History of the Russian Church

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The Emergence of an Autocephalous Russian Church (XV-XVI Centuries)

The fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 compelled the Russian Church to seek a new identity for herself. The monk Philotheos prophesied that 'the first Rome fell because of heresy, the second Rome fell because of infidelity to the true Church doctrine... Moscow will be the third Rome and a fourth there shall not be'. After what the Russians perceived as apostasy by the Greek Church of Constantinople by concluding a union with the Church of Rome in Florence (later repudiated by Constantinople), the Russian Church now viewed herself as the primary, if not sole guardian of the purity of the Orthodox Christian faith.

To underline this stance the Russian Church acquired her first Patriarch Job in 1589, thus procuring full autocephaly (ecclesiastical independence) from the Mother Church of Constantinople, although the ancient metropolitanate of Kiev was to remain under Constantinople for a century more.

The granting of a patriarchate to the Russian Church allowed the latter to adopt the Byzantine model of symphony between Emperor and Bishop. The title of Tsar, a corruption of the Latin 'Caesar', had previously been in use among the Grand Princes of Moscow and became an official designation with the blessing of the Church for the ruler of Muscovy with the advent of the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century. Ivan took an active interest in Church affairs, composing hymns and fulfilling punctiliously all of the prescribed ritual. Yet the Church never allowed herself to be enslaved to this tyrant: her voice was heard in the intercessions of Metropolitan Philip of Moscow for all of those who had suffered from Ivan's cruelty. Philip's witness to Christian justice before the Tsar in a sermon preached in the Kremlin cathedral was eloquent: 'We are offering here the pure, bloodless sacrifice for the salvation of men, but outside this holy temple the blood of Christians is being shed, and innocent people are being killed... He who does not love his neighbor is not of God'. Ivan fell into a rage and ordered Philip to be defrocked and put to death by his feared secret police, the Oprichnina. Philip, a martyr for Christian justice rather than the Christian faith, was soon proclaimed a saint.

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