Russian Orthodoxy and Human Motivation: The Categories of 'Sin', 'Humility', and 'Obedience' in the Context of Human Agency and Autonomy

By Chirkov, Valery; Knorre, Boris | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Russian Orthodoxy and Human Motivation: The Categories of 'Sin', 'Humility', and 'Obedience' in the Context of Human Agency and Autonomy


Chirkov, Valery, Knorre, Boris, Journal of Psychology and Christianity


This article provides analysis of the Russian Orthodox Church's cultural model of human nature, motivation, and virtuous living. Based on examinations of the Church's official documents and interpretations by the Church's leading ideologists, the authors uncover this religion's teaching about the essence of human beings, their motivation, and the prescriptions for living moral and virtuous lives. The article identifies two tendencies within this model: an authoritarian and humanistic one. The authoritarian tendency is shown to dominate in the current time. It's analysis with regard to human psychological functioning is provided. The need for further investigation and development of the humanistic trend in the Russian Orthodox anthropology is emphasized.

Orthodox1 Christianity embraces approximately 300 million believers all over the world. Orthodoxy is the national religion in Bulgaria, Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine. There are hundreds of the Orthodox's diasporas dispersed in the world. The religious and cultural traditions of Orthodoxy have been generated since the 5th century AD after the fall of Rome. This fall was followed by the rise of Constantinople where Orthodoxy was associated with the state's imperial religion. However, as a separate confession with a certain doctrine and canonical rules, Orthodoxy was finally crystallized after the East-West Schism of 1054 AD, when the Roman and Constantinople bishops' cathedras stopped their relations and both began to consider themselves to be the only forms of Christianity that would spread the true word of Jesus Christ and save the word. There are important theological as well as canonical differences between these two branches of Christianity, which we will not discuss here; interested readers should consult the specialized works on the topic.

Christianity came to the East Slavic land more than a thousand years ago. In the 10 century, the Kiev prince Vladimir made the Kievan Rus a Christian state. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is the largest autonomous (since 1589) Eastern Orthodox Church in the world. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the ROC began considering itself the main Orthodox Church among other Orthodox Churches, and thus began regarding itself responsible for the whole Orthodox world. This position of a selfacclaimed savior of the Christian world has influenced Russian Orthodoxy (RO) during its history and has generated some specific characteristics of the Russian tradition in Orthodoxy.

If we accept that one of the functions of religion is to provide people with guidance how to live their lives, how to differentiate right from wrong, how to deal with various problems, and how to remain moral human beings through hardships and misfortunes, then it is important to decipher religions' systems of meanings and moral categories and unpack their prescriptions for people's living in order to understand the behavior and experience of believers of a particular faith. Therefore the goal of our article is to address some psychological aspects of the anthropological model of Russian Orthodoxy. Specifically, we will analyze the system of values of this ideology, its understanding of human nature and its prescriptions for moral lives, mostly focusing on the questions of human motivation, psychological autonomy, and selfdetermination. The psychological consequences of the discovered cultural model of this religion will also be discussed.

Another reason for doing this analysis is the fact that the ROC is experiencing a revival in Russia today, and the authorities of modern Russia search for the values that can unite the nation in the ideology of the ROC. The Orthodox values have been declared the basis of morality, the foundation of stability and the persistence of the state, as well as a factor in restoring the cultural-historical identity of Russians (Mal'tsev, 2012). The modern ROC broadens its social services, theological education, and enters various state institutions including education, army, business, and even politics. …

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