From Orthodoxinfo site: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/general/history5.aspx
"The Muscovite Empire, however, was quite different from Byzantium both in its political system and in its cultural self-understanding. The Byzantine "symphony" (harmonious relationship) between the emperor and the patriarch was never really applied in Russia. The secular goals of the Muscovite state and the will of the monarch always superseded canonical or religious considerations, which were still binding on the medieval emperors of Byzantium. Muscovite political ideology was always influenced more by the beginnings of western European secularism and by Asiatic despotism than by Roman or Byzantine law. Though strong patriarchs of Constantinople were generally able to oppose open violations of dogma and canon law by the emperors, their Russian successors were quite powerless; a single metropolitan of Moscow, St. Philip (metropolitan 1566-68), who dared to condemn the excesses of Ivan IV, was deposed and murdered."
from my OCL friend on the Byzantine Empire (a post from a few years ago):
With all due respect, I think you are a victim of Western historians' view of the East.
Most people tend to forget that it was only the West that suffered the Dark Ages, not the East. When Rome fell, learning and literacy declined in the West, and remained at pitiful levels for 600-700 years. The result of this is the commonly held, and not altogether incorrect image of the monks or priest being the only one in an entire village who could read. This dramatic decline in literacy helped to accelerate the concentration of power of the Roman popes.
In the East, however, the barbarians did not win. The walls of Constantinople held back the barbarians, who essentially skipped off (to the West), leaving things more or less unchanged. The Eastern Empire continued on for another 1000 years. Most people do not realize that the EAst had always been the economic colossus in the Empire, even during the height of Rome. Alexandria was always a bigger city than Rome, even in Rome's heyday.
Most people also tend to forget that literacy was no particular achievement in the East, and that the common curriculum included Homer, the classics of ancient Greece, the Old and New Testament. The key, though, was that literacy levels did not fall as they did in the West. In the cities in particular, literacy was pretty commonplace...people could read and write. They even used surnames from very very early on. I have even read orders which had been issued in the Byzantine army to lower level officers. You don't issue written orders if the people can't read.
What was the result of this? In the East, from the very beginning, there was an engaged, involved laity which took an active role in the church. Consider what the stories of the controversies surrounding the various heresies actually represent. Clergy and laity throughout the empire understood and argued the various issues surrounding these. Is this the mark of an uninformed, unengaged populace?**
There are Byzantine stories of bishops being sent BACK to the capital, having been considered ANAXIOS. Laity were certainly at least present at most of the ecumenical councils, and there are even debates over their ability to vote at them. They were almost always chaired by lay representatives of the emperors. There are also very clear quotes from later emperors, I remember one from John Paleologos at the Council of Florence, in which the emperor complained to the patriarch something to the effect of, "Why are all my best theologians my LAY theologians."
My point is this - those who would support an active, engaged laity - one which is also actively involved in the governance of the church, are not introducing anything new into the system. They are merely returning to a time honored tradition of the church of the first 15 centuries.
It was only after the fall of the Eastern Empire when many of the "traditions" which we are so familiar with today arose. For example, it was only after the Fall that the bishops were brought out in front of the iconostasis, and seated in what had been traditionally the imperial throne (at the front on the right). They also took on the other elements of the imperial regalia at the same time. Take a look in your own church at the icons of the great hierarchs of the church (St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Photios, St. Athanasios, etc). Do your icons show any of them vested in crowns and jewels as we see today? Or do they show them dressed in simple clerical garments?
Similarly, it was only after the Fall that the behavior that some might call 'despotic' began. The office of ecumenical patriarch was essentially "auctioned off" by the sultans for 400 years (it was very clearly purchased), and the bishops became provincial representatives of what was a temporal power (the patriarch) residing in C'nople.
Finally, it was also during this period that the East suffered its own Dark Age, with literacy levels dropping to the same pathetic levels which had been experienced in the West 900 years earlier. The priests in the villages became as illiterate as the peasants, and the relative gap between the people and the hierarchs grew. There are Western reports from visitors to the East during the 16th and 17th centuries which decry the level of illiteracy and general educational ignorance of the Eastern clergy living in the Ottoman Empire at that time.
This was the backdrop for the growth of despotic power, and the decline of lay involvement, which I have characterized as one of the worst remnants of the Turkish occupation. I would suggest that a patriarch even attempting such similar power grabbing "shenanigans" 1500 years ago would have quickly found himself on a boat ride up the Bosporus. Look at what happened to St. John Chrysostom and St. Photios.
We find ourselves today in a country which replicates the Eastern Empire in many many ways. Literacy is widespread. Commerce and the economy are flourishing. Diversity of culture is celebrated. Citizenship in a nation supercedes ethnic and tribal ties. The national currency of our country is used worldwide as a medium of exchange. The US is the only superpower in the world. All of these items are almost exactly analogous to the situation in Byzantium during much of its history, particularly prior to the year 1000.
Why is it so unbelieveable to think that as part of our spiritual advancement, we are actually redressing and reinstituting a lay/clergy balance which was traditionally a hallmark of the Eastern Church? A move back toward working together in harmony, working for the betterment of the Church, and for the advancement of the faith.
I continue to view this not as Old World or New World, but as reclaiming and reestablishing many of the fundamentals of the Church of the first 15 centuries.
Those Church Fathers were truly amazing, brilliant, and ingenious people. I don't think we've taken enough time to truly understand what they built..and why. I think if more people look, they will find an incredibly solid, sophisticated and workable structure...on which very little improvement is really necessary.
Just my humble opinion...sorry to go on.
**St. Gregory of Nyssa describes the unending theological arguments in Constantinople at the time of the second general council:
The whole city is full of it, the squares, the market places, the cross-roads, the alleyways; old-clothes men, money changers, food sellers: they are all busy arguing. If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire about the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply that the Father is greater and the Son inferior; if you ask 'Is my bath ready?' the attendant answers that the Son was made out of nothing.'