Russian Orthodox Church

   Also known as the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest autocephalous or self-governing Eastern Orthodox Church. With approximately 135 million followers, the ROC is second only to the Catholic Church in terms of total adherents within the Christian faith. Ethnic Russians within and outside the Russian Federation make up the bulk of the Church’s membership, but the ROC also has significant followers among Ukrainians and Belarusians, as well as smaller contingents of Chuvash, Mordvins, Kazakhs, Tatars, Armenians, and other non-Slavic peoples of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union.
   The ROC claims more than 1,290 dioceses, nearly 30,000 parishes, and over 800 monasteries. These institutions fall under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow, who also oversees more than 200 bishops and 27,000 priests. Unlike the Catholic pope, the Moscow patriarch does not have full authority to render decisions for his flock, and must coordinate some actions with other Eastern and Oriental Orthodox patriarchs.
   The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) exists under the ecclesiastic jurisdiction of the ROC. The UOC competes with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Canonical and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) for parishioners in Ukraine; in 1997, Patriarch Filaret of the UOC-KP was excommunicated by the Hierarchical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church as part of a five-year dispute over religious authority. The ROC also has authority over the Orthodox Church of Estonia, though nationalisminfused disagreements during the 1990s led to a split among the various congregations, with a minority favoring subordination to the Ecumenical Patriarchate rather than Moscow.
   In the 1920s, much of the Russian diaspora split with the ROC and formed the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) after refusing to submit to the authority of the Soviet-backed Patriarch of Moscow, Sergius I. The two branches of Russian Orthodoxy reunited on 17 May 2007 with the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, though the ROCOR retains a high level of autonomy. Other affiliated churches include the Chinese Orthodox Church, which serves the small Russian diaspora in China, the Latvian Orthodox Church, the Moldovan Orthodox Church, the Japanese Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church in America, and various Old Believer churches around the world.
   Under Soviet rule, the Russian Orthodox Church, like the spiritual administrations of Russia’s other faiths (Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism), came under intense pressure from the state, which espoused secularism and scientific atheism. Church-held lands were nationalized and many churches were destroyed or converted for other uses. Priests and bishops were executed, imprisoned, and subjected to intimidation and psychological abuse. During and after World War II, the Church enjoyed a lessening of repression, though a new antireligion campaign was initiated under Nikita Khrushchev and continued under Leonid Brezhnev. By the 1980s, the KGB had thoroughly infiltrated the ranks of the priesthood and co-opted elements of the Church hierarchy. Under perestroika, church-state relations improved, marked by the public celebrations of 1,000 years of Russian Christianity in 1988.
   The ascension of Alexius II to patriarch in 1990 signaled a new era in the history of the ROC. As the Communist Party of the Soviet Union crumbled, the Church moved to fill the vacuum left by Russia’s abandonment of the secular faith of Marxism-Leninism. The Church’s high approval rating in the mid-1990s ensured that Russian politicians, including then-President Boris Yeltsin, would gravitate to the ROC to shore up their support among the masses. Likewise, the Church has benefited from an increasingly close relationship with the Kremlin, and is enjoying ever greater levels of political influence across the country and access to state agencies such as the military. Throughout the 1990s and the current decade, the ROC has overseen the restoration of existing churches and the building of new ones. In collaboration with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, the Church oversaw the reconstruction of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was originally built to commemorate the victory over Napoleon’s army in the 19th century, and then destroyed by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. The Church has also expanded its charitable work and lay organizations. After some brief attempts at reconciliation with the Catholic Church, Alexius’s relations with the Vatican became strained over the 2002 formalization of an administrative structure for Russia’s Catholic community. Alexius’s death on 5 December 2008 resulted in the appointment of Kirill I in early 2009, an event attended by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvyedev.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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