What Does Russian Orthodox Mean?

by Dan Ketchum, studioD Russian Orthodox churches famously feature domes or cupolas.

Taken literally, “orthodox” translates from Greek to “right belief.” The Orthodox Church of Russia -- Russia's independent sect of the Eastern Orthodox Church -- was officially established in 1589. Like any world religion, the history, philosophies and practices of Russian Orthodoxy stretch far beyond the meaning of the word.

Further Meaning

The word “orthodox” unifies many churches, including Greek Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and others. The practices of these churches are largely the same; typically, they differ only in the ethic origins of their parishioners, and perhaps in subtle local traditions. The vast majority of the Eastern Orthodoxy, which includes about 200 million followers as of 2013, is made of up members of the Russian Orthodox Church.


The churches of the Eastern Orthodoxy, including the Russian Orthodox Church, define themselves as autocephalous, or self-governing. Eastern Orthodoxy traces it roots to A.D. 330, when the Eastern Roman Empire moved its capital from Rome to Constantinople, shifting power to Rome's bishop and straining relations between the two cities. Leaders in Constantinople encouraged translation of the Scriptures into national languages, but Rome favored Latin Sciptures. This and other differences in methodologies led to a branching of the two schools of thought, which eventually led to Constantinople's spiritual outreach into the rest of Eastern Europe, including Kievan Rus, or modern day Russia. Kievan Prince Vladimir I accepted Eastern Orthodoxy as the country's official religion in 988. In 1589, about 130 years after the fall of Constantinople, the Russian Orthodox Church became an independent entity.


Although the Russian Orthodox Church is autonomous, it shares its faith with other Eastern Orthodox churches. While the Russian Orthodox Church believes in the Christian notion of God revealing himself through Jesus Christ, as well as in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the Church emphasizes the Holy Spirit, viewing it as an omnipresent guide that particularly manifests through the church's parishioners, priests and bishops. The Russian Orthodox Bible, based on the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint, is nearly identical to the Bible used in Christian churches of the Western world.


Russian Orthodoxy, like other sects of the Eastern Orthodox Church, defines itself through its focus on regimented worship, personal prayer and a strict routine known as the Cycle of Prayer. Fasting occurs four times per year, and the church practices seven sacraments: baptism, chrismation, the Eucharist, holy orders, penance, anointing the sick and marriage. Icons play a key role in the Russian Orthodoxy -- ornate walls, each with four of five solid rows of icons, often decorate Russian Orthodox churches. At Christmastime, Russian Orthodox followers mix ancient pagan traditions with Christian customs, visiting their neighbors in costumes and singing songs to ask for gifts.


BBC Religions: Eastern Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America: Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox
University of Toronto: Russian Orthodox Church: Early History and Art
University of Texas: The Russian Orthodox Church: History and Influence
Catholic Answers: Eastern Orthodoxy


Christian Science Monitor: Is Russia's Orthodox Church Privileged or Persecuted?
Christianity in View: Comparison Table: Comparison Between Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism

About the Author

Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.