Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 6 - The Eastern Orthodox (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-006 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE REST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> NICK: Naturally, we�ve spent a good deal of time speaking about the Reformation and the impact Luther had upon Catholics and Protestants. And I very much appreciate what you've now shared about the developments within the church through the 19th century. But it occurs to me that it has been some time since we spoke of the Eastern Orthodox in these church history courses. Yet, I know that they remain a vital force in Christianity today. A good friend of mine serves as an Orthodox priest in Pennsylvania. So may I ask about them? What was the experience of the Eastern Orthodox Church during the early modern period? Did all that had been happening in other parts of the Christian world equally impact them? >> SPEAKER: In this course, we do have a tendency to focus on the Western church, Nick. But I really appreciate the way you brought the Eastern Church back into the discussion. It is a matter of a focus, shall we say, and emphasis, and obviously given our own proclivities, that is being Western Christians ourselves, we tend to think largely in those terms. But Eastern Christianity was a viable, living community throughout this period and experienced some remarkable changes of its own, some to the good and some to the bad. To that end, we stretch well back to the year 1054 when the break between the East and West really first was made hard and fast. In the wake of that unfortunate division, the Eastern Church tended to develop on its own. As the Eastern Church went through a time in the 1100's, the 1200's, and 1300's, some new emphases began to develop. For example, the prominence of Russia as a church in the East would only begin to occur and the Russian church would only begin to emerge as a strong church leading Eastern Orthodoxy in the years following the fall of Constantinople. Constantinople fell in the year 1453. And in the wake of that fall, the Eastern Orthodox Church found itself in some ways leaderless. Moscow, the Russian church, stepped in to fill the vacuum. And around that the emerging Russian church an entire theology developed, a theology that saw Moscow as the third Rome and the pinnacle of Christ�s church here on this earth. Obviously, if you have a third Rome, that means you have a first and second. And not surprisingly, the first Rome was Rome itself. Rome was entrusted by God with the responsibility of maintaining the true faith of not only establishing that tradition but recognizing it and cultivating it and nurturing it here in the church�s life. However, in the belief of Eastern Orthodox churches, Rome capitulated on this point and gave up its unique mission. It did this when Rome itself began to claim a certain primacy among all the historic patriarchates of the church. Rome itself claimed to be the center of the church at the expense of other Christian centers like Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople. Rome said it was the center of the church, and its bishop now began to call himself Pope or father of all. One might say the bishop of the world. Rather, argued the Eastern churches, the bishops should be seen as equals and among the patriarchs, there were equalities as well. However, by Rome claiming to be the source of the church, really you myself, the church itself centered in the papacy, it had abdicated, it had given up its unique mission in this world. As a result, God punished the Roman church. The Roman Empire fell. Chaos resulted in the Western church for many years, and the torch, if you will, of leadership for all of world Christianity, again in the minds of the East, was passed to Constantinople, the second Rome. As the second Rome, Constantinople enjoyed a position of being first among equals, prima inter pares is how they would put it. That is to say, people looked to Constantinople for leadership, but Constantinople did not have something beyond and above what the other churches had. However, as time went by, Constantinople itself fell into the temptations that Rome itself had offered. As the Western church regained strength in the latter part of the Middle Ages and as things moved towards a head in the years of high scholasticism In the 1100�s, 1200's, and into the 1300's, Rome increasingly flexed its ecclesiastical muscle and became even more dominant in the church. At the same time, Constantinople began to decrease somewhat in power, and the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Catholic Empire, began to decline in its own power. Culminating in the 1453 with the fall of Constantinople. Why did Constantinople fall? Some within Eastern Christianity thought that it was due to Constantinople entering into agreements with the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Florence in the earlier 1400's. By virtue of their agreement with Rome, said the later interpreters, Constantinople itself had become impure, and as a result, God used the Islamic hoards to punish. So Constantinople fell in 1453. In the vacuum, Moscow emerged, again, as the third Rome. In 1589, Moscow itself received a patriarchate and became a recognized leader in the church. Many believed that with this move, as Moscow moved to the forefront of Eastern Christianity and became that part of the church which was responsible for maintaining the historic tradition, that it would be the harbinger of a great period of peace, expansion, growth and above all, Christian community within Eastern Christianity. It was not to be, however. For as we enter the 1600's, Moscow found itself in the midst of controversy. A patriarch in Moscow by the name of Nikon began to push the Russian church to accept Eastern Greek customs. That is to say, he said it was necessary for the Russian church to update its liturgies and its practices to bring them more in line with historic Constantinople. He proposed some changes which to us might seem kind of minor, the two-fingered sign of the cross, as opposed to the three-fingered sign of the cross became the heart of the controversy and the manner in which the priest made that sign of the cross became the focus of division in the church. The common Russian people said by changing the liturgy you have changed our beliefs. Nikon said on the other hand, to be in accordance with the historic tradition, we must adopt the practices of Constantinople. The bitter controversy that resulted split the Russian church, and a group called the Old Believers began to exist as an independent entity within Russian Christianity. Nikon himself was deposed ultimately because he not only proposed the Greek changes, he also sought to establish himself as the absolute power in the church over the Czar. In this respect, he simply reflected what Western European popes had been trying to do throughout the Middle Ages, claim absolute dominance for the church. However, in his case, he didn't have the power, the political strength to pull it off so he was deposed. And strangely enough, the Russian church adopted his changes while deposing his person. The patriarchate was weekend, and the government, the Czar himself, became the dominant force in Russian life. This continued on into the late 1600's until finally, when Peter the Great was king of Russia, he simply divested the church of its authority in terms of having a patriarch. In 1721 he established the Holy Synod. Interestingly enough, he modeled the Holy Synod on the basis of the Prussian Lutheran consistories of which we've already spoken. Peter had spent significant time in the Christian West, in Western Europe, and as such had been exposed to a variety of ideas both in Holland, the Netherlands, as well as in the Holy Roman Empire and including, in that respect, the German Lutherans as well. With the Holy Synod, he, therefore, took to himself right of approval for all who sat on it, and then the Holy Synod regulated the affairs of the Russian church. If priests, if monasteries became unwieldy or resisted the efforts of the Holy Synod, the Holy Synod, with the force of the state, could correct their actions or simply depose them. If, on the other hand, members of the Holy Synod resisted the efforts of the king, he simply removed them as well. The Czar had absolute power. So strangely enough, even into the early 18th century in Russia, we see the impact of Western thought, Western practices, and Western concerns. This would remain the case in Russia until the October Revolution in 1917 when the Holy Synod itself was disbanded by the newly formed communist regime. Since that time, the Russian church struggled mightily under the impact of communism, but in recent years, the Lord has blessed us with opportunities to share the gospel once again in Eastern Europe. And the Russian church, and the Lutheran Church in Russia, specifically, are growing and moving into the future with the gospel of Christ on their lips. It's really a remarkable story, Russia over the last 900 years. In the midst of human suffering, human difficulty, we see how God remains faithful and continues, even in the midst of the most difficult challenges, to bless people with the living word of Christ. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****