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After the Crusader sack of Constantinople, Orthodox Christian civilisation was no longer a dominant cultural force in the world at large. The question of relations with Western Christendom took on great urgency, not only on religious issues but on every front as the surviving Orthodox polities tried to define themselves in a post-Byzantine era. The emergence of Russia as a vast Orthodox empire was not accompanied by a revival of Orthodox self-confidence; instead, Russian society came to be polarised between groups looking to Europe or to "ancient Rus'" as the source of their inspiration, with the latter (known in the XIX Century as "Slavophiles" and in the XXI as "Eurasianists") sometimes manifesting xenophobic distrust of modernity, and the former not infrequently hostile to Orthodoxy as an "Asiatic" superstition. From the emperor Peter the Great and his successors, with their Gallicised court in St. Petersburg, through the Soviet bureaucrats to the present, most Russian governments have leaned strongly to the technologically advanced West, while simultaneously encouraging Slavophilic nationalist sentiment as a foundation of national unity; the tension, however, has always been considerable.

The same controversies which have divided Russia also arose in nearly all Orthodox countries as they emerged into the modern world, and it is probably safe to say that "baptising" Western culture without compromising the integrity of the faith is among the main challenges for the XXI Century church. See also secularism.

Norman Redington


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