Soviet Union Table of Contents
The Russian Orthodox Church, which has the largest religious following in the Soviet Union, traces its origins to Kievan Rus' when in 988 Prince, Vladimir made Byzantine Christianity the state religion. When Kievan Rus' disintegrated in the thirteenth century, the metropolitan of Kiev and all Rus' moved to Vladimir, one of the newly established principalities in the northeast. By the fourteenth century, the metropolitan's seat was permanently established in Moscow, the capital of Muscovy. Until the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Russian church was subordinate to the Orthodox patriarch in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). Afterward, the Russian Orthodox Church considered itself independent of the church in Constantinople, and in 1589 the title of patriarch was accorded to the metropolitan in Moscow (see The Golden Age of Kiev; The Time of Troubles , ch. 1).
The Russian Orthodox Church in Muscovy was closely tied to the state and was subservient to the throne, following a tradition established by the Byzantine Empire. That subservience was reinforced during Moscow's drive to acquire the lands of Kievan Rus', a drive that the Russian Orthodox Church supported. Another characteristic of the medieval Russian Orthodox Church was its emphasis on asceticism and the development of monasticism. Hundreds of monasteries dotted the forests and remote regions of medieval Russia. Monasteries not only served as the centers of religious and cultural life in Russia but also played important social and economic roles as they settled and developed their surrounding land.
Isolated from the West, the Russian Orthodox Church was largely unaffected by the Renaissance and Reformation and continued its essentially inward orientation. The introduction of Westerninfluenced doctrinal and liturgical reforms by Ukrainian clergy in the seventeenth century aroused deep resentment among Russian Orthodox believers and clergy and led to a split within the church (see Expansion and Westernization , ch. 1).
Peter the Great, while transforming Muscovy into the Russian Empire, further curtailed the minimal secular power the Russian Orthodox Church had held previously. In 1721 Peter abolished the patriarchate and established a governmental Holy Synod, an administrative organ, to control the church. From that time through the fall of the Russian monarchy in 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church remained directly under state control. Its spiritual and worldly power was further reduced after the Bolsheviks came to power (see Peter the Great and the Formation of the Russian Empire , ch. 1).
According to both Soviet and Western sources, in the late 1980s the Russian Orthodox Church had over 50 million believers but only about 7,000 registered active churches. Over 4,000 of the registered Orthodox churches were located in the Ukrainian Republic (almost half of that number in western Ukraine, where much of the population remained faithful to the banned Ukrainian Catholic Church). The distribution of the Russian Orthodox Church's six monasteries and ten convents was equally disproportionate. Only two of the monasteries were located in the Russian Republic. Another two were in the Ukrainian Republic and one each in the Belorussian and Lithuanian republics. Seven convents were located in the Ukrainian Republic and one each in the Moldavian, Estonian, and Latvian republics; none were located in the Russian Republic. Because most of the Orthodox believers in these western Soviet republics were not Russian, many resented the word Russian in the title of the Russian Orthodox Church. They viewed that church as a willing instrument of the Soviet government's Russianization policy, pointing out that only Russian is used in the liturgical services in most Russian Orthodox churches in Ukrainian and Belorussian republics and elsewhere.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents