It is the 4th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today the Russian people celebrate the 4th of November as “People’s Unity Day” to commemorate the end of the “Time of Troubles” in 1612, the end of a dicey succession controversy, war with Poland and Sweden, and the consolidation of a distinct Russian Orthodox Church. Let’s dive into the Russian Orthodox Church, its distinctions, and its role in the “Time of Troubles”.
The Russian church goes back to the 900s when Photius I of Constantinople sent missionaries up near Kyiv, where the Vikings and Slavs had organized as the Kievan Rus. In 957 the regent, Queen Olga visited Constantinople and Emperor Constantine VII. The Queen was baptized and when her son came of age to rule he would be tolerant towards Christianity. But it was his son, Olga’s grandson- Vladimir I who would be baptized and make Orthodox Christianity the religion of the realm, he formed a metropolitanate of the Byzantine patriarchate.
That is: a metropolitan is a bishop who oversees the other bishops in a metropolitan area. A Patriarch was one of a number of heads of the church (sort of like a Pope, but there are a number of them) in significant regions (they had been in Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Constantinople.
So Russia is firmly in the Orthodox camp, but with the decline of the Byzantine empire in the 15th century the Russian Church began to appoint its own leaders. Do you know what that makes them? That’s right- autocephalous.
Now- to the Time of Troubles. When Ivan Vasilyevich aka “the Terrible” died he left only one son- Feodor. If you read anything about Feodor you will repeatedly see the phrases “weak” and “feeble” minded. Another of Ivan’s sons, Dmitri died tragically (sliced his own throat with a knife during a seizure?) But a series of “false Dmitri’s”- imposters, attempted to take the mantle of Tsar themselves.
Political instability was matched with famine between 1601 and 1603. With the country in upheaval, both the Polish and the Swedish attempted to take Moscow. And remember, we are in the middle of the Reformation and Poland was Roman Catholic and Sweden was Lutheran. As Poles and Swedes encroached the Russian Orthodox Church saw its priests imprisoned and the future of the church was at stake.
In 1612 a resistance led by a coalition of the nobility and merchant class retook Moscow, gave the Tsardom to Michael Romanov (that family would rule until the 20th century), and re-established the Russian Orthodox Church as the state church. On account of this, the 4th of November had been recognized as National Unity Day.
I’m willing to bet that many of you have two little sneaking questions about this affair: What is Orthodoxy? And how is Russian Orthodoxy different from Greek Orthodoxy?
Orthodoxy is that historical Christian tradition that developed in the East and recognizes Scripture and tradition, especially the first 7 Councils and the Church Fathers. It split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054 in what we call the Filioque controversy- in brief, the question comes down to the question of “from whom does the Holy Spirit proceed?” The early Nicene Creed stated that the Spirit proceeds from the Father while a later variant claimed the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son - in Greek “and the Son” is written as “Fillioque”. The West used “and the son” while the East does not. The Orthodox Church also shies away from the idea of substitutionary atonement preferring to see the death and resurrection of Christ as more of a cosmic victory and reversal of death than a personal transaction.
And how is the Russian Orthodox different from the Greek or other Orthodox churches? The answer is geography and language. Doctrinally there are no significant differences. We’ve met a number of Russian Orthodox figures on this show-members of a church beset by the struggles against Mongols and Muslims as well as Catholics and Protestants. But it was this turning back of their foes, the establishment of the Romanovs, and the cementing of Russian Orthodoxy in 1612 that Russians celebrate on this the 4th of November.
The last word for today comes from Acts 2:
29 “Brothers and sisters, I can speak confidently about the patriarch David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this very day. 30 Because he was a prophet, he knew that God promised him with a solemn pledge to seat one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Having seen this beforehand, David spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he wasn’t abandoned to the grave, nor did his body experience decay.32 This Jesus God raised up. We are all witnesses to that fact. 33 He was exalted to God’s right side and received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit, and you are seeing and hearing the results of his having done so.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Dungeons and Dragons campaign is also called the Time of Troubles. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who knows literally nothing about Dungeons and Dragons, who was once invited to a D&D costume party and dressed as a dungeon. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.