What was the role of the Russian Orthodox church in Soviet Russia?

What was the role of the Russian Orthodox church in Soviet Russia?

Considering that Soviet Union was officially atheistic and Bibles and most "Christian" denominations were banned, it is interesting to me that the government left the Russian Orthodox churches standing. It also seems that the Russian Orthodox priesthood did not have to "recuperate" and "re-establish" themselves after the collapse of Soviet Union in early 1990s.

Considering that the communist plan was probably not something like "let's leave them here in case we ever stop being communists", so was it because the Russian Orthodox religion was not banned in Soviet Union?


The churches (and all religious institutions) were, essentially, honeypots. They were tightly controlled and closely observed - those who tried to avoid KGB control were suppressed.

The benefits were many:

  1. early and easy identification of unreliables
  2. good PR with the West ("see, we do not persecute religious people!")
  3. an additional cover (on top of diplomats) for foreign agents
  4. a extra venue to influence foreign events

The alternative - forceful elimination of all religion (attempted in early twenties), in addition to losing the above benefits, entails the additional costs of a military action against the inevitable religious resistance.

PS1. Given that "there is no authority except from God", as soon as the Soviet authorities declared an armistice, the Church leaders gladly rendered the State all support it asked for (see, e.g., Alexy I who received Order of the Red Banner of Labour four times).

PS2. See also my other answers.


In the very early years of the Soviet Union, religion, specifically, the Russian Orthodox Christian Church, was both banned, as well as the target of wrathful and rabidly anti-religious desecration, discrimination and destruction. For the early Bolsheviks, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsar, were essentially, "two sides of the same coin"… in other words, they were viewed to be inseparable and indistinguishable. To the founding generation of Bolshevik Communists, the Tsar and the Church, were Medieval oriented institutions… anachronisms and antiquities that had to be forcibly discarded.

After Lenin's passing, the Soviet Union officially became, an atheistic state whereby religion, in particular, Orthodox Christianity, was officially banned. It was probably an unwise move to have expressed pro religious sentiments in the streets of Moscow, Leningrad or other Soviet Russian cities during much of the 20th century. Yet, despite the official ban, the Russian Orthodox Church did manage to survive and exist within Soviet Russia. In a way, Soviet Russia, never completely extricated itself, nor did it completely disassociate, disaffiliate or divorce itself from the Orthodox Church.

When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, his programs were initially designed to liberalize and modernize the old Soviet system-(but not necessarily to universally dismantle it). Both Perestrokia and particularly, Glasnost, were near revolutionary programs-(by traditional Soviet standards) and such a liberalization effort included, the rejuvenation of the Russian Orthodox Church as an active public institution. (Though it really wasn't until after Gorbachev, specifically during the 1990's, that the Orthodox Church experienced a near renaissance in Russia which is present to this day).


How the Russian Orthodox Church helped the Red Army defeat the Nazis

Despite suffering horrendously at the hands of the state, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) still existed in the USSR at the start of WWII. Internally split and deprived of its former influence, it struggled to survive. Even cooperation with the Soviet government did not guarantee peace and safety for members of the clergy &mdash churches were closed, priests arrested and sent to the camps.

Nevertheless, when German troops invaded the USSR in 1941, the ROC immediately sided with the state in its war against the Nazis. Not limiting themselves to just moral support, priests played a fighting role at the front and in the rear.

Frontline service

On the very day of the Nazi invasion, June 22, 1941, the de facto head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sergius I, at his own initiative, addressed the country&rsquos Orthodox population: &ldquoThis is not the first time that the Russian people have had to endure such trials and tribulations. With God&rsquos help, this time, too, He will reduce the fascist enemy to dust. The Church of Christ blesses all Orthodox Christians in the defense of the sacred borders of our Motherland.&rdquo

The clergy motivated people in the struggle against the invaders not only through sermons, but through fundraising for defense needs and to help Red Army soldiers, the sick and the wounded. They assisted the families of soldiers killed at the front and orphans who had lost all their relatives during the war. Churches and monasteries used their own resources to set up hospitals and dressing stations.

In 1943, Metropolitan Sergius appealed to Stalin to open a special account in the State Bank to collect donations for armored vehicles for the Red Army. Stalin gave his consent, and even sent a letter of thanks in return.

Thanks to this initiative of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Dmitry Donskoy tank column (named after the Moscow prince who defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Kulikovo Field in 1380) was formed. On March 7, 1944, 19 T-34-85 tanks and 21 OT-34 flamethrower vehicles were officially handed over to Soviet troops at the village of Gorelki near Tula, and later distributed among army divisions. One of the few of the tanks to have survived to this day is housed at the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow.

Donations from believers in Novosibirsk resulted in the creation of the &ldquoFor the Motherland&rdquo air squadron. And another squadron was named in honor of Alexander Nevsky, a Novgorod prince who defended the north-western borders of Russia against the German crusaders in the 13th century it too was put together with the assistance of the ROC.

Many clergymen recently released from the camps were called up to the front, where they fought in the ranks of the Red Army. Others took part in digging trenches or organizing air defenses in the rear. Dozens were awarded the &ldquoFor the Defense of Leningrad&rdquo, &ldquoFor the Defense of Moscow&rdquo and &ldquoFor Valorous Labor during the War&rdquo medals.

Behind enemy lines

By opening churches in occupied Soviet territories, the Germans tried to create the impression that religious life was being revived. However, only a small part of the Orthodox clergy went over to their side the majority joined the resistance movement.

&ldquoLet your local partisans be not only an example and encouragement to you, but the subject of unceasing care. Remember that any service rendered to the partisans is a merit to the Motherland and one more step towards our liberation from fascist captivity,&rdquo Metropolitan Sergius addressed members of the clergy behind enemy lines.

Priests in their sermons called upon residents to oppose the Nazis. They refused to hold services in honor of the German army, collected intel for the partisans and provided them with food, clothing and lodging. One such priest, Father Fyodor Puzanov, collected half a million rubles in the occupied Pskov Region and donated it to the Dmitry Donskoy tank column.

The most daring priests joined the partisan detachments. There, they not only held services and confessed and gave communion to the soldiers, but participated in sabotage operations and military engagements themselves. Many were later awarded the &ldquoPartisan of the Great Patriotic War&rdquo medal.

The Germans severely punished Orthodox clergy for assisting the partisan and underground movements. In the Polesia diocese in Belarus, more than half of all priests were shot. Father Nikolai Pyzhevich, the prior of the church in Stary Selo in the Rivne region of Ukraine, was burned alive in his home together with his family for having sheltered partisans and seriously injured Red Army soldiers.

Reconciliation

As soon as the war started, the Soviet authorities realized the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church in the struggle against the enemy. Starting July 1941, Soviet newspapers began publishing positive articles about religious life in the Soviet Union.

Patriarch Sergius of Moscow.

Stalin encouraged the partial revival of the ROC not only for morale-boosting purposes. He also wanted to counteract the German policy of luring Orthodox clergy members and turning them into a fifth column. Moreover, good relations between the state and the Church greatly facilitated cooperation with the Western powers, who had long been concerned about the religious policy of the USSR.

Sept. 4, 1943, saw a historic meeting between Joseph Stalin and Metropolitan Sergius, which changed the life of the Church in many ways: it was given permission to elect a Patriarch (which Sergius duly became), ROC educational institutions were opened, the publication of religious literature was allowed once more, and the Council for ROC Affairs was established, without whose consent local authorities could not close down places of worship. Although religious life remained under strict state control and supervision, this was a huge step forward for the ROC.

A striking illustration of the gratitude felt by the Soviet authorities toward the ROC for its wartime service was the invitation extended to the top hierarchs to attend the Victory Parade on Red Square on June 24, 1945, as guests of honor.

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Role of Russian Orthodox Church in Life of Peasants in Russia in XIX – the beginning of the XXth centuries

The article discusses the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the outlook of the peasantry in Russia in XIX – early XX centuries. It is shown that the priests have helped peasants in their households and even in the sickness, for which they used their special favour. In addition, our attention is given to the Orthodox Church holidays, with which the peasants tied the most significant events in their lives. We have analyzed the value of the parish in the life of the peasants, which determines the formation of the moral character of the peasantry. The attitude of the peasants to the different events, their assessment were often based on the judgment of the priest, not only obliged to hold services in the Church, but also to carry on business, has become a factor of integration of the clergy in the world of Russian village. In the article, on the archive material, the charity of peasants is differentiated. The peasants took an active part in the affairs of philanthropy, not only in their parishes or dioceses, but also in charity events throughout Russia. The scientific problem solved in this article makes it possible to identify that it is in the village of Russian Orthodox Church rallied the population, and it was considered citizens as a spiritual institution, where the cleric was in constant and close contact with the peasants, with the result that there is a certain transformation in the national consciousness. On the specific examples given in the article, we can say that the priests were authentic spiritual teachers of their congregations. Cautionary preaching of the clergy has played an important role in ritual and religious life of the Russian peasants.


The Political Role of the Russian Orthodox Church

“Traditional values” have become the rallying cry of extreme Right populist parties, which are sponsored by Moscow in its effort to undermine Western liberal democracy and universal human rights.

The Mutual Embrace of the Church and Army

The Church not only supported the Kremlin’s ideological offensive abroad, but played also an important role in the increasing militarization of Russian society. The Church developed especially a very close relationship with the nuclear forces of the Russian army. In August 2009, Kirill visited the northern shipyard in Severodvinsk and went aboard a nuclear submarine. He presented the crew with an icon of the Virgin Mary. Kirill said that Russia’s defense capabilities needed to be bolstered by Orthodox Christian values. “Then,” he said, “we shall have something to defend with our missiles.” Kirill’s special relationship with the guardians of Russia’s nuclear deterrent bordered on a deep personal affection. In December 2009, in a ceremony during his visit to the Academy of the Strategic Missile Forces in Moscow, he presented the commander, Lt. Gen. Andrey Shvaychenko, with a pennant of the Holy Great Martyr Barbara, considered to be the heavenly protector of the Russian nuclear deterrent. The Patriarch said: “Such dangerous weapon can be given only to clean hands—hands of people with a clear mind, an ardent love to the Motherland, responsible for their work before God and the people.” Kirill showed not only a special affection for the guardians of Russia’s nuclear deterrent, but also for the deterrent itself. Under Putin, practices, such as the blessing of the president’s nuclear launch code briefcase and the sprinkling of holy water by an Orthodox priest on an S-400 surface-to-air missile during a ceremony broadcast on national television became commonplace. All over Russia military bases have their own churches and chapels.

The most ambitious project is the construction of the “Victory Church,” built by the Ministry of Defense in Moscow’s “Patriot Park.” This cathedral, ninety-five meters high, will be ready on May 9, 2020, on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the victory of the Great Patriotic War. It will be the third-highest Orthodox church building in the world. Its official cost is almost three billion rubles, which is more than $45 million. However, according to Novaya Gazeta. the real cost is expected to explode to an estimated $120 million or $8 billion rubles—which is a lot of money to spend on one church building in a country where a quarter of the children live under the poverty line. One thousand workers are permanently employed in this pharaonic project, which is supported by defense firms, such as the company “Kalashnikov,” which provides more than 1.1 million bricks. The new army’s cathedral will be adorned with frescos featuring war scenes—including those of the Soviet era. Wea[pms will be exhibited in the entrance of the church. The Novaya Gazeta calls this “war cult,” exhibited in the church, “especially shocking” and calls it a “Church of Mars” instead of a church of Christ. This is only one example of the mutual embrace of the Church and the army. Because this close cooperation can also be observed in the role, played by Orthodox priests, who are incorporated in the army units, tasked to enhance the country’s “spiritual security.” While Putin compared religion with a nuclear shield, Kirill called the nuclear deterrent the ultimate defense for Russia’s “traditional values.” The views of the Kremlin leader and the church leader seemed to coincide completely.

Churches in the West emphasize the need to promote peace and are in general in favor of nuclear disarmament. However, the Russian Orthodox Church takes a quite different position. The Church does not criticize the new nuclear arms race. Instead, it supports the development of new strategic weapons. The motto of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces: “после нас тишина” (After us—silence), with its implicit reference to the end of the world corresponds completely with the apocalyptic worldview of the Orthodox Church, for which all means are permitted to defend Holy Russia and its traditional values.

The question is: how should Western governments react? In dealing with the Russian Orthodox Church, one should always be aware that one has to do with a “hybrid Church.” On the one hand the Russian Orthodox Church is a church like most other denominations it has its true believers and it has devoted priests and monks. In September 2019, for instance, 182 Orthodox priests and church dignitaries signed an open letter, published in Pravoslavie i Mir, in which they demanded to reconsider the years-long prison sentences issued against some protesters who were arrested during the pro-democracy rallies. This support was a surprising initiative. However, this is only one side of the medal. After all, the Russian Orthodox Church is at the same time an instrument in the hands of the Russian government and is used by the Kremlin to expand its influence abroad, to attack democracy, to undermine universal human rights, and to bully its neighbors. The aggressive stance of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine against the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate is a clear example. When, in January 2019, the Ukrainian efforts to establish an autocephalous church were met with success and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Moscow Church broke its contacts with Constantinople. For the Ukrainians, this was not only a religious victory it was first and foremost a geopolitical victory.

A Global Russian Orthodox Church?

For this reason Western governments should not be naïve and treat the Russian Orthodox Church as if it were a normal church. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, was naïve when he allowed Moscow to buy the building of the French Meteorological Institute at the Quai Branly near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Moscow wanted to build a religious center and Orthodox church on this plot of 8,400 square meters. Also, Canada was one of the candidates to buy the building. There followed an aggressive lobbying by the Russian ambassador, Alexander Orlov, who was assisted by Vladimir Kozhin, an ex-KGB officer. Kozhin was the head of the Kremlin’s Presidential Property Management Department, a bureaucracy which employs fifty thousand employees. This department, which was headed by Putin before he became director of the FSB, is not only tasked with the management of state property in Russia, but also with the property of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad. For the operation “Paris Cathedral” the Russians hired a French lobbying firm, ESL & Network, which had access to the highest echelons of the French government. Moscow won the open tender with an offer of seventy million euros. The French magazine Le nouvel Observateur, suspected that the Russians had benefited from privileged information. The new building was situated not far from the Palais de l’Alma, a building in which the postal service of the French president and sixteen apartments of the presidential staff are located. The French counterintelligence advised against selling such a sensitive building to a church of which one knows its links with the FSB. Despite these warnings, the project was completed.

The project fits in with the Kremlin’s plans to make the Russian Orthodox Church a “global” church. Communism was a global creed and it was this global reach of communism that gave the Soviet Union, the leader of this movement, a disproportionate influence in Third World countries and Western countries such as France and Italy, where powerful communist parties existed. The merger of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia was only the first step in the Kremlin’s plans to give the Russian Orthodox Church a global reach. Russian oligarchs play an important role in this strategy—in Russia as well as abroad—financing the construction of new churches or restoring existing church buildings. It is a question of whether this strategy will work. In the modern industrial world the communist utopia was more attractive than so-called “traditional values.” But we should not underestimate the Kremlin’s endeavors. “Traditional values” have become the rallying cry of extreme Right populist parties, which are sponsored by Moscow in its effort to undermine Western liberal democracy and universal human rights.

Marcel H. Van Herpen is a security expert. His latest publications are Putin’s Propaganda Machine—Soft Power and Russian Foreign Policy (Lanham and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) Putin’s Wars—The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism (Lanham and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) and Putinism – The Slow Rise of a Radical Right Regime in Russia (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).


Contents

Kievan Rus' Edit

The Christian community that developed into what is now known as the Russian Orthodox Church is traditionally said to have been founded by the Apostle Andrew, who is thought to have visited Scythia and Greek colonies along the northern coast of the Black Sea. According to one of the legends, Andrew reached the future location of Kiev and foretold the foundation of a great Christian city. [14] [15] The spot where he reportedly erected a cross is now marked by St. Andrew's Cathedral.

By the end of the first millennium AD, eastern Slavic lands started to come under the cultural influence of the Eastern Roman Empire. In 863–69, the Byzantine monks Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, both from the region of Macedonia in the Eastern Roman Empire translated parts of the Bible into the Old Church Slavonic language for the first time, paving the way for the Christianization of the Slavs and Slavicized peoples of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Northern Russia, Southern Russia and Central Russia. There is evidence that the first Christian bishop was sent to Novgorod from Constantinople either by Patriarch Photius or Patriarch Ignatios, c. 866–867.

By the mid-10th century, there was already a Christian community among the Rus' nobility, under the leadership of Bulgarian and Byzantine priests, although paganism remained the dominant religion. Princess Olga of Kiev was the first ruler of Kievan Rus' who became a Christian. Her grandson, Vladimir of Kiev, made Rus' officially a Christian state. The official Christianization of Kievan Rus' is widely believed to have occurred in 988 AD, when Prince Vladimir was baptised himself and ordered his people to be baptised by the priests from the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Kievan church was a junior metropolitanate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarch appointed the metropolitan, who usually was a Greek, who governed the Church of Rus'. The Kiev Metropolitan's residence was originally located in Kiev itself, the capital of the medieval Rus' state.

Transfer of the see to Moscow de facto independence of the Moscow Church Edit

As Kiev was losing its political, cultural, and economical significance due to the Mongol invasion, Metropolitan Maximus moved to Vladimir in 1299 his successor, Metropolitan Peter moved the residence to Moscow in 1325.

Following the tribulations of the Mongol invasion, the Russian Church was pivotal in the survival and life of the Russian state. Despite the politically motivated murders of Mikhail of Chernigov and Mikhail of Tver, the Mongols were generally tolerant and even granted tax exemption to the church. Such holy figures as Sergius of Radonezh and Metropolitan Alexis helped the country [ clarification needed ] to withstand years of Mongol rule, and to expand both economically and spiritually. The Trinity monastery north of Moscow, founded by Sergius of Radonezh, became the setting for the flourishing of spiritual art, exemplified by the work of Andrey Rublev, among others. The followers of Sergius founded four hundred monasteries, thus greatly extending the geographical extent of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.

In 1439, at the Council of Florence, some Orthodox hierarchs from Byzantium as well as Metropolitan Isidore, who represented the Russian Church, signed a union with the Roman Church, whereby the Eastern Church would recognise the primacy of the Pope. However, the Moscow Prince Vasili II rejected the act of the Council of Florence brought to Moscow by Isidore in March 1441. Isidore was in the same year removed from his position as an apostate and expelled from Moscow. The Russian metropolitanate remained effectively vacant for the next few years due largely to the dominance of Uniates in Constantinople then. In December 1448, Jonas, a Russian bishop, was installed by the Council of Russian bishops in Moscow as Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia [16] (with permanent residence in Moscow) without the consent from Constantinople. This occurred five years prior to the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and, unintentionally, signified the beginning of an effectively independent church structure in the Moscow (North-Eastern Russian) part of the Russian Church. Subsequently, there developed a theory in Moscow that saw Moscow as the Third Rome, the legitimate successor to Constantinople, and the Primate of the Moscow Church as head of all the Russian Church. Meanwhile, the newly established in 1458 Russian Orthodox (initially Uniate) metropolitanate in Kiev (then in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and subsequently in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth) continued under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical See until 1686, when it was transferred to the jurisdiction of Moscow.

The reign of Ivan III and his successor was plagued by a number of heresies and controversies. One party, led by Nil Sorsky and Vassian Kosoy, called for the secularisation of monastic properties. They were opposed by the influential Joseph of Volotsk, who defended ecclesiastical ownership of land and property. The sovereign's position fluctuated, but eventually he threw his support to Joseph. New sects sprang up, some of which showed a tendency to revert to Mosaic law: for instance, the archpriest Aleksei converted to Judaism after meeting a certain Zechariah the Jew.

In the 1540s, Metropolitan Macarius codified Russian hagiography and convened a number of church synods, which culminated in the Hundred Chapter Council of 1551. This Council unified church ceremonies and duties throughout the Moscow Church. At the demand of the church hierarchy, the government lost its jurisdiction over ecclesiastics. Reinforced by these reforms, the Moscow Church felt powerful enough to occasionally challenge the policies of the tsar. Metropolitan Philip, in particular, decried the abuses of Ivan the Terrible, who eventually engineered his deposition and murder.

Autocephaly and schism Edit

During the reign of Tsar Fyodor I his brother-in-law Boris Godunov contacted the Ecumenical Patriarch, who "was much embarrassed for want of funds," [17] with a view to establishing a patriarchal see in Moscow. As a result of Godunov's efforts, Metropolitan Job of Moscow became in 1589 the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus', making the Russian Church autocephalous. The four other patriarchs recognized the Moscow Patriarchate as one of the five honourable Patriarchates. During the next half a century, when the tsardom was weak, the patriarchs (notably Hermogenes and Philaret) helped run the state along with (and sometimes instead of) the tsars.

At the urging of the Zealots of Piety, in 1652 Patriarch Nikon of Moscow resolved to centralize power that had been distributed locally, while conforming Russian Orthodox rites and rituals to those of the Greek Orthodox Church, as interpreted by pundits from the Kyiv Ecclesiastical Academy. For instance, he insisted that Russian Christians cross themselves with three fingers, rather than the then-traditional two. This aroused antipathy among a substantial section of believers, who saw the changed rites as heresy, although the extent to which these changes can be regarded as minor or major ritual significance remains open to debate. After the implementation of these innovations at the church council of 1666–1667, the church anathematized and suppressed those who acted contrary to them with the support of Muscovite state power. These traditionalists became known as "Old Believers" or "Old Ritualists".

Although Nikon's far-flung ambition of steering the country to a theocratic form of government precipitated his defrocking and exile, Tsar Aleksey deemed it reasonable to uphold many of his innovations. During the Schism of the Russian Church, the Old Ritualists were separated from the main body of the Orthodox Church. Archpriest Avvakum Petrov and many other opponents of the church reforms were burned at the stake, either forcibly or voluntarily. Another prominent figure within the Old Ritualists' movement, Boyarynya Morozova, was starved to death in 1675. Others escaped from the government persecutions to Siberia.

Several years after the Council of Pereyaslav (1654) that heralded the subsequent incorporation of eastern regions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth into the Tsardom of Russia, the see of the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Rus' was transferred to the Moscow Patriarchate (1686).

Peter the Great Edit

Peter the Great (1682–1725) had an agenda of radical modernization of Russian government, army, dress and manners. He made Russia a formidable political power. Peter was not religious and had a low regard for the Church, so he put it under tight governmental control. He replaced the Patriarch with a Holy Synod, which he controlled. The Tsar appointed all bishops. A clerical career was not a route chosen by upper-class society. Most parish priests were sons of priests, were very poorly educated, and very poorly paid. The monks in the monasteries had a slightly higher status they were not allowed to marry. Politically, the church was impotent. Catherine the Great later in the 18th century seized most of the church lands, and put the priests on a small salary supplemented by fees for services such as baptism and marriage. [18]

Expansion Edit

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced a vast geographic expansion. Numerous financial and political incentives (as well as immunity from military service) were offered local political leaders who would convert to Orthodoxy, and bring their people with them.

In the following two centuries, missionary efforts stretched out across Siberia into Alaska. Eminent people on that missionary effort included St. Innocent of Irkutsk and St. Herman of Alaska. In emulation of Stephen of Perm, they learned local languages and translated gospels and hymns. Sometimes those translations required the invention of new systems of transcription.

In the aftermath of the Treaty of Pereyaslav, the Ottomans (supposedly acting on behalf of the Russian regent Sophia Alekseyevna) pressured the Patriarch of Constantinople into transferring the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Rus' from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to that of Moscow. The handover brought millions of faithful and half a dozen dioceses under the ultimate administrative care of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus' (and later of the Holy Synod of Russia), leading to the significant Ukrainian presence in the Russian Church, which continued well into the 18th century, with Theophanes Prokopovich, Epiphanius Slavinetsky, Stephen Yavorsky and Demetrius of Rostov being among the most notable representatives of this trend. [19] The exact terms and conditions of the handover of the Kiev Metropolis are a contested issue. [20] [21] [22] [23]

In 1700, after Patriarch Adrian's death, Peter the Great prevented a successor from being named, and in 1721, following the advice of Feofan Prokopovich, Archbishop of Pskov, the Holy and Supreme Synod was established under Archbishop Stephen Yavorsky to govern the church instead of a single primate. This was the situation until shortly after the Russian Revolution of 1917, at which time the Local Council (more than half of its members being lay persons) adopted the decision to restore the Patriarchate. On 5 November (according to the Julian calendar) a new patriarch, Tikhon, was named through casting lots.

The late 18th century saw the rise of starchestvo under Paisiy Velichkovsky and his disciples at the Optina Monastery. This marked a beginning of a significant spiritual revival in the Russian Church after a lengthy period of modernization, personified by such figures as Demetrius of Rostov and Platon of Moscow. Aleksey Khomyakov, Ivan Kireevsky and other lay theologians with Slavophile leanings elaborated some key concepts of the renovated Orthodox doctrine, including that of sobornost. The resurgence of Eastern Orthodoxy was reflected in Russian literature, an example is the figure of Starets Zosima in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov.

Fin-de-siècle religious renaissance Edit

During the final decades of the imperial order in Russia many educated Russians sought to return to the church and tried to bring their faith back to life. No less evident were non-conformist paths of spiritual searching known as "God-Seeking". Writers, artists and intellectuals in large numbers were drawn to private prayer, mysticism, spiritualism, theosophy and Eastern religions. A fascination with primitive feeling, with the unconscious and the mythic was apparent, along with visions of coming catastrophes and redemption.

In 1909, a volume of essays appeared under the title Vekhi ("Milestones" or "Landmarks"), authored by a group of leading left-wing intellectuals, including Sergei Bulgakov, Peter Struve and former Marxists. They bluntly repudiated the materialism and atheism that had dominated the thought of the intelligentsia for generations as leading inevitably to failure and moral disaster. The essays created a sensation.

It is possible to see a similarly renewed vigor and variety in religious life and spirituality among the lower classes, especially after the upheavals of 1905. Among the peasantry there was widespread interest in spiritual-ethical literature and non-conformist moral-spiritual movements, an upsurge in pilgrimage and other devotions to sacred spaces and objects (especially icons), persistent beliefs in the presence and power of the supernatural (apparitions, possession, walking-dead, demons, spirits, miracles and magic), the renewed vitality of local "ecclesial communities" actively shaping their own ritual and spiritual lives, sometimes in the absence of clergy, and defining their own sacred places and forms of piety. Also apparent was the proliferation of what the Orthodox establishment branded as "sectarianism", including both non-Orthodox Christian denominations, notably Baptists, and various forms of popular Orthodoxy and mysticism. [24]

Russian Revolution and Civil War Edit

In 1914, there were 55,173 Russian Orthodox churches and 29,593 chapels, 112,629 priests and deacons, 550 monasteries and 475 convents with a total of 95,259 monks and nuns in Russia. [25]

The year 1917 was a major turning point in Russian history, and also the Russian Orthodox Church. [26] In early March 1917 (O.S.), the Czar was forced to abdicate, the Russian empire began to implode, and the government's direct control of the Church was all but over by August 1917. On 15 August (O.S.), in the Moscow Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, the Local (Pomestniy) Council of the ROC, the first such convention since the late 17th century, opened. The council continued its sessions until September 1918 and adopted a number of important reforms, including the restoration of Patriarchate, a decision taken 3 days after the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government in Petrograd on 25 October (O.S.). On 5 November, Metropolitan Tikhon of Moscow was selected as the first Russian Patriarch after about 200 years of Synodal rule.

In early February 1918, the Bolshevik-controlled government of Soviet Russia enacted the Decree on separation of church from state and school from church that proclaimed separation of church and state in Russia, freedom to "profess any religion or profess none", deprived religious organisations of the right to own any property and legal status. Legal religious activity in the territories controlled by Bolsheviks was effectively reduced to services and sermons inside church buildings. The Decree and attempts by Bolshevik officials to requisition church property caused sharp resentment on the part of the ROC clergy and provoked violent clashes on some occasions: on 1 February (19 January O.S.), hours after the bloody confrontation in Petrograd's Alexander Nevsky Lavra between the Bolsheviks trying to take control of the monastery's premises and the believers, Patriarch Tikhon issued a proclamation that anathematised the perpetrators of such acts. [27]

The church was caught in the crossfire of the Russian Civil War that began later in 1918, and church leadership, despite their attempts to be politically neutral (from the autumn of 1918), as well as the clergy generally were perceived by the Soviet authorities as a "counter-revolutionary" force and thus subject to suppression and eventual liquidation.

In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed. [28]

Under Soviet rule Edit

The Soviet Union, formally created in December 1922, was the first state to have elimination of religion as an ideological objective espoused by the country's ruling political party. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated materialism and atheism in schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed.

Orthodox clergy and active believers were treated by the Soviet law-enforcement apparatus as anti-revolutionary elements and were habitually subjected to formal prosecutions on political charges, arrests, exiles, imprisonment in camps, and later could also be incarcerated in mental hospitals. [29] [30]

Thousands of church buildings and initially all the monasteries were taken over by the Soviet government and either destroyed or converted to secular use. It was impossible to build new churches. Practising Orthodox Christians were restricted from prominent careers and membership in communist organizations (the party, the Komsomol). Anti-religious propaganda was openly sponsored and encouraged by the government, which the Church was not given an opportunity to publicly respond to. The government youth organization, the Komsomol, encouraged its members to vandalize Orthodox churches and harass worshippers. Seminaries were closed down, and the church was restricted from using the press. Theological schools were closed (until some were re-opened in the latter 1940s), and church publications were suppressed.

However, the Soviet policy vis-a-vis organised religion vacillated over time between, on the one hand, a utopian determination to substitute secular rationalism for what they considered to be an outmoded "superstitious" worldview and, on the other, pragmatic acceptance of the tenaciousness of religious faith and institutions. In any case, religious beliefs and practices did persist, not only in the domestic and private spheres but also in the scattered public spaces allowed by a state that recognized its failure to eradicate religion and the political dangers of an unrelenting culture war. [31]

The Russian Orthodox church was drastically weakened in May 1922, when the Renovated (Living) Church, a reformist movement backed by the Soviet secret police, broke away from Patriarch Tikhon (also see the Josephites and the Russian True Orthodox Church), a move that caused division among clergy and faithful that persisted until 1946.

The sixth sector of the OGPU, led by Yevgeny Tuchkov, began aggressively arresting and executing bishops, priests, and devout worshippers, such as Metropolitan Veniamin in Petrograd in 1922 for refusing to accede to the demand to hand in church valuables (including sacred relics). In the time between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to less than 500. Between 1917 and 1935, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested. Of these, 95,000 were put to death. Many thousands of victims of persecution became recognized in a special canon of saints known as the "new martyrs and confessors of Russia".

When Patriarch Tikhon died in 1925, the Soviet authorities forbade patriarchal election. Patriarchal locum tenens (acting Patriarch) Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky, 1887–1944), going against the opinion of a major part of the church's parishes, in 1927 issued a declaration accepting the Soviet authority over the church as legitimate, pledging the church's cooperation with the government and condemning political dissent within the church. By this declaration Sergius granted himself authority that he, being a deputy of imprisoned Metropolitan Peter and acting against his will, had no right to assume according to the XXXIV Apostolic canon, which led to a split with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia abroad and the Russian True Orthodox Church (Russian Catacomb Church) within the Soviet Union, as they allegedly remained faithful to the Canons of the Apostles, declaring the part of the church led by Metropolitan Sergius schism, sometimes coined Sergianism. Due to this canonical disagreement it is disputed which church has been the legitimate successor to the Russian Orthodox Church that had existed before 1925. [32] [33] [34] [35]

In 1927, Metropolitan Eulogius (Georgiyevsky) of Paris broke with the ROCOR (along with Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) of New York, leader of the Russian Metropolia in America). In 1930, after taking part in a prayer service in London in supplication for Christians suffering under the Soviets, Evlogy was removed from office by Sergius and replaced. Most of Evlogy's parishes in Western Europe remained loyal to him Evlogy then petitioned Ecumenical Patriarch Photius II to be received under his canonical care and was received in 1931, making a number of parishes of Russian Orthodox Christians outside Russia, especially in Western Europe an Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe.

Moreover, in the 1929 elections, the Orthodox Church attempted to formulate itself as a full-scale opposition group to the Communist Party, and attempted to run candidates of its own against the Communist candidates. Article 124 of the 1936 Soviet Constitution officially allowed for freedom of religion within the Soviet Union, and along with initial statements of it being a multi-candidate election, the Church again attempted to run its own religious candidates in the 1937 elections. However the support of multicandidate elections was retracted several months before the elections were held and in neither 1929 nor 1937 were any candidates of the Orthodox Church elected. [36]

After Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. In the early hours of 5 September 1943, Metropolitans Sergius (Stragorodsky), Alexius (Simansky) and Nicholas (Yarushevich) had a meeting with Stalin and received permission to convene a council on 8 September 1943, which elected Sergius Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus'. This is considered by some as violation of the XXX Apostolic canon, as no church hierarch could be consecrated by secular authorities. [32] A new patriarch was elected, theological schools were opened, and thousands of churches began to function. The Moscow Theological Academy Seminary, which had been closed since 1918, was re-opened.

In December 2017, the Security Service of Ukraine lifted classified top secret status of documents revealing that the NKVD of the USSR and its units were engaged in the selection of candidates for participation in the 1945 Local Council from the representatives of the clergy and the laity. NKVD demanded "to outline persons who have religious authority among the clergy and believers, and at the same time checked for civic or patriotic work". In the letter sent in September 1944, it was emphasized: "It is important to ensure that the number of nominated candidates is dominated by the agents of the NKBD, capable of holding the line that we need at the Council". [37] [38]

Between 1945 and 1959 the official organization of the church was greatly expanded, although individual members of the clergy were occasionally arrested and exiled. The number of open churches reached 25,000. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated his own campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and forced the closure of about 12,000 churches. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active. Members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had ties with the KGB. This decline was evident from the dramatic decay of many of the abandoned churches and monasteries that were previously common in even the smallest villages from the pre-revolutionary period.

Persecution under Khrushchev Edit

A new and widespread persecution of the church was subsequently instituted under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. A second round of repression, harassment and church closures took place between 1959 and 1964 when Nikita Khrushchev was in office. The number of Orthodox churches fell from around 22,000 in 1959 to around 8,000 in 1965 [39] priests, monks and faithful were killed or imprisoned and the number of functioning monasteries was reduced to less than twenty.

Subsequent to Khrushchev's overthrow, the Church and the government remained on unfriendly terms until 1988. In practice, the most important aspect of this conflict was that openly religious people could not join the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which meant that they could not hold any political office. However, among the general population, large numbers remained religious.

Some Orthodox believers and even priests took part in the dissident movement and became prisoners of conscience. The Orthodox priests Gleb Yakunin, Sergiy Zheludkov and others spent years in Soviet prisons and exile for their efforts in defending freedom of worship. [40] Among the prominent figures of that time were Father Dmitri Dudko [41] and Father Aleksandr Men. Although he tried to keep away from practical work of the dissident movement intending to better fulfil his calling as a priest, there was a spiritual link between Fr Aleksandr and many of the dissidents. For some of them he was a friend for others, a godfather for many (including Yakunin), a spiritual father. [42]

By 1987 the number of functioning churches in the Soviet Union had fallen to 6,893 and the number of functioning monasteries to just 18. In 1987 in the Russian SFSR, between 40% and 50% of newborn babies (depending on the region) were baptized. Over 60% of all deceased received Christian funeral services.

Glasnost and evidence of KGB links Edit

Beginning in the late 1980s, under Mikhail Gorbachev, the new political and social freedoms resulted in many church buildings being returned to the church, to be restored by local parishioners. A pivotal point in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church came in 1988, the millennial anniversary of the Christianization of Kievan Rus'. Throughout the summer of that year, major government-supported celebrations took place in Moscow and other cities many older churches and some monasteries were reopened. An implicit ban on religious propaganda on state TV was finally lifted. For the first time in the history of the Soviet Union, people could see live transmissions of church services on television.

Gleb Yakunin, a critic of the Moscow Patriarchate who was one of those who briefly gained access to the KGB archive documents in the early 1990s, argued that the Moscow Patriarchate was "practically a subsidiary, a sister company of the KGB". [43] Critics charge that the archives showed the extent of active participation of the top ROC hierarchs in the KGB efforts overseas. [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49] George Trofimoff, the highest-ranking US military officer ever indicted for, and convicted of, espionage by the United States and sentenced to life imprisonment on 27 September 2001, had been "recruited into the service of the KGB" [50] by Igor Susemihl (a.k.a. Zuzemihl), a bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church (subsequently, a high-ranking hierarch—the ROC Metropolitan Iriney of Vienna, who died in July 1999 [51] ).

Konstanin Kharchev, former chairman of the Soviet Council on Religious Affairs, explained: "Not a single candidate for the office of bishop or any other high-ranking office, much less a member of Holy Synod, went through without confirmation by the Central Committee of the CPSU and the KGB". [47] Professor Nathaniel Davis points out: "If the bishops wished to defend their people and survive in office, they had to collaborate to some degree with the KGB, with the commissioners of the Council for Religious Affairs, and with other party and governmental authorities". [52] Patriarch Alexy II, acknowledged that compromises were made with the Soviet government by bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, himself included, and publicly repented of these compromises. [53]

Post-Soviet recovery and problems Edit

Under Patriarch Aleksey II (1990–2008) Edit

Metropolitan Alexy (Ridiger) of Leningrad, ascended the patriarchal throne in 1990 and presided over the partial return of Orthodox Christianity to Russian society after 70 years of repression, transforming the ROC to something resembling its pre-communist appearance some 15,000 churches had been re-opened or built by the end of his tenure, and the process of recovery and rebuilding has continued under his successor Patriarch Kirill. According to official figures, in 2016 the Church had 174 dioceses, 361 bishops, and 34,764 parishes served by 39,800 clergy. There were 926 monasteries and 30 theological schools. [54]

The Russian Church also sought to fill the ideological vacuum left by the collapse of Communism and even, in the opinion of some analysts, became "a separate branch of power". [55]

In August 2000, the ROC adopted its Basis of the Social Concept [56] and in July 2008, its Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights. [57]

Under Patriarch Aleksey, there were difficulties in the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican, especially since 2002, when Pope John Paul II created a Catholic diocesan structure for Russian territory. The leaders of the Russian Church saw this action as a throwback to prior attempts by the Vatican to proselytize the Russian Orthodox faithful to become Roman Catholic. This point of view was based upon the stance of the Russian Orthodox Church (and the Eastern Orthodox Church) that the Church of Rome is in schism, after breaking off from the Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, while acknowledging the primacy of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, believed that the small Roman Catholic minority in Russia, in continuous existence since at least the 18th century, should be served by a fully developed church hierarchy with a presence and status in Russia, just as the Russian Orthodox Church is present in other countries (including constructing a cathedral in Rome, near the Vatican).

There occurred strident conflicts with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, most notably over the Orthodox Church in Estonia in the mid-1990s, which resulted in unilateral suspension of eucharistic relationship between the churches by the ROC. [58] The tension lingered on and could be observed at the meeting in Ravenna in early October 2007 of participants in the Orthodox–Catholic Dialogue: the representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, walked out of the meeting due to the presence of representatives from the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church which is in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. At the meeting, prior to the departure of the Russian delegation, there were also substantive disagreements about the wording of a proposed joint statement among the Orthodox representatives. [59] After the departure of the Russian delegation, the remaining Orthodox delegates approved the form which had been advocated by the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. [60] The Ecumenical See's representative in Ravenna said that Hilarion's position "should be seen as an expression of authoritarianism whose goal is to exhibit the influence of the Moscow Church. But like last year in Belgrade, all Moscow achieved was to isolate itself once more since no other Orthodox Church followed its lead, remaining instead faithful to Constantinople." [61] [62]

Canon Michael Bourdeaux, former president of the Keston Institute, said in January 2008 that "the Moscow Patriarchate acts as though it heads a state church, while the few Orthodox clergy who oppose the church-state symbiosis face severe criticism, even loss of livelihood." [63] Such a view is backed up by other observers of Russian political life. [64] Clifford J. Levy of The New York Times wrote in April 2008: "Just as the government has tightened control over political life, so, too, has it intruded in matters of faith. The Kremlin's surrogates in many areas have turned the Russian Orthodox Church into a de facto official religion, warding off other Christian denominations that seem to offer the most significant competition for worshipers. […] This close alliance between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church has become a defining characteristic of Mr. Putin's tenure, a mutually reinforcing choreography that is usually described here as working 'in symphony'." [65]

Throughout Patriarch Alexy's reign, the massive program of costly restoration and reopening of devastated churches and monasteries (as well as the construction of new ones) was criticized for having eclipsed the church's principal mission of evangelizing. [66] [67]

On 5 December 2008, the day of Patriarch Alexy's death, the Financial Times said: "While the church had been a force for liberal reform under the Soviet Union, it soon became a center of strength for conservatives and nationalists in the post-communist era. Alexei's death could well result in an even more conservative church." [68]

Under Patriarch Kirill (since 2009) Edit

On 27 January 2009, the ROC Local Council elected Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus′ by 508 votes out of a total of 700. [69] He was enthroned on 1 February 2009.

Patriarch Kirill implemented reforms in the administrative structure of the Moscow Patriarchate: on 27 July 2011 the Holy Synod established the Central Asian Metropolitan District, reorganizing the structure of the Church in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. [70] In addition, on 6 October 2011, at the request of the Patriarch, the Holy Synod introduced the metropoly (Russian: митрополия, mitropoliya), administrative structure bringing together neighboring eparchies. [71]

Under Patriarch Kirill, the ROC continued to maintain close ties with the Kremlin enjoying the patronage of president Vladimir Putin, who has sought to mobilize Russian Orthodoxy both inside and outside Russia. [72] Patriarch Kirill endorsed Putin's election in 2012, referring in February to Putin's tenure in the 2000s as "God′s miracle." [73] [74] Nevertheless, Russian inside sources were quoted in the autumn 2017 as saying that Putin's relationship with Patriarch Kirill had been deteriorating since 2014 due to the fact that the presidential administration had been misled by the Moscow Patriarchate as to the extent of support for pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine also, due to Kirill's personal unpopularity he had come to be viewed as a political liability. [75] [76] [77]

The Moscow Patriarchate's traditional rivalry with the Patriarchate of Constantinople led to the ROC's non-attendance of the Holy Great Council that had been prepared by all the Orthodox Churches for decades. [78]

The Holy Synod of the ROC, at its session on 15 October 2018, severed full communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. [79] [80] The decision was taken in response to the move made by the Patriarchate of Constantinople a few days prior that effectively ended the Moscow Patriarchate's jurisdiction over Ukraine and promised autocephaly to Ukraine, [81] the ROC's and the Kremlin's fierce opposition notwithstanding. [72] [82] [83] [84] While the Ecumenical Patriarchate finalised the establishment of an autocephalous church in Ukraine on 5 January 2019, the ROC continued to claim that the only legitimate Orthodox jurisdiction in the country was its branch, namely the "Ukrainian Orthodox Church". [85] Under a law of Ukraine adopted at the end of 2018, the latter was required to change its official designation (name) so as to disclose its affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church based in an "aggressor state". [86] [87]

In October 2019, the ROC unilaterally severed communion with the Church of Greece following the latter's recognition of the Ukrainian autocephaly. [88] On 3 November, Patriarch Kirill failed to commemorate the Primate of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens, during a liturgy in Moscow. [89] Additionally, the ROC leadership imposed pilgrimage bans for its faithful in respect of a number of dioceses in Greece, including that of Athens. [90]

On 8 November 2019, the Russian Orthodox Church announced that Patriarch Kirill would stop commemorating the Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa after the latter and his Church recognized the OCU that same day. [91] [92] [93]

The ROC constituent parts in other than the Russian Federation countries of its exclusive jurisdiction such as Ukraine, Belarus et al., are legally registered as separate legal entities in accordance with the relevant legislation of those independent states.

Ecclesiastiacally, the ROC is organized in a hierarchical structure. The lowest level of organization, which normally would be a single ROC building and its attendees, headed by a priest who acts as Father superior (Russian: настоятель , nastoyatel), constitute a parish (Russian: приход , prihod). All parishes in a geographical region belong to an eparchy (Russian: епархия —equivalent to a Western diocese). Eparchies are governed by bishops (Russian: епископ , episcop or архиерей, archiereus). There are 261 Russian Orthodox eparchies worldwide (June 2012).

Further, some eparchies may be organized into exarchates (currently the Belorussian exarchate), and since 2003 into metropolitan districts (митрополичий округ), such as the ROC eparchies in Kazakhstan and the Central Asia (Среднеазиатский митрополичий округ).

Since the early 1990s, the ROC eparchies in some newly independent states of the former USSR enjoy the status of self-governing Churches within the Moscow Patriarchate (which status, according to the ROC legal terminology, is distinct from the ″autonomous″ one): the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, Latvian Orthodox Church, Moldovan Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the last one being virtually fully independent in administrative matters. Similar status, since 2007, is enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (previously fully independent and deemed schismatic by the ROC). The Chinese Orthodox Church and the Japanese Orthodox Churches were granted full autonomy by the Moscow Patriarchate, but this autonomy is not universally recognized.

Smaller eparchies are usually governed by a single bishop. Larger eparchies, exarchates, and self-governing Churches are governed by a Metropolitan archbishop and sometimes also have one or more bishops assigned to them.

The highest level of authority in the ROC is vested in the Local Council (Pomestny Sobor), which comprises all the bishops as well as representatives from the clergy and laypersons. Another organ of power is the Bishops' Council (Архиерейский Собор). In the periods between the Councils the highest administrative powers are exercised by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, which includes seven permanent members and is chaired by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Primate of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Although the Patriarch of Moscow enjoys extensive administrative powers, unlike the Pope, he has no direct canonical jurisdiction outside the diocese of Moscow, nor does he have single-handed authority over matters pertaining to faith as well as issues concerning the entire Orthodox Christian community such as the Catholic-Orthodox split.

Orthodox Church in America (OCA) Edit

Russian traders settled in Alaska during the 18th century. In 1740, a Russian ship off the Alaskan coast recorded celebrating the Divine Liturgy. In 1794, the Russian Orthodox Church sent missionaries—among them Herman of Alaska (who was later canonized)—to establish a formal mission in Alaska. Their missionary endeavors contributed to the conversion of many Alaskan natives to the Orthodox faith, especially after they learned the local languages and began to translate the liturgy into these. The ROC established a diocese, whose first bishop was Innocent of Alaska (also later canonized). Around the mid-19th century, the ROC moved this headquarters of the North American Diocese from Alaska to northern California.

Following additional changes in population, the headquarters of the North American Diocese was moved in the late 19th century from California to New York City, which had become a destination of numerous Greek and other Orthodox immigrants. At this time, many Greek Catholics shifted into the Orthodox Church in the East of the United States, increasing the numbers of Orthodox Christians in America. [ citation needed ]

There had been a conflict between John Ireland, the politically powerful Roman Catholic Archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota and Alexis Toth, an influential Ruthenian Catholic priest of St. Mary's church in Minneapolis. Because Archbishop Ireland refused to accept Fr. Toth's credentials as a priest, Fr Toth converted his parish of St. Mary's to the Orthodox Church. Under his guidance and inspiration, tens of thousands of other Greek Catholics in North America converted to the Orthodox Church. Ireland is sometimes honored as the "Father of the Orthodox Church in America". [ citation needed ] Such Greek Catholics were received into Orthodoxy into the existing North American diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.

At the same time large numbers of Greek and other Orthodox Christians were also immigrating to America. All Orthodox Christians in North America were united under the omophorion (church authority and protection) of the Patriarch of Moscow, through the Russian Church's North American diocese. There was then no other Orthodox diocese on the continent. A Syro-Arab mission was established under the episcopal leadership of Fr. Raphael of Brooklyn (later canonized in the church), who was the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in the United States.

In 1920, after the Russian Revolution and establishment of the Soviet Union, Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow issued an ukase (decree) that dioceses of the Church of Russia that were cut off from the governance of the highest Church authority should be managed independently until such time as normal relations could be resumed. Accordingly, the North American diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (known as the "Metropolia") operated in a de facto autonomous mode of self-governance. The Russian Revolution resulted in financial hardship for the North American diocese, as well as for the church in the Soviet Union. Other national Orthodox communities in North America tended to turn to the churches in their respective homelands for pastoral care and governance.

A group of bishops who had left Russia as refugees in the wake of the Russian Civil War, gathered in Sremski-Karlovci. This was traditionally known as the seat of Serbian Orthodox Church under the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1918, following the Great War, this city became part of the Kingdom of Serbia and, subsequently that year, of the new Yugoslavia. The bishops adopted a pro-monarchist stand. They claimed to speak as a synod for the entire "free" Russian church. This group was formally dissolved in 1922 by Patriarch Tikhon. He appointed metropolitans Platon and Evlogy as ruling bishops in the United States and Europe, respectively. Both of these metropolitans continued to entertain relations intermittently with the synod in Karlovci. Many of the Russian emigrants ignored Patriarch Tikhon's attempts to control the church outside Russia, believing that he was too subservient to the Soviets.

Between the world wars, the Metropolia coexisted and at times cooperated with an independent synod, later known as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), sometimes called the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. The two groups eventually operated independently. After World War II, ROCOR moved its headquarters to North America, following renewed Russian immigration especially to the United States. It claimed but failed to establish jurisdiction over all parishes of Russian origin in North America. The Metropolia, as a former diocese of the Russian Church, continued to consider the latter as its highest church authority, although it was cut off under the conditions of the Communist regime in Russia.

After World War II, the Patriarchate of Moscow made unsuccessful attempts to regain control over the groups abroad. After resuming communication with Moscow in early 1960s, and being granted autocephaly in 1970, the Metropolia became known as the Orthodox Church in America. [94] [95] But such recognition of its autocephalous status is not universal. The Ecumenical Patriarch (under whom is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) and some other jurisdictions have not officially accepted it. The Ecumenical Patriarch and the other jurisdictions remain in communion with the OCA. The Patriarchate of Moscow thereby renounced its former canonical claims in the United States and Canada it acknowledged an autonomous church also established in Japan in 1970.

Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) Edit

Russia's Church was devastated by the repercussions of the Bolshevik Revolution. One of its effects was a flood of refugees from Russia to the United States, Canada, and Europe. The Revolution of 1918 severed large sections of the Russian church—dioceses in America, Japan, and Manchuria, as well as refugees in Europe—from regular contacts with the main church.

Based on an ukase (decree) issued by Patriarch Tikhon, Holy Synod and Supreme Council of the Church stated that dioceses of the Church of Russia that were cut off from the governance of the highest Church authority (i.e. the Holy Synod and the Patriarch) should be managed independently until such time as normal relations with the highest Church authority could be resumed, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia was established by bishops who had left Russia in the wake of the Russian Civil War. They first met in Constantinople, and then moved to Sremski-Karlovci, Yugoslavia. After World War II, they moved their headquarters to Munich, and 1950 to New York City, New York, where it remains to this day.

On 28 December 2006, it was officially announced that the Act of Canonical Communion would finally be signed between the ROC and ROCOR. The signing took place on 17 May 2007, followed immediately by a full restoration of communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, celebrated by a Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, at which the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexius II and the First Hierarch of ROCOR concelebrated for the first time.

Under the Act, the ROCOR remains a self-governing entity within the Church of Russia. It is independent in its administrative, pastoral, and property matters. It continues to be governed by its Council of Bishops and its Synod, the Council's permanent executive body. The First-Hierarch and bishops of the ROCOR are elected by its Council and confirmed by the Patriarch of Moscow. ROCOR bishops participate in the Council of Bishops of the entire Russian Church.

In response to the signing of the act of canonical communion, Bishop Agathangel (Pashkovsky) of Odessa and parishes and clergy in opposition to the Act broke communion with ROCOR, and established ROCA(A) [96] Some others opposed to the Act have joined themselves to other Greek Old Calendarist groups. [97]

Currently both the OCA and ROCOR, since 2007, are in communion with the ROC.

Self-governing branches of the ROC Edit

The Russian Orthodox Church has four levels of self-government. [98] [99] [ clarification needed ]

The autonomous churches which are part of the ROC are:

    , a special status autonomy close to autocephaly
  1. Self-governed churches (Estonia, Latvia, Moldova)
  2. Metropolitan Districts of Kazakhstan

Canonization Edit

In accordance with the practice of the Orthodox Church, a particular hero of faith can initially be canonized only at a local level within local churches and eparchies. Such rights belong to the ruling hierarch and it can only happen when the blessing of the patriarch is received. The task of believers of the local eparchy is to record descriptions of miracles, to create the hagiography of a saint, to paint an icon, as well as to compose a liturgical text of a service where the saint is canonized. All of this is sent to the Synodal Commission for canonization which decides whether to canonize the local hero of faith or not. Then the patriarch gives his blessing and the local hierarch performs the act of canonization at the local level. However, the liturgical texts in honor of a saint are not published in all Church books but only in local publications. In the same way these saints are not yet canonized and venerated by the whole Church, only locally. When the glorification of a saint exceeds the limits of an eparchy, then the patriarch and Holy Synod decides about their canonization on the Church level. After receiving the Synod's support and the patriarch's blessing, the question of glorification of a particular saint on the scale of the entire Church is given for consideration to the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the period following the revolution, and during the communist persecutions up to 1970, no canonizations took place. Only in 1970 did the Holy Synod made a decision to canonize a missionary to Japan, Nicholas Kasatkin (1836–1912). In 1977, St. Innocent of Moscow (1797–1879), the Metropolitan of Siberia, the Far East, the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and Moscow was also canonized. In 1978 it was proclaimed that the Russian Orthodox Church had created a prayer order for Meletius of Kharkov, which practically signified his canonization because that was the only possible way to do it at that time. Similarly, the saints of other Orthodox Churches were added to the Church calendar: in 1962 St. John the Russian, in 1970 St. Herman of Alaska, in 1993 Silouan the Athonite, the elder of Mount Athos, already canonized in 1987 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In the 1980s the Russian Orthodox Church re-established the process for canonization a practice that had ceased for half a century.

In 1989, the Holy Synod established the Synodal Commission for canonization. The 1990 Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church gave an order for the Synodal Commission for Canonisation to prepare documents for canonization of new martyrs who had suffered from the 20th century Communist repressions. In 1991 it was decided that a local commission for canonization would be established in every eparchy which would gather the local documents and would send them to the Synodal Commission. Its task was to study the local archives, collect memories of believers, record all the miracles that are connected with addressing the martyrs. In 1992 the Church established 25 January as a day when it venerates the new 20th century martyrs of faith. The day was specifically chosen because on this day in 1918 the Metropolitan of Kiev Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) was killed, thus becoming the first victim of communist terror among the hierarchs of the Church.

During the 2000 Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, the greatest general canonization in the history of the Orthodox Church took place: not only regarding the number of saints but also as in this canonization, all unknown saints were mentioned. There were 1,765 canonized saints known by name and others unknown by name but "known to God".

Icon painting Edit

The use and making of icons entered Kievan Rus' following its conversion to Orthodox Christianity in AD 988. As a general rule, these icons strictly followed models and formulas hallowed by Byzantine art, led from the capital in Constantinople. As time passed, the Russians widened the vocabulary of types and styles far beyond anything found elsewhere in the Orthodox world. Russian icons are typically paintings on wood, often small, though some in churches and monasteries may be much larger. Some Russian icons were made of copper. [100] Many religious homes in Russia have icons hanging on the wall in the krasny ugol, the "red" or "beautiful" corner. There is a rich history and elaborate religious symbolism associated with icons. In Russian churches, the nave is typically separated from the sanctuary by an iconostasis (Russian ikonostas, иконостас), or icon-screen, a wall of icons with double doors in the centre. Russians sometimes speak of an icon as having been "written", because in the Russian language (like Greek, but unlike English) the same word (pisat', писать in Russian) means both to paint and to write. Icons are considered to be the Gospel in paint, and therefore careful attention is paid to ensure that the Gospel is faithfully and accurately conveyed. Icons considered miraculous were said to "appear." The "appearance" (Russian: yavlenie, явление) of an icon is its supposedly miraculous discovery. "A true icon is one that has 'appeared', a gift from above, one opening the way to the Prototype and able to perform miracles". [101]

Bell ringing Edit

Bell ringing, which has a history in the Russian Orthodox tradition dating back to the baptism of Rus', plays an important part in the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In May 2011, Hilarion Alfeyev, the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk and head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, stated that Orthodox and Evangelical Christians share the same positions on "such issues as abortion, the family, and marriage" and desire "vigorous grassroots engagement" between the two Christian communions on such issues. [102]

The Metropolitan also believes in the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Islam and Christianity because the two religions have never fought religious wars in Russia. [103] Alfeyev stated that the Russian Orthodox Church "disagrees with atheist secularism in some areas very strongly" and "believes that it destroys something very essential about human life." [103]

Today the Russian Orthodox Church has ecclesiastical missions in Jerusalem and some other countries around the world. [104] [105]


My research during the last year can be divided into four general categories: the history and state of the Russian Orthodox Church today the current geography, or spatial distributions, of religions in Russia non-traditional religions in Russia and finally, Russia’s 1997 religion bill On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. I chose these particular areas of focus because they will assist me in making final conclusions about the role of religion in post-Soviet Russia as I study and live in Russia during the Fall 1998 Semester. This paper will summarize my findings in each area and then explain what I plan to do with the gathered information.

The Russian Orthodox Church

Orthodox Christianity has been a major influence in Russia for more than a millennium. However, the effects of seven decades of repressive, atheistic Soviet rule have been drastic and some scholars are rather pessimistic about the future of the Church. Although the number of parishes has doubled since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and hundreds of churches and other buildings are being restored, the Russian Orthodox Church suffers from a lack of resources and money, shortages of properly trained clergy, and the “religious apathy” of much of the population.1 Schisms and breakaway factions further weaken the Moscow Patriarchate. Some documents claim up to 85% of Russia’s population profess to be Russian Orthodox, while other polls state that about 35-40% of the population is Orthodox Christian. The wide range in statistics can probably be accounted for by the fact that many Russian citizens may say they are Orthodox (due to heritage or nationalism) even though they rarely, if ever, attend church services and know little about Orthodox doctrine. Davis predicts that “about 1% of the traditional Orthodox in the former USSR actually attend services in any given non-holiday week.”2

Geography of Religions in Russia

In general, traditional religions (those existing in Russia before 1917) are located today in the same places they were found before the Communist era. It is not too surprising that the Russian Orthodox, Catholic, and other traditional religions have rebuilt and regenerated in the same places. On the other hand, non-traditional religions (those that have appeared in Russia since 1990) are finding the most success where traditional religions are not as strong. Krindatch states that “non-traditional religions seek to fill the ‘religious vacuum’ deriving from the lack of religious infrastructure in the peripheral regions of Russia.”3 Although many non-traditional religions first started proselytizing in Russia’s major urban centers–St. Petersburg and Moscow–most have found greater success (i.e. higher conversion rates) in areas such as Western Siberia and the Eastern Seaboard where traditional religions are not as historically significant.

Since approximately 1990, a great number of non-traditional religions have entered Russia including Eastern faiths like Bahaism and Hare Krishna, Western sects such as Presbyterianism, Methodism, and the LDS church, and many, many more. Non-traditional religions have in common the fact that they have spread through Russia due to extensive missionary work, often by foreign missionaries. Many non-traditional religions are particularly attractive to Russians today because they provide social stability in unstable times. For example, the LDS church provides Sunday school and frequent family-based social activities which the more impersonal Russian Orthodox Church does not. Although many non-traditional religions have enjoyed rapid growth in Russia, they also face many obstacles including Russia’s new religious legislation.

On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations Russia’s recent religious legislation, passed in October 1997, has caused a great deal of controversy throughout Russia and around the world. The bill divides religions into several categories: “(1) ‘Fifty Year’ organizations that have been officially registered as centralized organizations for 50 years and possess full rights, including the right to use the word ‘Russia’ or ‘Russian’ in their official names (2) ‘Fifteen Year’ organizations that can show they [have] existed for 15 years in Russia and possess full rights under the law and (3) ‘Newer’ organizations that are currently registered but cannot prove 15 years of existence in Russia, which face annual reregistration and regulatory burdens and have limited rights under the law.”4 The hierarchical nature of the legislation has alarmed religious freedom watch groups who assert that the bill overly favors the Russian Orthodox Church while limiting rights of many non-traditional religions, particularly Orthodox break-away factions.

This research project is far from over. The researching, reading, and interviewing I have completed in the last eight months have been in preparation for upcoming experiences I will have during the 1998 Fall semester. During my four months in Voronezh, Russia, I will use the information I have already learned about the state of religion in Russia to form my own first-hand conclusions about the role of religion in today’s Russian society. I will do this by observing and interviewing Russian families and individuals that I will come in contact with. I plan to visit several Russian Orthodox services and regularly attend meetings of the LDS branch in Voronezh, making close observations about the similarities and differences between the kinds of people and activities that exist in each church. I hope to be able to talk with clergy, missionaries, and members from several different religious groups. From these observations and interviews, I will make some final conclusions about the role of religion in Russia today. I believe that understanding the religious trends current in today’s Russian society will greatly enhance my comprehension of Russian culture as a whole.


The Role of the Russian Orthodox Church

On February 12, 2016 the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church met with Pope Francis for the first time in 962 years. What is the significance of this meeting? Here is an article that sheds some light on it.

The meeting between the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill and the head of the Roman Catholic Church received mixed reactions in the world. The meeting became a hope for some and a terrible omen signaling the collapse of religions for others. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. Pravda.Ru sat down for an interview to discuss the significance of the meeting with Orthodox publicist Victor Saulkin, a member of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society&hellip.

In the interview, Patriarch Kirill said:

"I was worried about the meeting. This is definitely not the event of the millennium, as some people said. The meeting in Havana should come along with other events that have been taking place in the world. We see the West dragging Russia into the war, while the unipolar world is falling apart. The collapse of the unipolar world system started several years ago, Some time in 2007, when Vladimir Putin stated that the system, in which the wolf eats the lamb just because he is strong, could not exist.

"Now we can see that Russia is the main obstacle for the unipolar world. Zbigniew Brzezinski said after the break-up of the Soviet Union that there was the most important player left &ndash Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is a spiritual alternative to this global world order. When they say that our country had no ideology for 25 years, this is not true to fact. We could see the Western ideology being implanted in Russia &ndash the Golden Calf ideology . Orthodoxy and even secularized Western Christianity do not tolerate this ideology.

"During the times of the Soviet Union, many in the country thought that every person in the Christian West had a gospel on their bedside table. Afterwards, it became clear that it was the Soviet Union that was protecting the world from the Golden Calf ideology . When the Soviet empire collapsed, the West assumed that Russia was dead. The country was dismembered, the defense industry and the army was destroyed. That was the time when liberal Satanism triumphed in the West.&rdquo

Kirill is reminding us that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a &ldquounipolar world system&rdquo began, where the US government was the sole &ldquosuperpower&rdquo in the world. Brzezinski&rsquos policy then called for a way to maintain this sole-superpower position as the basis of American Empire. The problem with this is that the West was ruled by &ldquoGolden Calf ideology,&rdquo which Kirill equates to &ldquoliberal Satanism.&rdquo

"In Catholic Italy, a court decided to take crucifixes out from schools. This is beyond understanding. In France, millions of people took to the streets to protest against gay marriage, but no one listened to them. The West is moving towards liberal Satanism . When we talk about the Islamic extremism of ISIL, we need to understand who created ISIL and what for&hellip."

We wish that the article would say more on this point about &ldquowho created ISIL,&rdquo but it was not included&mdashor perhaps edited out of the original version. The interviewer then asks:

&ldquoThe world has come to the point when one needs to stand up against attempts to de-christianize and de-humanize this world . One needs a dialogue to struggle against all this evil. Do you think it was the central leitmotif of the meeting?"

"Our Holy Patriarch does not come first in church remembrance - the Ecumenical Patriarch comes first, but this is an anachronism. So-called Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who has only two or three churches in Istanbul, is known as a servant of the CIA . He was dubbed as the Patriarch of Istanbul. And then it suddenly turned out that Moscow is the center of Ecumenical Orthodoxy .

"Incidentally, shortly after the victory in the Great Patriotic War, in 1948, a Pan-Orthodox Conference was held in Moscow, and the significance of that council was even bigger than the one that is currently taking place on Crete. Moscow acts as the Third Rome now, and our holy patriarch reaches out a helping hand to the declining Western Christian civilization .

In other words, the head of Orthodoxy is supposed to be Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople, or New Rome). However, when it became clear that he was merely &ldquoa servant of the CIA,&rdquo most of the Orthodox churches turned away from him and formed their own denominations. The largest of these is the Russian Orthodox Church, and so the successor of New Rome (Constantinople) is now Moscow&mdashthe &ldquoThird Rome.&rdquo

"In the West, it is believed that God judges people by their money, but this civilization is vanishing in front of our very eyes , and all Western Christians understand this. White America is dying. Western Christian civilization in Europe is in agony. Millions of refugees from Islamic countries will destroy the old world. They will change the composition of the population, build the caliphate and destroy the Western Christian civilization .

"It started during the times of the French Revolution, when churches were being destroyed, when Christian France was the target. Old Catholics believe that Cardinal Lefebvre had every reason to say that the Catholic Church betrayed Christ at the Second Vatican Council , and we can see many examples to that now."

Russian President Putin is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and has formed some sort of alliance with them. The Church sets the tone for Russian culture today, while Putin establishes political policy. In a way, this is not much different from the Roman government at Constantinople, where the emperors became the enforcers of Church law in 535-536 A.D. under the Emperor Justinian.

As such, Putin is the &ldquodefender of Christians,&rdquo who are being martyred and persecuted by Islamists such as ISIS (or ISIL), even while the West turns a blind eye.

Benjamin Fulford, who writes from Japan as a spokesman for the White Dragon Society, said this about the meeting between Francis and Kirill (February 8, 2016):

&ldquoThe first meeting between the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Pope in 1000 years is aimed at cementing an alliance against the Satan worshipping Khazarian mob, Russian and Pentagon sources say. This is important because forensic research by this writer has shown the Pentagon ultimately reports to the Roman Empire (as publicly headed by the Pope) and the power behind Russian President Vladimir Putin is the Russian Orthodox Church. &ldquoPatriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church agrees to meet the Pope in Cuba on Feb 12 as East-West unite to fight [the Khazarian mafia],&rdquo was how a Pentagon official described the planned meeting. Rockefeller stooge Henry Kissinger was &ldquoforced to accept a multipolar world and declare Russia not a threat but essential partner,&rdquo the official continued.&rdquo

Fulford wrote again in an article dated March 15, 2016,

Meanwhile in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, the head of NATO forces, was fired last week &ldquofor being Strangelove [a proponent of nuclear Armageddon] and too close to neocon Victoria Nuland,&rdquo Pentagon sources say. In other words, Breedlove was not going along with the new Pentagon Russian alliance that was cemented at the historical first in 962 year meeting between the Pope and the Russian Patriarch on February 12th . Breedlove&rsquos replacement, General Curtis Scaparrotti, is expected to have a less confrontational attitude towards Russia, the sources say. The change in management at NATO is likely to have a major impact on the Khazarian mafia trouble making in the Ukraine and in Europe.

He is saying that the neocons in the Pentagon were defeated by the so-called &ldquowhite hats&rdquo when a Pentagon-Russian alliance was &ldquocemented&rdquo at the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. The two religious leaders are the spiritual forces behind East and West. This meeting, then, is of historic significance. Though the coming Kingdom of Christ will be of a Tabernacles character, this meeting&mdashlike all recent events&mdashis a stepping stone in the overthrow of Mystery Babylon that prepares the world for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The biggest event of all, I believe, will be when God moves by His Spirit to present Himself in His saints, so that the world can truly see the nature of Christ manifested in the world.


The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics

Irina Papkova will present the major findings of her recent book, "The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics," which was jointly pu.

Overview

Chapters

Reviews

This in-depth case study examines the Russian Orthodox Church’s influence on federal level policy in the Russian Federation since the fall of communism. By far more comprehensive than competing works, The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics is based on interviews, close readings of documents—including official state and ecclesiastical publications—and survey work conducted by the author. The analysis balances the Church as an institutional political actor with the government’s response to Church demands. Papkova ultimately concludes that the reciprocal relationship between the Church and state is far weaker and less politically important than Western analysts usually believe.

Papkova traces the Church’s relative failure in mobilizing parishioners, influencing political parties, and lobbying the state, citing the 1997 law limiting religious freedoms as its only significant political win. She attributes much of this weakness to the informal division of the Church into liberal, traditionalist, and fundamentalist factions, which prevent it from presenting a unified front. The book provides a fresh insight into the role of the Church in post-Soviet Russia that can be appreciated by people interested in numerous fields. While written from a political science perspective, the book speaks across disciplines to sociology, anthropology, history, and religious studies.

1. The Russian Orthodox Church in Contemporary Russian Politics: An Introduction

2. The Post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church and Secular Politics: Ideological Frames

3. The Moscow Patriarchate as Political Lobbyist

4. Informal Orthodoxy and Radical Politics

5. Orthodoxy and Political Identity

6. Conclusion: Post-Soviet Canonizations, the Russian Orthodox Church, State, and Society

“The book provides a valuable assessment of how Russian presidents Yeltsin, Putin, and Medvedev view the role of the Orthodox Church. Also, Papkova skillfully covers the relationship between the Orthodox Church and such important factors in Russian politics as the Communist and the Liberal Democratic parties. This book definitely helps to understand modern Russia.”—Choice

“Papkova writes from the perspective of a political scientist, but her research will also be useful to social scientists, anthropologists, students of religion, and historians. In fact, I found her book so riveting I wished she had interviewed Russian army personnel with the same questionnaire.… She has already demonstrated that she is a sound scholar and fine analyst. I have no doubt that The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics will be but the first in a long line of informative monographs in a distinguished career.”—Slavic Review

“The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics manages to elucidate an extraordinary amount of material in just over 200 pages of text and presents a powerful, well formulated argument with widespread implications. One could not ask for more in a book of its kind. Papkova has provided what will surely be a controversial and lasting work for Russian Studies, the study of religion and politics, and the study of religion in general. By disrupting traditional tropes about the political stance and influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, this book will be a constant source for future scholarly engagement and elaboration.”—Religion

“Papkova synthesizes all of the research that we in the field have been doing, and assesses what we have proven, what we have left unproven, and how it can all be understood. She then fills in the gaps in the debate, and leads us all to conclusions that we have not yet been able to reach without her insight.”—Professor Christopher Marsh, Baylor University

“There is little written about the Russian Orthodox Church, and precious little by political scientists who use qualitative, critical methods. This book is a welcome contribution and will receive attention from political scientists, anthropologists, and sociologists of religion.”—Professor Catherine Wanner, Penn State University


The Political Role of the Russian Orthodox Church

If we want to speak about the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Kremlin’s propaganda and information war, then we should take a step back in history and have a look at the situation in the Soviet Union, where propaganda was an essential part of the regime’s activities. The early Bolsheviks had an agitation and propaganda department in the Central Committee of the Communist Party. During the years of the New Economic Policy (1921–1928) this otdel agitatsii i propagandy grew into a huge bureaucratic structure of more than thirty subdepartments for the press, education, science, theater, radio, cinema, training centers and publishing houses. All this was so well organized that it served as a model for Joseph Goebbels, when he became Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda. The Nazi propaganda even used Soviet posters, changing only the texts.

But what is the role of propaganda? Propaganda has a double role. First, it touts the blessings and the benefits of the regime. Second, it attacks the system and the policies of its adversaries. Propaganda contains a positive and a negative message. Both elements are important. In the Soviet Union the positive message was simple: The Soviet Union was the first country in the world where the proletarian revolution had succeeded. Therefore, the Soviet Union was a model. It was the vanguard of the worldwide liberation of the proletariat. The country had, as such, a universal mission. The negative message of Soviet propaganda was attack the “enemies of the working class,” which were the capitalist countries that exploited their working class and the people in the countries that they colonized. In this, Soviet propaganda narrative religion had no place. Religion was, in the words of Marx, “opium of the people,” and, in Lenin’s words, “opium for the people.” It was a false consciousness and it should, as such, be combated because religion, which promised heaven in an afterlife, prevented the workers from making the revolution. When, in 1961, Yury Gagarin was the first man to fly in space, he famously said: “There is no god up here.”

The demise of the Soviet Union changed all this overnight. The new Russia was no longer the vanguard of the world revolution. Communism had lost its appeal. Not only was the Soviet Union a far cry from the equal and just society it pretended to be, but it was also an economic model that showed state-run communism was a flagrant failure. Both the positive and negative parts of Soviet propaganda had lost its contents. Because how could the new Russia attack the capitalist countries at the very moment it was introducing a capitalist economy itself? And how could it present itself as the champion of colonized communities, when the Soviet Union was the last European country to decolonize?

In the new Russia of Boris Yeltsin, there was a complete ideological void. Old ideals and values had disappeared and new ideals and values had not yet been developed. It was in this situation of ideological confusion that Vladimir Putin emerged as a new power factor. In fact, one of Putin’s first activities was to repair this ideological void. In 1998 Yeltsin had appointed Putin as director of the FSB, the follow-up organization of the former KGB. As such, Putin also became secretary of the National Security Council of the Russian Federation. This council produced a new National Security Concept, which was approved by Yeltsin on December 17, 1999. It was one of the last decrees Yeltsin signed. Two weeks later, he would abdicate in favor of Putin. The concept was built around completely new ideas. For instance that safeguarding the national security of the Russian Federation should include “the spiritual renewal of Russia,” and that “the state should encourage the . . . spiritual and moral development of society.” This emphasis on spiritual values in a National Security Concept was completely new. As secretary of the Security Council, Putin had a considerable influence on this formulation. In an autobiographical book, titled First Person, published some months later, he said that he “would fight to keep our geographical and spiritual position,” and made the confession that he wore an Orthodox baptismal cross pendant around his neck. Putin knew exactly how he wanted to fill the ideological void: namely by giving the Russian Orthodox Church a central place in the new Russian identity. It was, in fact, a masterstroke. Why? Because his choice hit many birds with one stone. Making the Russian Orthodox Church the central ideological pillar of the new Russia had at least six benefits. The Church resembled, as it were, a Swiss army knife. A Swiss army knife has many functions. It has knife blades and other various tools, such as a small saw, a nail file, a pair of scissors, a screwdriver, and a can opener. The same seemed to be true for the Church. It had at least six benefits for the regime. What exactly were these six benefits?

The regime could benefit from the goodwill of the Church—inside Russia and abroad. Although only a small portion of the Russian population consisted of practicing believers, a majority of Russians saw the Church as a positive force in society and the Kremlin could benefit from this goodwill.
This rehabilitation of a central institution of pre-revolutionary tsarist Russia meant that the Kremlin didn’t have to invent a completely new state ideology.

There was the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church championed so-called “traditional values,” such as “family values,” “religious values,” and “cultural values,” which could be instrumentalized by the Kremlin in its ideological struggle with the “decadent West,” where the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community were recognized and defended. Both the Church and the Kremlin didn’t like Western democracy, didn’t like sexual minorities, and didn’t like universal human-rights regimes. Instead, they preferred authoritarian political solutions.

The Kremlin could instrumentalize the close ideological relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian nationalism. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church the Russian Orthodox Church is quite explicitly a Russian Orthodox Church. The Moscow Patriarchate considers Moscow as “The Third Rome”: the spiritual center for all Orthodox believers.

The Russian Orthodox Church had always supported panslavism—a movement based on the idea that all speakers of Slavic languages should live in one country—i.e. Russia. This idea fit in seamlessly with the Kremlin’s neo-imperialist policies vis-a-vis the new post-Soviet states, particularly vis-a-vis Belarus and Ukraine, which were denied their legitimacy as independent states.

The Church played a central role in the militarization of Russian society, becoming a pillar of the army and in particular of the Strategic Missile Forces, the nuclear deterrent of the Russian Federation, with which the Church entered into a symbiotic relationship.
The Russian Propaganda EffortPilly

How did this new cooperation between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church work out in practice? This cooperation was for both sides in one word: excellent. In 2007, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov remarked that the Church and his ministry “worked hand in hand” . . . “doing together one big work very necessary for the country.” Already before the war against Ukraine, the Church played an important role in the war of nerves waged by Moscow against Kyiv before the outbreak of hostilities. In the summer of 2009, for instance, Patriarch Kirill made a ten-day tour in Ukraine, speaking a lot about the “common heritage” and “common destiny” of Russia and Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych, who at that time was the leader of the opposition Party of the Regions, accompanied Kirill on a tour to Donetsk.

However, the cooperation between the Kremlin and the Church was not a one-way street. Already in September 2003 Putin had contacted Metropolitan Laurus in New York. Laurus was the leader of the ROCOR – the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia—a church founded by Russian émigrés who had fled Russia after the October Revolution. Putin’s proposal for a reconciliation between the two Churches was accepted and in May 2007 the Act of Canonical Communion was signed. This merger brought one million church members in thirty countries under Moscow’s control—in the US alone this included a network of 323 parishes and 20 monasteries. Soon after the Kremlin began to reclaim church buildings in Western countries, which led to many court cases—for instance in New Jersey, in California, but also in Biarritz and Nice in France, as well as in London.

Lavrov’s remarks that the Church and his ministry “worked hand in hand” could not be more true. This became also clear from the role the Church played in international fora. The foreign ministry arranged for instance that in March 2008 Kirill—who at that time still was head of the Department of External Church Relations—could deliver a speech before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. In his speech, Kirill attacked abortion, euthanasia, and “extreme feministic views and homosexual attitudes.” He also pleaded for the installation of an “Advisory Council of Religions” in the UN. The installation of such a council would mean that the implementation of human rights would be subsumed under so-called “traditional values.” Kirill’s speech was a part of the Kremlin’s attack on human rights. One year before Lavrov had already proposed to set up such a “Council of Religions” in the UN with the task to defend “religious and traditional values.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, rejected these attempts to make human-rights dependent on so-called religious, traditional, or cultural values. “In no country,” she said, “any single woman, man or child ever stood to demand the right to be tortured, summarily executed, starved or denied medical care in the name of their culture.” This is interesting because the surprising ideological continuity between the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia—which mainly targets through ideological attacks liberal democracy, individual freedom, the rights of minorities, and universal human rights—remain essentially the same. The difference is that today these attacks are not made in the name of communism but in the name of true, traditional, Orthodox Christianity.

The Church not only supported the Kremlin’s ideological offensive abroad, but played also an important role in the increasing militarization of Russian society. The Church developed especially a very close relationship with the nuclear forces of the Russian army. In August 2009, Kirill visited the northern shipyard in Severodvinsk and went aboard a nuclear submarine. He presented the crew with an icon of the Virgin Mary. Kirill said that Russia’s defense capabilities needed to be bolstered by Orthodox Christian values. “Then,” he said, “we shall have something to defend with our missiles.” Kirill’s special relationship with the guardians of Russia’s nuclear deterrent bordered on a deep personal affection. In December 2009, in a ceremony during his visit to the Academy of the Strategic Missile Forces in Moscow, he presented the commander, Lt. Gen. Andrey Shvaychenko, with a pennant of the Holy Great Martyr Barbara, considered to be the heavenly protector of the Russian nuclear deterrent. The Patriarch said: “Such dangerous weapon can be given only to clean hands—hands of people with a clear mind, an ardent love to the Motherland, responsible for their work before God and the people.” Kirill showed not only a special affection for the guardians of Russia’s nuclear deterrent, but also for the deterrent itself. Under Putin, practices, such as the blessing of the president’s nuclear launch code briefcase and the sprinkling of holy water by an Orthodox priest on an S-400 surface-to-air missile during a ceremony broadcast on national television became commonplace. All over Russia military bases have their own churches and chapels.

The most ambitious project is the construction of the “Victory Church,” built by the Ministry of Defense in Moscow’s “Patriot Park.” This cathedral, ninety-five meters high, will be ready on May 9, 2020, on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the victory of the Great Patriotic War. It will be the third-highest Orthodox church building in the world. Its official cost is almost three billion rubles, which is more than $45 million. However, according to Novaya Gazeta. the real cost is expected to explode to an estimated $120 million or $8 billion rubles—which is a lot of money to spend on one church building in a country where a quarter of the children live under the poverty line. One thousand workers are permanently employed in this pharaonic project, which is supported by defense firms, such as the company “Kalashnikov,” which provides more than 1.1 million bricks. The new army’s cathedral will be adorned with frescos featuring war scenes—including those of the Soviet era. Wea[pms will be exhibited in the entrance of the church. The Novaya Gazeta calls this “war cult,” exhibited in the church, “especially shocking” and calls it a “Church of Mars” instead of a church of Christ. This is only one example of the mutual embrace of the Church and the army. Because this close cooperation can also be observed in the role, played by Orthodox priests, who are incorporated in the army units, tasked to enhance the country’s “spiritual security.” While Putin compared religion with a nuclear shield, Kirill called the nuclear deterrent the ultimate defense for Russia’s “traditional values.” The views of the Kremlin leader and the church leader seemed to coincide completely.

Churches in the West emphasize the need to promote peace and are in general in favor of nuclear disarmament. However, the Russian Orthodox Church takes a quite different position. The Church does not criticize the new nuclear arms race. Instead, it supports the development of new strategic weapons. The motto of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces: “после нас тишина” (After us—silence), with its implicit reference to the end of the world corresponds completely with the apocalyptic worldview of the Orthodox Church, for which all means are permitted to defend Holy Russia and its traditional values.

The question is: how should Western governments react? In dealing with the Russian Orthodox Church, one should always be aware that one has to do with a “hybrid Church.” On the one hand the Russian Orthodox Church is a church like most other denominations it has its true believers and it has devoted priests and monks. In September 2019, for instance, 182 Orthodox priests and church dignitaries signed an open letter, published in Pravoslavie i Mir, in which they demanded to reconsider the years-long prison sentences issued against some protesters who were arrested during the pro-democracy rallies. This support was a surprising initiative. However, this is only one side of the medal. After all, the Russian Orthodox Church is at the same time an instrument in the hands of the Russian government and is used by the Kremlin to expand its influence abroad, to attack democracy, to undermine universal human rights, and to bully its neighbors. The aggressive stance of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine against the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate is a clear example. When, in January 2019, the Ukrainian efforts to establish an autocephalous church were met with success and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Moscow Church broke its contacts with Constantinople. For the Ukrainians, this was not only a religious victory it was first and foremost a geopolitical victory.

For this reason Western governments should not be naïve and treat the Russian Orthodox Church as if it were a normal church. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, was naïve when he allowed Moscow to buy the building of the French Meteorological Institute at the Quai Branly near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Moscow wanted to build a religious center and Orthodox church on this plot of 8,400 square meters. Also, Canada was one of the candidates to buy the building. There followed an aggressive lobbying by the Russian ambassador, Alexander Orlov, who was assisted by Vladimir Kozhin, an ex-KGB officer. Kozhin was the head of the Kremlin’s Presidential Property Management Department, a bureaucracy which employs fifty thousand employees. This department, which was headed by Putin before he became director of the FSB, is not only tasked with the management of state property in Russia, but also with the property of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad. For the operation “Paris Cathedral” the Russians hired a French lobbying firm, ESL & Network, which had access to the highest echelons of the French government. Moscow won the open tender with an offer of seventy million euros. The French magazine Le nouvel Observateur, suspected that the Russians had benefited from privileged information. The new building was situated not far from the Palais de l’Alma, a building in which the postal service of the French president and sixteen apartments of the presidential staff are located. The French counterintelligence advised against selling such a sensitive building to a church of which one knows its links with the FSB. Despite these warnings, the project was completed.

The project fits in with the Kremlin’s plans to make the Russian Orthodox Church a “global” church. Communism was a global creed and it was this global reach of communism that gave the Soviet Union, the leader of this movement, a disproportionate influence in Third World countries and Western countries such as France and Italy, where powerful communist parties existed. The merger of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia was only the first step in the Kremlin’s plans to give the Russian Orthodox Church a global reach. Russian oligarchs play an important role in this strategy—in Russia as well as abroad—financing the construction of new churches or restoring existing church buildings. It is a question of whether this strategy will work. In the modern industrial world the communist utopia was more attractive than so-called “traditional values.” But we should not underestimate the Kremlin’s endeavors. “Traditional values” have become the rallying cry of extreme Right populist parties, which are sponsored by Moscow in its effort to undermine Western liberal democracy and universal human rights.

*The information and views set out in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official opinion of the IPE Club. Neither the IPE Club nor any person acting on it behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.


The Role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow’s Syrian Campaign

(PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo) The role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in Russian national identity, ideology, and politics has grown immensely during the last decades. The faith-strategy nexus in Russia is a topic that has remained largely outside the scope of research. Scholars exploring Russian state-Church relations have paid important but limited attention to the impact of faith on foreign policy, in particular on the Syria operation. Works on Russian policy in the Middle East, as a rule, have left the ecclesiastical component outside the scope of their analysis.

Argued here is that Moscow’s diplomatic-military enterprise in Syria has been significantly touched by faith and Church. Although the extent of the ecclesiastical impact is debatable, the campaign is a telling illustration of the nexus of religion and strategy in Russia today. True, the ROC has contributed to Russian foreign and security policy on earlier occasions, but the Syrian case has been the culmination of this bond. The intensity, scope, and duration of the campaign make it a case of unprecedented ecclesiastical presence. One emergent (and probably envisaged) finding is that Russian strategists appear to favor the utility of religion’s organizational and justification facets, rather than its theological traits. This memo is mindful not to overblow the proportions of the ecclesiastical impact on Russian national security affairs, but also seeks to put an overlooked phenomenon on the agenda.

Three Ecclesiastical Contributions

Portraying the ROC as the Kremlin’s obedient servant subordinated to its will, or speaking about a symphony of equals, where in return for privileges, the ROC delivers ideological support to the Kremlin, would be an oversimplification. The partnership is a “competitive model,” where areas of convergence coexist with tensions. On the surface, the Church and the state are on good terms, but the Patriarch seeks to collaborate with the Kremlin mainly when state policy serves ecclesiastical goals. Whatever the nature of the relationship, as of this writing, more keeps the ROC and the Kremlin together than drives them apart. Their views mostly converge, making them allies that share the same values rhetorically and in reality, both in foreign and domestic policies.

During the Syrian campaign, the ROC provided the Kremlin with three deliverables. First, it delivered a messianic raison d’être for the leaders contemplating the campaign. Historically, the ROC has provided to Russia’s rulers messianic interpretations, which then underlined foreign policy. The tide of religious metaphysics as a driver of political considerations has ebbed and flowed over history, with varying impact on policy. The ecclesiastical geopolitics peaked under President Vladimir Putin and the Patriarch when the political myths of Holy Rus’, Third Rome, and Russia’s civilizational role became applied notions informing public-political discourse. Thus, this time as well, the ROC introduced the problem of “persecuted Christians” to the Kremlin, and influenced the way in which the Russian establishment framed the country’s role in Syria. The ROC depicted the intervention in conceptual-spiritual terms and presented it as a realization of the Russian civilization’s role—the Third Rome patronizing persecuted Christians. In addition to providing an instrumental pretext for diplomatic-military initiatives, this framing enabled the Kremlin to operate from a position of moral-psychological comfort.

The second ecclesiastical contribution was a legitimization of the Kremlin’s policy at home and abroad. The ecclesiastical public diplomacy engaged foreign leaders, international organizations, the Orthodox world, Christian denominations worldwide beyond it, and, to a certain extent, Muslim audiences, in order to legitimize the Kremlin’s enterprises, promote Moscow’s position, and most recently to assist in raising foreign aid for restoration of the country. The ROC promoted three interrelated messages: that the operation epitomizes the fight of the forces of light against those of evil that it is not only morally legitimate but also strategically desirable and that the United States and Russia should put disagreements aside and join forces against terrorism. The establishment of counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States and then extending this momentum to other bones of contention was one of the Kremlin’s main desires. The consonance between the ROC’s plea and similar appeals by Moscow has not been accidental.

In addition, the ROC worked to sustain the necessary level of domestic support. Domestically, the intervention might have not only evoked traumatic associations with the costly and futile military enterprises in Afghanistan and Chechnya, but also appeared more questionable than these previous gambits given the distance from Russia. It demanded huge financial investments and began exactly when sanctions and counter-sanctions hit and energy prices went down, pushing Russia into an economically challenging period, with high inflation. The ROC, which by the beginning of the operation had established itself as an actor capable of influencing public discourse, focused on neutralizing these concerns. Presumably, in the Syrian case, it felt more comfortable promoting the Kremlin’s agenda than it did in the more controversial Ukrainian case. The ROC based its legitimization effort on three notions: Russia’s traditional role as protector of persecuted Christians the centrality of the Syrian community to Orthodox believers as the cradle of Christianity and Russia’s great power status, in counterbalance to American unilateralism.

Finally, during the campaign, the ROC, and in particular the Russian military clergy—a powerful institution established in 2009, and which is part of the Main Political-Military Directorate within the Russian Ministry of Defence since 2018—assisted military commanders in providing a sense of purpose and mission to the servicemen. Russian commanders translated the ROC’s narrative about moral obligation and strategic imperative into higher levels of motivation among the servicemen. The military clergy became the effective allies of the commanders in promoting this narrative. Since the beginning of the Russian operation, priests have been performing in all of the branches and have regularly rotated into Syria with the units. Churches have been established within the Russian bases in Khmeimim and Latakia, providing permanent pastoral-patriotic care to units all over Syria. The Russian military brass sees the circle of pastoral activities within the expeditionary force in Syria and the clergy on the battlefield as enhancing unit cohesion and decreasing post-combat stress effects, which together contribute to the overall combat effectiveness of the force.

The contribution of the Russian state-Church nexus to Moscow’s performance in Syria and exploitation of the social role of religion in national security is, as CNA Senior Research Scientist Michael Kofman wrote, “a tale of elite instrumentalism, political alliances of convenience, and earnestly held belief.” Since religiosity in Russia appears to be less a practiced faith and, as Kofman says, “more a secular construct of conservative values and traditional ideals, instilled by the state,” the Russian strategic community is exploiting this organizational, rather than theological, utility of religion.

The essence of state-Church relations in Russia is linked to the larger question that all national security establishments face, which is sometimes encompassed by the “die-kill-pay” paradigm: How do you motivate both individuals and society at large to accept the possibility of casualties and loss in pursuing operations and wars of choice, and motivate both the general public and servicepeople? As Professor Nikolas Gvosdev at the U.S. Naval War College put it, “You have to decide what you’re willing to die for, what you’re willing to kill for, and what you’re willing to pay for. […] The ROC provides a rationale for individuals to sacrifice and to feel that their sacrifices have not been in vain, but in the service of a cause greater than themselves.”

One should not take ROC self-appraisals and Russian officials’ praise of the ecclesiastical contributions at face value. Clerical discourse in the mouths of Russian officials, diplomats, and commanders and the hyperbolic language of military clerics do not illustrate the extent to which these views are held among the general public or servicepeople, the extent to which they lead to higher levels of combat effectiveness, and the impact on foreign leaders and audiences abroad. Measuring the ROC’s impact in concrete terms demands research beyond the scope of this memo, which has aimed only to highlight the novel aspects of state-Church cooperation in the national security realm and argue that this new collaboration is likely to continue.

Thus, as important as it is not to overblow the ROC’s contribution, it is equally important not to underrepresent the significance of religion in Russian national security affairs. Apparently, the above deliverables provided by the ROC to the Kremlin during Moscow’s diplomatic-military enterprise in Syria—a sense of mission, international and domestic legitimacy, and enhancement of combat effectiveness—will not be unique to the Syrian campaign. Arguably, these areas of activity may constitute an emerging typology of the ecclesiastical contribution to the state. As such, they are generalizable to the larger discussion of Russian foreign policy, and might be expected in prospective Russian national security enterprises.

Dmitry Adamsky is Professor in the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya, Israel.

This policy memo draws material from: Dmitry Adamsky, Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics and Strategy, Stanford University Press, 2019 Dmitry Adamsky, “Christ-Loving Warriors: Ecclesiastical Dimension of the Russian Military Campaign in Syria,” Problems of Post-Communism (forthcoming) and data from the RuBase Project.

The impact of faith on Russian foreign policy

Alicja Curanovic, “Russia’s Mission in the World,” Problems of Post-Communism, December 20, 2018.

Dmitri Trenin, The Mythical Alliance, Carnegie Moscow Center, 2013.

Anna Geifman, “Putin’s Sacred Mission in Syria,” BESA Center Paper, No. 335, March 27, 2016.

Derek Averne and Lance Davies, “Russia, humanitarian intervention and the Responsibility to Protect,” International Affairs, Vol. 91, No. 4, July 2015, pp. 813-834.

Roy Allison, “Russia and Syria: explaining alignment with a regime in crisis,” International Affairs, Vol. 89, No. 4, July 2013, pp. 795-823.

The Russian Orthodox Churches’s contribution to Russian foreign and security policy

Irina Papkova, The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics, New York: Oxford UP, 2011.

Irina Papkova and Dmitry Gorenburg, “The Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Politics: Editors Introduction,” Russian Politics and Law, Vol. 49, No. 1, 2011.

Alicija Curanovic, The Religious Factor in Russia’s Foreign Policy, London: Routledge, 2014.

Nicolai Petro, “The Russian Orthodox Church,” in Andrei Tsygankov (ed.) Russian Foreign Policy, London: Routledge, 2018.

Homepage image credit (A. Dezetter): Bronze sculptures at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia.


Why did Stalin rehabilitate the Russian Orthodox Church?

Joseph Stalin and Patriarch Sergius, who headed the Orthodox Church in the USSR while Stalin was in power.

Global Look Press, Legion Media, Public domain

There is a legend saying that it was a miracle that saved Moscow in the winter of 1941, when the Germans were approaching the city: Joseph Stalin supposedly ordered the powers of Orthodoxy to be harnessed to save his capital. &ldquoThe miraculous icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin was flown over Moscow in a plane. So the capital was saved,&rdquo reported Orthodox journalist Sergei Fomin in his book Russia Before the Second Coming.

Like any legend, this one is not true: there is no evidence that Stalin, a Bolshevik atheist, decided to resort to such a strange measure to defeat the enemy. It was the bravery and skill of the Red Army that saved Moscow in December 1941, not some kind of higher power. But legends of that kind remain popular: there is one about Stalin visiting Saint Matrona of Moscow, who promised him victory, or about him praying for the defeat of Germany.

These legends, though untrue, reflect the shift in Stalin&rsquos religious policy during the war, which surprised the USSR and inspired rumors of the leader&rsquos &ldquosecret Orthodoxy.&rdquo Two years after the Battle of Moscow was won, Stalin met with three chief hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, allowed the clergy to perform religious services, celebrate Easter and Christmas, and even promised to give the church back some of its monasteries (confiscated after 1917) and release imprisoned priests. Basically, he made Christianity legal again, in an atheist country.

Change of heart?

Blowing up the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1931.

The three hierarchs, led by Sergius (Stragorodsky), the Patriarchal locum tenens in 1925-1943 and de facto head of the Church, thanked Stalin after their meeting in a very servile letter: &ldquoIn each of your words&hellip we felt the heart that burns with paternal love for all his children. The Russian Orthodox Church venerates you feeling with your heart that it lives together with all Russian people, by the will to victory and sacred duty to sacrifice anything for the sake of the Motherland. God save you for years to come, dear Iosif Vissaronovich.&rdquo

The elite of Orthodox clergy in the USSR, 1930s.

Praise for the strongman was understandable: before 1943, the Orthodox lived in constant fear. Anti-religious propaganda flourished. Throughout the repressions of the 1930s, at least 100,000 people convicted in cases connected with the Church were executed. Being an Orthodox Christian (or believer of any other kind) in a country that worshipped only Communism meant living under a threat.

It&rsquos important to remember that &ldquodear Iosif Vissarionovich&rdquo was among those who carried out the anti-Church repressions. As priest Job (Gumerov) noted commenting on the legend of Stalin ordering an icon to be flown over Moscow, &ldquoAny attempt to present the cruel persecutor as a faithful Christian is dangerous and can cause only harm.&rdquo Indeed, Stalin wasn&rsquot Christian, so why did he change his policy towards Orthodoxy?

Practical approach

Stalin, a cynical and clever leader, didn&rsquot experience any epiphany but simply knew that taking it easy on the Orthodox Church was important for winning the war. First, many Soviet citizens remained secretly religious (which was not directly forbidden), so the &ldquolegalization&rdquo of Orthodoxy helped to keep the nation at war united &ndash quite a crucial thing. Second, the Allies were pushing Stalin towards loosening his grip on the religious: the oppression of the faithful was bad publicity, internationally speaking. Third, in 1943 the Red Army was regaining the Soviet lands previously occupied by Germans. The occupants, trying to gain public support, had reopened churches closed by the Bolsheviks &ndash and it would have been strange indeed had the liberators reclosed them.

The clergy conducting their meeting under Stalin's' portrait, 1940s.

Stalin understood all of that and acted accordingly. His biographer, historian Oleg Khlevniuk, wrote: &ldquoMoving from the iconoclast approach of the 1920s &ndash 1930s, from mass repressions against priests and believers to a reconciliation was a demonstrative, practical move. Such a shift in the Soviet policy towards religion is to be viewed within the context of encouraging Russian patriotism.&rdquo

A priest giving his blessing to the Red Army soldiers during the war.

Stalin kept his promise to the Church hierarchs: in 1943, they held the first election of a Patriarch in 20 years, won by Sergius. In return for loyalty and support for the authorities, Stalin let the Orthodox Church be: of course, the state remained atheist but priests were not imprisoned and killed anymore. The next wave of anti-Church repressions occurred during the rule of Nikita Khrushchev, in the 1960s, but was far less blood-shedding.

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