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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Russian Church

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The Russians, like other nations, were originally Pagans, and worshipped fire, which they considered as the cause of thunder, under the name of Perun, and the earth under the name Volata; at the same time having some notions of a future state of rewards and punishments. Christianity was first professed by the Princess Olga, who was baptized at Constantinople. She recommended it to her grandson Vladimir, on whose baptism, in 988, it was adopted by the nation generally; and from that time the Greek church has been the established religion throughout Russia, and Greek literature greatly encouraged. During the middle ages, however, the doctrine of transubstantiation, and some other popish peculiarities, were covertly introduced; and, by the irruption of the Mongol Tartars, in the fifteenth century, a stop was put to learning and civilization for full two centuries; but, on the accession of the present dynasty in 1613, civilization and Christianity were restored, and schools established for the education of the clergy. The Russian clergy are divided into regular and secular; the former are all monks, and the latter are the parochial clergy. The superior clergy are called archires; but the title of metropolitan, or bishop, is personal, and not properly attached to the see, as in the western church. Next after the archires rank the black clergy, including the chiefs of monasteries and convents, and after them the monks. The secular priests are called the white clergy, including the protoires, or proto-popes, priests, and deacons, together with the readers and sacristans. These amounted, in 1805, throughout the empire, to ninety- eight thousand seven hundred and twenty-six. The white clergy must be married before they can be ordained, but must not marry a second time; they are at liberty then to enter among the black clergy, and a way is thus opened for their accession to the higher orders. The whole empire is divided into thirty-six diocesses, or eparchies, in which are four hundred and eighty-three cathedrals, and twenty-six thousand, five hundred and ninety-eight churches. The churches are divided into three parts. 1. The altar, where stands the holy table, crucifix, &c, which is separated from the body of the church by a large screen, on which are painted our Saviour, the virgin, the Apostles, and other saints. Upon a platform before this are placed the readers and singers, and here the preacher generally stands behind a movable desk. 2. The nave, or body of the church, which may be called the inner court. 3. The trapeza, or outer court. The two last are designed for the congregation, but neither have any seats. The walls of the church are highly embellished with Scripture paintings, ornamented with gold, silver, and precious stones, but no images.

The church service is contained in twenty-four volumes, folio, in the Slavonian language, which is not well understood by the common people. Parts of the Scriptures are read in the service; but few, even of the ecclesiastics, possess a complete Bible. The patriarch of Russia was formerly almost equal in authority with the czar himself; but Peter the Great, on the death of the patriarch in 1700, abolished his office, and appointed an exarch. In 1721 he abolished this office also, and appointed a "holy legislative synod" for the government of the church, at the head of which is always placed a layman of rank and eminence. The monastic life was once so prevalent in this country, that there were four hundred and seventy-nine convents for men, and seventy-four for women, in which there were about seventy thousand monks and nuns, &c; but this kind of life was so much discouraged by Peter the Great and the Empress Catherine, that the religious are now reduced to about five thousand monks and seventeen hundred nuns. Great part of their revenues has also been alienated, and appropriated to the support of hospitals and houses for the poor.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Russian Church'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/r/russian-church.html. 1831-2.

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