Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Clericalization of the Russian State ‘Reviving the Negatives’ of Soviet Times, Orthodox Priest Warns

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 24 – The clericalization of the Russian state, something the Moscow Patriarchate is actively promoting, “is reviving the negatives of the Soviet system as far as is possible in contemporary society” and represents “a return to a Stalinism based on ‘Orthodox’ ideology instead of Marxism, according to an Orthodox priest from Pskov.
And despite the hopes of some, this expanded role for the ideas of the church hierarchy has not and will not “bring culture, spirituality or instruction” to the Russian people, Archpriest Pavel Adelgeim argues. Instead, it will kill off almost any chance for the rebirth of genuine Orthodoxy among the Russian people (
In a letter to Moscow religious rights activists who oppose the activities of the justice ministry’s religious expertise council, Father Pavel says that clericalization may serve the hierarchy’s interest in defending itself but it does not serve either the needs of believers or the requirements of the Christian faith.
Indeed, he continues, the Patriarchate seems committed to the destruction of the real faith. “Whenever the first shoots of spiritual life, of Christian enlightenment and social work shoot up, the iron hand of the church hierarchy pulls them out by the roots and covers the ground with asphalt” to ensure they will not emerge again.
Moreover, the Pskov religious leader says, if one or another member of the hierarchy does get involved in such things, these activities prove stillborn, despite often grandiose claims to the contrary which are nothing but “complete Soviet ‘pokazukha’” – the Russian word for a fraudulent show designed to fool others.
The Moscow patriarchate now works as “a corporation” which defends its interests but not those of the church, and as the case of recently ousted Bishop Diomid demonstrated, the official structures of the Russian Orthodox Church “persecute not those who commit crimes but rather those who uncover them.”
Twenty years ago, Father Pavel said, he “would have written an entirely different review” of the situation. Then there was hope that the Church would lead in helping the Russian people to recover from the depredations of the Soviet system. But tragically, it has proved to be the case that it is precisely within the Patriarchate that “the Soviet spirit” has remained alive and well.
In its rush to work closely with the state, he continues, “the Russian Orthodox Church has lost its evangelical ideals” and thus has lost the chance to play the role he and others hoped it would. But clericalization is not only undermining the church, he concludes, it is “leading the state to a complete catastrophe” making the defense of a secular state absolutely essential.
This week brought increasing evidence of this danger for the state, albeit in ways that few of its officials or those in the Russian hierarchy are likely to recognize. On the one hand, the Patriarchate pledged to help Moscow collect debts from private persons, not a role churches normally play (
And on the other, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Moscow Patriarchate agreed to cooperate to promote the survival and development of Russian Orthodox Churches abroad, especially in European Union countries, through the organization of various courses and meetings (
That cooperation is potentially more serious for both the state and the church. By aligning itself with Orthodoxy in this way, the state undermines its relations with the large share of Russian citizens that follows another faith or none at all and casts doubt on Moscow’s ability to interact with other countries committed to the separation of church and state.
And for the church itself, this kind of cooperation, however innocent it might be, inevitably recalls the Soviet past when Patriarchal churches abroad were used by the Soviet security agencies as cover and when churchmen serving in them often had KGB rank, something that was also true of many in the Patriarchal hierarchy at that time.
That set of relationships was one of the main reasons that a large part of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia refused to be in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. And while the two churches have agreed to merge, the Stakhanovite way in which the Patriarchate and the Russian government have come together could put that union at risk.
But what is perhaps especially important about the Pskov father’s comments is not so much the way in which they reflect Christ’s injunction to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” but rather his reference to Diomid whom the Patriarchate purged at the end of last year.
Clearly, as Father Pavel’s letter indicates, Diomid’s ideas and especially his resistance to the increasingly authoritarian Moscow Patriarchate under Kirill are very much alive among many in the Orthodox priesthood. And their survival is perhaps the best reason to hope that the faithful will ultimately face up to the threat that clericalization poses for church and state.

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