I. AS TO DOCTRINE The most important branch of the Eastern church is unquestionably the Russian Orthodox Church. It came into being in the tenth century when Christendom was introduced to the Russian barbarians by way of an icon and the rite of immersion. Denominational headquarters became centered in Constantinople until 1461, when the Metropolitan of Moscow was advanced to Patriarch, making Moscow the Rome of Russia.
When Peter the Great came to power, he founded St. Petersburg (1703), and made it the religious capital with the Czar as emperor-pope of Russia. When a later Czar caught in the Russian revolution of 1917 was assassinated, religious liberty also died. Priests were jailed or executed and a tidal-wave of atheism whelmed the land. In such times the patriarchate was reestablished in the face of constant opposition from the Soviet state. A few years later the church adopted the position that hierarchical authority inhered not in a papal head, but in the broadest ecclesiastical body. Priests with anti-Soviet policies were banished or jailed. It was “be kind to the Soviets—or else!”
In 1930 the Communists legislated against religion, forbidding religious instruction to any under 18, banning meetings of women and children for prayer or Bible study, prohibiting church-sponsored libraries and reading rooms, removing all religion from the schools. Church buildings were confiscated by the state, some being used as museums. Icon worship was destroyed as well as reverence of relics and of dead bodies of saints. The only dead to be honored were deceased Communists. This aroused the resentment of other hierarchical, saint-worshiping churches in the world. Therefore the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury sent expressions of sympathy to the Russian clergy and sent resolutions to the Soviet government protesting the oppression, Canterbury, which always persecuted the true church, and Rome, always seeking recognition as the only real and rightful church in the world!
The Russian Orthodox Church was indeed orthodox in rejecting the Apocrypha, but not so in requiring proselytes to read it in preparation for admission to the church. It was so in receiving Scripture as the Word of God, but not so in placing tradition on a level with the authority of Scripture, nor in discouraging the reading of Scripture. It was so in appealing to the Nicene Creed, but not so in rejecting the Filioque clause (re: the Holy Spirit “who proceedeth from the Father and the Son“). It was so in regarding the church universal as including the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople, but not so in ignoring the churches of Germany, Switzerland and England. It was so in teaching the Lord’s Prayer, but not so in including the Ave Maria. It teaches the Decalogue, but abridges the second and fourth commandments. Examination of candidates for the ministry is mainly disciplinary and pastoral, doctrine being touched only incidentally. Transubstantiation is held in the strongest language. It teaches the Arminian philosophy that election is based on God’s foreknowledge of those who make good use of their free will to accept salvation, and that reprobation is based on foreknowledge of those who reject it. “The Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional predestination is condemned as abominable, impious and blasphemous.” On divine providence, God foresees and permits evil: He does not foreordain it. A common grace is also taught which “God has predestinated to give to all men and has actually given them” for the “attainment of happiness.” The ascension of Christ is not physical, but spiritual. The penitent dead are in purgatory until delivered by prayers, alms and masses. Other doctrinal peculiarities are: The true church cannot be conceived of apart from the hierarchy, nor apart from an ecumenical council. Grace may be manufactured by making the sign of the cross on the forehead, on the breast, on the food and the cups at table, and is a practice to be encouraged upon going to bed at night, on arising in the morning, on going out for the day, on the daily rounds and on returning homeward. The sign of the cross makes one a holy terror to the devil.
II. AS TO CORRESPONDENCE Intercommunion and cooperation with other church organizations was at first non-existent. The Reformation did not affect the Eastern church. It had no part in the Reformation movement, nor paid any particular attention to it. The Lutherans did make some approach to the Eastern branch of Christendom. Melancthon, an ecumenicist of the day, made overtures to the church at Constantinople, but failed. The Greek Orthodox Church condemned the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, and the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) rejected both Lutheranism and Calvinism as dangerous heresies, pronouncing in Romish fashion anathemas against Protestantism. Some Anglicans in the early 1700s attempted correspondence with the Russian church. The Russians were polite; certainly not as harsh as the Greek church. They re quested that the British brethren visit Russia “to hold a friendly conference, in the name and spirit of Christ. . .(to) ascertain what may be yielded and given up by one to the other, what, on the other hand, may and ought for conscience sake be absolutely denied.” The proposal was never realized. Negotiations ended with the death of Peter the Great, and Russian charges flew that the Anglicans were infected with “German heresy” (Lutheranism) and Calvinism.
The mid-nineteenth century saw a de-protestantizing movement in the Anglican church with hundreds returning to Rome. This occasioned renewed correspondence, including the American Protestant Episcopal Church, with the Russian churches. They were visited, fraternal letters written and social amenities exchanged, followed by conferences between Anglican and Russian ecclesiastical dignitaries. However, the Russian church only went far enough to admit that the Episcopal churches alone were anchored to the true church. Other Protestants were cut off and set adrift. They also reaffirmed the infallibility of the church, and rejected all Protestant baptism because it was not trine immersion.
More notable were gatherings in 1925 at Westminster Abbey with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Eastern churches and Russian Metropolitans represented. Basis of unity did not put first Scripture as the infallible Word of God, but the authority of the hierarchical church, then Scripture as interpreted by the hierarchical church, then the Nicene Creed similarly interpreted, and finally the decrees of the ecumenical councils. The first formal contact in nine centuries between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Church was when two Russian delegates attended the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in Rome. Thus the Orthodox church remains in its historical and present heterodox and unreformed state.
III. AS TO ECUMENICITY An important representative in this church is Georgi G. Karpov, chairman of the Council of Affairs, also major general of the Soviet secret police, appointed by Stalin to be in charge of all religious affairs and a minister in the Soviet cabinet. The Metropolitan Nicolai was an identified agent of the Soviet secret police, and had been in charge of the foreign affairs of the church. He had also toured the U.S. In 1950 Nicolai had written, “The greedy tentacles of the octopus across the ocean are trying to engulf the entire universe. Capitalist America, this fanatic prostitute of the New Babylon. . .is trying to seduce the peoples by pushing them into war.” Archbishop Nikodim, replacing Nicolai, after the latter’s death, became foreign policy spokesman for the ROC and visited the U.S. with a-Russian delegation in February, 1963. He has dictated to the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches and the UN, that it is their duty to press the U.S. government to abandon its blockade policy on Cuba. Soviet churchmen dictated U.S. foreign policy thus, “It is the duty of American church leaders to use all opportunities in pressing the U.S. government to abandon its crazy policy.” Our government does seem to agree that it is crazy to defend our borders against Soviet aggression only 90 miles from our shores! Patriarch Alexei, head of the ROC, endorsed Khrushchev’s proposal for total disarmament (which did not include UN inspection as to whether Russia was disarming!) made at the UN, then sent a message to the WCC the day after the ROC was received into membership in the WCC asking that council to endorse complete disarmament. This reveals that the ROC entered the WCC to promote the cause of Khrushchev. Alexei, awarded a high Soviet government decoration, the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, on his 85th birthday, referred to Stalin as “a wise, God-appointed leader.” Then he swore allegiance to Stalin as the “deeply honored and dear Joseph Vissarionovich,” head of the Soviet Fatherland. The Russian’ Orthodox Church is therefore an arm of the Soviet government, an agent of the Kremlin and part of the Red propaganda “peace” machine that is Communist-controlled. The 1962 synod of the Reformed Church of America thought this was saying too much, and rejected the charge that the ROC is completely controlled by the Soviet government. This would mean also a rejection of the sworn testimony given before the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the House Committee on Un-American Activities by Peter Deriabian and Yuri Rastvorov that the Soviet government has total control over the ROC and all churches permitted to exist behind the Iron Curtain. The NCC itself, in which the Reformed Church of America has membership, made a statement in September, 1962, that the Russian churches “made it perfectly clear. . . that Christians in the Soviet Union are a loyal segment of the ‘new socialist society’ which is being built.” Then there is Archbishop Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church, N. & S.A., who was suspicious about admitting the ROC to the WCC. He said, “They cannot, of course, go any place without first getting instructions from the Kremlin foreign office. They are not a free church.”
In 1956 certain clergymen of Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and the Ukraine issued a declaration and protest against a trip of delegates from the NCC to Moscow. In part they said, “. . .We know the plight of the churchmen under the control of the Soviet regime. It compels them to lie, to distort their functions, and to become obedient instruments in the furtherance of Soviet expansion. This is something so horrible that we, when given even the remotest opportunity, have risked all in order to flee this role. . .Christians behind the Iron Curtain. . .are not invested with the role of spokesmen; they are suffering in prisons, being tortured in slave-labor camps and resting in mass graves. . .” The Russian author, T. Andreev, writing on the history of the ROC said, “Orthodoxy, having surrendered to the Soviets, and having become a tool of the world embracing anti-Christian deception, is not Orthodoxy any longer, but the misleading heresy of Anti-Christendom, dressed up with the rent clothes of Orthodoxy.” But long before, Orthodoxy surrendered to Hierarchy, and the supremacy of Holy Writ was denied in favor of “Tradition.”