate and independent governance of the church. In the decades that followed, the communist leadership frequently used the restored patriarch as a propaganda agent, allowing him to meet with foreign religious representatives in an effort to create the impression of freedom of religion in the Soviet Union.

Great Schism and the Old Believers

In the 1650s, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced its own Great Schism. In 1653, the autocratic Patriarch Nikon tried to bring Russian Orthodox church rituals, liturgy and texts in line with those of the 'Pure' Greek Orthodox church. He ordered rituals changed and Biblical text retranslated to correspond with the Greek versions. The direction of priestly processions was changed. The number of bread loaves used in liturgies was reduced. Followers were required to say a different number of Hallelujahs at services and cross themselves with three fingers (representing the Trinity) instead of two (the traditional Russian way).

Although many of these changes seem superficial, the reforms outraged traditionalists, who believed they attacked essence of Russian Orthodoxy, and undermined the principal of Russian cultural and religious superiority that earlier religious leaders and tsars had carefully cultivated.

The dispute over the reforms led to a schism between Nikon's New Believers and the Old Believers. Old Believers regarded the changes as blasphemy and believed Russian Orthodox should serve as model to Greek Orthodoxy not the other way around. They tried but failed to reverse the reforms. In the end Nikon was sacked by Tsar Alexey for his intrusions into Ukrainian territories. Later Peter the Great upheld the reforms.

Growth of the Old Believers


Old Believer

By 1700, there were Old Believer colonies in Cossack areas in the Kuban River near the Caucasus, in Kerzhenets forest near the Polish border and in the Vetka in Poland itself. Beginning around this time, large numbers of Old Believers fled to Siberia and became particularly numerous in the Tobolsk area and the Buriat republic. Under Catherine II (1762-1786) a number of new colonies sprung up, including some in Moscow.

The Old Believers gained support from settlers on the edges of the Muscovite state in the frontier areas. Many Cossacks who had escaped the rigid stratification of the Muscovite state became Old Believers. Northern Russian peasants who resented efforts by Moscow to manipulate them also became Old Believers. The movement was not unified and a number of different sects and denominations emerged. The most radical was a group called the Priestless, who equated the reforms with the emergence of the Anti-Christ, rejected many of the church religious sacraments and demanded their members be celibate.

Persecution of the Old Believers

Old Believer were condemned to anathemas by an international Orthodox church council that met in Moscow in 1667 and subjected to waves of persecution. They have been imprisoned, exiled, and killed. They endured unspeakable tortures. Thousands were burned at the stake or burned themselves to death in mass suicide rather than make the sign of the cross with three fingers.


Old Believers

Persecution was greatest under Czarta Sophia (1682-168), Empress Anna (1301740), Empress Elizabeth (1741-1762) and Nicholas I (1825-1855). Old Believers resorted to armed struggle in the Vulvavin Mutiny in 1707-8 and mass suicides in the Pugachev Uprising in 1773-75. Entire communities of Old Believers fled into the remote Ural Mountains and Siberia to avoid being forced to accept the "reforms” introduced by Patriarch Nikon. Other sought refuge among the semiautonomous Cossack bands on the steppe.

The Old Believers have been able to practice their religion with out being persecuted from 1771 to 1827 and 1905 to 1918 and today. During these periodd they prospered as an economic community. In the Far North and around the Urals they mined iron and made tools and used connections in the Old Believer networks to sell their goods.

After the Bolshevik revolution many Old Believers fled to the Baltic states, western Ukraine, Poland, Moldavia, Romania and Bulgaria. The Soviets fiercely persecuted all branches of Old Believers until the German invasion in 1941 when they needed support from all sectors of the population. The Soviet government tried to undermine the Old Believers by passing out pamphlets that accused them of being reactionary and feudal.

To escape collectivization under Stalin, Old Believers moved entire villages to remote locations. Some had no contact with the outside world except periodic trips to town to purchase fishing and hunting gear and salt. Some village managed to escape detection until the 1950s when they were discovered by the KGB and arrested for belonging to an “anti- Soviet organization.” In 1971, the anathemas of 1667 were lifted. In 1990, the Supreme Soviet passed laws guaranteeing greater degree of religious freedom for believers.

Orthodox Church in the Soviet Era


Karl Marx, the political philosopher whose ideas were nominally followed by the Bolsheviks, called religion "the opiate of the people." Although many of Russia's revolutionary factions did not take Marx literally, the Bolshevik faction, led by Vladimir I. Lenin, was deeply suspicious of the church as an institution and as a purveyor of spiritual values. Therefore, atheism became mandatory for members of the ruling Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik). To eliminate as soon as possible what was deemed the perverse influence of religion in society, the communists launched a propaganda campaign against all forms of religion. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

There were 50,000 churches in Russia in 1917. After the fall of the czarist government that year the Russian Orthodox church convoked a council to restore independence. During the revolutionary chaos in 1917, the Orthodox church established a patriarch in Moscow, independent from the one on Constantinople (Istanbul). Shortly after this the Communist seized control of the church.

By 1918 the government had nationalized all church property, including buildings. In the first five years of the Soviet Union (1922-26), twenty-eight Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were executed, and many others were persecuted. Most seminaries were closed, and publication of most religious material was prohibited. The next quarter-century saw surges and declines in arrests, enforcement of laws against religious assembly and activities, and harassment of clergy.

The League of the Militant Godless, established in 1925, directed a nationwide campaign against the Orthodox Church and all other organized religions. The extreme position of that organization eventually led even the Soviet government to disavow direct connection with its practices. In 1927, the Orthodox church swore loyalty to the Soviet government even though its churches had been destroyed and its land had been nationalized. In 1940 an estimated 30,000 religious communities of all denominations survived in all the Soviet Union, but only about 500 Russian Orthodox parishes were open at that time, compared with the estimated 54,000 that had existed before World War I.


Opening of the relics in 1922

The Russian Orthodox Church was ruthlessly oppressed and infiltrated by KGB informers during the Soviet era. Priests were beaten and then drowned in a toilet. In one 18th-century church you can find a coffin with remains of a priest killed by the KGB. Many Russians (and Ukrainians) are critical of the Orthodox church for collaborating, to some degree willingly, with Soviet authorities.

Soviet-Era Orthodox Church Revival

In 1939 the government significantly relaxed some restrictions on religious practice, a change that the Orthodox Church met with an attitude of cooperation. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the government reluctantly solicited church support as it called upon every traditional patriotic value that might resonate with the Soviet people. According to witnesses, active church support of the national war effort drew many otherwise alienated individuals to the Soviet cause. Beginning in 1942, to promote this alliance, the government ended its prohibition of official contact between clergy and foreign representatives. It also permitted the traditional celebration of Easter and temporarily ended the stigmatization of religiosity as an impediment to social advancement. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

The Patriarchs were restored to power in 1943. The government concessions for the sake of national defense reinvigorated the Russian Orthodox Church. Thousands of churches reopened during the war. The general cultural liberalization that followed Stalin's death in 1953 brought a natural curiosity about the Russian past that especially caught the interest of younger generations; the ceremonies and art forms of the Russian Orthodox Church, an inseparable part of that past, attracted particular attention, to the dismay of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev regimes. Historian James Billington has pointed out that in that period religious belief was a form of generational rebellion by children against doctrinaire communist parents. *


Destruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow in 1931

But the Khrushchev regime (1953-64) reversed the policy that had made such a revival possible, pursuing a violent six-year campaign against all forms of religious practice. Although the church retained its official sanction throughout that period, Khrushchev's campaign was continued less stringently by his successor, Leonid I. Brezhnev (in office 1964-82). By 1975 the number of operating Russian Orthodox churches had been reduced to about 7,000. Some of the most prominent members of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy and religious activists were jailed or forced to leave the church. Their place was taken by a docile clergy whose ranks were sometimes infiltrated by agents of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti--KGB). Under these circumstances, the church espoused and propagated Soviet foreign policy and furthered the Russification of non-Russian believers, such as Orthodox Ukrainians and Belorussians. *

Despite official repression in the Khrushchev and Brezhnev years, religious activity persisted. Although regular church attendance was common mainly among women and the elderly, special occasions such as baptisms and Easter brought many more Russians into the churches. An increase in church weddings in the 1950s and 1960s stimulated the establishment of secular "marriage palaces" offering the ceremonial trappings of marriage devoid of religious rites. When applications for seminary study increased significantly in the 1950s, the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) forced aspiring seminarians to endure interrogations that discouraged many and that succeeded, by 1960, in sharply reducing the number of candidates. *

Orthodox Church Restrictions in the Gorbachev Era

Although the Russian Orthodox Church did not play the activist role in undermining communism that the Roman Catholic Church played in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, it gained appreciably from the gradual discrediting of Marxist-Leninist ideology in the late Soviet period. In the mid-1980s, only about 3,000 Orthodox churches and two monasteries were active. As the grip of communism weakened in that decade, however, a religious awakening occurred throughout the Soviet Union.[Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]


Gorbachev

Symbolic gestures by President Gorbachev and his government, under the rubric of glasnost, indicated unmistakably that Soviet policy was changing. In 1988 Gorbachev met with Orthodox leaders and explicitly discussed the role of religion in the lives of their followers. Shortly thereafter, official commemoration of the millennium of Russian Orthodoxy sent a signal throughout Russia that religious expression again was accepted. *

Beginning in 1989, new laws specified the church's right to hold private property and to distribute publications. In 1990 the Soviet legislature passed a new law on religious freedom, proposed by Gorbachev; at the same time, some of the constituent republics began enacting their own laws on the same subject. In the fall of 1990, a new deputy to the parliament of the Russian Republic, the Orthodox priest Gleb Yakunin, guided the passage of an extraordinarily liberal law on religious freedom. That law remained in force when Russia became a separate nation the following year. (Yakunin was defrocked in 1994, however, for criticizing the church hierarchy.) *

Orthodox Church After the Break Up of the Soviet Union

With the demise of Communism, the Russian Orthodox church received an influx of new converts and experienced a blossoming of renewed interest in the church. Russians lined up for long-postponed baptisms and flocked to Orthodox services, religious lectures, and exhibits of treasured icons. Young men decided to become Orthodox monks. The rebirth of Russian Orthodoxy fueled the opening of churches, monasteries, publishing houses and congregations, a rebirth of Greek Byzantine studies, and a higher profile for Russian Orthodoxy in the international Orthodox Christian movement.

In the first half of the 1990s, the church's social services also expanded considerably with the creation of departments of charity and social services and of catechism and religious education within the patriarchy. Because there is a shortage of priests, Sunday schools have been introduced in thousands of parishes. An agreement between the patriarchy and the national ministries of defense and internal affairs provides for pastoral care of military service personnel of the Orthodox faith. The patriarch also has stressed that personnel of other faiths must have access to appropriate spiritual guidance. In November 1995, Minister of Defense Grachev announced the creation of a post in the armed forces for cooperation with religious institutions. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]


crowing on the Russian patriarch

Public opinion surveys have revealed that the church emerged relatively unscathed from its association with the communist regime--although dissidents such as Yakunin accused Alexy II of having been a KGB operative. According to polls, in the first half of the 1990s the church inspired greater trust among the Russian population than most other social and political institutions. Similarly, Alexy II, elected to head the church upon the death of Patriarch Pimen in 1990, was found to elicit greater grassroots confidence than most other public figures in Russia. The political leadership regularly seeks the approval of the church as moral authority for virtually all types of government policy. Boris Yeltsin's appearance at a Moscow Easter service in 1991 was considered a major factor in his success in the presidential election held two months later. Patriarch Alexy officiated at Yeltsin's inauguration that year. *

Although the status of Russian Orthodoxy has risen considerably, experts do not predict that it will become Russia's official state religion. About 25 percent of Russia's believers profess other faiths, and experts stated that in the mid-1990s the church lacked the clerics, the organizational dynamism, and the infrastructure to assume such a position. *

Russians Reeducated About the Orthodox Church

After the collapse of Communism, Russians had to be re-educate about their religion. During Easter Russian Orthodox priests on the radio and television instructed Russians on how to prepare their holiday meals. The Russians had lived for so long under atheist rule they forgot what they were supposed to do.♦

Priests had to be trained in a country where for seventy years you were either achiest or you went to a Siberian jail. One church official told the New York Times, "Priests had to be trained quickly. They know how conduct the service, but they often have no true theological education. They often can't answer the questions of believers and many people who started to come t o church quickly became disenchanted."

Among the religious organizations that have appeared in the 1990s are more than 100 Russian Orthodox brotherhoods. Reviving a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, these priest-led lay organizations do social and philanthropic work. In 1990 they formed the Alliance of Orthodox Brotherhoods, which organizes educational, social, and cultural programs and institutions such as child care facilities, hostels, hospitals, and agricultural communities. Although its nominal task is to foster religious and moral education, the alliance has taken actively nationalist positions on religious tolerance and political issues. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Rebuilding Orthodox Churches After the Break Up of the Soviet Union


rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Thousands of churches, convents, monasteries and cathedrals seized by the Communists were returned to monks and rebuilt and restored, in some cases with government money. In the late 1980s religious building were returned to church control At the beginning of perestroika in 1986 there were 6,000 parishes in the entire Soviet Union. In 1999, there were 20,000. Some 185 churches were restored in Moscow alone between 1992 and 1997.

According to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, between 1990 and 1995 more than 8,000 Russian Orthodox churches were opened, doubling the number of active parishes and adding thirty-two eparchies (dioceses). In the first half of the 1990s, the Russian government returned numerous religious facilities that had been confiscated by its communist predecessors, providing some assistance in the repair and reconstruction of damaged structures. The most visible such project was the building of the completely new Christ the Savior Cathedral, erected in Moscow at an expense of about US$300 million to replace the showplace cathedral demolished in 1931 as part of the Stalinist campaign against religion. Financed mainly by private donations, the new church is considered a visible acknowledgment of the mistakes of the Soviet past. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996]

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior (near to the Moscow River, about a kilometer from the Kremlin) is the largest church in Russia. Original built in 1812, to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon and completed after decades of work in 1883, it boasted five gold domes 14 bells in four separate belfries with a combined weight of 65 tons. It was large enough to accommodate 10,000 worshipers and contained 312 kilos of gold. The highest dome was 103 meters tall, as tall as a 30-story building, and 30 meters wide. In 1931, under Stalin's orders, the church was looted of its bells, icons and gold and destroyed with explosives.

Between 1995 and 1997 a new Christ the Savior Cathedral was built. Almost an exact replica of the original, it cost of $300 million and was built to mark the 850th anniversary of Moscow's founding in 1997. Situated along the Moscow River, the Christ the Savior Cathedral rises above the Moscow skyline. The tallest domes are 15-stories high. The main building is a marble-covered reinforced concrete structure with fake-stone sculpted reliefs, computer-outlined frescoes, a gilded giant cupola and four smaller gilded bulbs. The three-ton gold cross on the central dome is one of the highest points in Moscow A wing originally designed to contain a Sunday school was turned into a high-tech media center used for broadcasting official ceremonies. Some people want to see the remains of the tsar Nicholas II and his family buried in the new Christ the Savior cathedral but that didn’t happen.


The church was built largely through the efforts of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzkhov, who solicited donations and found money in the city’s budget. In 1995, the Stolichny Bank of Savings gave the church 53 kilos of gold to be used for gilding domes an other ornaments. "Because of modern techniques," only 15 to 20 kilos was used in gilding the giant cupola and four smaller bulbs. Some critics charge so little gold was used that it is fraudulent to refer to as gold. Efforts were made to convince the patriarch to authorize the use of a gold substitute (in a test the patriarch reportedly was given two metals and asked which one was gold: he chose the one made of titanium nitrate sprayed with gold lacquer).

The cathedral has plenty of critics. One filmmaker told National Geographic, "This is a junk copy of the original that was never much good in the first place...This is a cathedral being built by money raised in an era of Romanian furniture sets thinking they are Louis XIV. And yet there is vitality, real life in all those. This is an aesthetic built on illegal money and faux Orthodoxy and tawdriness. But what else is there? This is our life! To get angry at this is to be angry with life itself." As the project was being finished Russian President Boris Yeltsin said the church "shows that Russia is alive, the Russian spirit is alive." Billboards around Moscow gushed: "Cathedral of Christ the Savior—Symbol of Russia's Renaissance."

Orthodox Church in the Late 1990s and Early 2000s

After a surge of interest in Russian Orthodoxy after the fall of Communism interest in the church dropped. Polls showed that as time went on fewer and fewer Russians attended church, wanted their children to be priests and gave money to the church.


Eastern Orthodox procession

In the 1990s the Orthodox church became more closely aligned with nationalist political groups. In 1998 a law gave Orthodox Christianity a preeminent place among traditional Christian faiths in Russia. In the early 2000s, a member of the pro-Orthodox party Rodina said that all Jewish ethnic and religious organizations should be banned as “extremist.”

In the early 2000s an eccentric businessman purchased a commando boat and built an onion-domed Orthodox church on it and began cruising Russia’s river to bring Orthodox Christianity to remote areas.

The church was given a boost when Vladimir Putin was elected President inI 2000. Putin is said to be a believer. He wears a cross and met regularly with Patriarch Alexy II. Father Tikhon Shevkunob, a well known conservative who served as Putin’s spiritual advisor. By contrast Yeltsin was widely regarded as a poser.

By the mid 2000s, the Orthodox Church indirectly controlled 40 deputies in the parliament. In 2004. a bill was passed that gave the Orthodox church the free use of property on which churches were located. The property has an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars if not hundreds of million of dollars. The were limits on how far the Putin government would go to help the Orthodox church though Funding was cut to private religious schools and a request by the church to require courses on Orthodox culture n public school was rejected,

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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