EWTN Catholic Q&A
Russian Orthodox Church
Question from stephen j. pesch on 06-16-2007:

Why and when did Christianity end up with a Russian Orthodox Church, and what's so difficult to accept, about the papal primacy in the latin rite? It seems to me that, a herd of wild animals have only one leader. Are they really posturing for a bigger piece of the pie, or is the Holy Spirit telling us to become more Russian in our culture?

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 06-24-2007:

Christian missionaries first preached in Russian territories during the ninth and tenth centuries. In 988, Emperor Vladimir was converted and baptized, declaring Christianity to be the state religion. To further the Christian faith, he invited priests from the Byzantine Empire into his realm; they established an initially Greek hierarchy but were eventually replaced by a native clergy. In 1054, the Russian Church sided with the Byzantines in its conflict with the Western Church, remaining an ally of the Eastern Church after the formal launching of the Great Schism.

In the 1300s, a new Russian state began to emerge out of the chaos and carnage of Old Russia, which had virtually been destroyed by the Mongols. This new state was centered in the grand duchy of Moscow. The grand duchy under Ivan III finally freed itself of Mongol domination in 1480. At the same time, the Russian Church soon became divided between two main metropolitans: Kiev and Moscow. Steadfastly resistant to the Western Church, the Russians refused to accept the union of the Churches that was negotiated at the Council of Florence in 1439. In 1448, still declining to acknowledge the union, the Russians elected their own metropolitan of Moscow, without the approval of the Byzantines. From that date, the Russian Church became autocephalous.

There are many obstacles to reunion that remain today. Indeed, if a formal reunion is achieved with the Orthodox, its terms will by simple necessity encompass and resolve all of the differences that exist between the Catholics and Orthodox including papal primacy, the rights of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and the resolution of other lingering theological disagreements. This is a tall order and may take some time to achieve, but it is certainly something for which we should all pray. I am also optimistic that real progress may take place in Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate, especially given the common ground that is present – the collapse of Christian culture in the West, the rise of secular and atheistic humanism, the “dictatorship of relativism,” and the threat of pan-Islamist movements.