Christians in Eastern Europe have dealt with very hostile conditions, especially since the Islamic expansions of the 1400s. This intensified as the 19th century saw the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire and the early 20th century saw the rise of Communism. Gonzalez explores the history of Christianity in this war-torn part of the world. When everything seemed to be darkest, what kept the Christian faith alive?
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. Revised and Updated ed. Vol. 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2010b. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 30, “A Shifting Landscape: Eastern Christianity” Loc. 5842-6021.
Eastern Christianity has faced hostile state governments since the 1400s when the Turks took Constantinople (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5848). Within the Byzantine Empire freedom of Christianity was limited. The Emperor ruled over the Church, as opposed to situations in the West where the Pope had authority over the Emperor. In 1453, with the fall of Constantinople, there was an initial period of relative freedom for the Church (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5856). “For several centuries, theological activity in the Greek-speaking church was dominated by Western influences and reactions against it. The issues debated in the West during the Protestant Reformation were also discussed in the Greek-speaking church” (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5863). By the 19th century, discussion of political acceptance of Western philosophy and its influence on theology became prominent (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5870). As the Ottoman Empire broke down in the later 19th century, the conflict between nationalism and the non-national nature of the Church became important (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5878). Through times of struggle the liturgy was found to bring hope and to pass Christianity to future generations (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5885).
Russia, which had always viewed Constantinople with suspicion, considered the fall of Constantinople to transfer true Christianity to Moscow (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5892). Russia’s accretion of leadership and doctrine prevented reunification with Greek Christianity (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5900). Under Czar Peter the Great (1689-1725) Russia opened itself to a variety of Western influences. This included Catholic and Protestant doctrines (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5908). In the 19th century Romantic philosophy and theology briefly gained power, then receded as a nationalist movement arose (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5915). This debate largely ended with the Marxism of the Russian Revolution. In the 1920s religious teaching in schools and seminaries was ended, though only until 1943 (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5923). The continued use of the liturgy was successful at passing Christianity on from one generation to another.
Orthodoxy in other parts of the world is regularly an indigenous movement, celebrating liturgy in the local language (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5931). Additionally, there are branches of the Eastern Church which did not remain part of Orthodoxy (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5938). Gonzalez observes that these groups, though they have differences with the Orthodox Church, are readily recognized as Christian. These groups have normally not wished to engage in theology discussion with the West, though they have done so more recently (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5969). Gonzalez finally notes that the fall of the Soviet Union brought greater freedom to Christians.
Despite over eighty years of restrictions the Church emerged with remarkable strength (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5974). Seminaries and Universities were quickly opened and the Church reasserted its role in society (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5982). Conflicts between the Russian Orthodox Church and other bodies emerged, sometimes even provoking war. The liturgy and message of Orthodoxy spread rapidly (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6010).
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