"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- Peter the Great & The Synodical Period

The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware

Next up was the Synodical Period which lasted from 1700 to 1917 in Russia.  Remember in the previous post that Nikon had attempted to give the Church too much power. He wanted the Church to be able to interfere with secular business.  Well, Peter the Great came on the scene and decided that would never happen again. He dismantled the Patriarch position and set up a Spiritual College or Holy Synod made up of twelve members.  Members were chosen by the Emperor as opposed to the Church and the constitution of the Synod was copied from Protestant ecclesiastical synods of Germany! While the Emperor did not attend the meetings, the Chief Procurator, a government official in a Minister of Religion type of role, observed and "wielded considerable power over Church affairs."   Peter's Spiritual Regulation had made the Church a department of the State instead of a divine entity. 

Peter the Great

At this time in Russian history monasteries were the social hub, the chief areas for social work and Peter sought to limit this drastically!  His successors, Elizabeth and Catherine II, went even further in their decrees against the monasteries' work.    Criticism and opposition to Peter's reforms were "ruthlessly silenced."

The author says people often think of this period as the Russian Church in decline.  There was much westernization of theology, Church music and art, however, it wasn't all bad.

The second part of the Synodical period was a time of great revival in the Russian Church.  St. Paissy Velichkovsky studied in Kiev and "was repelled by the secular tone of the teaching."  He later became a monk and ended up combining aspects of Nilus (Non Possessor) and Joseph's (Possessor) teachings to bring the mystical as well as social aspects to monastic life.

Already characteristic figures of Orthodoxy, nineteenth century Russia was the age of the starets, the elders who served as spiritual guides. Most famous among them was St. Seraphim of Sarov whom the author notes is "perhaps the most immediately attractive to non-Orthodox Christians."  (pg. 118)

His life was noted for his devotion to seclusion and prayer so that he could later advise and help people.  He was known as being gentle and his life "illuminated by joy."

Another great figure from the married clergy was St. John of Kronstadt. He would sometimes have such an "intense awareness of the power of prayer" and sometimes would get "carried away" while celebrating Liturgy.  "'He called out to God; he shouted; he wept in the face of the vision of Golgotha and the Resurrection which presented themselves to him with such shattering immediacy.'"

He was a proponent of frequent communion, but since he had no time to listen to every confession, he instituted "a form of public confession, with everybody shouting their sins aloud simultaneously."  Can you imagine?

The 19th century also saw a revival of missionary work with the Orthodox sharing the Scriptures and Liturgy in a variety of languages.  "In the Kazan area alone Liturgy was celebrated in twenty-two different languages and dialects." (pg. 123)  "The greatest of the nineteenth-century missionaries was St. Innocent (John Veniaminov, 1797-1879), Bishop in Alaska, honoured by millions of American Orthodox today as their chief 'Apostle.'"

Alexis Khomiakov helped the Russian Church break from its "excessive dependence on the west." He said no longer should they use Reformed positions against Roman and Roman against Reformed. Orthodoxy was distinct, unique and they shouldn't worry about the Roman and Reformed stuff.

Alexis Khomiakov

The chapter ends with the Synodic Period dissolving and a new Patriarch being chosen, St. Tikhon.  Unfortunately the Bolsheviks soon came and with them, persecution.


sanil said...

I like the two pictures in the middle. :) The St John of Kronstadt one especially stands out to me because it sort of reminds me of Rasputin's picture. A lot of people will point out that Rasputin looks kinda crazy and villain-ish...but actually, he looks like a clergy person from that place and time. We're just not used to it in our culture. Not really related to anything you said, just thought it was interesting.

Also, he (St John) reminds me of ministers I grew up with. :D I thought that was cool.

Lat said...

Peter the Great and Alexis both have hairstyles that Indians use to have in the 80's :) Well it's visible sometimes still.Our hair is just too pretty wavy.lol.

orthodoxy,refomed etc seems to be a similar feature of religions evolving thru the centuries.Thank you for sharing!

Lat said...

Oh yes,I almost forgot.How do people confess their sins all at one time? So it's not a private personal thing?What if the wronged party is standing next to him or somewhere close by? If everybody were to shout at the same time,no one can hear anything much,er? :)

Susanne said...

Sanil, I also thought of Rasputin! actually I did as i read this chapter. I went and looked up his picture again and he does have a weird way about him and it's not entirely the hairstyle and beard! :D I think it's his eyes! Glad you brought that up..ha!

Yes, St.John sounds like some pastors I am familiar with as well. I totally thought of that, too, while reading of his reaction to some of the things he prayed/taught!

Susanne said...

Lat, it's cute that you and Sanil both commented on the pictures. I'm really glad I included some. It is fun for me sometimes to google the people so I can put faces with names. I rather like that wavy hair style and forgot about the Indian connection to it. :) It's better than some of the others...er, like John's there. I'm not a fan of bushy beards apparently.

I'd never heard of public confessions and I think the fact that it was so different is why the author (and I) mentioned it! I'm not sure how that worked. I was picturing myself trying to listen for what people were around me confessing. Ahhh!

Daniel said...

Lat, Orthodoxy has not evolved through the centuries. It has remained constant for at least the last 1500 years. What you may be referring to is the adjustment to the political movements of the times to either fight or submit (depending on the person being spoken of). As for confessing sins, it is different than the RCC. The priest is only there as a guide, a counselor, a mentor, not the one who forgives of sin or is able to forgive of sin. If everyone is focused on true repentance they will not be focused on what others are doing or saying but instead placing their sins at the feet of Christ in humility. Not something I would really want to be a part of if I had a real personal issue I wanted to speak to the priest about, but then again no one forces them to go to confession. I imagine if that were the case they could have met with the priest at a different time.

This was one of my favorite parts of the book, not really sure why. St. Seraphim of Sarov really does appeal to me, but perhaps for reasons different than most people. I have read some other things about him which helped me really understand the mysticism of Orthodoxy and not confuse it with magic and other nonsense or “new age” stuff. It really helped make the connection between what God can do if He really wants and what we can do for Him if we only allow ourselves.

Lat said...


Yes I was mostly refering to political matters.I'm reading on Judaism and of course the religion has her own groups of orthodox,reform etc and how they came into being.I was talking about that kind of evolvment being natural,which is most of the time political.
Thanks for sharing your views about the confession part.I appreciate it!

I'm picturing you listening intently!lol! You're so funny!:)

Susanne said...

Daniel, thanks for what you shared. Yeah, part of confession is the spirit in which you come. I was totally thinking of it from a more carnal point of view I think because the idea was so strange to me when I read it.

I also enjoyed this part of the book. I didn't know a lot about Russia's history and found all this of great interest. So much so that I looked up nearly everyone mentioned so I could see what they looked like and you see that four people made this post.

Lat, :-D