The Church in Russia Today
Your Eminences, Your Graces, Dear Brethren Pastors in Christ!
I believe that the lecturers from Russia can speak on the life of
the Church in Russia better than I. For this reason I will limit
myself with a few general remarks for consideration on this topic.
In order to speak of the Church in Russia, we must define what we
mean by this term. Do we mean the clergy and the flock living on
the territory of the former Soviet Union who are under the hierarchy
of the Moscow Patriarchate, or do we mean only the hierarchy of
the official Church in the Russian Federation, omitting the clergy
and flock from this definition? Can we say that the hierarchy and
the flock are divided, that the hierarchy stands alone and that
the flock has no connection with it? We often hear that the hierarchy
of the Moscow Patriarchate is not on a lofty level, and that the
flock is fully Orthodox. But the flock in Russia does not consider
itself anything other than that of the Patriarchate.
If life in our little Russian Church Abroad differs from one diocese
to another, and moreover that life in one parish is different than
that of another, then one cannot be surprised if in the vast country
of Russia, church life is varied. That is why it is impossible to
make a judgment on church life in the MP based on Moscow alone,
or by one diocese alone, or by clergymen alone. Church life in the
MP is very inconsistentóif there are exemplary monasteries, priests
and parishes, there are also unfortunate, even horrifying, ones.
In evaluating church life in Russia, we should also take into account
our own objectivity, or lack thereof, and our expectation in regard
to the level and tempo of its healing, as well as the character
of church life in our Homeland. If we expect too much, if our sights
are set too high, we will always find faults, there will always
be things and events for us to criticize and raise our demands.
Conversely, if we are too na’ve, too superficial, the danger exists
for us to accept as true only what we wish to believe.
The Church in Russia is many-layered and multifaceted. The Holy
Synod of the MP has one face, the Office of External Affairs has
another, the leading clergymen and deans of Moscow yet another,
the many monasteries and pilgrims have another still, etc. We might
perceive a purely governmental structure in one area of the Moscow
Patriarchate, and in another we might sense Holy Russia. The difference
is not only on a vertical axis, but horizontally as well: one diocese
may have a more liberal spirit, another, strictly Orthodox, both
on the part of the clergy and the flock, and on the part of the
diocesan bishop. The faces of the Moscow Patriarchate may change
depending on circumstances, on locationóthe Moscow Patriarchate
of, let us say, Vladimir oblastí is entirely different from that
of Germany or Jerusalem.
Besides the variabilities within the Church in Russia itself, one
cannot ignore the fact that the Soviet system, Soviet life and Soviet
morals have left their mark on almost every resident of the Russian
Federation. Seventy years is long enough to make a powerful impression
on a person, to re-educate him, to instill in him a new value system.
When we talk about the Church in Russia, this must be taken into
account. Sometimes difficulties, troubles and changes are due not
only to the life of the Church in Russia but to the ills of Soviet
society. Sometimes they overlap, and it is difficult to determine
the cause of some ailments in church life in Russia: is it from
the Church or from Soviet society? We do not say this with recrimination,
for the circumstances in which a person lives necessarily leave
their mark, sometimes a profound mark. Does not our flock in the
West suffer from the sickness of democracy?
If we consider the positives, I believe we must also note the following:
firstly, any Orthodox visitor to Russia can testify to the amount
of church literature published. Despite the fact that Russians find
it hard to make ends meet, the number of church books grows annually.
It is obvious that many books are published carefully, with great
love and with great benefit (it pleases us that the first two volumes
of the Life of Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky] were just published
in Russia). Publishing activity cannot but encourage and elate every
Orthodox Christian. Now the shelves of our church bookstores abroad
are filled with Russian publications.
The second point is the involvement of young people and children
in parish life. This is in fact the first generation which could
freely attend church, participate in divine services and access
church books. When these children, reared in the church from the
cradle, grow to adulthood, they will be qualitatively different
than their parents, who were raised in a militantly atheistic state.
The third consideration is the activity of many parishes that reach
beyond divine services. Some are helping hospitals, others--old-age
homes; some are involved in icon-painting, others--in church singing.
In Moscow, for example, there is a Center for the Rehabilitation
of Victims of Totalitarian Sects.
The fourth phenomenon is that the Church in Russia is attempting,
and sometimes succeeding, to respond to contemporary issues, beginning
with the relation of the Church and culture and ending with the
attitude of the Church towards cloning. Such responses are a sign
that the church organism is alive.
All the above bears witness to genuine church life.
There are many negative aspects in the life of the Church in Russia,
and they are discussed at length in Russia itself, both by the clergy
and by active people of the church. These include the education
of the clergy, superstitions, inexperienced “elders,” ritualism,
politicization…Some circles even avow so-called “Orthodox Stalinism”
and there is a movement to canonize Ivan Grozny [the Terrible”]
and Rasputin. The connection of some representatives of the Church
with certain, let us say, “suspicious” representatives of the world
of Russian business and politics may cause concern. Also, as far
as I know, there is no Ecclesiastical Court in Russia. In fact,
there is no one to turn to, no appeal process. As a result, there
is often a chasm between the hierarchy and the rank-and-file clergy
and the faithful as a result of the inaccessibility of the bishops.
If we ask the question: “What will the Church be like in Russia
in the future?” we can respond: the future, or at least the part
of it that mankind can control, will depend on people. As go the
bishops and clergy, so goes the Church.
If we ask what hope there is for the Church in Russia, it would
be best to say: “For Russia, there is no other hope but the Church.”
Save us, O Lord!