Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)

(Русская Православная Церковь)

Distribution of membership:
- Russian Federation: 113,500,000
- Ukraine : 30,000,000
- Belarus: 8,200,000
- Moldova: 4,100,000
- Kazakhstan: 5,900,000
- Central Asia: 1,000,000
- Baltic states: 1,400,000

Distribution of parishes:
- Russian Federation: 12,638
- Ukraine : 10,377
- Belarus: 1,319
- Moldova: 1,520
- other former USSR: 461
- all other countries: 275

The Russian Orthodox Church is a multi-ethnic local autocephalous church maintaining communion in prayer, faith, sacraments and canon law with other local Orthodox churches. Her jurisdiction extends to people of Orthodox confession living in the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbajian, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Estonia, as well as those Orthodox people who are her voluntary members living in other countries. The Moscow Patriarchate incorporates autonomous and self-governed churches. At present, self-governed are the Latvian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Moldova and the Estonian Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a self-governed church with the right of broad autonomy.

The Japanese and Chinese Autonomous Orthodox churches are independent churches free in their internal affairs and linked with universal Orthodoxy through the Russian Orthodox Church.

Christian missionaries first preached extensively in Russia in the 9th and 10th centuries. About 988 the Emperor Vladimir was baptized, and he established Christianity as the official religion in his dominions. Originally, he brought priests from the Byzantine empire and established a Greek hierarchy under a metropolitan. From the beginning the Slavonic language was used in worship and gradually Russian clergy replaced the Greek. In the beginning of the 14th century the metropolitan see was moved from Kiev to Moscow. The Patriarchate of Moscow was created in 1589 by Jeremias II, Patriarch of Constantinople. Peter the Great (1676 - 1725) abolished the office of patriarch and replaced it with the holy synod, the members of which were nominated by the emperor and could be dismissed by him at any time. In 1917-18 a large council of bishops, parish clergy and laity met in Moscow and initiated a thorough reorganization of all aspects of church life, in particular restoring the Patriarchate.

The supreme governing bodies of the Russian Orthodox Church are the local council, the bishops' council and the holy synod chaired by the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The patriarch is elected for life. The local council consists of the bishops and representatives of the clergy, monks and laity. It interprets the teaching of the Orthodox Church, preserving the doctrinal and canonical unity with the local Orthodox churches. It also deals with internal matters of church life, canonizes saints, elects the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and establishes the procedure of such elections. The bishops' council consists of the diocesan bishops and the vicar bishops and meets once every 4 years. The holy synod, chaired by the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, is the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church between bishops' councils. Besides the patriarch, the holy synod consists of 12 members - seven permanent (most senior metropolitans) and five temporary, chosen from diocesan bishops.

The church has departments for external church relations, catechism and religious education, charity and social service, mission, youth, armed forces, a publishing board, an education committee and a chancellery. There are five theological academies, 32 seminaries, 43 pre-seminaries, one theological institute, two Orthodox universities, six pastoral training courses, two diocesan theological schools for women, several choir-conducting and icon-painting schools and departments, as well as Sunday schools at most of the parishes.

The Russian Orthodox Church published two important documents in 2000, on the Basic Social Concept of the Church, and on the Basic Principles of the Church's Attitude to the Non-Orthodox.