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In these circumstances it is easy to see how the idea of Moscow as the 'third Rome' could arise. But so far as I know the Russian Tsar never made the claim made by the Roman Emperor to a universal sovereignty over Christendom. And although the Russian Church was de facto independent of Constantinople it was only in 1589 that, with the blessing of Constantinople, the patriarchate of Moscow was established. 

Although Russia inherited the religion of Constantinople it inherited nothing of its culture independent of religion. It showed no interest in it and indeed it showed little interest in its own prechristian (Viking or Slav) culture, outside orally transmitted folk tales and songs. There was nothing like the interest shown in Ireland for example where an abundance of material drawn from the earlier tradition was preserved by monks (and possibly transformed throughout Europe into the pagan/Christian literature of chivalry). Intellectually Russian culture, even in the church, developed in the shadow of the West. In the early days perhaps the most impressively distinctive Russian contribution was in the field of the arts where a style of iconography developed which, I would argue, owed little to Constantinople, with a much stronger emphasis on what might be called abstract composition:

XV-XVI century, Moscow. 89 x 67 cm, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

But through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the prestige of Western culture grew both in music and the arts but also, especially in the eighteenth century, in politics and in church administration. The Moscow patriarchate was suppressed by the Tsar, Peter I, in 1721, about the same time as the suppression of the convocations of York and Canterbury in England. This was hardly a coincidence since Peter was much influenced by English thinking at the time. The church was administered by a 'Holy Synod' which was effectively a government department. Although the hierarchy was represented, power was concentrated in the hands of the government appointed 'Chief Procurator'. There was throughout the century a massive suppression of monasteries.

The difference in spirit can perhaps be seen with this eighteenth century icon:

St Barbara, 1774, Moscow. 60x48 cm, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

The patriarchate was restored ... in 1917. 'Nuff said (though I say quite a lot more in my article on The Moscow Patriarchate and the Bolshevik Revolution also on this website).

The Balkans (Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia) broke free of Muslim domination through a series of struggles of horrifying violence in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but as the English government persuaded the Russians that they might be able to recapture Constantinople in the course of the 1914 war so, after the war, they persuaded the Greeks that they might be able to do the same, with the result that the old Greek communities of Anatolia were destroyed and thrown into exile. 

With this history behind them it is rather marvellous to see  the Orthodox tradition emerging in our own time as a force to be reckoned with, battered certainly but intact.

The Western mind might well complain that Orthodoxy has been very narrow in its focus, that it lacks the intellectual variety of the Catholic and Protestant traditions, that (leaving aside interesting developments in Russia prior to the Bolshevik Revolution) it hasn't engaged with modern philosophical problems. But the boast of the Church is that, like Mary in the story of Martha and Mary, it has concentrated on the 'one thing needful', cultivating (under very difficult circumstances) the sense of the presence of God both through the faithful performance of the liturgy and through the specialised effort of the ascetics in the continuing tradition of the Philokalia. But since on both counts this is a matter of experienced fact rather than intellectual speculation, there maybe isn't very much to be said about it.