Volume III - Bible and Church History

Church History

Nineteenth Century

Russia: Spiritual Renewal

The seeds of spiritual renewal, planted in the previous century, blossomed in Russia. The Church continued to live under the domination of the state. While the Church was subject to strict governmental control and censorship, and while there did not exist a patriarch or church council of any kind during the entire century, the life of faith continued to show itself splendidly in the lives of the Russian saints, missionaries, theologians, and writers of the period.

St Seraphim of Sarov

The greatest Russian saint of the century, who has been called the greatest saint in Russian Church history, was Saint Seraphim of Sarov (d.l833 ). Saint Seraphim was a monk who spent twenty years in total seclusion in the most intense prayer, fasting, and spiritual exercise. In 1825 he opened the doors of his enclosure, greeting the faithful who came to him with the radiant joy of the resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit. In his spiritual instructions Saint Seraphim identified the purpose of the Christian life as the “acquisition of the Holy. Spirit.” He was canonized in 1903.

The most famous elders of the Optina monastery who lived at this time were: Leonid (d.l84l); Macarius (d.l841 ); and Amvrossy (d.l891 ). Amvrossy, together with Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, is considered to be the inspirer of the greatest Christian writer of this time, Fyodor Dostoevsky ( d.l861 ).

Within the movement of spiritual renewal were the teachers of the ascetic life and the practice of the Jesus Prayer, the bishop-monks Ignatii Brianchaninoff (d.l867), and Theophan Govorov, the Recluse (d.l894) who wrote volumes of spiritual writings, including the Russian translation of the Philokalia. At this time, the popular book on the Jesus Prayer by an unknown Russian author, called The Way of the Pilgrim, made its appearance.

In the second half of the century Father John Sergieff of Kronstadt (d.1908)  lived and worked. Father John was a parish priest whose pastoral gifts earned him the title of “All-Russian Pastor.” Through his great faith the saintly priest prayed, celebrated the liturgical mysteries, taught, and healed. He is greatly responsible for the eucharistic revival among Russian Orthodox in this century. He insisted on the participation in the holy sacraments by those who came to pray with him in his parish. In order to facilitate and to deepen the preparation of the faithful for the regular reception of Holy Communion, Father John instituted the practice of corporate, public confession. A great benefactor of the poor and a healer of the sick, Father John’s spiritual counsels are published in his diary called My Life in Christ.

The leading Russian theologians of the nineteenth century were the great churchmen, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (d.l867), and the layman Alexei Khomiakov (d.l860) whose writings – such as the famous The Church is One – were not originally published in Russia due to government censorship. Considered as one of the most original and creative of modern theologians, Khomiakov was among the first to discover the traditional patristic courses of Orthodox theology and spiritual life. He encouraged Orthodox thinkers to break from the “Western captivity” of scholastic theology and to meet the intellectual and spiritual world of the West with a sound knowledge and experience of the genuine Orthodox Tradition.

In addition to Khomiakov and the writer Dostoevsky, mention must be made of the Russian religious thinkers such as I. Kireevskii (d.l856), V. Soloviev (d.l900), N. Federov (d.l905) and the brothers S. Troubetskoy (d.l905) and E. Troubetskoy (d.l 920). Also the name of Leo Tolstoy (d.l913), the great novelist who rewrote the gospels, created his own religion, and was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church, should be mentioned.

Russia: Missionary Activity

The nineteenth century in Russia, as in the West, was a missionary century. The priest, Makarii Glukharev ( d.l84 7), dedicated his life to the evangelization of the Siberian tribes. The lay professor, Nikolai Ilminskii (d.l891) translated the scriptures and church books of the Orthodox faith into the languages of these peoples. The theological academy founded in Kazan became the center of the missionary activity of the Russian Church.

At this time as well Bishop Nikolai Kassatkin (d.l912) of Tokyo converted thousands of Japanese to the Orthodox faith, leaving ~ t his death a self-governing local church with the scriptures and liturgical books in the native language, and a number of native pastors. Bishop Nikolai was canonized a saint in 1970.

Saint Herman of Alaska (d.l837) was also canonized by the Orthodox Church in 1970 for his extraordinary holiness, expressed by his self-emptying love and care for the Alaskan people. In addition, the name of Father John Veniaminoff (d.l879) must be mentioned in relation to the missionary activities of the Russian Church. Father John travelled across Siberia at the beginning of the century with his wife and children. He translated the scriptures, the church services, and a brief book of his own writing called The Way to the Kingdom of Heaven, in to the Aleut language. He created the alphabet out of Slavonic characters. Father John was a great administrator, technician, and scientist. He was a teacher, a pastor, and a linguist. In 1839 he became bishop of Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands. In 1868 he was elected Metropolitan of Moscow with the name of Innocent.

The nineteenth century saw the growth of the Orthodox Church in America. Many immigrants came to the new world in the latter half of the century from the traditional Orthodox homelands of the old country. In 1812, the first Orthodox church building as constructed on the North American mainland at Fort Ross in California. In 1870 the first bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands was named. In 1872 the center of the Orthodox mission was unofficially moved from Sitka to San Francisco, where it was officially established by Bishop Nestor in 1879. In 1898 archbishop Tikhon Belavin, later to become the first patriarch of the Russian Church since the time of Peter the Great, was assigned as the American primate. He called for local autonomy, the use of English as the liturgical language, and the employment of the local civil calendar for ecclesiastical use.

The first Greek Orthodox parish in the United States was established in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1867. This parish was given its churchly vessels by the Russian tsar “in token of his imperial pleasure over the beginning of Greek-speaking churches in the spiritual jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Russia.”

The East

The nineteenth century in the East witnessed the independence of large numbers of Orthodox Christians from the Turkish yoke. The Greek uprising in 1821 caused the Turkish authorities to hang Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople, and five metropolitans, from the gates of the Phanar on Easter Sunday. After the independence of Greece was won, the autcephalous status of the Greek Church was declared m 1833. It was confirmed by Constantinople in 1850. The patriarchial theological seminary on the island of Halki was founded in 1844.

Five self-governing dioceses of Serbian Orthodox, and two dioceses of Romanian Orthodox were set up outside the boundaries of the Turkish empire during the course of the century. Within the empire, the Bulgarian people sought and obtained permission from the Turks to have their own separate church jurisdiction. The Bulgarians were formerly governed in dioceses with other Orthodox Christians living in the same area by Greek bishops, who were appointed by the patriarch of Constantinople. Any action of establishing a separate church administration on the basis of nationality was officially condemned by the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch in 1872 as the heresy of phyletism. This so-called Bulgarian schism was finally settled in 1945 when the Bulgarian patriarchate was established within determined territorial boundaries.

The second half of the century witnessed the life of Saint Nectarios of Aegina (d.l920). lie was the Archbishop of Pentapolis, known for his evangelical preaching and manner of life – governed by humility, simplicity, poverty, and love for the brethren.

The West

The protestant West was characterized by missionary expansion and liberal theology. This was the era of the “quest for the historical Jesus” through the means of historical and biblical criticism. It was the time when the Christian faith was considered by the theologians, primarily, as a religion of feeling or of moral behavior. At this time, there was a clash between the liberals and the fundamentalists. The fundamentalists, particularly in America, insisted on using the Bible as a manual of science to be interpreted literally in a manner inconsistent with the purposes and intentions of the holy scriptures as understood and interpreted in Church Tradition. Thus in the Western Protestant world of the nineteenth century, the dominant choice offered was that of either liberalism of a rationalist or pietist variety, or sectarian fundamentalism. In the Roman Church at the end of the century, the papal ecclesiastical authority condemned the form of Roman Catholic liberalism called the heresy of modernism. This was officially done in 1907. Its roots, however, were in the critical, rationalist movements of the nineteenth century with its emphasis on biblical criticism and the history of religions as the proper keys to the understanding of Christianity.

Earlier in the century in 1854, Pope Pius IX, officially promulgated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. In 1870, the First Vatican Council reaffirmed the doctrines of the Council of Trent, and officially, for the first time in history, legislated the dogma of the infallibility of the pope of Rome. This so-called Vatican Dogma declared that the bishop of Rome has direct episcopal jurisdiction over all Roman Catholics in the world, including the other bishops; and that when the pope speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith or morals, his decision is binding on all catholics - since it is considered to be infallible. The Vatican dogma explicitly states that the infallibility of the pope is binding when he speaks “from himself and not from the consensus of the church.”

The Roman saints, John Vianney (d.l859), the Curé of Ars, and Teresa of Lisieux (d.l897) lived at this time.

The East and the West

In 1848, in response to overtures directed to the Orthodox by Pope Pius IX, the Eastern Patriarchs issued their famous encyclical letter in which the doctrine of the conciliar character of the Orthodox is clearly professed. Signed by all the patriarchs of the Orthodox Church, together with twenty-nine bishops fully endorsed by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, the encyclical letter of 1848 is held as the most authoritative document in modern Orthodox Church history.