The existence of Christianity in Russia dates back to the tenth century. It was not until the twelfth century, however, that Russia was considered as being numbered among the Christian nations. It was especially under the influence of the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church that Christianity first struck root in Russia, and the first convert of note was the Empress Olga, who was baptized at Constantinople in the year 955. However, it was through the efforts of her grandson Vladimir that Christianity spread in Russia. History records that under his influence the inhabitants of Kiev threw their idols in the Dnieper River, and were baptized by the thousands, while Vladimir knelt on the river bank in gratitude to God.

In order to understand the Orthodox Church of Russia, we must briefly consider the history of the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church from which it sprang, and with which it is still associated. In the; eleventh century the Catholic Church was divided into the Eastern and Western Churches, the former headed by the patriarch of Constantinople, and the latter by the Pope of Rome. Although the events which occasioned the final division of the Catholic Church into the Eastern and Western Churches were questions pertaining to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (The Filioque), the real causes lay deeper. One was the difference of race. In the West the dominant race was the Latin, which had been strengthened by mixture with the Germanic, while in the East it was the Greek, influenced greatly by the Oriental. Another cause of the division of the Church was the division of the rule of the empire between East and West. There was constant rivalry between the ever-increasing claims of the bishop of Rome, and the patriarch of Constantinople. The final, rupture came in 1054, from which time the Greek and Roman Churches stood apart, each claiming to be the true Catholic Church and refusing any recognition to the other. The Greek or Eastern Church comprised Greece, most of the Balkin peninsula, and Russia, with most of the Christians in Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine. The rest of Europe obeyed the Pope.

In the year 1453 there fell upon the Eastern Church the greatest disaster of its history. In that year the Turks captured Constantinople. The Eastern Empire, in which the Church bad flourished from the days of the apostles, fell into the hands of Islam. The Turks now dominated the famous patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, an well as Constantinople. Thus the separation between the Eastern and Western Church became even greater. At the fall of Constantinople many Greek scholars fled to Western Europe, and there took part in the Revival of learning. By the departure of these scholarly and learned men the intellectual life of the Eastern Church was seriously weakened. The clergy became ignorant and preaching practically ceased, and all emphasis was placed upon the traditional. The Eastern Church was in no way affected by the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It lived in another world, and experienced nothing of the religious revolution which was sweeping the Western Church.

It was during this time that the center of influence of the Eastern Church shifted from Constantinople to Moscow, Russia. It was in 1587 that the metropolitan of Moscow was raised to the rank of patriarch. During the 17th century the Russian Church, especially under the famous patriarch, Nikon, (1659) showed some signs of new life. He persuaded the Czar to introduce into the worship the Greek Psalter, and also to call together an ecclesiastical assembly to revise the text of Scripture. It was in objection to the policies of Nikon that a large group of schismatics: left the Orthodox Russian Church, which to this day are known as the “Old Believers”. The Holy Synod was instituted by Peter the Great in 1718, to take the place of the Patriarchate. To a large extent, however, the Tsar ruled the Orthodox Church. He was considered the guardian of the true faith and of the welfare of the Holy Church. In the organization and administration of the Church, the Tsar held a position of authority, and he exercised it through his minister, the Ober-Procuror, who transmitted the Tsar’s wishes to the Holy Synod, and thence in regular manner through the bishops to the Consistories, rural deans and priests. The Holy Synod had the right to dissent, to refuse, to petition the Tsar, but since the Tsar could change the personnel of the Synod, it eventually proved submissive. On the other hand, the Tsar was largely guided by the intentions of the Ober-Procuror, who really had the strings of Church government in his hand.

According to the statistics published in 1905, the

population of European and Asiatic Russia numbered 125,640,021; of this number 87,123,604 belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church, and 2,204,596 to various sects of this Church, including the above mentioned “Old Believers’. We have no religious statistics of modern Russia, but we do know that there was a drop in the number of local parish churches from about 50,000 in 1917 to less than 10,000 in 1938. There are a great many villages where the priest has been exiled and the church property taken over for a granary or for some other use. The Russian News Service in London on August 22, 1941, stated that 8,338 places of worship were open in Russia, of which 4,225 were Orthodox.

In worship and ritual the Orthodox Church is much like the Roman Catholic, while the celebration of the sacrifice of the mass as its center, with an equal and even greater neglect of the sermon, and is addressed more to the senses and imagination than to the intellect and the heart. It is strongly Oriental, unintelligibly symbolical and mystical, and excessively ritualistic. In their services they reject organs, musical instruments, and sculpture, and make less use of the fine arts in their churches than the Roman Catholics; but they have even a more complicated system of ceremonies, with gorgeous display, semi barbaric pomp, and endless changes of sacerdotal dress, crossings, gestures, prostration, washings, processions, which so absorb the attention of the senses, that there is little room left for the intellectual and spiritual worship. To many Russians worship is chiefly reverence of the icons (holy pictures of the virgin Mary and the saints) by crossing themselves, lighting candles, and prostrations. Sermons are rare. The chief saint next to the Virgin, is St. Nicholas. The rigorous fasting, for which the Russians were long famous, seems: to have diminished in recent years. The worship of saints, relics, pictures (icons) and the cross is carried as far as, or even farther than, in the Roman Catholic Church; but statutes, bas-reliefs, and crucifixes are forbidden. The veneration for pictures of the Virgin Mary and saints is carried to the utmost extent, and takes the place of the Protestant veneration for the Holy Scriptures. The holy picture (icon) with the lamp burning before it is found and worshipped in the corner (the sacred place) of every room, in the street, over gateways, in offices, taverns, steamers, railway and telegraph stations, and is carried in the knapsack of every Orthodox soldier, not as a work of art, but an emblem, a means of instruction, an aid to devotion. The Orthodox Russians are very religious in outward observances and devotions, but know very little of inward piety, and personal communion of the soul with Christ.

The circulation of the Scriptures among the laity is not encouraged, but has never been prohibited. The Orthodox Church has always had a popular version of the Bible, first in the old Slavic, and now in modern Russian. The printing and circulating of the Bible in the Russian language, and within the Orthodox Church is under the exclusive control of the Holy Synod. As far as we know the Bible is not being printed in Russia today, for all the printing presses are controlled by the Communists.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the Orthodox Church, though agreeing in essence with the Roman Catholic, differs very much in form. “Five loaves are laid on the altar, each stamped with the sign of the cross and the inscription, “Jesus Christ Conquers.” The officiating priest selects one of them for the sacrificial lamb; and with a symbolical reference to the soldier who pierced the side of Jesus with a spear, so that blood and water flowed from the wound, he cuts the loaf, by thrusting the holy lance, a knife in the form of a lance—into it, while at the same time the deacon pours the wine and the water into the chalice. Under somber dirges the elements are then carried in a solemn procession, headed with many lighted candles and much incense burning, through the whole church, and back again to the altar, where they are deposited, like the body of Christ in the tomb. A curtain is lowered before the altar; and, unseen by the congregation, the elements, are consecrated while the choir is chanting the Lord’s Prayer. When the curtain is drawn, the altar represents the tomb from which Christ has arisen; and, while the choir sings a hymn of praise, the elements are presented to the communicants without any special formula of distribution. The consecrated bread is broken into the consecrated wine and both elements are given together in a spoon. The Orthodox claim that this custom (known as intinctum) dates back to the time of Chrysostom. It never gained foothold in the Western Church, and was forbidden as unscriptural by Pope Julius I. (337-352).” D. S. Schaff.

The present head of the Orthodox Russian Church is Patriarch Sergius, patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia. A stupendous event for the Russian Orthodox Church took place when on September 5, 1943, Stalin and Molotoff gave audience to Patriarch Sergius and Bishop Nicholas, Metropolitan of Kiev, and granted their request, which had been steadfastly refused for 17 years, that the Church be permitted to call a Council to elect a Patriarch. This meeting was held on the 8th of September, at which time Metropolitan Sergius was elected as the Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia, to which office he was enthroned on the 12th of September, 1943. As a result of this people who have been hiding their religious feelings now feel more free to express them publicly, and groups of such people, in places where the churches have all been closed, are registering as new congregations and applying for the use of church buildings, which are now in the hands of the government. However, we fully agree with Rev. Hanko (Standard Bearer, Vol. 21, p. 352) that Russia’s change of attitude is only a change in policy.