The Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia and Science

by Miriam Asliturk, Project SOW Researcher


A Short History

Scholarly literature on the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and science has largely, and understandably, focused on the church within Russia/USSR to the exclusion of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. While a Russian Orthodox community existed outside Russia before the fall of the Russian Empire, the Russian Orthodox diaspora became significant after the October Revolution, when over one million Russians, most of them Orthodox Christians, left Russia. Among those fleeing Soviet persecution, there was an important number of church hierarchs.

In the 1920s and 30s, Yugoslavia, France and the United States largely became the new home of Russian Orthodox Christians outside Russia. Indeed, émigré churches, represented by the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia (ROCOR), came into being soon after the Bolsheviks came to power as a response against Soviet policy with respect to religion.

ROCOR played a significant role in preserving Russian identity and culture abroad. In 1921, it sponsored the creation of the Russian Student Christian Organization in Czechoslovakia that soon spread all over Europe. Another Orthodox Christian organization called Ikona was founded in 1925, and sought to develop Russian culture independent of the Soviet Union while emphasizing the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church. As time went on, and exiled Russians realized there was little chance of returning to the Soviet Union, they decided to organize educational programs to form their own clergy.

In 1925, the Saint Sergius Theological Institute was founded in Paris. The Institute educated new clergy and gave modest but helpful fellowships to Russian émigré scholars. The fellowships played an important role in popularizing Russian culture abroad and also in contributing to Russian Orthodox Christian theology. Another institution was the St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary, which opened in New York in 1938. This seminary has published more than 200 books and has influenced Russian Orthodox Christians worldwide, becoming an official voice for the émigré churches. It is therefore important to understand how ROCOR related to important Soviet and American advances in science and technology.



Currently ROCOR is a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church, and officially signed the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate on May 17, 2007, restoring the canonical link between the churches. 

The Church has around 400 parishes worldwide, and an estimated membership of over 400,000 people. Of those, 138 parishes and 10 monasteries are in the United States, with 27,700 adherents and 9,000 regular church attendees. Within the ROCOR there are 13 hierarchs, and also monasteries and nunneries in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe and South America. There are even Russian Orthodox clergymen from Russia who for theological reasons have chosen to join the ROCOR.

In 2010, the Russian Orthodox Church opened its first seminary outside the former Soviet Union, in a suburb of Paris. The institution aims to serve Russia's growing diaspora and promote closer ties between Orthodox and Western Christian churches, and has already began fostering stronger links with the Catholic Church. The seminary is meant to provide specialists who can provide a link between Western churches and Western theology with other Orthodox Churches, and who can address issues brought on by secularization.

Secularization is clearly a concern for ROCOR. A number of ROCOR-affiliated websites highlight education and youth outreach. It is clear that from the Orthodox perspective, it is critical to ensure that youth be taught religious principles based on Russian Orthodox values. They are also concerned about the imposition on students of anti-religious and anti-Christian ideas, attempting to place them into context.

ROCOR-affiliated churches and organizations recognize the importance of science and education in today’s world on their websites. The key ideas that emerge highlight Christianity’s initial impact on the formation of scientific activity, and write with regret that the development of science and technology is now under the influence of secular ideologies, with negative consequences on the ecology, the environment, and even on politics, as it is now possible to eradicate entire peoples with the press of a button. It is argued that the Church could be helpful in finding balance in this world, fostering a healthy climate and creating synergies between the spiritual and intellectual worlds to the benefit of humankind.


Questions remain

In perusing ROCOR publications, it appears prima facie that little has been written on science. This is surprising, given the importance of scientific development in the Soviet Union. Did ROCOR have something to say about Yuri Gagarin’s first trip to space and the development of the H-Bomb by Andrei Sakharov? These questions warrant further research leading to a scholarly publication.



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