Orthodox Christianity has had an immense effect on the culture of Russia. The adoption of the Orthodox faith from Constantinople by Prince Vladimir in 988 introduced cultural influences that profoundly affected the Russian consciousness. As the people embraced Orthodoxy it developed a uniquely Russian flavor and rooted deep in the fertile Russian soul. Orthodoxy had a major impact on politics, art, and nearly every other aspect of Russia’s culture. Orthodoxy helped forge Russia’s world view and defined her place in the world. The church affected the thought patterns and motivations of a whole culture and changed the way Russians thought about themselves and the ways that they lived their lives.
The church acted as a unifying factor for the Russian nation. Church holidays and fasts enriched and brought meaning to the cycle of seasons and sowing in the subsistence society. Russians possessed a deep religious faith and from it they derived a sense of purpose in the universe and the promise of salvation. The church nourished and preserved the culture of Russia during centuries of internal strife and foreign intervention. Orthodox people feel a strong sense of community and brotherhood towards one another through a shared bond of faith. As a result of this emphasis on community, the rights of the group tend to take precedence over the rights of the individual in Russian culture. The Orthodox and Catholic faiths had an adversarial relationship for years. As this rift deepened and grew increasingly antagonistic, the rift between the East and the West also grew. The difference in religion between Russia and Europe can largely explain the vast differences that developed in their cultures.
The Tsar of All Russia derived his power and right to rule from his status as God’s chosen representative on earth. As it is God alone who bestowed power on the tsar, it was in the best interest of the monarchy to protect and promote the church. This conception of the tsar possessing a divine right to rule contributed to the political passivity of the Russian people. In the Byzantium tradition the concept of symphonia defined the relationship between the church and the state and acted as a balance on the unlimited power of the tsar. As the head of the church and the head of the state, the metropolitan and the tsar were equals and the metropolitan had the right to censure the tsar. The dispute between the Possessors and the Non-Possessors challenged the idea of symphonia, or harmony and cooperation between the pillars of society.
The Possessors and the Non-Possessors held vastly different ideas about the role the church should play in society and politics. When the philosophy of the Possessors triumphed, the church gained the right to wealth and serfs at the expense of political influence. The tsar became superior to the metropolitan, and the regime could now interfere in secular matters of the church. The release of the tsar from any source of accountability left the tsar with absolute, unlimited power. The abuses of Ivan the Terrible typify the danger of absolute rule left unchecked. The Russian people actually believed that God had sent Ivan to rule Russia as a punishment for her sins.
The split between the two factions caused the losers, the Non-Possessors, to be reviled as heretics. This had a negative effect because the church came to be represented by a faction instead of through a consensus. This led to only one set of ideas being developed in the church and the culture and as a result it lost some of its vitality. The Possessors made ritual sacrosanct. Every gesture, word, and movement was significant and to deviate from the service in any way would be heresy. This emphasis in the exterior form of religion over inner exultation paved the way for another conflict that was to seriously undermine the power of the church.
The third Rome theory was formulated by the monk Philotheus in the fifteenth century. He asserted that Russia was the heir and protector of the only true faith. Rome and Constantinople had both fallen and Moscow was the third and final seat of Orthodoxy. This theory legitimized the Russian Orthodoxy’s power and affirmed that she was no longer dependent on Constantinople. A church schism occurred in the seventeenth century due to changes in ritual implemented by the Patriarch Nikon. His attempts to rectify inconsistencies in the rituals of the Greeks and the Russians were merely to establish greater solidarity and continuity between the two faiths. Russia was trying to help the Greeks who were living under Turkish rule since 1439. Russia had a sense of manifest destiny and she felt that she had been chosen to defend the Eastern Orthodox peoples.
The belief that ritual must be sacrosanct caused the alteration of ritual to be considered heretical. Those who refused to change their rhythms of worship were called Old Believers and they were executed and silenced by the authorities. The Old Believers insisted on following the old forms because they feared committing heresy. The way they saw the situation was that Rome had fallen because of heresy. Moscow was the last seat of Orthodoxy and if Russia fell from the grace of God, it would mean the end of the world. The basic issue in the schism was the relationship between the Russian and Orthodox churches. Some felt that since Russia had adopted Orthodoxy from Byzantium she should remain a ‘junior partner’. Others felt that it was Russia’s destiny to be a leader and to free her Eastern brethren.
The Orthodox relegion has been essential to the people to bring them a sense of hope and destiny and a glimpse of heaven on earth. The choice of Orthodoxy was as influential as the Mongul Yoke on the formation of the Russian character. Orthodoxy brought the people a lot of joy, created a sense of community, intensified the countries isolation, created beautiful art, started wars, complicated politics, and best of all, reminded the people to love each other.
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