Vienna, April 6 – Ever more Russian groups are selecting particular saints as their special protectors even though the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has no organized system for assigning such saints and many in the Church hierarchy view the use of saints in this way as inconsistent with Christian teachings.
In a rare exception to the Church’s reluctance to name such saints-protectors, Patriarch Aleksii II in 2000 declared the Apostle Matthew as the heavenly defender of the Russian tax police. But since that time, lower-ranking clerics, especially bishops and those working with the security agencies are regularly naming saints-protectors.
In an article in today’s “Novvye izvestiya,” Mikhail Pozdnyaev describes some of the consequences of this opening up: Alexander Nevskiy has become the protector of the FSB, St. Vladimir now watches over the MVD’s internal forces, and Apostle Andrew is the object of devotion for the navy.
Other groups with saints include St. George the bringer of victory for the army’s land forces, St. Barbara the martyr for the strategic rocket forces, St. Feodor Ushakov for long-range aviation, and St. Daniil of Moscow for those in military engineering units (http://www.newizv.ru/news/2007-04-06/67310).
This pattern is especially widespread in the military and security agencies where, according to Pozdnayev, “being in the Church is today almost as significant as being in the CPSU used to be.” But it has also spread to other sectors of Russian life, including sports organizations and medical facilities.
Paradoxically, perhaps the greatest attention to this issue has been the Patriarchate’s refusal to name a heavenly protector for the Internet. In the Roman Catholic Church, St. Isadore of Seville plays that role for many, but Aleksii and his fellow hierarchs have been unwilling to go along.
There appear to be two reasons for their reluctance: On the one hand, Isadore of Seville was not a Russian, something many in the Moscow Church would like to see. And on the other, there are competing Russian candidates for appointment to what many see as a most unusual position.
Archpriest Pavel Velikanov of the Moscow Spiritual Academy has proposed making St. Feofan the heavenly protector of the Internet, but his colleague at the same institution, the outspoken Deacon Andrei Kurayev argues that Apostle John the Divine should fill that role.
Employees of Russia’s new financial and stock markets now also have chosen their own holy protector – Savva Visherskiy – and one enterprising priest has even opened a “virtual chapel” on the Internet in his honor where brokers and others can pray for the success of their enterprises.
Intriguingly, some Orthodox bishops are naming saint-protectors on their own, with no reference to the Patriarchate as such. But this “privatization” of sainthood at the regional level, Pozdnayev says, has generally failed to attract the attention of the Moscow media or the Patriarchate as such.
One exception to such lack of attention has been the decision by Archbishop Tikhon of Novosibirsk to name Agapita of the Caves as the special saint watching over victims of tuberculosis in Siberia. And he has also taken the lead, Pozdnayev continues, is working to open special chapels where those infected can pray.
In this way, the Church is restoring an ancient tradition: Until 1917, the “Novyye izvestiya” writer points out, Russian Orthodox priests routinely provided the names of saints who could help cure headaches, toothaches, school failures, and even for those who had suffered under bad landlords.