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Moscow becomes ‘third Rome’

Published time: July 18, 2008 11:07
Edited time: July 18, 2008 11:07

The adoption of Christianity earned Kievan Rus a place among top European powers. But the year 1054 was to change that, separating Russia from the Western Christian world. This is the third in a series of pieces on the development of Christianity in Russi

The Eastern and Western Churches had long been estranged over doctrinal, theological and linguistic issues. The Eastern Church resented the Roman enforcement of the Latin language and clerical celibacy. There were also disputes between Rome and Constantinople about Rome’s assertion of papal primacy. In 1054 Pope Leo IX and the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, excommunicated each other. The event marked the final break between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and came to be known as the Great Schism. The rift later widened and the churches have remained separate, though the excommunications were lifted by the papacy and the patriarch in the 20th century.

After the schism, the Russian Orthodox Church gradually gathered strength. In the 12th century, during the period of feudal divisions in Russia, it advocated the idea of unity of the Russian people, resisting the strife among local princes. Even a Tatar invasion in the 13th century failed to break its power as the church continued its attempts to restore the country’s political unity. Liberating itself from the invaders, the Russian state grew more and more powerful and so did the Russian Orthodox Church. By that time Moscow had replaced Kiev as the country’s political and spiritual centre. In 1448 the Russian Orthodox Church became independent from Constantinople. Metropolitan Jonas, installed by the Council of Russian bishops that same year, was given the title of Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia.

In 1453 the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turkey-led Ottoman Empire. Moscow proclaimed itself the cultural heir of Constantinople. While the entire Orthodox community of the Balkans found itself isolated and confined within the Islamic world, the Russian Orthodox Church remained virtually the only part of the Orthodox communion outside the control of the Ottoman Empire. But it would later be shaken up by a schism of its own.

Christianity: 1020 years of Russian faith
Kiev: the cradle of Russian Christianity