11739Russian Orthodox Church: The phoenix is reborn
- Jul 5, 2009Russian Orthodox Church: The phoenix is reborn
This online supplement is produced and published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta
(Russia), which takes sole responsibility for the contents
Andrei Zolotov, JR - founding editor of www.russiaprofile.org
Published: 4:12PM BST 26 Jun 2009
Growing up in 1970s Moscow, I had a nanny who had lived in our family for 45
years. She died in 1981, when she was 93 and I was 13. Like most Soviet
people, my family was not religious.
My grandfather prided himself in becoming an atheist in pre-revolutionary
Russia and refusing to attend the Orthodox doctrine class at school. It
scandalised his father, a priest's son turned high-ranking civil engineer.
In Soviet Russia, it was a norm enforced by persecution, education and
all-encopassing atheistic propaganda. But my nanny, Yevdokiya Frolova, was
She was a nun. After her convent was closed in 1927, like all of her sisters
she spent time in a labour camp. Unlike many, she survived and ended up
serving four generations of our family selflessly and lovingly, quietly
maintaining a rigorous monastic discipline of strict fasting, daily prayers
and regular church attendance.
Thanks to my nanny, for me it has always been the Russian church, the church
of my ancestors, which somehow had an existence in this world parallel to the
But much had to happen before it became a faith of my own: an appreciation for
the Russian liturgical music and icons; the 1988 celebration of the Millennium
of Christianity in Russia, when the church was let into public life; a trip to
the US as a student, where I met a prominent emigre Russian priest,
Protopresbyter Alexander Kiselev.
Ultimately, it all came into one with my baptism into to the Orthodox church -
my faith in God, the immense beauty and profound meaning of Orthodox liturgy
and belonging to my family's and my nation's past and present, to the Russian
civilisation as a part of the European civilisation, to the whole world around
and, hopefully, to God's kingdom.
Ask any Russian, and you will likely hear a similar story. It will rarely be a
happy, conclusive or coherent one. Many would simply see Orthodox Christianity
as a "Russian faith", but not know much about Jesus, our brothers and sisters
around the world or the basic doctrine.
Others see no contradiction between declaring themselves Orthodox, going once
in a while to a church to light a candle and, at the same time, reading
horoscopes or keeping a lover.
There would be quite a few whose Orthodoxy equals nationalism and those who
see the Orthodox church as a medieval force isolating Russia. There would be
people from all over the political spectrum and every possible ethnic
background or social strata.
Alas, only about one tenth of them in big cities and an even smaller
percentage in small towns and rural areas would be regular churchgoers. These
stories, told and untold, would be diverse, but would have something in
There would usually be a grandmother, or a nanny, or another who managed to
keep the faith through Soviet times. There would be the painful identity
search: "Where do I come from?" or "Where are we going?"
There would be an occasional bow before the beauty of Orthodox ritual and art
- often without understanding. There would be that prettiest building with
domes in town, once destroyed, now rebuilt.
There would be a major disappointment with the government and political
institutions, placing the church as a beacon of hope and an object of trust.
There would be the wise patriarch on television and a local bishop, an
influential figure in the region.
There would be uncertainty over the changing world and the institution,
seemingly the same over centuries and even millennia. There would also be a
lack of knowledge about the church and its teaching and a spread of
Or the uncomfortable realisation that, once you finally join the church, you'd
have to change your life. So it's easier to hang around maintaining a sense of
belonging, but not straining oneself too much.
At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, getting baptised became fashionable and we
dreamt of a church that would bring morality and morale to a divided nation in
The church, in turn, saw the opportunity to rebuild its infrastructure,
banking on its status of a national symbol and a state willing to repent for
The late Patriarch left the church much stronger than he received it in 1990.
But although the programme of rebuilding has been fulfilled, the programme of
changing society has not.
If the venerable institution wants to be relevant, if it wants to narrow the
gap between the two thirds of nominal Orthodox Christians and single
percentage points of practising ones, much needs to be done in the field of
mission, education and social ministry.
This is the mandate of Patriarch Kirill - the church's most outspoken and
At his installation in February, Kirill said: "The witness to the truth and
beauty of Orthodoxy can be received and accepted only when people clearly
understand the meaning of this witness for their private, family and public
life and learn to connect the eternal divine words with the realities of daily
life, with its concerns, joys and sorrows."
Well, that's like my nanny did.
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