Church History for Orthodox | 9


1. The Holy Mountain.

Perhaps the greatest bulwark of our Faith at this time was Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, a peninsula in Greece teeming with monasteries populated by monks of all Orthodox national backgrounds.

While Orthodox people were busy bartering their rich cultural heritage for Western fads,

Mt. Athos preserved the culture and faith of Eastern Christianity, together with the highest ideals of Christian ascetic and contemplative life as expounded by the Early Fathers.

2. Schism in Russia.

In imperial Russia, a terrible schism exposed the worst susceptibilities of Orthodoxy in the Third Rome:

In the 1650s, Patriarch Nikon, an overbearing man with a love for things Greek, changed Russian services and customs to accord with his perception of what was standard in the other Patriarchates, and alienated many of his flock.

The Patriarchs deposed Nikon but ratified his reforms;

the Old Believers (Old Ritualists is more accurate) refused his decrees and formed a schism:

For making the sign of the Cross a little differently, for making processions around the church in one direction rather than another, Old Believers were oppressed and killed.

The Church hierarchy showed that it allowed no room for a loyal opposition, and the opposition believed that the only true Orthodox were in Russia and were, in fact, themselves.

A year after Nikon died, Tsar Peter I gained the throne and abolished the Moscow Patriarchate.

3. Protestant Patriarch?!

Western trends most often affected not the dogmas of the Eastern Church but the style in which they were presented.

However, Orthodox Christendom recoiled in horror when the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lukaris, came out with his Confession of Faith:

This work was thoroughly Calvinist, and was swiftly condemned by Orthodox councils held in Kiev, Jassy, and Jerusalem.

In 1638, Cyril was drowned by the Turks.

4. Jansenism.

Within Roman Catholicism, the lax moral theology of the Jesuits was attacked by thinkers such as Bishop Cornelius Jansen of Ypres, who cited, as had Calvin, St. Augustine's views on Grace and human free-will.

Jansen claimed Jesuitism was incompatible with St. Augustine (which it was), and a power struggle ensued as each party sought to have the other proscribed by the Roman authorities (which they each were).

Jean du Vergier de Hauranne, abbot of St. Cyran in France, brought Augustinian ideals to the famous convent of Port Royal outside Paris and encouraged a stream of Augustinian publications.

A number of influential people attached themselves to Port Royal for guidance;

Blaise Pascal, father of the modern computer, wrote his Provincial Letters, which blasted Jesuitism with eloquence and charm.

Pope Innocent X issued a bull condemning five propositions from Augustinus;

Jansenists agreed with him but observed that the propositions were not to be found in the book. Port Royal was shut down.

The Jesuits fostered a new and unheard-of devotion to Jesus' physical heart (the Sacred Heart), an imaginative and emotional piety stressing Christ's human nature over His Divine nature:

This devotion was in fact a revival of the early heresy of Nestorianism, which had singled out Christ's humanity for a separate veneration. Using the pulpit and the confessional, the Jesuits spread this spirituality, and their other concepts, throughout Roman Catholicism.

5. Church of Utrecht.

In the Netherlands, torn by Protestant-Catholic strife, the local Roman clergy tended strongly to Jansenist ideals:

They were effective at reclaiming ground lost to Calvinism, but their very success alarmed the Jesuits, who denounced many of the most illustrious of the Dutch churchmen as heretical.

Pieter Codde, vicar apostolic of Utrecht, was deposed by Rome in 1704 because he would not sign an anti-Jansenist document.

The cathedral clergy chose Cornelius Steenoven to be their bishop, and in 1724 he was consecrated by a disguised Roman bishop passing through town. This was the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church of the Old Episcopal Clergy, or “Little Church of Utrecht.”

In 1763, at the Council of Utrecht, this body, seed of the future Old Catholic movements, affirmed every Roman Catholic dogma and pronounced the Orthodox Faith to be schismatic and false.

Its establishment signalled not a rapprochement with Orthodoxy, then, so much as a refusal to drift yet further from her, as much of the Roman fold was doing.

6. Synodal Russia.

In the most powerful sphere of the Orthodox Faith- Russia - traditional Church life was disrupted by Tsar Peter I's Spiritual Regulation:

Drafted by a layman, the Regulation abolished the patriarchate and set up a Synod of Bishops presided over by a State-appointed, layman “ober-procurator.”

The government of the Russian Church at this time was organizationally modelled on Protestant bodies of the West.

The reign of the Empress Catherine, a German by birth and training, was even more disastrous for Russian Orthodoxy:

She closed half the monasteries of the Empire, and when in 1773 the Jesuit Order was abolished by the Papacy itself (to the relief of Europe's crowned and mitred heads), Catherine harboured Jesuits in Russia and preserved their Order.

These were dark days for Orthodoxy, and yet the same Lord Who promised to be with us “to the consummation of the world” preserved His Holy Church through thick and thin.