Reaching for Religious Reunion
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Subject: Reaching for Religious Reunion
Some reading material from an outside source on the
Reaching for Religious Reunion By Lawrence A. Uzzell
Thursday, March 31, 2005. Page 8, Moscow Times
Unlike Poland and the Baltic states, Russia lacks a key source of "soft
power": a united body of ethnic expatriates who can be relied on to support
the mother country's policies in places like Washington. But this could
change in the very near future. Moscow may bring into its sphere of
influence what used to be a key ideological base for the Kremlin's emigre
foes, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, or ROCOR. The Kremlin and
the domestic, Kremlin-dominated Russian Orthodox Church could gain a new
seal of moral and historical legitimacy at a time when Russia faces growing
criticism for its swing toward authoritarianism.
In the 1920s, when the Bolsheviks were jailing or killing thousands of
Orthodox Christians, a small group of refugee bishops formed what
eventually became ROCOR. That body inherited or founded hundreds of
parishes among Russian emigres in Western Europe and the Americas, while
seeing its own existence as temporary. Its position has always been that
once the domestic Moscow Patriarchate clearly renounced certain toxic
habits adopted under Soviet pressure, the Russian church should reunite.
One of those habits is "Sergyanism," named after the tame bishop chosen by
Stalin as patriarch of Moscow. Under Sergy and his successors, the domestic
church's top clergy systematically collaborated with a regime that
systematically persecuted the church's own members. The habit continued to
the end of Soviet rule and beyond. Critics of the Moscow Patriarchate note
that to this day, it collaborates with tyrants such as the current rulers
of Belarus and Turkmenistan, as well as with Russia's siloviki. Sergyanism
lives on, observe these critics, not just as past history the church has
never repented, but as unreformed present reality.
Consider the Moscow Patriarchate's relations with Saparmurat Niyazov,
better known as Turkmenbashi. Turkmenistan's "president for life" presides
over a totalitarian cult of personality bordering on self-deification. He
has authored his own personal holy scriptures, which must be studied
exhaustively in the state schools and venerated in both Christian and
Muslim places of worship along with the Bible and the Koran. The
importation of Russian-language religious literature is forbidden: Orthodox
Christians in Turkmenistan cannot legally subscribe even to the
Patriarchate's theological journals.
Instead of telling the truth about Niyazov, the Russian church has awarded
him with the Order of St. Danil, its highest honor for secular rulers. The
Patriarchate's priest Andrei Sapunov serves as an official of the Niyazov
government's Council for Religious Affairs, the direct continuation of the
state agency that controlled religious life when Turkmenistan was a Soviet
republic. Sapunov works directly with the secret police in persecuting
Protestants who have been arrested, fined or fired from their jobs simply
for holding worship services in their own homes.
Nevertheless, the Moscow Patriarchate seems confident that it is on track
toward reunification with Orthodox emigres. The public statements of both
sides have resumed their previous cordial tone after expressions of
disagreement in February over disputed church properties in Palestine.
Among the honored guests at the Patriarchate's recent "Worldwide Russian
People's Council" in Moscow were several ROCOR clerics.
The speeches at that gathering, devoted to celebrating the Soviet victory
in World War II and linking it to the Kremlin's current policies, suggest
that the domestic church is counting on Russian nationalism to woo the
emigres. Especially striking is the distinctively Soviet flavor of that
nationalism. The main speeches failed to mention the victory's dark sides,
for example the imposition of totalitarian atheism on traditionally
Christian societies such as Romania and Bulgaria. Patriarch Alexy II made
the incredible statement that the victory "brought the Orthodox peoples of
Europe closer and raised the authority of the Russian Church." If one had
no other information, one would think that the establishment of Communist
Party governments in the newly conquered countries was purely voluntary --
and that what followed was unfettered religious freedom.
The Moscow "People's Council" also failed to reach out to a peculiarly
tragic group of war victims, whose descendants are well represented in the
emigre church. Facing cruelly limited choices, General Andrei Vlasov and
the ex-POWs who fought in his Russian Liberation Army decided that a
temporary alliance with the Nazis offered the best hope of liberating their
homeland from Bolshevism. Alexander Solzhenitsyn has poignantly described
their dilemma, observing that never before had so many Russians chosen to
wage war against their own government. But reflections on why this happened
would have diluted the triumphalist, state-worshipping flavor of the Moscow
gathering, which declared that the 1945 victory was "achieved on the basis
of unprecedented unity among the government, the army and the people." It
is as if the United States' religious leaders were still silent about their
own country's war atrocities in Dresden and Hiroshima.
Sergyanism is clearly still thriving, despite the Moscow Patriarchate's
occasional abstract statements asserting its right to criticize the state.
The Patriarchate's leaders still openly celebrate "Patriarch" Sergy's
memory, with some even favoring his canonization as a saint. With rare
exceptions, they still issue commentaries on President Vladimir Putin's
policies, which read like government press releases. They seem sure that
this issue will not be a deal-breaker in their quest for reunion with the
emigres. Putin's Kremlin will be hoping that they are right.
Lawrence A. Uzzell is president of International Religious Freedom Watch, a
Christian organization dedicated to protecting religious believers of all
faiths from persecution by their own governments. He contributed this
comment to The Moscow Times.