Church History

Twentieth Century: 1950 - 1973

    Church in Russia

    In the late fifties and early sixties, the soviet state again began to persecute the Orthodox Church in Russia. There were no violent purges as in the Stalin era, but the new persecutions came in the form of “administrative” measures with supposedly legal foundations. There was the closing of schools and churches – from 22,000 churches open in 1960 to 7,000 in 1964. There was the heavy taxation and restricted registration of clergy. Severe punishments were meted out against churchmen for trivial or nonexistent “crimes.” In 1961, new decrees of the government gravely limited the powers of the parish priests by giving all legal and administrative authority in the churches to the lay councils, the “twenty” members required by soviet law for the formation of a local corporation with rights to use a church building for worship. The pastors were thus reduced to mere liturgical functionaries devoid of official involvement in the life of their churches. These “administrative” measures were the attempt to destroy the religious faith which according to marxist doctrine, should long since have died a natural death in the USSR. Official atheist propaganda of the period shows a grave concern over the persistence of religion in the land.

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Twentieth Century: 1925 - 1950

    Church in Russia

    At the death of Patriarch Tikhon, the Church in Russia entered its darkest hour. Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodskii served as “deputy locum tenens” of the patriarchate from 1927 to 1943. This was the time of Stalin’s purges when literally millions of people, including thousands of clergy, were imprisoned, exiled and killed. The Stalin constitution of 1936 officially called for “freedom of religion and freedom of anti-religious propaganda.” Hundreds of churches, monasteries and schools were closed. What little church life remained was limited exclusively to liturgical services. The persecution of the church by the state was fierce and relentless.

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Twentieth Century: 1900 - 1925

    American Archdiocese

    In 1898, Bishop Tikhon Belavin became the head of the diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1 900, the name of this diocese was changed to the diocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America. In 1905, the Holy Synod of the Russian Church elevated the diocese to the rank of archdiocese and Tikhon became a:p. archbishop. During this same year, the center of the American archdiocese was moved from San Francisco to New York City where the St. Nicholas Cathedral was built. At this time also, the first ecclesiastical seminary was founded in Minneapolis and the first general council (sobor) of the archdiocese took place in 1907 in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, near St. Tikhon ‘s Monastery in South Canaan where the archbishop had also founded a pastoral school for training priests.

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Nineteenth Century

    Russia: Spiritual Renewal

    The seeds of spiritual renewal, planted in the previous century, blossomed in Russia. The Church continued to live under the domination of the state. While the Church was subject to strict governmental control and censorship, and while there did not exist a patriarch or church council of any kind during the entire century, the life of faith continued to show itself splendidly in the lives of the Russian saints, missionaries, theologians, and writers of the period.

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Eighteenth Century

    In the course of seventy-three years in the eighteenth century, the patriarchial throne of Constantinople changed occupants forty-eight times. Some men held the position of patriarch as many as five different times. This is indicative of the horrible conditions in which the Christians were living under Turkish domination. Although some Serbians did manage to migrate into Austria and Hungary where they were given their own dioceses, for those Christians who remained under Turkish control this was the darkest hour. This time was the period when there lived three of the greatest saints of modern times.

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Seventeenth Century

    Russia: Time of Troubles

    In the seventeenth century Russia entered the “time of troubles.” Boris Godonov, who ruled from 1598, died in 1605. Basil Shuiskii ruled until 1610 when a Polish tsar was crowned. During this time of political and social upheaval the Poles seized control of the country. They captured Moscow and the monastery of St. Sergius. Patriarch Germogen, the national leader, was imprisoned and starved to death in 1612, later being canonized a saint. From the end of the reign of Ivan III Russia was besieged with political turmoil, famine, and national disaster. Saint Juliana Ossorgine (d.1604) was glorified by the Church at her canonization for her compassionate love and care of the suffering people.

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Sixteenth Century

    Russia during the Reign of Ivan the Terrible

    In Russia, in the sixteenth century, the “third Rome” theory became apolitical reality. The monk Philotheus of Pskov informed the Muscovite Tsar Basil III (1505-1533) of his vision based on the book of Daniel that the Russian tsardom was to be the final earthly reign of God’s People. The first Rome had fallen through heresy. The second Rome, Constantinople, had fallen through sin. The third Rome, Moscow, was standing. There was to be no fourth Rome.

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Fifteenth Century

    The Papacy

    The West in the fifteenth century was in turmoil over, the relationship between the papacy and church councils. Some held that the papacy was supreme. Others held that the authority of the church councils supercedes that of the pope. A council was called in Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439) to consider that question. Representatives of the Eastern Church arrived at this council once again looking for help in the struggle against the Turks. Among the Eastern Churchmen who were accepted at the council on “equal terms” with the Latins, were the emperor of Constantinople, John VIII; the patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph; and, the Metropolitan of Kiev, a Greek named Isidore.

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Fourteenth Century

    Gregory Palamas

    The fourteenth century was the time of the Palamite controversy in the Eastern Church. Gregory Palamas (d.1359) was a monk of Mount Athos. He was a practitioner of the method of prayer called hesychasm (hesychia means silence). By this method the person utilizes a rigorous bodily discipline in order to unite his mind and heart in God through continuous repetition of the name of Jesus, usually in the form of the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Through the use of this method of prayer the hesychast monks claimed to gain genuine communion with God, including the spiritual vision of the Uncreated Light of Divinity such as that seen by Moses on Mount Sinai, and the apostles of Christ at the transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor.

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Thirteenth Century

    The Fourth Crusade

    The thirteenth century began with what has been considered the final confirmation of the schism between East and West, the fourth crusade. In 1204 the crusaders sacked Constantinople. They destroyed and pillaged the churches. They desecrated the altars. They stole the holy objects. A Latin, Thomas Morosini, was named patriarch of Constantinople, and a Frank was named emperor. Now, for the first time, the Latin West became an open, enemy in the minds of the Greek people. Writings were directed against the papacy and the Latin Church as such. From this period the famous Byzantine slogan preferring the “turban of the sultan” to the “tiara of the pope” became popular. The Latin rule of Constantinople lasted until 1261 when the emperor Michael Paleologos recovered the city.

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