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one of the prinicipal branches of Christianity, the others being Catholicism and Protestantism. Orthodoxy gained acceptance primarily in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The Orthodox predominate among believers in Greece, a number of Yugoslav republics (Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro), Rumania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. In the USSR the followers of Orthodoxy prevail among believers in the RSFSR, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Georgia.
The division in Christianity between Orthodoxy (Eastern Christianity) and Catholicism (Western Christianity), which became quite evident after the division of the Roman Empire into the Western and Eastern empires in 395, was the result of differences in the historical (socioeconomic, political, and cultural) development of the two parts of the empire. The subsequent gradual deepening of differences between the two tendencies in Christianity led to the formal splitting up of the Christian church into a Western (Roman Catholic) and an Eastern (Eastern Catholic or Greek Orthodox) group. The schism took place in 1054 and became final with the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204.
Orthodox religious doctrine, which has the same foundation as the rest of Christianity, is based on the “holy scriptures” (the Bible) and on “sacred tradition.” Within this tradition Orthodoxy includes the decrees of the first seven ecumenical councils (fourth through eighth centuries), the decisions of a number of local councils of the same period, the works of the fathers of the church, and certain other materials (fewer than are included by Catholicism). The principal source of Orthodox theology is the “Creed,” which was adopted by the Council of Nicaea in 325 and supplemented by the Council of Constantinople in 381.
The dogmas of Orthodoxy are the basic tenets of Christian doctrine, as formulated by the first seven ecumenical councils. The Orthodox Church has declared these tenets to be “divinely inspired”: absolutely true, incontrovertible, eternal, unchanging, inaccessible to reason, and therefore subject to acceptance on faith alone. According to Orthodoxy, dogmas adopted by Catholicism after the splitting up of Christianity are erroneous—that is, in contradiction to the holy scriptúres and sacred tradition. For example, Orthodoxy rejects the Catholic dogma that the “holy spirit” emanates not only from god the father but also from god the son (filioque). It denies the primacy and infallibility of the Roman pontiff and the existence of purgatory, and it rejects the doctrine that the heroic exploits of the pious, beyond what is required of them, contribute to a super-abundant treasure-house of grace. Moreover, Orthodoxy does not accept the Catholic dogma of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.
In Orthodoxy as well as in Catholicism the seven sacraments constitute the foundation for ritual, but there are certain differences in the way in which the sacraments are administered. In Orthodox baptism the infant is not sprinkled with water but is immersed in it. Moreover, the parish priest anoints the infant immediately after baptism rather than several years later, as is the practice in Catholicism. In Orthodoxy, communion is the same for the clergy and the laity: both receive leavened bread and wine.
The principal Orthodox divine service or worship is the liturgy (obednia). Services are conducted in national languages, but “dead” languages are also used (for example, Church Slavonic in the Russian Orthodox Church). Holy days are an important part of the Orthodox religion. The principal holy days celebrated by the Orthodox Church (Christmas and Easter) are also observed by all Christians. The Orthodox Church does not recognize Christian holy days that were established by Catholicism after the schism of the churches, but it has introduced a number of holy days that are not observed by Catholics (Candlemas, the Transfiguration, and the Exaltation of the Cross).
Fasting is an integral part of the Orthodox religion. There are 200 fast days a year, including one-day fasts and prolonged fasts (in the spring, Lent; in the summer, St. Peter’s fast; in the autumn, the fast of the Assumption; and in the winter, the Christmas fast). Unlike the Catholic and Protestant churches, which follow the Gregorian calendar, most of the Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar. According to the canons of Orthodoxy, priests should marry, but only once.
The specific characteristics of Orthodox doctrine and church organization reflect the historical development of Byzantium, where Orthodoxy took shape, and the development of the Eastern European and Middle Eastern states to which Orthodoxy spread. In Byzantium, feudal relations evolved more slowly than in the West, the imperial authority was strong, society lacked a multilevel feudal hierarchy, and traditionalism pervaded the culture. All of these factors contributed to a strengthening of traditionalism in Orthodoxy and were to a large extent responsible for the absence of a hierarchy of authority such as developed in Catholicism. Having become the state religion of the Byzantine Empire, Orthodoxy sanctified in the name of god a state organization based on feudal principles. The emperor—”god’s anointed,” the supreme preserver and defender of the dogmas of Orthodoxy—was declared the highest earthly authority in matters of faith.
With the fall of Byzantium in 1453, independent (autocephalous) churches developed on Byzantine territory and in neighboring states. Although these churches preserved Orthodoxy’s general system of doctrine and worship, certain differences emerged in their internal customs. The Orthodox churches have no universal organization, no single center comparable to the Vatican in Catholicism.
In the mid-ninth century, Orthodox Christianity began to penetrate Russian territory, and in 988–989, Orthodoxy was proclaimed the state religion of Kievan Rus’. With the establishment of Orthodoxy in Rus’, the withering away of the vestiges of the primitive clan society accelerated, the feudal order grew stronger, and the Kievan state developed closer ties with other European countries. The introduction of Orthodoxy contributed to the cultural development of Rus’, but it also resulted in the intensification of the oppression of the popular masses by the clergy.
In response to the transformation of the Russian Orthodox Church into a powerful feudal landowner, two opposing tendencies emerged in Orthodoxy in the 15th to 16th centuries: the nestiazhateli (nonpossessors; a group of Muscovite monks) and the Josephites. The nestiazhateli attacked the concentration of wealth in the hands of the church. The Josephites advocated an economically strong church organization, asserting that wealth was the foundation on which the power of the church would be built. Having gained ascendancy over the nestiazhateli, the Josephites had them condemned as heretics.
The raskol (schism), a tendency in the 17th-century Orthodoxy, was also declared heretical. Associated with the reaction to Patriarch Nikon’s reform in church ritual, the raskol drew support primarily from the lower clergy, tradesmen, and peasants. Emerging as the victor in the struggle against these tendencies, official Orthodoxy sanctified the authority of the Russian princes, tsars, and emperors as the “anointed of god,” helped the ruling classes to keep the working people from protesting against the exploiters, justified the colonialist policy of tsarism, and encouraged hostility toward people of other faiths. Tsarism endeavored to strengthen the position of Russian Orthodoxy, treating attacks on religion as manifestations of political disloyalty.
In the capitalist epoch Orthodoxy, which had previously been the buttress of feudal monarchial forces, adapted politically and ideologically to the bourgeois social order. Modernist ideas, which emerged in Catholicism in the second half of the 19th century and became widespread in Protestantism, penetrated Orthodoxy, but at a much slower rate and to a lesser extent, owing to Orthodoxy’s specific characteristics. During the bourgeois democratic Revolution of 1905–07, reformism became a fairly extensive trend in the Russian Orthodox Church. Its representatives demanded the independence of the church from the autocracy, the revision of Orthodoxy’s social and ethical positions to conform with bourgeois traditions, and the modernization of doctrines and ritual. With the defeat of the first Russian revolution, the reformist movement in the church began to decline.
The position of Orthodoxy was seriously undermined by the victory of socialism in the USSR and by socialist construction in a number of other countries, where Orthodoxy had been widespread. The rejection of religion by most of the population and a decline in the religiosity of believers also contributed to the weakening of the church. In adapting to new social conditions, Orthodoxy continues to undergo a complex evolution.
The political orientation of the Orthodox Church has changed radically. Political union with the exploiter classes and hostility to the socialist governmental and social system have given way to loyalty to the new society, support for the peace-loving policies of the socialist states, and active participation in the struggle to maintain peace and international security. Many of the ideological aspects of Orthodoxy are being reinterpreted, so that the church will no longer be perceived as an opponent of modern social, scientific and technological, and cultural progress. The social and ethical views of Orthodoxy are being revised in conformity with the traditions of early, communistic Christianity, which interprets the victory of socialism over capitalism as a result of “divine providence.” An acceptance of social transformations has replaced Orthodoxy’s traditional assertions that changes in the social structure are unnecessary and ineffective, owing to the “sinful depravity” of human nature. Striving to counteract the decline in the number of believers, the Orthodox Church has resorted to certain innovations in ritual, but it has not changed its dogmas. Thus, it has preserved the essence of Orthodox doctrine. For example, the church has eliminated rituals and prayers that are too obviously anachronistic, such as prayers for rain and the blessing of cattle. Under the influence of changing conditions, the church has been obliged to review its attitude toward fasting. The “spiritual fast” is emphasized, and observance of the “bodily fast” is recommended “in accordance with one’s strength.” At present, Orthodoxy does not consider it sinful to work on holy days. Because women constitute the overwhelming majority of those attending services, the church has been obliged, despite its canons, to entrust women with services that were formerly assigned only to men (for example, reading the psalms and assisting at the altar). Orthodox theologians have raised the question of reforming the church calendar in conformity with the New Style.
No degree of modernization, however, can reconcile the world view of Orthodoxy with the communist ideology that prevails in society. The world view of Orthodoxy has no historical future. As a result of social and cultural progress and the unswerving development of mass atheism, Orthodoxy has become a vestige of the past in the consciousness of the steadily declining number of believing citizens in the socialist countries.
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