Russian Orthodox

Religions, Cults & Worldviews: Valuable Answers for Valid Questions.

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Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sophia Founded 1050 AD Novgorad, Russia – Photo By Miraceti [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Russian Orthodox Church

– Founded via Vladimir I – 988 A.D.

Prince Vladimir I was the ruler of Kievian Rus which, in the 10th century A.D was described as “ax-wielding Barbarians” by Eastern Church in Constantinople. Vladimir was looking to establish an official religion for Rus, as some assert, to bring stability to his realm among the tribal factions. He examined Judaism, Islam, Western Roman Church, and the Eastern Constantinople Church (this was still approximately 60-70 years prior to the Great Schism and the emergence of Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Churches - although the division was clearly there apart from the names.

Vladimir rejected Judaism and Islam over circumcision and demands to avoid pork and wine (he believed that drinking was a joy for “Russes” – a pleasure which they “could not live without”).

Key Liturgy and Doctrine of Russian Orthodox

Apostolic Succession

This is an important part of Orthodox belief and to them, ensures continuity with the church that Christ founded – however, there isn’t an idea of “Apostolic Succession” of any kind in Scripture. The importance of Apostolic Succession is that the Eastern churches believe that the Apostles were given the authority to forgive sins on earth as intermediaries and administer the sacraments. They believe that without Apostolic Succession there are no Sacraments and without sacraments there is no operation of the Holy Spirit and without the operation of the Holy Spirit there is no church. Again, this developed along with sacerdotalism in the 5th-7th century as a decidedly non-Biblical belief system and was rightly and thoroughly rejected by the Reformers of the 16th century.

Bible – Composition of

Recognises 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books, but also a collection of books not found in the original Hebrew Bible. These are known as Deuterocanonicals i.e. a second canon of scripture. Known as “apocrypha” to Biblical Christianity

Clergy – Qualification for

Priests and Bishops must be male, but deaconesses are permitted, though the order is dormant. Priests and deacons may marry before ordination but not after. Bishops, on the other hand, must be celibate.

Eucharist – Significance of

Commonly termed the ‘Mystic Supper’ or ‘Divine Liturgy’ – This makes present Christ’s sacrifice and therefore forgiveness of sins is obtained through it. It is also an encounter with the Risen Christ.

Eucharist – Presence of Christ in

During the Eucharist, the Priest calls down the Holy Spirit (in Greek: epiklesis) upon the gifts (the bread and the wine). They then change into the actual body and blood of Christ. The precise way in which this happens is a divine mystery according to Greek clergy. This process is identical to the Roman Catholic view of “transubstantiation” whereby the bread and wine is supposedly “literally” changed into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Many post-reformation Christians consider this to be one of the most blasphemous aberrations of Scripture which found its way into both East and West Churches in the high middle ages.

Eucharist – Distribution of

The consecrated elements can only be received by members. Orthodox policy is to have communion in both kinds (i.e. both the bread and wine are given to those present).

Holy Spirit

The third person of the Trinity, proceeding from the Father alone as in the original Nicene Creed. The Father sends the Spirit at the intercession of the Son. The Son is therefore an agent only in the procession of the Spirit.

Marriage and Divorce

Marriage is a mystical union between a man and a woman. Divorce is generally only allowed in cases of adultery, though there are exceptions. There aren’t rituals of “ostracising” as in some denominations but there is a general expectation to abide by the Church’s view of Scripture on this topic.

Mary – Assumption and Immaculate conception of

The Assumption is accepted and it is agreed that Mary experienced physical death, but the Immaculate conception is rejected. Orthodox belief is that the guilt of original sin is not transmitted from one generation to the next, thus obviating the need for Mary to be sinless.

Mary – Position of

Mary is venerated as Theotokos (Greek: ‘God-bearer’). By this is meant that the son she bore was God in human form. She is prayed to as an intercessor as in Roman Catholic theology as she is first amongst the saints and ‘ever-virgin’. All such concepts of Mary were developed outside of Scripture.

Pope – Authority of

As the Bishop of Rome, he has a primacy of honour when Orthodox, not of jurisdiction. At present, his primacy is not effective as the papacy needs to be reformed in accordance with Orthodoxy. His authority is thus no greater or lesser than any of his fellow Bishops in the church.

Pope – Infallibility of

Papal Infallibility is rejected. The Holy Spirit acts to guide the church into truth through (for example) ecumenical councils. This Orthodoxy recognises the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787) as being infallible.


An intermediate state between earth and heaven is recognised, but cleansing and purification occur in this life, not the next. This is more in keeping with the Biblical account whereby Jesus declared on the cross “It is finished!” to signify that the work of redeeming the sins of mankind (those who put their trust in Him) was finished and no further redeeming process e.g. purgatory is necessary.


There are at least seven Sacraments (known as ‘Mysteries’ among the Eastern Orthodox): Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Holy Unction, Marriage (Holy Matrimony) and Penance (Confession). The list is not fixed. It is believed that these sacraments are necessary for the Holy Spirit to work in the church and for the very existence of church but this is a false belief dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries and having been rightly rejected (for the most part) by the Reformers of the 16th century.

Sacraments – Effect of

The Mysteries convey grace to those who participate in them worthily. This is nearly an identical view to the Roman Catholic sacraments – with a few slight variations on extreme unction and of course, drastic difference on Holy Orders (Priesthood)


A special group of holy people, who are venerated. They may act as intercessors between God and Man and may be invoked in prayer. This is an identical form of worship of the dead as the Roman Catholic Church although both refer to the process as “veneration” even though they are trusting in dead humans to fulfil and answer prayer.


Salvation is “faith working through love” and should be seen as a life long process. The Ultimate aim of every Orthodox Christian is to obtain Theosis or union with God. This is done through living a holy life and seeking to draw closer to God. This is an aberration of what is found in Scripture: Ephesians 2:8,9 For it is by grace you are saved through faith and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God. Not by works lest any man should boast.”
Scripture tells us that Salvation is immediate by way of Justification but the process of Sanctification – being made more like Christ is the lifelong process.

Scripture – Importance of

There is one source of divine revelation to Eastern Orthodox: Tradition. Scripture forms the oral part, and the writings of saints, decisions of ecumenical councils etc. are also part of it. * It is this position toward Scripture that allows for so many unbiblical doctrines to creep into the Eastern Orthodox theology. Jesus condemned the heresy of the Pharisees whereby they nullified the Word of God by their traditions. Adhering to God’s holy revelation in Scripture enables Christians to remain in communion with the One true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.

Worship and Liturgy

The ‘Divine Liturgy’ is the centre of Orthodox spirituality. Worship is usually in the vernacular of the local parish, though Greek is also used and integrated into the liturgy as well. The overall appearance of worship and liturgy would be most like that found in the Roman Catholic church – with a heavy dependence on ritual and tradition as opposed to the Bible itself as the determining factor for liturgy.

Eastern Orthodox – Eastern Byzantine empire – began forming alongside the “Roman Church” with the division of the Roman empire into east and west. The Eastern church – primarily Greek and North African, spoke a different language, enjoyed a different culture, and eventually held to a different governance ecclesiology over time. The emphasis of the primacy of see of Rome and its Bishop as possessing chief papal authority (Pope) the Eastern Orthodox church had already begun to operate independently of Rome. The final spark occurred with the addition of the filioque (from the Son) to the Nicene creed which led to sharp criticism of the Roman Church with Patriarch Michael Cerularius accusing Pope Leo IX of overstepping his authority. The Pope was incensed and sent Cardinal Humbert to deliver a Papal Bull excommunicating Cerularius. Cerularius in turn, excommunicated Cardinal Humbert, AND Pope Leo IX who sent him. Both East and West churches emerged separate and distinct and have not rejoined since. This has come to be known as the “Great Schism” of 1054 AD. However it should be called the Great Schism of the 3rd – 11th centuries!

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