Church History for Orthodox | 10


1. Grass-roots Orthodox revival.

In the face of oppression and obstruction, as well as foreign influence, God granted Orthodoxy outstanding Saints to reinvigorate His Church:

St. Nicodemus of Mt. Athos (+1809) compiled the Philokalia, the teachings of the Holy Fathers on interior prayer of the heart.

St. Paisius, who lived on Athos and then in Moldavia, founded monasteries where contemplative prayer flourished:

His Hesychast revival blossomed in Russia and nourished such great Saints as Seraphim of Sarov and the Optina Elders - a succession of spiritual giants who spanned the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in a golden chain of holiness reminiscent of Christianity's earliest days.

2. Evangelization.

The late 18th and the 19th centuries were times of great missionary fervour in the Church:

In 1794 - the very year that St. Paisius reposed - the first Russian missionaries arrived in Alaska:

Won over by great teachers such as St. Herman and St. Innocent of Alaska, a large proportion of the Eskimo and Aleut Indians became staunch Orthodox Christians.

In Japan, which had no native Orthodox, St. Nicholas of Tokyo (+1912) converted thousands of Japanese and set up a self-sufficient native Orthodox Church.

In Russia, the Seminary of Kazan was the missionary heart of the nation, and in this region the Liturgy was celebrated in over 20 different languages.

Orthodox missionaries were often successful precisely because they did not employ the coercive tactics other Christians of that era too often favoured.

On the North American mainland, the first church to represent our Faith was built at Fort Ross, California, in 1812.

St. Juvenal of Alaska was the first American martyr for Orthodoxy.

In 1879, an archbishopric was established at San Francisco and, in 1898, St. Tikhon was made Archbishop for North America (later he suffered for the Faith as Patriarch of Moscow).

It was in San Francisco too that another martyr for Christ, an Indian, sanctified the New World with his blood:

St. Peter the Aleut had sailed down from Alaska to California:

When he refused to change to Roman Catholicism, the local Franciscan friars dispatched him to eternal life by cutting off his fingers one by one until he bled to death.

3. Muslim stranglehold is broken.

Ever since the fall of the Levant and Byzantium to Arab and Turkish forces, Eastern Christians (the Russians excepted) had generally lived in subjugation to Saracens or Catholics .

In 1821, however, the Greek Christians toppled their Muslim overlords in a bloody massacre. They wished to establish an Orthodox kingdom, but the European powers had other plans for the young nation:

The Kingdom of Greece was forced to accept a Catholic monarch, and the course forced upon the Church of Greece was a difficult one.

In Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, the faithful likewise threw off the Turkish Yoke , and these lands revived their ancient national Churches, each with its own Patriarch:

This was a mixed blessing, for as long as the Turks held sway, native Christians were cut off from the rest of the world, and oppression encouraged them to guard their traditions.

Now, winds of humanism and modernism began to blow within the Church's precincts, imperceptibly at first, later with hurricane force.

4. Two new dogmas from Rome.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared as a dogma that the Virgin Mary was conceived immaculately, without original sin

(in spite of the fact that Catholic teachers such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, and other Roman Catholic authorities, taught the contrary).

This same daring Pope, who called himself “the way, the truth, and the life ,” called the Catholic bishops of the world to the First Vatican Council, where in 1870 they unanimously agreed that the Pope of Rome is infallible whenever defining faith or morals for the Church.

The Christian world reeled in shock. Protestants were vindicated; this was the culmination of their direst warnings. The Orthodox were aghast.

Expecting some Catholics to seek refuge in Orthodoxy, the Russian Church approved a Western Rite Mass for them (their offer had few takers).

In the USA, the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis had just published a catechism stating that Papal infallibility was a notion dreamed up by Protestants to make Catholicism appear absurd. A second, revised printing was hastily prepared.

5. Old Catholicism.

In only one part of the world was a serious, lasting protest raised against the Papacy by Roman Catholics themselves:

In Germany, a circle of scholar-priests, risking their careers, stood up to Papal infallibility and were ejected from the Roman Church.

In 1873, these priests banded together and, with many sympathetic lay people, founded the Old Catholic church, which soon merged with the Old Roman church of Utrecht.

The Old Catholics expressed their wish to return to the ancient Christian faith and practice,

but because they had no unbroken, living tradition to link them with their Orthodox ancestors (as did the Eastern Orthodox), they could not agree on what the ancient Christian faith and practice were.

Their only link with Western Christianity had been through Roman Catholicism, and now that they were independent of Rome, everything was “up for grabs .”

Unwilling to take its lead from Rome, and sceptical about Orthodox tradition, the Old Catholic church strove to gain a sense of direction through a series of lay Congresses,

huge affairs which created quite a stir on the European scene and were attended by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox observers.

Ultimately, the Old Catholics felt most comfortable with the Anglican church .

Within ten years the denomination had assimilated many features of Protestantism, though retaining elements of Catholicism and reciting the Creed, like the Orthodox, without the filioque.

6. Splitting hairs and splitting up.

The 20th century has heralded one unique and very unfortunate phenomenon:

As in no other epoch of Christian history, we have seen the proliferation of a countless multitude of denominations.

Prior to 1900 , the most well-known denominations, Moravians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, which sprang up in that order, were new groups who most influenced the lives of Europeans and Americans.

In America, the new religions of Mormonism (founded 1830), Seventh-Day Adventism (1844), Christian Science (1879), and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1884) were formed and began disseminating doctrines widely differing from historic Christian teachings.

In the more traditional Protestant bodies, a great deal of division occurred over differences in Scripture interpretation, differing ideas of church government, and purely political concerns.

7. "Sacramental” churches proliferate.

The explosion in split-off denominations was not confined to Protestants; many Catholic or Orthodox clergymen seceded from their respective churches to form new groups.

We can begin to understand the actions of these men and their splintering movements if we understand how they viewed Holy Orders, the process of ordaining clergy.

The Fathers of the Church teach us that the Grace of the Sacraments, given by God, resides in His Holy Church. This Grace is poured out upon the faithful through the clergy ordained for the Church to this purpose.

This mysterious power resides, then, not in the individual men who celebrate the Sacraments, but in the single Body of the Church, from whom the Bishops and clergy receive any authority they may possess.

If any clergyman separates from the Church, whether by teaching falsely (heresy) or simply seceding from the unity of the Church (schism), any “sacraments” he performs are utterly invalid and void, since “he has become a layman ” (St. Basil).

He is like a lamp unplugged from its source, or a branch cut off from a tree; the one cannot give light, and the other cannot sustain life.

However, the Roman Catholic teaching, made official at the Council of Trent, says that sacramental authority rests in the person of the clergyman as an effect of his ordination;

therefore, if he secedes from the Church, he can continue to liturgise or ordain, although he will sin in so doing, and his sacraments will be valid but irregular.

This teaching became the rationale for thousands of independent bodies called Catholic or Orthodox or both, which profess to have an apostolic succession and sacraments ,

but have lost that which is essential to them both, the characteristic of Church unity as understood by Christianity’s early Fathers.

Often, these bodies have clergy or bishops but no people to attend services.