Great Russian Schism

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The majority of the Old Believers are generally reffered to as being Old Believers, but a better desogmatopm would be Old Ritualists or better yet, the term we have generally chosen, Ancient Orthodox, since it is more precise and less, challenging. The officail church books, however, use such terms as: Orthodox, Christian, Eastern, Catholic, or even speaks of the Church as being that "of Jerusalem."

The early history of Christianity in Russia may easily be found elsewhere and we need only referred to it briefly here.

The Russians date their conversion to Christ from the year 989, when St. Vladimir, Grand Duke of Kiev, accepted Christianity for his people from the Greeks. Russia received her faith, rites, and early bishops from Constantinople at a time midway between the two epoch-making disputes involving Photius, Cerularius and the Pope of Rome. Francis Dvornik in his book: The Photian Schism, History and Legend, proves that any question of schism between the two churches at this time is myth. In any case the Russians played no part on either side and at the Council of Florence in 1439 were represented by the Metroplitan of Kiev, Isidore, a Greek, who favored union with the Latins, even if the Grand Duke of Moscow, Vasily II, would have nothing to do with it and Isidore had to return to Rome. Among the Russians who the Greeks had taught to regard the Latins to regard the Latns as heretics, the mention of union with them could only raise up a perfect storm of idignation, but even this matter is outside our scope.

In 1448 the Russians declared themselves and independent metropolitante. With this independence the Russian began to put their church affairs in order. Several local councils of which the most important was that in 1551 called the Stoglav were held. This last was so called since it put its reforming measures under one hundred chapters. Several chapters delt with points of rutal that were dividing the Russian people through outside influence, namely that of the Greeks. Strong measures were taken to settle these and an excommunication pronounced upon those who in the future would bring them up. This council, however, was not as effective as was hoped and at the beginning of the 17th century the state of the clergy left much to be desired. One of the most trustworthy historians of the Russian Church, Glubinski, gives the following picture: "The ills of the Russian Clergy were due ti the infiltration into Russia of Byzantine ideals. the priesthood lacked from the beginnig the characteristics of an apostolic ministry. The priests were looked upon as artisans for whom it was enough to be able to read and celebrate the rites. Their spiritual labors were miserable, and as a class they made no pretence of educating and quiding the people."

In 1589 the Patriarch of Constantinople had acknoledged the Russian Church as a separte Patriarchete with its see in Moscow. In the reign of Patriarch Joseph (1642-1652) there arose a reforming movement among the clergy itself aimed at restoring the ancient purity of the Church Service Books and a stricter abservance among the clergy. This movement was interested in putting into effect the provisions of the council of Stoglav. It was headed by the priest Stefan Vonifatiev, confessor to the Tsar, and Nikon, the brilliant and ambitious Archbishop of Novgorod. Conspicuous among the younger members of the movement was Protopriest Avvakum. New editions of the Russian service books were printed in the 1640's and received without difficulty. Avvakum and his partisans were not in principle opposed to this since they had participated in this work of revision using the old Greek editions. Upon the death of Patriarch Joseph, Stefan Vanifatiev was elected Patriarch, but humility made him refuse and Tsar Alexei Mihailovich on July 25th, 1652 appointed Nikon as Patriarch.

This appointment brought a pro-Greek party into the court and they thus gained their end and Nikon was ready to carry out their plans. But, was his appointment valid? The third canon of the Seventh Ecumenical Council reads: "Let every election of a bishop, priest, of deacon, made by princes be null, according to the canon which reads: 'If any bishop making use of the secular powers shall obtain jurisdiction over a church, he shall be deposed and excommunicated, together with all who remain in communion with him!..." The point was not clear and Nikon was in power and began to establish his principles on a document called The Donation of Constantine, which alleged privileges of supreme jurisdiction over the whole church as being given by Constantine the Great to Pope St. Syvester I. But, this document had alread been proven false. Nikon exploited the theory of Moscow being the "Third Rime," that is that the Patriarch of Moscow had been proclaimed the Supreme Head of christendom; and if the tsar should become the recognized head of a world empire what would be the position of the Patriarch, the sacred office from which Nikon now regarded derived the authority of the state?