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The Russian Church
A Paper Read before the Church Congress held at Leicester, England,
under the Presidency of the Lord Bishop of Peterborough,
September 28th--October 1st, 1880.

By the Rev. Charles R. Hale, S.T.D.

Privately Printed, 1881.

The Church of Russia, of which I would speak to you, is one of the eleven autonomous Churches composing the Orthodox Eastern Communion, often called, with perhaps less accuracy, the Greek Church. Six of these Churches, indeed, are made up mainly of those who, Greek by race, use the Greek tongue in the affairs of daily life, and, by consequence, in Divine Service. The members of the Churches which are respectively under the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, the Archbishop of Cyprus, and the Holy Synod of Greece, number a little over 8,000,000. In four of the remaining Churches, those of Montenegro, Servia, Roumania, and in the Austrian Empire, there are about the same number of souls, while in the Church of Russia the faithful number about 60,000,000.

In these Orthodox Eastern Churches, Holy Scripture is appealed to as the rule of faith, and the early General Councils are considered the most authoritative interpreters of its doctrines; and, therefore, the Scriptures are not kept from the laity, nor the prayers said in an unknown tongue. If, for a like reason to that which leads us to prefer in Divine Service the Prayer-Book version of the Psalms, an older form of the language is used in the Churches, the older Russian (or Sclavonic) and ancient Greek differ far less than is commonly thought from the Russian and Greek of daily life.

Throughout the Orthodox Eastern Communion, the precedence of honor is ever accorded to the Churches presided over by the four Patriarchs. And this although the second in rank,--the "Most Blessed and Holy Pope and Patriarch of the Great City Alexandria, Father of Fathers, Pastor of Pastors, Archpriest of Archpriests" honored yet by a title which seemed not to ill-befit his early predecessors,--has now under him no diocesan bishop, and but 5,000 of the faithful and the third in order, for years after he entered upon his high office, had, in the city where the disciples were first called Christians, no church edifice, but worshipped with his flock in a cave in the mountain side.

Admiring, and sympathizing with, the respect shown for the days that are past, we should fail of a correct view of the condition and prospects of the Orthodox Churches in the East, unless we took into account, and carefully studied that Church which, although the fifth on the list of those Churches, has within it nearly, or quite, four-fifths of the members of the Orthodox Eastern Communion--the Church of Russia--by far the largest national Church in the world It can hardly be disputed that no little influence must, and of right ought to be, exerted by a Church with 93 bishops, 34,000 parish priests, and, as I have already said, 60,000,000 of the faithful.

[4] The Russian Church claims an Apostolic origin. St. Andrew, the first called of the Apostles, is said, on one of his missionary journeys, to have visited what is now known as the Crimea, and, having preached the Gospel to the flourishing Greek colony there, mindful that his mission was not to Greeks only, but to barbarians, to have proceeded northward, on his errand of mercy, among the wild Scythians, so far as to where the City of Kieff now stands.

About the middle of the ninth century, Askold and Dir, princes of Kieff, and companions of Rurik, sailing to Constantinople on a predatory expedition, were turned from their evil purpose and converted to Christianity, and returned to their own land to spread among their countrymen some knowledge of the Divine Saviour. Many years after, Olga, the widowed daughter in-law of Rurik, while governing Russia during her son's minority, went to Constantinople for fuller instruction in the truth than she could have at home, and was there baptised.

Her teaching and example had little influence over her son; and even her grandson, Vladimir, ascended the throne as an heathen prince. But after a tune the good seed sprang up. Several reasons combined to turn Vladimir's mind towards Christianity. But one of the strongest of all was the thought that this was the religion of the beloved Olga. His baptism was followed by that of vast numbers of his subjects. Idols were cast to the moles and to the bats, into the streams and into the fires, and Russia became a Christian country. And although the apparent suddenness of the change has given it, to some, an air of unreality, it should be remembered that, through the translation of the Scriptures into the Sclavonic language, by Cyril and Methodius, and by other means, the way had long been preparing.

At Vladimir's request a bishop was sent from Constantinople to be Metropolitan of Kieff, then the capital of Russia. For about 250 years the metropolitans of Russia came from Constantinople, chosen and sent by the Patriarch, and were, with hardly an exception, of the Greek race, the other bishops being Russians. Then the usage grew of choosing at home one to be metropolitan, and sending him to Constantinople for consecration, or, if already a bishop, to be confirmed in his metropolitical office. With the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, communication with the Patriarch became more difficult, and therefore less regular. Metropolitans, chosen now for Moscow, which was become the capital, entered upon their high duties without awaiting the sanction of the Patriarch. Still nominally dependent upon Constantinople, the Russian Church became practically autocephalous. In 1583 accomplished facts were recognized, by the Patriarch conferring upon one who, in his sphere, exercised like power with his own, the Patriarchal title. Ten Patriarchs presided over the Russian Church, the last of whom, Adrian, died at the very beginning of the eighteenth century. Then the Church was, for a time, under the charge of one of her senior bishops. In 1721 a Holy Synod was established, to administer the affairs of the Russian Church, and under the charge of such a Synod it continues to this day.

The Holy Synod of Russia is now constituted as follows: The Metropolitans of St. Petersburgh, Kieff and Moscow, the Exarch of Georgia, two or more other bishops, chosen for not over two years at a time, and two priests, one of them the principal Chaplain of the Emperor, the other the Chaplain-General of the Army or Navy. At the sessions of the Holy Synod, but sitting apart from the [4/5] rest, having no voice in the discussions, nor yet a vote, is the Ober-Procurator, the representative of the lay element in the Church. He acts as the medium of communication between the ecclesiastical and civil authorities.

In the different dioceses there are Diocesan Consistories, formed somewhat after the model of the Holy Synod, to assist the Bishop in the administration of his diocese. It would seem that the Holy Synod and their Consistories are fairly representative. Changes with a view of making them more fully so are discussed in Russia, just as in England in regard to Convocation.

I have not seldom been asked whether, in my judgment, the Russians are a truly religious people. The grave charge is often made--too frequently perhaps in the spirit of him who thanked God that he was not like other men--that their religion is, very generally, but on the exterior, and not from the heart. So far as I could judge in such a matter, if I compared such members of the Russian Church as I have happened to know at all well, with an equal number of my countrymen, or of yours, I do not think the Russians would suffer by the comparison.

It is very generally believed that the Russian Church is, in a very undue sense, subordinated to the State. That the civil authority should have some influence in the affairs of an established Church is a matter of course--that such influence has gone beyond proper limits, except, possibly in a few isolated cases, (as some may think has happened even in England,) it would be hard to show.

It has been thought that Peter the Great, in the steps which he took for replacing a Patriarch by a Synod, aimed a blow at the rights of the Church. The facts would not seem to warrant such a conclusion.

When Peter took in hand the reins of government, and undertook the reforms which, despite the rudeness of the way by which they were brought about, were most salutary, he found much in the relations of Church and State which required change. Many disorders had confessedly crept into the Church government and among the clergy. There were many irregularities in the administration of Church affairs. In troublous times, powers had been lodged in the hands of the Patriarch which appertained rather to the civil than to the ecclesiastical authority, so that there was, as to civil affairs, a dualism which was most unfortunate.

The change was not made on Peter's sole motion, but was in accordance with the advice of leading ecclesiastics, and was promptly approved by the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch. The See of Alexandria was then vacant, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem seriously ill.

Synodal Government, we must remember, prevailed in the East from the time of the Great Councils; and, although the disorders of the times put into abeyance the practice of large and frequent gatherings of the Bishops, yet the principle has never been lost sight of. The Patriarch of Constantinople has, for hundreds of years, been assisted in the administration of his office by a Council of twelve Metropolitans, without whose advice he takes no important step. And recently, when there was a question of perhaps again having a Russian Patriarch, a distinguished Eastern theologian declared it would be a mere anachronism to set up a new Patriarchal Throne, when the ancient Patriarchates themselves were administered on Synodical principles.

That, sometimes, the Ober-Procurator has had a military title, has seemed to [5/6] some to imply that the Synod was tyrannized over by him. But it should be remembered that, in Russia, civil functions are often assigned to officers of the army or navy. Nor should we forget how often such officers prove, in the English and American Churches, most devoted and efficient laymen. And letting the objection go for what it is worthy it has been many years since a General, or an Admiral, was Ober-Procurator. The present incumbent of the office (Constantine Petrovitch Pobaidonostseff) is a civilian, and was, a few years since, a professor in the Ecclesiastical Academy at St. Petersburg.

It is often alleged that the Russian clergy are very ignorant. This charge is certainly an exaggerated one. Hear the admission of a witness by no means too favorable, the Jesuit Gagarin, in "La Russie serait-elle Catholique?" (pp. 44, 48). "The Russian clergy," he says, "are not known. I would not imply that they are perfect or irreproachable, but I maintain that they are calumniated, and that they are more cultivated and more moral than they have the credit of being. They have, in our day, made remarkable progress in sacred and scientific learning. We can have an idea of the degree of instruction attained, by the works they have published of late years, which testify to a marked improvement in ecclesiastical studies."

I can myself bear witness that every word of this is true Learned works are continually issuing from the Church press in Russia, dealing with various questions of Church History, Liturgies, Theology, &c. The greater part are original; some, as, for instance, Canon Robertson's Church History, now appearing, translations. The Christianskoe Chtenie, a bi-monthly review, published under the auspices of the Ecclesiastical Academy of St. Petersburg, would well bear comparison with the Church Quarterly, and it is but one of several ecclesiastical reviews. And not only are there many learned bishops and priests, but earnest efforts are made for the diffusion of knowledge throughout the whole body of the clergy. In every diocese there is, as a rule, a theological seminary, where the children of priests are educated gratuitously, and others, desiring to share in the advantage, at a small cost. Under the Metropolitans of St. Petersburg, Kieff and Moscow are Spiritual Academies, fitly ranking with Universities. When a large part of the Russian people were ignorant serfs, it was, perhaps, not to be wondered at that many of the priests who ministered to them should neglect to keep up the studies of their youth. But with all that is now doing for popular education, there is the need felt of learning on the part of the clergy. The little prospect of advancement set before the great body of the parochial clergy, and the poverty of many of them, obliged oft-times to cultivate their glebes with their own hands, have, to a degree, interfered with their intellectual improvement. Some steps have been taken, and others are under consideration, which may lead, it is hoped, to a change for the better in both these respects.

It is pleasant to see the growing interest in the study of God's Word. Several commentaries of considerable merit have appeared of late, or are now appearing. A revised translation of the Scriptures into the Russian language, under the auspices of the Holy Synod, has recently been printed, after many years of patient toil, and copies of it widely circulated. Shall we not join in the words by which the Czar greeted the completion of this work? "I pray God to show the saving power of His Holy Word, in making the Russian people go forward in truth and piety."

[7] It has often been said that the Russian Church has no missionary spirit, a charge that could only be made in ignorance of the facts. That, years ago, it, like our own Churches, did little for missions, is indeed true, and for them, as for us, extenuating circumstances might be found. But, for many years past, zealous efforts have been made for the conversion of heathens and Mahommedans. A most flourishing mission of the Russian Church exists in Japan, with 6,000 converts, and many native clergy and catechists. The Orthodox Missionary Society of Russia, with its various diocesan branches, each with its bishop at its head, is doing much to increase the interest of clergy and laity in the good cause.

In connection with this Missionary Society is a Missionary Training School, at Kazan, for fitting missionaries for their work in the foreign field, and for giving those who are to be parish priests, in parts of the country where Mahommedans abound, such instruction as may enable them to cope with the arguments of the followers of the false prophet.

I wish there were time to give even a brief sketch of the life of that great missionary hero, Innocent of Moscow, lately gone to his rest, after laboring in Missions in Kamchatka and Alaska forty-five years, and, when his health began to fail him from age and exposure, laboring ten years for Missions, as Metropolitan of Moscow, and founder, and first President, of the Orthodox Missionary Society. [Three articles, on the Missionary Work of the Russian Church, by the author of the present paper, have appeared in the AMERICAN CHURCH REVIEW, viz: "Innocent of Moscow "--July, 1877. "The Orthodox Missionary Society of Russia"--July, 1878. "Russian Missions in China and Japan"--October, 1878.

I have endeavored, in the time allotted to me, to show something of what the Russian Church is. I have been compelled, for lack of time, to make assertions when I would most gladly have given proofs, to sketch in merest outline what it would have been far more satisfactory to set forth in more detail.

The Missions of the Churches of the Anglican Communion have very little to do with the Russian Church. So far as relates to the people of the Russian Empire, we can leave the care of their religious instruction with those on whom God has laid the responsibility of it--the Bishops and Pastors of the Russian Church. In Alaska the two Churches might come in contact, but the American Church has deemed it wiser, for the present at least, not to enter upon a field which the Russian Church cultivated so well while it was part of the Russian dominions, where it still labors, and where it can work with advantage.

In Japan, missionaries of the English, of the American, and of the Russian Churches, are working side by side, and, as a rule, very harmoniously. Cases of misunderstanding will, of course, arise, but the kind forbearance and mutual sympathy which have characterized the leaders in these missions will surely, by God's blessing, prevent evil results.

Let the relations between the Church of Russia and the Churches in communion with it, on the one hand, and the Anglican Churches and their Foreign Missions on the other, be always relations of Christian charity. Whatever be one's political views, likes and dislikes, let the followers of the one Lord, especially in matters where religion is directly concerned, endeavor to think kindly, to [7/8] speak kindly, to act kindly towards each other. In the words of the venerable Patriarch of Alexandria, in a letter which I had a few years since the honor to receive from him: "Until the Lord vouchsafe the fulfilment of the great work of unity, many inconveniences and stumbling-blocks will exist among us, and many misconceptions, on either side, and misrepresentations will arise. But," as he goes on to say, "Mutual patience and forbearance, enkindled by Christian love, and by the inestimable importance of the great and God-pleasing ends at which we aim, can remove all such."

Let us endeavor to understand the position of our brethren better than we do, and take every fitting opportunity of letting them understand us. On either side it will probably be found that there were more points of agreement than were supposed, and that the differences were often much less, in reality, than at first sight appeared. While misconceptions prevail, there will be, at times, mistaken action. Let us, realizing our own liability to err, make due allowance for mistakes, and, only thinking evil when we must, think good when we can.

So shall we be doing our part in hastening the time, though we may not see it, when God shall make up the dissensions which divide His people one from another, and when "Jerusalem shall dwell as a city that is at unity in itself."

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