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The Russian Church and the Terror State

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.speroforum.com/a/17470/The-Russian-Church-and-the-Terror-State The Russian Church and the Terror State The Russian church is growing despite murders
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2009

      The Russian Church and the Terror State

      The Russian church is growing despite murders and
      repression orchestrated by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union.

      Thursday, January 01, 2009
      By John Couretas

      With the December 5, 2008 death of Patriarch
      Alexy II, Russian Orthodox Christians lost their
      first "post-Soviet" leader. The patriarch
      presided over the resurrection of the world's
      largest Orthodox Church, a faith community that
      had been targeted for annihilation by communist
      regimes that would brook no rival to their own
      promises of salvation through "world revolution."

      While Alexy led the Church out of the rubble of
      the Soviet Union, his own history has been
      clouded with allegations that he worked with the
      secret police — was even decorated by them. In
      this, his career reflects the recent history of
      the Church, which after the first vicious period
      of persecution was openly criticized by many
      Russians for being too pliable, too
      accommodationist with its old adversaries in the
      Kremlin. In some cases, critics said, the Church
      had even assisted the authorities in the
      suppression of believers and their communities.

      In choosing a new patriarch, the Russian Church
      now has an opportunity to come to grips with this
      past, and with other questions: nationalism, the
      status of minority ethnic and religious groups,
      secularization and consumerist materialism. Will
      the new patriarch lead the Church into a future
      of growth and spiritual renewal, or will he
      strike another "Faustian bargain" with autocratic leaders?

      In the Beginning

      In October 1917, Felix Dzherzhinsky, the founder
      of the Bolshevik secret police, spelled out in
      cold blooded terms how the use of terror would
      become the governing principle of Russia for the next 70 years.

      Do not imagine that I have any concern with
      formal law. We need no justice now. What we need
      is a fight to the bone. I order, I demand the
      forging of the revolutionary sword which shall
      destroy all counter-revolutionaries.

      The persecution of the Russian Church began with
      the Bolshevik Revolution, with mass arrests of
      clergy and believers, confiscation of Church
      property, conversion of monasteries and churches
      into stables, workshops and prison barracks, and
      the public desecration of the relics of saints.
      In 1922, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,
      Tikhon, was arrested and ultimately sent into
      exile. The Metropolitan of Petrograd, Veniamin,
      was arrested, condemned to death and shot. By the
      end of 1923, some 2,700 Orthodox priests, 3,400
      nuns, and 2,000 monks were killed.

      Estimates of the numbers of Orthodox clergy who
      perished, as with the precise numbers of those
      millions who died in the vast Soviet Gulag
      system, are notoriously unreliable. But one
      estimate puts the total number of Church people
      killed during the Soviet period at 600 bishops,
      40,000 priests, and 120,000 monks and nuns. Many
      died in the inhumane conditions of the Gulag work
      camps, in prisons, or were executed and buried in
      unmarked mass graves. This went on for long,
      bloody decades. Some point to Fr. Alexander Men,
      a charismatic Russian Orthodox priest who was
      murdered in 1990, as one of the last martyrs of the faith under Soviet rule.

      The persecution of the Russian Church crested
      during the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s, at
      which point the Soviets had virtually destroyed
      the Church's institutional capabilities. In his
      1967 book "The Rule of Terror," Austrian
      journalist Hellmut Andics estimated that the
      number of religious institutions in Russia fell
      from 30,000 to 20,000 from 1937 to 1938. "In 1937
      alone, at the peak of the anti-religious
      campaign, 1,100 Orthodox, 240 Catholic, 61
      Protestant, and 110 Muslim places of worship were
      closed during the year," Andics wrote.

      The campaign of annihilation lifted during WWII
      when Stalin needed the Orthodox Church to prop up
      patriotic spirits in the face of an invasion by
      Hitler's Wehrmacht. The repression of believers
      continued in the post-war period. Slowly, some
      Russians began to speak out about the futility of
      imposing atheism on a land that had been
      Christian for 1,000 years — and the failures of their Church.

      Craven Clerics

      In 1974, a book of essays published by prominent
      Russian dissidents, including Alexander
      Solzhenitsyn, looked at the state of modern day
      Russia and its religious life. In the essay "The
      Schism Between the Church and the World," Evgeny
      Barbanov explored the crisis in the Russian
      Church and its tendency — always strong in
      Orthodoxy — toward renunciation of the world at
      the expense of its mission to transform the culture.

      Barbanov praised the priests Nikolai Eshilman and
      Gleb Yakunin for a 1965 public letter of protest
      to Patriarch Alexius. The priests, Barbanov said,
      rightly criticized church officials for the
      "craven, hypocritical position adopted by the
      higher administration. They showed convincingly
      how a significant part of the governing
      episcopate, with voluntary silence or cunning
      connivance, had assisted atheists to close
      churches, monasteries and religious schools, to
      liquidate religious communities, to establish the
      illegal practice of registering christenings, and
      had yielded to them control over the appointment
      and transfer of priests." But accountability was not to be found.

      "It seems at times that we Christians
      deliberately do not wish to understand our
      historical failure or to admit our historical
      sins," Barbanov said. "We shift the blame onto
      anyone else we can find — the state, atheism,
      secularization — but ourselves only remain innocent victims."

      More recently, human rights activist Sergei
      Kovalev blamed the Russian "mentality" for
      refusing to accept responsibility for crimes
      committed during the nation's "bloody, cruel,
      shameful" history. "We didn't want to know about
      the Gulag, we didn't want to see it," Kovalev
      wrote. "We believed the propaganda that anyone
      who was arrested was an 'enemy of the people.' We
      hated them. We went out into the streets with
      huge placards reading: 'Death to the Trotskyite
      dogs!' We shouted out at rallies and demanded their death — huge crowds of us."

      Historian James Billington has suggested ways
      that Russians can move past the "massive past
      complicity in unprecedented evil" connected to
      their Soviet history. Evil, of course, is a
      theological concept and on this matter he charged
      the Russian Church with failing to accept
      accountability and self-scrutiny. "As an
      institution, it ended up in the late Soviet
      period accepting a defensible, but ultimately
      Faustian, bargain with an atheistic state,"
      Billington said. "It secured a limited survival
      to perform liturgical rituals as long as it
      sought no educational role in society, supported
      state policies when requested, and cleared all
      major appointments with the state. As a result,
      the Russian Church played a role in perpetuating
      and even at times legitimizing a system bent on its destruction."


      That system ultimately exhausted itself with the
      heavy burden of violence and repression, the long
      assault on human dignity, and the unsustainable
      socialist economy. But for decades there were
      many in the West who were convinced that it was
      here to stay. Some saw through it as a false
      Gospel. In his 1953 book "Communism and Christ,"
      Charles W. Lowry observed that it was not the
      "naive simplicity" of Marxism that gave it such
      power, but its appeal to people as a
      revolutionary faith. "The miracle of Marxism is
      its social and institutional embodiment and its
      transformation into an aggressive, universal
      religion of salvation," Lowry wrote.

      A phony religion, having no reality of its own,
      must borrow its expressions from true faith. In
      1936, the newspaper Pravda published a Communist
      anthem written for Stalin that evoked the tones of Byzantine hymnody.

      O great Stalin, O leader of the peoples,
      Thou who broughtest man to birth,
      Thou who purifiest the earth,
      Thou who restoreth the centuries,
      Thou who maketh bloom the Spring,
      Thou who makest vibrate the musical chords.

      Thou splendor of my Spring, O Thou
      Sun reflected of millions of hearts.

      The Russian Church today is growing, nourished by
      the blood of millions of martyrs who perished
      under the Soviet regime. Their deaths, as St.
      John Chrysostom put it in another age, is a
      "proof of the Resurrection, mocking at demons."
      Orthodox parishes, at 6,000 in late 1980s, now
      number almost 30,000, the Church says. Where
      there were three institutions of theological
      training, there are now more than 100.
      Monasteries, reduced to a mere 18, have grown to
      more than 750. The Church claims a strong interest in vocations.

      In a slender book on the subject of nihilism, the
      priest-monk Fr. Seraphim Rose showed how
      radically materialist ideologies such as
      communism and fascism will always fail as long as
      a single believer remains. In the person of the
      believer, all the arguments against God will be refuted.

      "Man's mind is supple, and it can be made to
      believe anything to which his will inclines,"
      Rose wrote. "In an atmosphere permeated with
      nihilistic fervor, such as [existed] in the
      Soviet Union, the soundest argument can do
      nothing to induce belief in God, in immortality,
      in faith; but a man of faith, even in this
      atmosphere, can speak to the heart of man and
      show, by his example, that what is impossible to
      the world and to the best of human intentions, is
      still possible to God and to faith."

      Now we wait to see if Russia, with the best of
      intentions and the help of God, can show the world what is possible.

      John Couretas writes for and is the
      Communications Director of the Acton Institute

      The views and opinions expressed herein are those
      of the author only, not of Spero News.
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