Milpitas Christian Church

Russian & Slavic Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodoxy spreads North

  • In the early centuries, Christianity spread east but not usually north to Eastern Europe and Russia. These areas were inhabited mostly by various Slavic peoples and the Bulgars, and they were pagan

  • Map of Europe ca. 900

  • Or go to GeaCron and enter 900


  • 862 - King Rostislav of Moravia sends a letter to Constantinople asking for Christian missionaries to be sent to his kingdom to educate his people about Christianity

    • He knew that in western Europe the Franks had been sending Catholic missionaries into neighboring regions before conquering them, and he hoped to prevent that from happening to Moravia by preemptively siding with the Greek Orthodox Christians

    • Trivia: Rostislav/Rastislav was canonized as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1994

  • In response, two missionaries were sent: brothers Cyril and Methodius. They were experienced missionaries who had already spent time in the Balkans

  • In Moravia, Cyril and Methodius devised an alphabet for the Slavonic language, called the Glagolitic script. Later their disciples built on their work to develop the Cyrilic script (named for Saint Cyril), which became the official script for many eastern European languages. They translated the Bible into Slavonic with the new script

  • However, German (Catholic) missionaries arrived in Moravia and opposed Cyril and Methodius’ work, claiming that the only languages fit for the Bible were Latin, Greek, and Hebrew

  • Cyril and Methodius went to Rome to settle the matter. The pope agreed with them and allowed the Slavonic translation, but put Cyril and Methodius under Roman jurisdiction

  • Unfortunately, this meant that for years the new Moravian church was caught in the middle of a contest for influence between Constantinople, Rome, and the Germans

  • 906 - the Hungarians invaded and the Kingdom of Moravia ceased to exist

  • However, Cyril and Methodius’ work remained tremendously influential among all the Slavic peoples


  • Early centuries saw some organized communities and monasteries founded

  • King Boris decided to become a Christian after being visited by missionaries from both Rome and Constantinople. He asked Patriarch Photius of Constantinople to send an archbishop for his kingdom.

    • But Patriarch Photius insisted on several conditions which King Boris rejected.
    • King Boris now turned to Pope Nicholas, who sent him two bishops but refused to appoint an archbishop
    • Finally, a new patriarch of Constantinople (who succeeded Photius) did send an archbishop and several bishops to lead the new Bulgarian Orthodox Church
  • Under King Simeon I, Christianity became official in Bulgaria, ousting paganism

  • 927 -King Simeon wanted to become emperor of Byzantium and often warred with them, nearly taking Constantinople several times. He took the title Czar – from “caesar” – and declared his independence from Byzantium

  • 937 - Czar Simeon raises the archbishop of Bulgaria to the rank of patriarch, declaring him to be equal to the patriarch of Constantinople. For awhile Constantinople resisted this, but eventually came to accept it

Kiev/Ukraine and Russia

  • 950 - Queen Olga of Kiev was converted by German Catholic missionaries

  • 988 - her grandson King Vladimir decided to be baptized by Greek Orthodox missionaries instead. This is generally considered the beginning of both the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, because the princes of Kiev (Ukraine) eventually ruled in Moscow

  • Kievan/Russian ties with Constantinople continued to strengthen

  • By 1240 when the Mongols conquered Russia and ruled it for 200 years, Christianity was the cultural glue that preserved Russian national identity until they could win their independence

  • 1270 - Russian Orthodox Church gains immunity from taxation under the Mongols

  • Monasticism becomes very popular in the medieval age

  • 1448 - Russian Orthodox Church breaks from Kiev and Constantinople by electing its own metropolitan archbishop

  • After 1453, when Constantinople was captured by the Muslim Turks, Russia declared its capitol Moscow to be the “Third Rome.” Russian rulers began to call themselves czars (caesars) and the bishop of Moscow became a patriarch

  • 1589 - Constantinople recognizes the metropolitan archbishop of Moscow as a patriarch, giving him the 5th rank of honor after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem

  • Mid-1600s - Patriarch Nikon tried to turn Russia into a theocracy and reformed the ROC to be more in line with the rest of Eastern Orthodoxy. His attempts to make the government submit to him resulted in his deposition in 1666, but his followers remained influential and anathematized anyone who disagreed with them. They became known as the Old Believers

  • 1721 - Tsar Peter I the Great abolished the patriarchate of Moscow and replaced it with a Holy Governing Synod, modeled after state-controlled Lutheran synods in Sweden and Russia.

    • The ROC’s administration was handled by a secular government official until 1917. During this entire period the higher clergy were basically all servants of the government
  • After 1917 - under the Soviets, the ROC reestablished the patriarchate in Moscow

  • The Soviets nationalized all church lands and began harsh persecution of the church

  • Further divisions within the church between those wanting to be loyal to the Soviets and those wanting the church to remain independent

  • 1927 - Metropolitan Sergius declared official loyalty to the Soviet state in an attempt to enable the church’s survival.

    • Many Russian Christians opposed his move

    • The Russian Orthodox branches in Western Europe and America severed ties with Moscow

  • 1943 - Stalin suddenly became friendlier towards the Russian Orthodox Church and it saw a revival in numbers and organization

    • Churches rebuilt

    • New patriarch elected

    • Theology schools opened

  • 1945-59 – new wave of persecution under Khrushchev and Brezhnev

  • 1980s - under Gorbachev conditions again improved, with many church buildings returned to the Church and being restored

  • Collapse of Soviet Union allowed the ROC to continue recovering

  • 2000 - the Russian Orthodox Church canonizes Tsar Nicholas II, who had been murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1917

  • However, there remain many groups of Russian Orthodox churches in other parts of the world who had fled Soviet persecution who remain independent of Moscow, despite Moscow’s attempts to bring them back into the fold

  • 2018 - patriarch in Constantinople recognizes the Ukrainian church as independent from Moscow, leading the ROC to sever ties with Constantinople (which had been its honorary leader)

  • Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, currently serving, is a close ally of Vladimir Putin and has worked to bring the ROC further under the control of Putin’s government.


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