Orthodoxy is the third largest branch of Christianity and one of the world’s main religions.
It is common in Eastern Europe: about 40% of the followers of this worldwide Christian movement live in Russia.
What does Orthodoxy mean and on what principles is it based? Despite the speed of world development and the easing of pressures of human life, the authority of the Orthodox community has not diminished.
The translation of the word “orthodoxy” from the Greek means “correct opinion”. The movement became a separate denomination in the 19th century as a result of a church split. In 1054, there was a division of Christianity into Catholicism and the Eastern Church. The latter was split into several branches, the largest of which became the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox denomination originated in the Byzantine Empire and initially had no church centre. Lying in the hands of four patriarchs, it underwent minor changes, but neither the views of individuals nor the passage of time has affected its essence. After the collapse of Byzantium, each patriarch became the head of an independent (autocephalous) church.
The history of Russian Orthodoxy has thus been shaping for more than a thousand years. According to the legend, the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, travelled to the Russian land to preach the Gospel and to bless the future city of Kyiv. The further development of Christianity was influenced by the close friendship between the Russian and the Byzantine Empires.
Saints Cyril and Methodius made significant contributions to the spread of Orthodoxy as a religion. In the 9th century, Cyril created the alphabet of Orthodoxy and together with his brother translated the following books into the Slavic language for divine worship:
The Old Slavic language developed based on the translations of Cyril and Methodius. Today, this language is used during all church ceremonies, worship services, and prayers.
Loving God with your whole being is the essence of Orthodoxy. Only through the restored relationship with God after a fall and through sincere faith in redemption can we purify our soul and be reunited with Jesus Christ in the Heavenly Kingdom.
The sacred rules that Orthodox believers must obey are set out in the Bible, in the chapter of Exodus. They are called commandments from the word “command” (order), in effect they are orders from the Lord to the Israeli people.
As the legend says (Exodus, 20.2-17), the innermost principles were passed to believers by the prophet Moses, who learned their meaning in a desperate prayer to God. After 50 days of aimless wandering through the desert, Moses turned to the Almighty One for help and guidance. In response to his prayer, the Lord appeared before him and uttered the 10 sacred laws.
These sacred principles reflect the whole essence of Orthodoxy. Failure to comply with at least one of them is a sin.
According to Christian teaching, one who sincerely loves Jesus Christ and follows the Orthodox commandments will enter the Heavenly Kingdom after death and will be able to approach the Holy Face of Jesus. To see God is the highest reward and grace for any mortal — something to strive for and thus live righteously.
The giving to people of the ten divine principles is a key concept in the formation of Orthodoxy and Christianity. These principles determined the fate of the religion and the course of its history. They became the basis of indestructible laws defining not only the spiritual but also the social norms of human life, regardless of nationality or country of residence.
Christianity, the ancestor of Orthodoxy, originated more than 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his descent to earth. The Holy Spirit entered the hearts of three thousand pilgrims, and this became the moment of the birth of Christianity and Orthodoxy – the religion of Christ.
Christianity was a single and indestructible religious movement until 1054. Then there was a church split for several reasons:
Saintly Bishops on both sides (The Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople) anathematized each other, finally splitting the Christian church into Catholic and Orthodox. This ex-communication lasted for 900 years and was only officially withdrawn in 1965.
In the second decade of the 1500s, inspired by the initiative of the Christian German theologian Martin Luther, Protestantism stood out from the Catholic Church. Luther believed that Catholicism at that time seriously distanced itself from true Christian values in its preference for worldly pleasures and wealth. He said that the church should become simpler, more honest and more modest.
As there were many Protestant supporters among theologians, civilians, and politicians, the religious movement spread from Germany to other European countries.
There are some key points why Orthodoxy differs from Catholicism:
In addition, Catholics have a slight difference in the form of the cross. This is a four-pointed standard cross, without the two horizontal crossbars, as in the Orthodox cross. There are also differences in the depiction of Jesus Christ. The Catholic crucifix has Jesus’ two feet nailed crossed one above the other. His face shows his suffering. On the Orthodox cross, Jesus is depicted with his arms outstretched, as if embracing the whole world and his followers. His legs are nailed individually.
Protestantism has many more radical differences. For example, representatives of this movement do not recognize icons, crosses, and church buildings. They believe that external attributes are not necessary to communicate with God and they do not need a priest as an intermediary. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition have no authority. Baptism for a Protestant is the conscious choice of an adult man or woman.
The Protestant Church cooperates with the state. They disapprove of interfering in a person’s private life without permission. They believe that Jesus Christ has already atoned for the sins of all people by his death, and therefore earthly affairs are less important.
In Russia, more than 80% of believers are Orthodox Christians. Throughout the development of Russian Orthodoxy (since the Christianization of Rus in the 10th century) the church was inextricably linked to the power of the state. Metropolitan bishops, and later patriarchs, were part of the nearest royal environment. Orthodoxy was considered the dominant denomination.
For more than four centuries, Russians lived under the rule of the Byzantine church. However, in 1448, priests in Moscow announced independence. This was not recognized by Constantinople and the whole world. 140 years after the separation, the Russian church branch found an official head – the patriarch.
Under the monarchy, the authority of Orthodoxy was indestructible, and it lasted until the beginning of the Revolution of February 1917. As a result of the strengthening of democratic sentiments, the power of the church became inexorably decreased. The policy of the forcible imposition of atheism, which was accompanied by the looting of churches and temples, began. This lasted until 1941.
The war of 1941-1945 united believers and atheists once again in the struggle for victory over Germany. However, short-term truces between the state and the church did not lead to the revival of Russian Orthodoxy.
In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the greatest period of the Russian Orthodox Church began. Persecution of believers had ended. The state and Christians began to rebuild temples and churches together.
What does Orthodoxy mean for Russians? Followers of the modern denomination revere the blessed ones — those saints who gave their lives for Christ and left this world:
There is a day of remembrance for each of them when believers pray to the saints and thank them for their spiritual feats.
Orthodox Christians celebrate great church holidays: Easter, Christmas, The Baptism of Jesus, Holy Trinity Day, Intercession of the Theotokos, and others. The Great Lent, Apostles’ Dormition, and Nativity fasts are also observed.
Orthodox Christians revere the relics of the saints. Thousands of pilgrims from all Russian cities travel every year to visit these sacred sites.
Orthodox Christians are deeply convinced that as long as the faith of the Russian people remains alive, then our country is not in danger. Despite the rate of development of science, technical progress and the emergence of new teachings, Russia will remain a holy land as long as Orthodox believers inhabit the country.