The Russian Orthodox Church, one of the largest autocephalous (ecclesiastically independent) Eastern Orthodox churches, has long been at the forefront of ecumenical dialogue.
The Russian Orthodox Church has an office in Rome, where it maintains relations with Pope John Paul II and his curia. Pope John Paul II has visited Orthodox churches across Georgia, Greece and Ukraine as well as in the Holy Land to foster ecumenical understanding.
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The Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest Christian denomination in Russia and one of the biggest worldwide, boasting more than 60 million members.
On the contrary, the Catholic Church in Russia is much smaller. There are only around one and a half million Catholics across Russia, most of whom reside in Moscow.
Though there has been progress made in relations between Christianity and Islam, Fidel Castro still managed to greet Pope John Paul II on his plane ride to Cuba during the 1990s.
However, the relationship between the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church remains strained. While officially acknowledging them, they do not always adhere to this recognition in practice.
The Russian Orthodox Church has had a turbulent past. Throughout its existence, it has suffered multiple persecutions and repressions, including under Joseph Stalin.
The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate
The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, as it exists today after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is an intricate and confusing entity. It consists of multiple church communities spread out over Western Europe and North America that have developed overlapping jurisdictions.
Ecclesiastically, all Russian Orthodox Churches–parishes (Russian: prikhod, prihod) and eparchies (Russian: eparkhiia–are organized under the leadership of bishops (Russian: episkop, episcop or arkhierei; archiereus).
The Roman Catholic Church (ROC) is divided into 261 eparchies around the world, each headed by a bishop. These are mostly located in Western Europe and North America but there are also ROC-affiliated eparchies in Central Asia and Kazakhstan that fall under its authority.
The Russian Orthodox Archdiocese
The Russian Orthodox Archdiocese (ROC) is a self-governing church with its headquarters in Moscow. It consists of various autonomous and semiautonomous churches such as Ukrainian, Chinese, Japanese, Estonian, Latvian and Moldovan congregations as well as exarchates in Belarus Western Europe and Southeastern Asia.
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is an integral part of the global Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members. It is led by Patriarch Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’.
Contrary to Roman Catholic church practice, the Reformed Orthodox Church does not recognize Pope Paul as its leader. Nonetheless, they do acknowledge Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as its legitimate head; these two have met multiple times and enjoy a close working relationship.
The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Churches
The Russian Orthodox Church does not have a Pope, but instead elects a Patriarch for life who must be at least 40 years old, possess a higher theological education, and be well-respected within the church.
Contrary to the Roman Catholic Church, many priests in Russian Orthodox churches are married and not required to abstain from sexual activity. This allows them to have families and reduces the temptation for immoral behavior.
In the Russian Orthodox Church, there are various eparchies organized hierarchically.
In some former Soviet Union states, such as Ukraine and Belarus, there are autonomous Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) jurisdictions operating independently from the Moscow Patriarchate. Although these eparchies have official recognition by those countries’ governments and peoples, they do not enjoy the same level of ecclesiastical autonomy as their Russian counterparts.