The Christian Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church appeared on earth in the first century after the birth of Christ in Palestine, which was then part of the Roman Empire. After His Resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ informed the disciples about His ascension soon to take place. He commanded them not to lose heart, but to wait and pray, and promised that He would send them the power of the Holy Ghost. On the 40th day after the Resurrection, He ascended to His Father. On the 50th day, “when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all together. And suddenly there came a noise from the sky, as if from a rushing strong wind, and filled the whole house where they were, and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and rested one on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts of the Apostles, 2:1–4).
Thus arose the Christian Church. The apostles, through the laying of hands, handed over the grace of the Holy Spirit to their disciples, the presbyters, who passed it on and on down to the present. It is this gracious power that is manifested in the Sacraments performed by the Holy Spirit through priests and bishops. In our time, a full-fledged apostolic succession, not distorted dogmatically and morally, remains only among Orthodox Christians, called the Old Ritualists or the Old-believers.
At first, the Church was a small community. When it began to expand, it united communities of different cities and countries into a single Ecumenical Church. Christianity embodied the expectation of all nations of the coming of the Savior, the God-man, who united the Creator and our world, which fell away from Him. The faith of Christ went beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. The preaching of the apostles and their successors reached India and China. According to legend, apostle Andrew visited the hills of future Kiev and prophesied about the great Christian state, which will be located on these lands.
Despite the differences in people and cultures, the Church was one. It was governed by the Council of the Apostles, then by the Councils of bishops and all believers. However, as the Savior Himself warned, the Church soon began to be penetrated by greedy deceivers, “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. Heresies arose – distortions of the Christian faith which were destructive for the soul.
Thus, in order to define the dogmas (the unchangeable fundamentals of the faith) and to exclude those who “only in appearance are loyal”, Christians began to convene Ecumenical Councils of the whole clergy. Ecumenical Councils were led by the Holy Spirit and issued the fundamental provisions of Christianity. At the First and Second Councils (in Nicea in 325 and in Constantinople in 381) was composed The Symbol of Faith (The Creed):
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, but not created, consubstantial with the Father, by Whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and of the Virgin Mary became man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and arose on the third day, according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; of Whose Kingdom there is no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, true and life-giving, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the prophets. And in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins. I wait for the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the age to come. Amen.”
The Symbol of Faith is unchangeable. Anyone who changes or adds even a word is separated from the Church, which is the true Body of Christ. By changing The Symbol of Faith, the Roman Catholics (in the 11th century) and the New Rite Church in Russia (in the 17th century) broke away from the true Church.
From the 4th century, Christianity becomes the state religion of the Roman Empire. Later, the Roman Empire split into Western (Rome) and Eastern (Constantinople). Following the political separation, came the religious. Contradictions between Christians of the East and the West began as early as the 5th – 6th centuries, when Western Christians introduced certain provisions that were not found in the early Apostolic Church. These include the Roman patriarch’s claim to primacy over all Orthodox Churches; adding to The Symbol of Faith; the concept of infallibility of the Pope; a sharp distinction between the higher clergy and ordinary laymen and the mandatory celibacy of the clergy. In 1054, the Great Schism occurred – the West and the East broke association. In the 16th century, the Protestants broke away from Catholics and went even further in denying the Holy Tradition and distorting Christian doctrine.
The faith of Christ came to Russia in 988, when Prince Vladimir baptized the Russian state. Christianity very quickly took root in the Russian land, because the Russian people spiritually matured to become the people of Grace, the last keepers of the true Christian faith, as Metropolitan Hilarion of Kiev wrote in the 11th century.
In the 15th century, the Orthodox Greeks concluded the Florentine union with the Catholics, submitting to the authority of the Pope of Rome and Catholic dogma. In Russia, it was perceived as apostasy. As a result, the representation arose that Orthodox Russia is the last keeper of the true Faith on earth, the last obstacle to the coming of the antichrist. Filofei of Pskov in the 16th century wrote the famous words: Two Romes (Rome and Constantinople) fell into heresy, Moscow – the Third Rome, a fourth will not be. That is, when piety and Orthodoxy dries out in Russia, the end of the world will come. These words have become forever part of the Russian worldview and are still used today, often devoid of meaning. Many people forget that the Third Rome is not universal pride, but spiritual responsibility for the whole world and that this responsibility should manifest itself in the strength and purity of the faith of every Russian, in constant prayer and fasting, in preaching and moral virtues.
In the 16th century, began the apostatizing process in Russia when Tsar Ivan the Terrible tried to subordinate the Church of Christ by his authority. The end of the Third Rome came in the 17th century, when Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich and patriarch Nikon decided to change
the Russian Orthodox dogma and divine services to be in line with the Catholic-influenced Greek teachings, in order to extend their power on the people of the former Byzantium. However, Russian Christians were convinced that the Greeks (and following them, all the people of the former Orthodox Byzantium) had lost the true faith and that the Russian Church aligning with them means apostasy.
The reforms of 1653–1667 descended upon ancient Orthodoxy and distorted the foundations of Orthodox dogma. The reformers distorted the rites and dogmas, renounced the Apostolic two-fingered sign of the cross, made changes (similar to the Catholic Church) in The Symbol of Faith, distorted many of the Holy Traditions, abolished the conciliar administration of the Church and introduced elements of Catholic worship. Although patriarch Nikon, through introducing the Catholic practices, sought to gain control of the state, Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich dismissed Nikon and established royal domination over the New Rite Church – the church which had only external resemblance and common roots with the true ancient Old Rite Orthodox. The saving grace of the New Rite Church was lost.
As in Europe at that time, the sovereign turned the Church into the ideological service of the state machine. The New Rite Church lost its independence, its conciliarity, and Tsar Peter Alekseevich completed the process of the secularization of Russia, turning the official Church into a ministry, “the department of the Orthodox confession” (with a secular official heading the department), forbidding to elect a patriarch, forcing to replenish the treasury and build state manufactories and ensure ideological management of the masses (through specially censored sermons). Under Peter I, the Synodal Church became part of the state mechanism and in this capacity it remains to this day.
True Orthodox Christians at the time of the schism were called Old Ritualists, schismatics, and were accused of treason to the state. They were tortured and killed not just as heretics, but as state criminals. The leaders of the Old Ritualists (Old-believers) — bishop Pavel of Kolomna, archpriest Avvakum, deacon Theodore, and others — did not rise the people up against power, but indicated that the newly created state Church was devoid of Divine grace, that the Third Rome had fallen and that the antichrist’s arrival was near. The Old Ritualists urged the New Rite Church to repent, to return to the apostolic traditions and for the sovereign to stop supporting such a Church.
The true Orthodox Church is the Russian Old-Rite Church, which preserves the full purity of the apostolic faith in the modern fallen world. All other Churches and religious movements are either heresies, broken away from Orthodoxy, or anti-Christian movements. The only possibility of salvation is only in the Old Orthodox Church, through wholehearted faith in Christ.
To escape from oppression and execution, the keepers of the ancient piety fled to the poorly developed territories of the North, Siberia, the Far East and Alaska. Under Peter I, whom many Orthodox considered the antichrist for his aggressive destruction of Orthodoxy, many Old-believers began emigrating to Europe and Turkey.
Under Aleksey Mikhailovich and Peter I, Russia rapidly began to be Europeanized, going farther and farther away from the Truth, along the godless paths of the West. The true Russia remained in ancient Orthodoxy.
There were unfortunately some discords in the Old Faith. Many distorted the dogma, becoming Bezpopovtsy (priestless Old-believers), and teaching that the end of the world has come, that the antichrist has already begun his reign and that the true priesthood is no more.
For 300 years, the authorities severely persecuted the Old-believers. Their tongues and hands were cut off to prevent prayer and preaching or they were burned in log cabins. Only in 1905, were the Old-believers given freedom of speech and allowed to openly pray. There began a widespread construction of churches, church book printing and the return of entire generations from abroad. As a result, the Russian economy began to rise, because the Old-believers proved to be talented and honest organizers and workers. By 1917, about one third of all Russian capital belonged to Old-believers.
During the Communist era, the Soviet government tried to subordinate the Church to communist ideologies. However, the Old-believers refused to cooperate with the atheistic power and continued to secretly pray and preach, regardless of the danger of being imprisoned or executed on charges of “counter-revolutionary activities”.
From 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, began the revival of the Old Faith in Russia. Old-Rite churches are being built again and new and old religious books are being published. More and more new Christians from amongst non-believers and from other religions are joining the Church. However, it cannot be said that the faith is unequivocally being revived, because the Russian people are infected with a thirst for carnal and emotional pleasures, losing their souls under the onslaught of Western godlessness that is unceasingly propagated through the media. It is difficult to talk about self-denial, humility, self-sacrifice and unity with Christ in the era of television and the internet manipulating a person and teaching them to live for the sake of pleasure and for the sake of themselves.