Why is the relationship between Rome and the Russian Orthodox particularly strained?

Hello Everyone,

This is my first post on this sub-forum but I know you guys would know the answer or would be able to tell me if I am mistaken, which is entirely possible.

I have noticed that among the Orthodox Churches the relationship with the Russian Church seems the most challenging. Why is that?

Just in case anyone is wondering I am just posting because of my ignorance and not to be controversial. I know that some folks do post threads like that but that’s definitely not my aim here. :slight_smile:

Thanks and God Bless!

This question goes back for years and years - probably a lot earlier than the great East/West Schism of 1054.

The 2nd Council of Constantinople asserted that “the bishop of Constantinople must have primacy of honor after the bishop of Rome because Constantinople is the New Rome.” and issues of whether or not Rome has primacy or supremacy are one part of the problem as are disputes regarding the use of unleavened bread. The other great tension is the use of the word filioque in the Nicene Creed - whether or not the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” being the controversy here.

The actual schism itself was unnecessary and probably avoidable - but ever since the very early Church there have been great political and theological tensions between Rome and the East.

This is only an outline, but the relevant chapters of “The Popes - A History” by John Julius Norwich are quite useful. I myself am definitely not an expert.

Oh I have some knowledge about the events of the Schism. I should have been more clear.

I am curious why, among the Orthodox Churches, the current and more recent (century or so) relationship with the Russian Orthodox seems the most strained and difficult for ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.

In laymans terms- the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox don’t seem to be getting along well.

There are major tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church that have absolutely nothing to do with the Schizm between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches.

They stem from two complimentary areas.

In the Ukraine, the majority of the populace was Catholic prior to the Russian Revolution. After the Soviets took over, they suppressed the Catholic Church violently, and made the Russian Orthodox Church the ONLY legal church. The Catholic Churches continued to exist, in small communities, but were broken up if they became at all public.

The Soviets also suppressed the Russian Catholic Church, murdering all clergy that they possibly could, and driving it completely underground. It virtually ceased to exist between 1919-1990.

The Orthodox Church cooperated with the Communists, assisted them in finding Catholic Clergy and imprisoning them, informed on clandestine Catholic communities (as well as Protestant ones), and generally acted as stooges of the Communist Government. In their defense, they had to either do that, or be suppressed themselves. But, all too many of their leadership saw this as an opportunity to destroy the Catholic Church in all of the areas controlled by the Soviet Union.

The Soviets also moved hundreds of thousands of Russians into the Ukraine (as well as all other “Soviet Republics” that they controlled) in an effort to “Russianize” those areas. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were forced to move to other ares of the Soviet Union, all in an effort to break down any “nationality problem”. This did not work, but it did leave a large Russian minority in all of the formerly independent countries that suddenly became independent again.

Much of Western Ukraine had been Poland prior to the 2nd World War. The Soviets had invaded Eastern Poland at the same time as the Nazi’s invaded, and they had controlled all of Eastern Poland between September 1939 and June 1941, when the Nazi’s invaded the Soviet Union. That part of Poland had been made a part of the Ukraine. It had been virtually 100% Roman Catholic before the Soviets took it over.

The first thing the Soviets did was to imprison all priests, bishops, monks, and religious, turn all of the churches, monasteries etc. over to the Orthodox Church (those that they allowed to remain open at all) and they forced the people to become either Orthodox or nothing.

Following World War II, that area was NOT restored to Poland. Instead, the Soviets kept it, and forced a large chunk of Germany to become Polish territory instead.

Once the Communist government fell, and the Ukraine became an independent country again, the Ukrainian Catholic Church emerged from hiding, and demanded that it’s churches be restored to them, and that the Orthodox give up any claim to what had been Catholic Churches until the Communists drove them out.

The Orthodox refused to give up any churches, and they had to be sued to get any of the former Catholic Churches back. They encouraged rebellion among the Russian minority in the Ukraine, and have fought against any resurgence of the Catholic faith there (and in several other former Soviet Republics).

In Russia, the government supports the Orthodox in their absolute refusal to even recognize the Russian Catholics, and in their adamant refusal to give up any of the Churches Monasteries or Church lands that the Orthodox took from the Catholics.

The Orthodox accuse the Catholics of attempting to convert Orthodox peoples, of attempting to steal Orthodox Churches, Monasteries and the lands that they have; merely because the Catholics want to regain what was theirs until it was stolen from them.

Until these issues are thrashed out, there will be no peace between these two churches. The Orthodox adamantly refuse to give anything back, without legal challenges, and they adamantly refuse to even acknowledge that the people of those areas had always been traditionally Catholic, and NOT Orthodox.

They got control by the power of the Communist government of the Soviet Union, and they will NOT give up that control.

That is what is REALLY behind the friction between those two churches.

Why is the relationship between Rome and the Russian Orthodox particularly strained?

Probably, because (historically speaking) the Russian Church was granted -autocephaly- with a national status.

-(After suffering government persecution according to Russian history)-

This makes sense to me. It certainly puts the onus on the Orthodox to make the appropriate move.

On the other hand “no matter how flat you make a pancakel; it always has 2 sides.”

It does sound like a bad situation. I can see why there is specific tension between the Churches.

I had heard hints of that before but nothing approaching that level of clarity and detail. Thank you for that detailed and insightful post. Do you have particular recommendations on where I can read more on that situation?

Thanks again,

I wrote “pancakel”

I don’t think there is such thing as a pancakel so I will chage that to “pancake” :slight_smile:

Several elements at work.

  1. The Russian Orthodox Church had bad dealings with the Roman Church in the US from 1870 to around 1940. As in, absorbing Ruthenian and Ukrainian Greek Catholic schismatic priests who went into schism because certain bishops refused to acknowledge that they could even be Catholics. One of the Receiving bishops was St. Tikhon.

  2. Russian hyper-conciliarity. The Russian Orthodox internal governance makes far more strong the input from the laity. And makes Lay views matter for most things (except disciplining clergy). In itself not a huge issue, but…

  3. Catholics in Russia… Once Tsar Nicholas II (Romanov) allowed Catholics in officially, many of those sympathetic to the Catholic Church amongst the faithful “defected” either to the Latin Church or the Russian Exarchate (Greek Catholic aka - Orthodox in Communion with Rome - Unia - Byzantine Catholic). This reduced the number of RO willing to deal with rome.

  4. Soviet Persecution. The Soviets made Rome out to be pretty horrid. Lots o that misinformation still sticks in the Russian mindset.

  5. Russian Patriarchal Origin - they claim to be the New New Rome. If Old Old Rome is still valid, their patriarchal authority is clearly not nearly as solid.

  6. Russian Theological Isolation - Russian Theology is divergent, very slightly. And it leads to a certain mindset that is inherently at odds with many Catholic views.

Just some comments regarding the post by the Old Medic:

First of all, a minor point, it is “Ukraine” not “the Ukraine” as Ukraine is now an independent country and not a province of Russia (ie. the province or the Ukraine). :wink:

The Russian Orthodox Church herself was viciously persecuted by the communists and suffered the GREATEST martyrdom for Christ with the largest number of martyrs.

Ukrainian Catholics only resided in one province of Ukraine, namely Galicia, with parishes here and there elsewhere. Russian Tsarism also did its share of EC suppression. Also, we should not forget Roman Catholic suppression of Eastern Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy under Poland - that is another story.

The whole “unia” thing in Ukraine and Belarus was a painful one. The creation of the Eastern Catholic church pitted EC against his or her own Orthodox countrymen and the whole struggle was used to political advantage by both Roman Catholic (Jesuit) and Russian Orthodox powers.

Eastern Catholicism was seen by RC Poland as a way to denationalize the Polish King’s Ruthenian Orthodox subjects in order to bring religious/cultural homogeneity to the kingdom and to better dominate them.

Ruthenian (Ukrainian and Belarusyan) aristocracy, once they became Catholic, soon became heavily Polonized. There was persecution of the Orthodox and of the EC’s in order to Latinize them and make them members of the “One True Roman Catholic Church” and Polish subjects.

It was THAT memory that still lingers not only in Orthodox souls, but in EC souls as well.

When the soviet forces came into Ukraine, like the Tsarist forces before them, (different economic ideology, same Russophile focus), they went about “correcting” the historical wrong of the imposed Catholic unia. However, the unia was entrenched in the western Ukrainian soul as “our Church” and, like the Poles before them, the Russians were only trying to Russify or religiously colonize the Ukrainian Catholics.

We cannot separate religion from culture (or politics for that matter). The “filioque” in the Creed was expunged by the soviets while the UGCC tenaciously clung to it NOT because of its “truth” but because it had become a symbol of the UGCC identity - religious and cultural at the same time. The same was true of the Sacred Hearts devotion, the rosary etc. etc. Latinizations took on a wider character as a result.

But we must also remember that the Union of Brest was Rome’s attempt to reach out to the Muscovite Orthodox empire. It turned out as a failed experiment however.

Rome’s sights were never on Ukraine or Belarus, but on the grand ecclesial geopolitical prize - the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Eastern Catholic Church has always been the sore spot on both sides with the ROC throwing it into Rome’s face as an historic example of Rome’s acting in bad faith (i.e. colonization) with respect to its jurisdiction and Rome wishing the UGCC was just quiet about things and stop grandstanding when it offends Moscow (i.e. building a UGCC cathedral in Kyiv where the patriarch simply informed Rome after the deal was done).

Rome has also tried to limit the spread of the UGCC throughout the rest of Ukraine - I hope our friend TrentCath doesn’t agree with that exercise of Rome’s jurisdictional powers! In any event, the UGCC chooses to ignore that brand of RC jurisdictionalism and I’m sure God loves it for doing so . . . :wink:

As for the suppression of the UGCC, Rome has yet to say anything about it to Moscow (!). It is assumed that that was the work of the soviet state (which it was) and that the UGCC wasn’t the only church that suffered under it (which it wasn’t).

If the ROC was complicit in the persecution of the UGCC (and it was), Rome does not demand any acknowledgement of this from the ROC or act of public repentance ("Hey, guys, we’re SORRRY!) and continues to have relations with the ROC nevertheless.

This is why I called Rome’s dealings with Moscow or “ostpolitik” to be morally bankrupt.

Our friend TrentCath might say this is politics and has nothing to do with the dogma on Rome’s jurisdiction.

IF he would say that, then I would agree with the first statement, but would say that the UGCC exercises its own will as a self-governing Church under Rome and does not wait for Rome to give permission (normally, such permission would be either denied or delayed indefinitely) when it wishes to move forward to do what it considers best for the growth and development of Eastern Catholicism in Ukraine and also in Russia (the Russian Catholics need help and support and the UGCC is more than willing to give it!).

And I’m NOT saying that we need to return to a situation of alienation and stand-offs between Rome and Orthodoxy. The fact is that western Ukraine can only be considered the Moscow Patriarchate’s backyard if we accept soviet and Russian domination of it and the Ukrainian Catholic Church as legitimate.

And if Rome wishes to remain silent on the issue of that legitimacy - then clearly the UGCC has no reason to obey Rome in anything having to do with that. Such actions by Rome are political, period, and have nothing to do with papal dogmas and cannot elicit legitimate reasons for obedience to such actions.

Our Patriarch-Confessor, Bl Joseph Slipyj was tortured in Siberia where he spent 18 years for the Catholic Church. I met him twice and had the privilege of kissing his broken right hand (broken by those soviet servants of Satan because he dared to write letters to his flock around the world).

Rome refused to acknowledge him as “Patriarch” - but the UGCC and many others did nevertheless. If that was going against any canons or dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church - again, I believe God loved us for doing so.

Alex

Very interesting information! Thanks!

I, too, would be interested in some sources that discuss this history–from both sides and, if there is such a beast, a neutral point of view.

Jeff

THis is facinating and has provided me with a perspective on these “sore” feelings between the Churches.

It doesn’t sound like these problems are going anywhere soon which is sad.

Thanks everyone!

Is it possible to discuss ANY history from a neutral point of view? I’m asking, not telling.

Perhaps you mean “dispassionate” - my statement about the “servants of satan” might have been open to a less than dispassionate interpretation . . . yes, I see how that could be . . . :wink:

Alex

Alex-
Thank you for this post very much,

I sometimes marvel the we have two wonderful Ukranians who regularly worship in my Russian Greek Catholic parish, although there is a UGCC parish in our city. One survived German concentration camps of WWII, the other is a young and recent immigrant.

This is one of the things I appreciated about the “Vision of Freedom” recently rebroadcast on EWTN. Ancient history though it is now, and an update is much needed, it indicated the slaughter of both Orthodox and Catholics by the Soviets. (It also showed the cynical delusions of those in power under Gorbachev, when it was filmed, claiming the great openness to all expressions of religion under perestroika, including the lie that the Russian Greek Catholic Church disbanded itself and no longer exists.)

We cannot separate religion from culture (or politics for that matter). The “filioque” in the Creed was expunged by the soviets while the UGCC tenaciously clung to it NOT because of its “truth” but because it had become a symbol of the UGCC identity - religious and cultural at the same time. The same was true of the Sacred Hearts devotion, the rosary etc. etc. Latinizations took on a wider character as a result.

This has been brought up before and I appreciate you reminding us of it. The young Ukrainian who is coming to our parish is deeply dedicated to such Latin devotions.

As for the suppression of the UGCC, Rome has yet to say anything about it to Moscow (!). It is assumed that that was the work of the soviet state (which it was) and that the UGCC wasn’t the only church that suffered under it (which it wasn’t).

Alex

Suffered and still does.

It’s generally considered that the Pope of Rome has chosen not the named a new hierarch for our tiny Russian Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church in order to not aggravate relations with the MP.

Thank you again for this post and others which remind us of this messy and tragic history which continues to affect the Body of Christ.

Hospody pomyluj!

I do not intend to take away from what anyone has said here, and I do not profess to be a historian, theologian or in any other way an expert on the matter. I have, however, discussed this with Orthodox and read some of the R.O. literature, and this is my take.

It seems to me the absolute core of it is territoriality. The ROC does not even appreciate the presence of the Greek Orthodox “branch” of Eastern Orthodoxy on territory the ROC claims is within its historical jurisdiction. If anything, it’s even more hostile to “infringing” Greeks than it is to Latins; fairly dramatic demonstration of which we have recently seen in Ukraine, where Greek Orthodox have set up “parishes” within what the ROC considers its exclusive “territory”.

It has to be remembered that Orthodox churches were historically set up on a territorial basis, with the bishops of one region being the sole ecclesiastical authorities within that region. They have often also been aligned with the state authorities within those jurisdictions and pretty tightly identified with them. And it is very much associated with ethnic identity. If you’re Russian, you belong to the ROC. If you’re Greek, with the Greek Orthodox Church, even though the two are supposed to be part of the same church and, to some extent, are.

So, to the ROC, the Latin church has no business whatever being within the territory of the ROC…none whatever. No priests, no churches and most definitely no bishops, because bishops are authorities. To them it would be sort of like setting up a Catholic diocese within a Catholic diocese; something that just isn’t done. Now, the Catholic Church (Latin) has accommodated itself to that same sort of concept with the Eastern Catholic Churches, which also tend to be ethnic-identified, and somewhat territorial. So, for instance, there are Latin Catholic dioceses in the U.S. that overlap with Eastern Catholic eparchies (I think that’s what they’re called, and are equivalent to dioceses). I understand the same is true in Europe.

It is true that some of the Eastern Catholic churches in the Latin areas of the world, fear absorption of their members into the Latin Church, and to some extent that fear is justified in places like the U.S. where people tend to become “westernized” pretty quickly no matter where they’re from.

That territorial exclusivity is much weaker in the U.S. among the Orthodox, probably because it’s nearly impossible to make it work here. As ethnicities sort of melt down and immigrant churches establish themselves wherever they think they should, it would do no good to press claims of exclusive territoriality because nobody would honor it anyway.

Besides, some of the territorial claims in the west are pretty hard to justify. The ROC, for example, claims that it, and it alone among Christian churches has a right to be in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California (some say in all of the Americas) because it believes its missionaries were in the Americas before Catholic missionaries were. The same with the Philippines, based on ROC missionary activity in China long ago. The Catholic Church is somewhat sensitive to ROC sensitivities in Russia, but it ignores them elsewhere. Among the most insistent of the Orthodox, the Catholic Church has no business being anywhere than in Rome itself and some parts of Italy immediately surrounding Rome.

So it’s a serious thing.

But it’s more serious than expressed above, from the Orthodox point of view. The Catholic Church (Latin) simply assumes a worldwide “jurisdiction” in the sense of being able to put its priests and bishops and dioceses anywhere in the world without anybody’s permission other than its own. That flies in the face of deeply held Orthodox concepts of collegiality as well as territoriality. On the other hand, the Catholic Church does not claim exclusivity at all in a territorial sense, relative to the Orthodox.

The Orthodox generally do not go along with the “right” of the Catholic Church to be anywhere it wants to be, and resent it a lot. In Russia, where the ROC has a strong historic presence, a strong identification with the ethnicity, and significant ties to state power, the confrontation can be pretty severe, and often is.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Knowing just a little about the Orthodox vs. Catholic concepts of authority I can see how this would be a real point of tension.

I know there is now a diocese (maybe latin Catholic) in moscow. They surely aren’t very popular. I wonder how the Pope got this through.

Not quite right on a few points.

It seems to me the absolute core of it is territoriality. The ROC does not even appreciate the presence of the Greek Orthodox “branch” of Eastern Orthodoxy on territory the ROC claims is within its historical jurisdiction. If anything, it’s even more hostile to “infringing” Greeks than it is to Latins

We don’t *consider *these places ‘exclusive territory’, they *are *exclusive territory. Orthodox Bishops do not establish parishes in other bishop’s diocese, even within the same synod. That’s an incredibly offensive act - enough to create schism between the hierarchs in some cases in the past. Bishops belonging to the same Synod (like your Council of Bishops within a locality) belong to the same local church. All the Russian Orthodox Bishops belong to the Russian Synod, the Greek Bishops to the Greek Synod, etc. For a Greek Bishop to establish a parish in a Russian Bishop’s diocese is not correct.

From that perspective the Latins have absolutely no right to invade the Russian Bishops’ diocese. The Russian Catholics are an entirely different story - the Orthodox have entirely different issues with them.

It has to be remembered that Orthodox churches were historically set up on a territorial basis, with the bishops of one region being the sole ecclesiastical authorities within that region.

They still are. Historically and contemporarily other jurisdictions will have their own parishes within other diocese (a Greek parish may be in Moscow) etc., but that is like having an embassy in another country and is done with the permission of the resident Bishop.

They have often also been aligned with the state authorities within those jurisdictions and pretty tightly identified with them. And it is very much associated with ethnic identity. If you’re Russian, you belong to the ROC. If you’re Greek, with the Greek Orthodox Church, even though the two are supposed to be part of the same church and, to some extent, are

I can assure you it’s not to “some extent”. We are one Church. To insinuate otherwise is rude, unless you honestly didn’t know that. You are mistaken about the ethnicity/membership issue. If I were in Russia I would go to a Russian Orthodox Church, if I were in Greece I would go to a Greek Church. Russians attend my Serbian Parish here, and I’m descended from Prussian Jews. My German friend attends an American Parish and my Russian friend attends the Greek parish in my town. It’s all the same church, your ethnicity doesn’t mean anything. In America your parish will probably have “Serbian” “Bulgarian” “Russian” “Greek” “Jerusalem” or what have you on the sign, but that refers to who their bishop is and the immigrants who founded the parish. Sometimes it refers to the language spoken there, but not necessarily.

That territorial exclusivity is much weaker in the U.S. among the Orthodox, probably because it’s nearly impossible to make it work here.

There is no territorial (jurisdictional is a more correct term) exclusivity in America, unless one argues that the OCA (Orthodox Church in America) should have sole control of all parishes as some do. I’ll explain Russia’s ‘ownership’ in the next quote.

Besides, some of the territorial claims in the west are pretty hard to justify. The ROC, for example, claims that it, and it alone among Christian churches has a right to be in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California (some say in all of the Americas) because it believes its missionaries were in the Americas before Catholic missionaries were.

The Russians claim that because they *did *have the first Orthodox missionaries here in the Americas. By our canons that gives them the right to establish the Orthodox Church in America and then eventually set it up as its own autocephalous Church. That was on the road to happen until the Iron Curtain fell and America lost touch with our then-Russian Bishops. The Patriarch of Moscow told America to establish its own autocephalous church, which became the OCA. The OCA didn’t have enough priests to take care of all the Orthodox in America, so immigrants wrote home for priests, establishing the multiple jurisdictions here in America. Eventually there will be one American Orthodox Church. Whether Roman Catholics can claim jurisdiction here in America is irrelevant to us because you’re not Orthodox, so your missionary activity here has no effect on ours.

But it’s more serious than expressed above, from the Orthodox point of view. The Catholic Church (Latin) simply assumes a worldwide “jurisdiction” in the sense of being able to put its priests and bishops and dioceses anywhere in the world without anybody’s permission other than its own. That flies in the face of deeply held Orthodox concepts of collegiality as well as territoriality.

Yes.

The Orthodox generally do not go along with the “right” of the Catholic Church to be anywhere it wants to be, and resent it a lot. In Russia, where the ROC has a strong historic presence, a strong identification with the ethnicity, and significant ties to state power, the confrontation can be pretty severe, and often is.

It has nothing to do with the ethnicity or ties to the state, it has everything to do with the fact that, according to Orthodox practice, Rome is invading a territory it has no right to by any argument, historical or theological (such is not the case in some places, like Ukraine, but most definitely is in Russia). More than all this though, Orthodox Bishops in Russia, from their point of view (and they tend to be some of the more strict adherents to all traditions) are protecting their sheep from a heterodox religion by any means possible.

But since Catholics live in Russian orthodox jurisdiction they need to be served by the Church. How can this happen with the ideas you express?

With all due respect, this, to the Russian Orthodox (recalling that they are generally probably our most conservative brothers, but recalling also that the gap between our ‘conservatives’ and our ‘general Orthodox believer’ isn’t that large) isn’t any of their concern. It would be similar to asking in the Early Church “But since Arians live in your jurisdiction they need to be served by the church. How can this happen with the ideas you express?”

Dear Rawb,

It’s not the same, because the Arians were clearly heretical. But there is no consensus in the Eastern Orthodox Church that the Catholic Church is heretical (though those who believe we are are certainly more vociferous).

Blessings,
Marduk

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