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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Russia's Two Churches

Paul Goble reports on what may be a looming internal crisis within the Russian Orthodox Church. Whilst at its highest levels the Church is increasingly the sycophant of Vladimir Putin, particularly its primate Alexei II (rumored to be a KGB plant), the lower echelons of the Church are moving dramatically forward to canonize those who were the victims of Stalin's repression -- setting them directly at odds with those who would rehabilitate and propagandize Russia's past.

The Russian Orthodox Church has canonized more than 1600 martyrs who suffered persecution at the hands of the Soviets, almost four times the number of saints it recognized before 1917 and a step that puts it at odds with any effort to return to the communist past or even to engage in historical revisionism. In a speech to a Moscow conference on the 90th anniversary of the re-establishment of the patriarchate, Nikolai Emel’yanov, a professor at the St. Tikhon Humanitarian University, argued that “the Russian Church has become the Church of the New Martyrs” as those who suffered for their faith in Soviet times are called. Emel’yanov, who has overseen the collection of data over the last 15 years about some 30,000 religious who suffered between 1917 and 1991, told the meeting this week that the number of those he and his colleagues have data about continues to grow by “approximately 2,000 each year." He noted that “as a result of all the waves of repression” in Soviet times, 425 hierarchs of the church had suffered, including all four men who occupied the Patriarchal throne after its restoration in 1917 – Tikhon, Sergei, Aleksii I and Pimen. And of those who were repressed, 247 were shot, while others died in prison or the camps. But to list these names or even provide such numbers, Emel’yanov continued, is to understate the tragedy: he estimates that in the course of the 20th century in the Soviet Union “not less than 500,000 people” suffered and many of these were killed as a result of their commitment to Orthodoxy.

A large amount of the information about these victims of the Soviet state and the initial ipulse to canonize some of the most prominent was begun by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the émigré church with which the Moscow Patriarchate has now entered into communion in the hopes of complete union. Indeed many commentators are likely to conclude that the data Emel’yanov provides simply reflects this Kremlin-backed process of uniting the two branches of the Orthodox Church rather than being the product of new reflectiosn by the senior members of the Moscow Church’s leadership. While such calculations may have played a role, the Patriarchate’s willingness to move in this direction is impressive, especially since its efforts to canonize these Soviet victims means that the latter now constitute more than half of the slightly less than 3,000 saints recognized by all Orthodox churches put together.

But there is another aspect of this situation that is probably even more important, although it is one that Emel’yanov in his remarks (at least as reported in the Russian media so far) does not address: the iimpact of this Church initiative on Russian society and Russian politics and thus on the Patriarchate itself. Because the names of these saints are now an integral part of the Church calendar, Orthodox Russians will be constantly reminded about the crimes of a state that some leaders in their country want only to praise or even at least in part restore. Such Russians and they are growing in number are unlikely to want to go along. Not only are such Orthodox actions thus likely to serve as a check on those who remain positive about the Soviet past or are unwilling to condemn it, but they open the way to greater independence by the Church on other issues, something that could boost its authority by destroying the widespread belief that it does whatever the Kremlin wants.

Few Russian or Western analysts talk about religious groups when they enumerate the institutions of civil society, but such communities often play an equal or greater role than other “NGOs” in post-communist countries which lack a civil society tradition. That is something the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has just demonstrated, but how far it will try to proceed in this new direction and equally how far the current Russian government will allow it to remain very significant but unfortunately very open questions.


Anonymous said...

"but such communities often play an equal or greater role than other “NGOs” in post-communist countries which lack a civil society tradition."

Absolutely, and the FSB seem to be trying hard to intimidate the protestant churches too. Phones are being tapped, civil authorities are making moves to reclaim ownership of land on which independent churches have been built and, most alarming of all, there are confirmed reports of FSB attempts to compromise, threaten or blackmail pastors to inform on their congregations or otherwise work on behalf of the FSB.

Foreign commentators may have underestimated the role of churches in building a (Putin-free) civil society but the FSB has not. What they particularly fear is someone who owes loyalty to to someone or something other than the Russian state.

The trouble is that they have got their work cut out trying to usurp the Almighty!


Anonymous said...

Your ignorance of Orthodox Christianity in general, and Russian Orthodoxy in particular, does not surprise me, although I would have thought that Paul Goble would know better. What both of you report as surprising makes me chuckle. As stated above, the New Martyrs of the Communist Yoke is nothing new. It has always been recognized by the Church, immediately upon the beginning of the Red Terror right after the Bolshevik coup, and became official when the formal canonization took place as mentioned above, which the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia performed. This was not just begun by ROCOR. It was definitive. As far as adding names to the official list of saints is concerned, that is what is going on now, and it will continue as long as others are discovered. The Moscow Patriarchate hierarchy is “obligated,” so to speak, to recognize these, by Canon Law, if I remember correctly. But it is a no-brainer, because it has always been so, and the believers have always believed so, whether in Russia or abroad. What you call a “looming internal crisis” is pure poppycock. Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, a frequent commentator on Spas TV channel, has openly called the communist Red Terror genocide against the Russian people, and I am sure that many consider him to be an official spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate in his capacity as commentator on Spas. There have been rumors of some extreme nationalists trying to rehabilitate Stalin, even as much as to canonize him. True believers (not just those who play lip service to being Orthodox) would never accept such absurd rubbish, and I dare say that no cleric has ever seriously entertained such a thought. For Goble to say that “Orthodox Russians will be constantly reminded about the crimes of a state that some leaders in their country want only to praise or even at least in part restore” is another absurdity. The crimes of over 70 years of a combination of terror, persecution, and repression will never go away from our memory. There are too many of us around who experienced it, witnessed it, and remember it. Those of us who only heard about it or read about it also know too much for it to ever disappear. The Church has a simple saying for the departed: “Memory eternal !” We will never forget. That’s what was meant by the term “Russia’s Golgotha” that you so ignorantly misunderstood soon after the Butovo commemoration.

La Russophobe said...


In your "mind" is calling others "ignorant" a sign that you are not?