Christianity was introduced into Russia in the 9th century.
Photius is supposed to have been the agent, but some writers attribute to Saint Ignatius of Constantinople the first evangelical mission; according to Nestor many Russians were Christians in 945.
Queen Olga, who is venerated as Saint Helen, was unable to convert her son to Christianity, but his son Vladimir, at the end of the 10th century, established Christianity as the official state religion in Russia.
The Russians were baptized but they did not receive Christian education, so the moral influence of Christianity was not efficiently exercised upon them.
The hierarchy was at first Greek, which is responsible for Russian hostility to the Latin Church.
Until 1437 Russian metropolitans had no relations with the Holy See, but the popes were constantly striving to draw Russia to the center of unity, and various attempts were made to negotiate and to establish missions.
After the Council of Florence the fanaticism of the Russians in regard to the Latin Church increased; Latins were not considered citizens and were not allowed to erect churches.
Ivan the Terrible sent an embassy to Pope Gregory XIII in 1580, and the Jesuit Antonio Possevino was dispatched to the Court of Moscow.
The Jesuits made good headway until they were expelled in 1689, to be recalled by Peter the Great, who, at first considerate towards Catholics, later legislated violently against them and banished the Jesuits in 1719.
From the time of Peter the Great to Alexander I, the history of Catholicism in Russia is a constant struggle against Russian legislation.
Under Catherine II conditions grew worse.
The first partition of Poland in 1772 brought great numbers of Catholics to Russia, and Catherine established the Diocese of White Russia in 1774, a national church independent of Rome, after which she began the systematic destruction of religious orders.
But Catholic principles were propagated by the Jesuits whom Catherine invited to White Russia in 1719.
The second and third partitions of Poland, 1793 to 1794, considerably increased the number of Catholics in Russia, and Catherine was false to her promise of tolerance.
From 1797 there was constant strife and persecution until Pope Gregory XVI in 1842 called the attention of the Catholic world to the oppression of the Catholics in Russia.
By a concordat in 1847, an archbishopric and six episcopal sees were established, several iniquitous laws were repealed, and the authority of the Holy See was recognized to a greater degree; but in 1850 convents were suppressed, and Catholics were forbidden to restore or build churches.
Alexander II allowed the sees to be filled, 1856, but soon the clergy were accused of plotting against the tsar, and the soldiery profaned churches and took priests prisoners, exiling several to Siberia.
Under Alexander III negotiations between the Holy See and Russia were renewed, and Russia had a legation at the Vatican, but the clergy continued to endure oppression until Nicholas II published the edict of religious toleration in 1905.
Within two years great numbers were converted to Catholicity, and great social and educational activity was developed by the clergy.
The reactionary party of the Orthodox Church brought about the modification of laws relating to liberty of conscience; and many of the outrages of former years were repeated, the government taking particular pains to prevent the reestablishment of the United Church in Russia.
However, Catholicism continued among the cultured classes, due to the efforts of the great philosopher, Vladimir Soloveff.
The Soviet Government disestablished the Church and declared the free profession of all religions.
The Orthodox Church was the prevailing religion of the country.
In 1922 the Soviet Government decreed the confiscation of all Church property, appropriating ecclesiastical wealth to feed starving peasants.
Catholics were in a majority in the former Polish provinces, their affairs are entrusted to a Collegium.
Muslims are scattered through eastern and southern Russia, while the Jews are found mainly in the western and southwestern districts.
All churches were leased from the state.
Teaching of religion in state and private schools was prohibited, but special religious classes could be organized for persons over 18.
Later, in order to exercise ever more power over its citizens, the Soviet government began oppressing all forms of religion, and many Catholics are now recognized as martyrs, being murdered by the NKVD, the secret police.
In December 1991 the USSR disintegrated into 15 constituent states, independent of Russia.
The Catholic Church is being revived in the country, but faces institutional and legal opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Ecclesiastically the country is governed by the archdiocese of
the dioceses of
- San Clemente a Saratov
- San Giuseppe a Irkutsk
- Trasfigurazione a Novosibirsk
- Byzantine Apostolic Exarchate of Moscow
- Prefecture Apostolic Yuzhno Sakhalinsk
New Catholic Dictionary