Two thousand years ago, an event occurred that dawned a new era for people around the world. The promise of God, foretold by seventeen Old Testament prophets was fulfilled — the Savior of the human race appeared in the world. The Lord became incarnate, in order to redeem the original sin of our forefathers with His righteous blood, and to show people the way to salvation.
The good news of the salvation of mankind was spread throughout the world by the disciples of Christ and their followers. Today, one is unlikely to find a place on earth where people had not heard the Word of God or read the gospel. The Bible had been translated into nearly every language.
For two millennia, congregations of believers all over the world have considered themselves Christian. During the two thousand-year history of Christianity, many currents and trends appeared in Christendom, as Christ warned would happen while among the apostles, saying that, in the last times, there will be many false Christs and false prophets, who will come to deceive even the elect.
Jesus Christ, after His Ascension, left only the One Church, unblemished and invariable! By the grace of the Holy Spirit, He blessed the apostles to preach Her, proclaiming, “... the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her” (Matthew 16:18) and “Behold, I am with you, even unto the end of the world. ” (Matthew 28:20.) It follows from the words of the Savior that for two thousand years the true Church of Christ existed and operated here, on earth. This Church is like a virgin bride, eternally biding with Him, not changing anything in her “wedding garments,” keeping true to Truth.
But how to distinguish matrimonial attire from the very similar theatrical costumes? How to recognize the true Church? What can be taken as undeniable testimony? Undoubtedly, it is the Holy Scripture, the sacred tradition and the study of church history.
A brief history of the Church
On the 50th day past the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, the fullness of the Church appeared on earth. For a thousand years, the Church remained more or less united, although shaken by various internal and external struggles.
By the time of the christening of Rus (988), the universal Church of Christ, although nominally divided into the Eastern (Byzantine) and Western halves, remained united, subordinate to the Sanctified Councils. This unity was maintained by a single writ — the Bible, and by a single tradition — the Canons of the Apostolic Councils, the Canons of the Seven Ecumenical and the Nine Local Councils and the Canons of the Holy Fathers. These were set into the Nomokanon, becoming a kind of Church Law.
The highest authority in the Church, from the first centuries to our day, has been the Consecrated Church Council, namely, its decrees and ordinances. By the eleventh century, the Western half of the Church, having lost her purity, rebelled against the catholic conventions, changed certain dogmas and demanded ecumenical ecclesiastical supremacy, on the grounds that the supreme apostle Peter founded the Roman hierarchy. In 1054, Rome pronounced anathema on those who do not submit to Catholic innovations. As a result, the Church of Christ was left with no recourse but to recognize this as a schism. Thus, the eastern part remained orthodox, adhering to the teachings of the holy fathers and the decrees of the Œcumenical Councils.
Russia’s Church came into existence before the 11th century schism. Russia accepted her dogma, books (many of them translated by Saints Cyril and Methodius), chants and church organization from the still unified Church. Moreover, our church was for a long time under the direct leadership of Constantinople. In some cases up to the very 16th century, the Metropolites in Rus were installed by the Greeks. Russia’s Church maintained her doctrines intact in inviolate purity until the 17th century, although the Greek Church had, by this time, changed her canonical foundations. Thus, Moscow became known as, the third Rome.
In the second half of the 17th century, in 1654, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Nikon (1605–1681), with Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov, inaugurated an ecclesiastical reform under the pretext of correcting mistakes in the liturgical books. Orthodoxy, as received in the tenth century, was rejected by the authorities, and the Church was split into those adhering to Nikon’s reforms and the orthodox Christians, who remained faithful to ancient piety.
This ancient piety was rejected and anathematized by the councils of 1666-1667. In the course of the reforms, many bishops and metropolites fell into heresy (no least, from intimidation, as the age of absolutism had begun), while bishop Pavel Kolomenski, a stout conservative, was burned for rejecting reform. For 180 years, old-orthodox Christians had no bishops and were forced to accept properly-baptized clergymen from the new-rite church, according to canon. The full church hierarchy was restored only in 1846, when Metropolite Ambrose (1791–1863) joined the old-rite Church. This occurred in Belaya Krinitsa (now in the Ukraine, but, at that time, in the Austrian Empire). From the mid-19th century to the present, the three-tier hierarchy of Christ’s Church was not interrupted.
In 1847, the Austrian authorities, under pressure from the Russian government, demanded that Metropolite Ambrose return to Constantinople. Ambrose replied that, having received the Truth, he would remain faithful to the death. So the Austrian government tried to limit his authority to the extent of that empire, imprisoning him. It demanded that he have contact only with the lipovani (Russian emigrants to the Balkans) and not communicate with old-believers in Russia.
By this time, St. Ambrose had already consecrated two bishops, Cyril and Arkadiy. At Ambrose’s death, there were nearly 20 bishops, the structure of the Church now restored. In 1853, Archbishop Anthony Shutov was appointed to Moscow. Despite numerous arrests, the Belokrinitski hierarchy was strengthening in Russia. In the second half of the 19th century, Archbishop Anthony consecrated nearly a hundred people, including six bishops. In all, he founded twelve Russian old-believer dioceses, which existed until the 1920s. (Their spiritual and administrative center was the Rogozhskoe cemetery in Moscow.) However, persecution of the Church of Christ by the followers of Nikon continued until 1905, when Nicholas II granted old-believers relative freedom of conscience.
The successors to Archbishop Anthony on the Moscow cathedra were archbishops Savvatiy (1881–1898), Ioann (1898–1915) and Meletiy (1915–1934). Bishop Vikentiy, who stewarded the church after the death of his predecessor, died in Butirka Prison in 1938. In 1927, Russian old-believers were pastured by eighteen bishops in twenty-eight dioceses, yet, by 1940, only Savva of Kaluga remained free (bishops Irinarch and Gerontiy were incarcerated). Shortly before his death, Savva installed the now free Irinarch as Archbishop of Moscow; he administered the church until 1952. His successors were Flavian (to 1960), Joseph (1970) and Nicodim (1986). In 1986, bishop Alimpiy was stationed Archbishop of Moscow.
Then, in 1988, during the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the christening of Rus, a Sanctified Council of the Old-Orthodox Church of Christ established the Russian Metropolitan see. The Old-Orthodox Church of Christ, under the omophorion of the Metropolite of Moscow and all Russia, was renamed, the Russian Orthodox Old-Believer Church.
On the chronology
At the First Ecumenical Council, the Paschalia was established for eternity; changing it was punishable by excommunication. The great Easter Indiction is based on the 19 cycles of the moon and the 28 cycles of the sun (19 x 28 = 532). Every 19 years, the lunar current takes place in the same order, and every 28 years the days of the week fall on the same day of the month — both in simple and leap years. Therefore, one can determine not only when Easter will be in an upcoming year, but also on what day it was celebrated in the past.
The Gospels unanimously say that Christ was crucified on a Friday, and the Jewish Passover was then held on the Sabbath. The Paschalia allows to calculate in which year this took place — in the year 5533 from Adam. If we subtract from this the 33 years of the earthly life of Christ, we get the number 5500 — this is the year when Christ was born, that is, eight years earlier than is commonly believed in the West. If we consider 5508 [1 of common era] as the year of incarnation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection would fall on anno mundi 5541. In 5541, the Jewish Passover fell on the night from the Great Wednesday to the Great Thursday, which absolutely does not correspond to the Gospel account.
Division among old-believers
When speaking about the Orthodox (old-believer) Church, one cannot ignore the fact that, subsequent Nikon’s reform, divisions occurred among the persecuted zealots of antiquity. In 1862, a document called, the Circuit Letter, was issued to those recognizing the newly established hierarchy, to consolidate and unify the Church. The need for such a message arose because of the spread of various misapprehensions, mainly concerned with the teachings of priestless denominations. This circular was written by I.G. Kabanov (Xenos) and signed on February 24, 1862 by Archbishop Anthony of Moscow and Vladimir, bishops Onuphriy, Paphnutiy, Barlaam and others. Only after the publication of this circular did it became clear how far the malady had spread. Most belokrinitski old-believers were sympathetic to this letter, but some did not accept it. In 1869, Metropolite Kirill, who supported the circular, tried to quell church discord. He issued a peace charter condemning discord in the Church of Christ, but a reconciliation of the two sides took place only after the Council of 1906, which annulled the Circuit Letter.
At present, there is another schism in the Orthodox (old-believer) Church, that of the beglopopovtsi. The beglopopovtsi of today have their own hierarchy, profess the Orthodox dogmas and keep to the old traditions like us, differing only in that they do not recognize the legitimacy of our hierarchy. Our apologists have often demonstrated the inadequacy and maliciousness of the charges against us, and many beglopopovtsi have, through independent research, ascertained our canonicity.
One must strive for the unity and peace of Orthodox Christendom. All of us have to zealously pray to the Lord: “Remember your Holy Apostolic Ecumenical Church that you founded with your noble blood; strengthen, fortify, magnify, increase and keep Her in peace, never to be overcome by the gates of hell; soon quell and root out schism, idolatry and heresy, annihilating these through the power of your Holy Spirit…” (Kannonik, p. 179ob.)
The priestless doctrine of the disappearance of legitimate clergy appeared before the tragic schism of the 17th century (as mentioned by Avvakum, the holy martyr and confessor). After the councils of 1666-1667, this doctrine became widespread among those who refused Nikon's innovations. Shocked by the cruelty of the authorities toward the old rite, many old-believers were left without priests or pastoral care; some were tempted by this doctrine. They believed that the Antichrist had already come, deeming the true orthodox priesthood destroyed, the holy mysteries, annihilated, and the fullness of the Church, never to be restored, all contrary to the words of Christ, “The gates of hell will not prevail against Her” (Matthew 16:18) and “Verily, verily, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood...” (John 6:53).
In the 9th–11th centuries, the Roman bishops, or Popes, departed the Christian dogma, rejected ecclesiastical tradition, invented new dogmas and distorted the Creed approved by the Ecumenical Councils. Subsequently, they perverted the content, order and substance of all the church sacraments, especially those of the holy Baptism and the Divine Liturgy. Their mass occasionally lasts no more than half an hour and, by the 12th century, immersion had disappeared from the sacrament of Baptism, contrary to canon law. The world witnessed a new teaching — that of the infallibility of the Pope of Rome. In order to take on more power (and to become infinitely rich) the popes perverted the very doctrine of the salvation of the soul, claiming that they have great merits before God and can forgive sins for money.
The final break in the canonical relationship between the Church of Christ (Eastern and Orthodox) and the followers of Catholicism took place in 1054. Catholics are now considered by the orthodox as heretics of the first order (as unbaptized) and not a single sacrament of theirs is recognized, because they openly reject many canons of the apostolic and oecumenical councils, (calling, oecumenical, the councils of their church that were convened after the break with the east). They also proclaimed their pope, the vicar of Christ.
Protestantism and sectarianism
Protestantism originated in 16th-century Germany, when Luther opposed the sale of indulgences (papal letters that allegedly serve to forgive sin, past and future) and condemned the evils of the clergy. In 1517, he published his 95 theses, censuring the clergy, monasticism and church custom. He, also, began to disseminate the doctrine of justification by faith, stating that good deeds are not necessary for salvation.
Then appeared other protestant teachings: Calvinism, Anglicanism, Baptism, Methodism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Pentecostalism et cetera, and sundry Russian sects of so-called, Spiritual Christians, such as, the Molokani, Subbotniki, Skoptsi, Dukhobori et al.
Protestants try to justify their views with Holy Scripture. But their lore originated not in apostolic, but in recent times, after the 16th century. Their adherents follow not the teachings of the apostles, but the novel interpretations of the Bible. Protestants reject one of the most important traditions of the Holy Church: they honor neither the most-holy Theotokos, nor the saints of God. They deny the church hierarchy, the sacraments, the fasts, the holidays, the sign of the cross, prayer for the dead and much more.
At the same time, Protestant sects are constantly dividing, giving rise to new “churches” and new interpretations of the Bible, as if none had previously correctly understood the Holy Writ. Protestants of all creeds merit the name, heretics, for they do not adhere to the fullness of Christian teaching, but choose for themselves this or that part.
“Ecumenism” comes from the Greek word “oikumene,” meaning, the inhabited earth. Today, a very ugly, perverted doctrine, called, ecumenism, had spread wide through the world. Its adherents believe that the Church of Christ does not exist as a perceptible, tangible organization with a single creed, hierarchy, dogmas and canons, but is the totality of all believers in Christ, the Savior, between whom there may be individual dogmatic and ritual differences. Different creeds are seen by ecumenists as different paths leading to the knowledge of the one God. One must be tolerant of all the other faiths and pray for the union of Christians while remaining in one’s own church, they say. Ostensibly, all are part of one Christendom.
This notion is widespread, affecting both the simple, semi-literate and the theologians. There are even international organizations and social movements that preach the convergence of all religions, each of which supposedly carries some Divine Revelation. But how can the Truth be present in contradicting doctrines? The words of Apostle Paul, that the Church is “the pillar and statement of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) thus lose meaning. It is clear that such sects do not belong to the one body of Christ.
The Church of Christ is one body; it has one faith. Jesus Christ teaches that if one “does not heed the church, he will be to you like a heathen and as a publican” (Matthew 18:17) i.e., completely alien. All who oppose the Church, its lore and canon, creating division and preaching contrary doctrines, cannot be part of the Church, but do fall away thereof. These people are called, heretics, from a Greek word meaning, choice, for they reject some dogma, preferring another, interpreting the writ vainly, according to whim.
Heresy appeared in apostolic times and the apostles persistently taught Christians not to commune with distorters of the faith. “I beseech you, brethren — beware of those who make divisions and temptations contrary to the doctrine you have learned, and avoid them; Because such people do not serve our Lord, Jesus Christ, but serve their own belly.” (Romans 16: 17-18). “There are people who trouble you, wanting to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from Heaven preach the gospel to you not as we have preached to you, let him be anathema.” (Galatians 1: 7-8).
Thus, the Holy Writ denounces the guile of the ecumenists and of all who believe that “all faiths are good.” Such people are heretics, because they distort the gospel and the apostolic doctrine of the one Church of God. Hence, it is clear that the union of different creeds cannot be called, the Church, for Christ cannot be divided. Such their gatherings aught be termed “congregations of the wicked.” “And blessed is he who does not attend the council of the wicked...” (Psalm 1).