November 21st 2015

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COVER STORY Gender variety has no basis in science

CANBERRA OBSERVED PM's political capital may be tax-reform casualty

EDITORIAL IPCC and the media: Last Tango in Paris

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Poland's election sends shock waves through EU

THE ELECTRONICS REVOLUTION Create infrastructure to bridge coming robo gap

LIFE ISSUES Keeping a straight face with Andrew Denton on euthanasia

LIFE ISSUES With Nitschke out of death industry, Exit must go next

EUROPEAN AFFAIRS Euro banks were lending like there's no tomorrow

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Polls show conservative resurgence at grassroots

RELIGION IN RUSSIA State control, Slavophiles prepare way for apostasy

CULTURE Mankind needs to work; and mankind needs work

PUBLIC POLICY Drug substitutes used as treatment are lethal

CINEMA The man who stands back up: Bridge of Spies

BOOK REVIEW We're getting better all the time


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State control, Slavophiles prepare way for apostasy

by Lawrence Cross

News Weekly, November 21, 2015

The Russian Revolution of 1917 posed a question that has never satisfactorily been answered. How could the country swap one national ideology for its diametric opposite? As one Russian observer asked: “What is the explanation of the fact that the Orthodox Church, so powerful in the Russian Empire, was almost reduced to zero by its former members?”

St Tikhon Belavin of Moscow, left,

and St Leonid Feodorov.

How was it possible that the very same people who were taught religion in secondary schools in the 1910s, with their own hands destroyed churches and burned holy icons in the 1920s?

For many in the West, Orthodoxy is seen as a folk religion of Eastern Europe. Not as bad as Protestantism, but strangely old fashioned. But of course Orthodoxy is the fraternal twin of Roman Catholicism, and became the religion of the greatest power of the East, the Russian Empire. It was a state Church. One difference between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy is that the former has no particular national attachments – people from any ethnic origin will attend the Mass – but Orthodoxy has been attached to particular countries: Greek Orthodoxy, Romanian Orthodoxy, Serbian Orthodoxy and, the largest of all, Russian Orthodoxy.

This attachment to the state became acute when Islam destroyed the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Because Muslims nominally allowed freedom of religion, Churches became a place where political resistance could be fomented without taking excessive risk. In the East nationalist politics and religion became intertwined. The Orthodox Church was thus nationalised.

Nowhere was this mix of politics and Christianity more intense than in Russia, although it wasn’t under the Islamic yoke. The binding of the Church to the state in Russia occurred in stages. Under the guise of modernisation, in the early 18th century Peter the Great bound the Church hand and foot to the Russian state. He abolished the patriarchate and replaced it with a Holy Synod (a meeting mostly of senior bishops) that was modelled on Lutheran structures.

In a sense, it was a Protestantisation of the traditional Eastern Church structures that sowed the seeds of the about face that later occurred.

In the 19th century the Slavophile movement caught the attention of many with its romance of Slavic Russia. It taught that the Russian people must live by the Orthodox faith, which contained the entire truth. They idolised the mir, a word that had three meanings: world, village and peace. They believed they should not use Western Europe as a model for development and modernisation but instead pursue their own course, based on their own national character and history. Slavophilism was transmuted into the present Russian attribution of all contemporary social evils to the corrupting West.

The Slavophiles regarded Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity as morally bankrupt. They looked with abiding suspicion on Western institutions and practices, such as constitutional government and capitalism, which they considered to be deficient. Instead, they sentimentalised the Russian peasant and the bonds of Russian community.

The movement was really just an intellectual froth on Russian society, but its influence was great. It contributed to the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution. The idealisation of the Russian peasant readily became the idealisation of the proletariat. Marxism, itself a perversion of religion, was easily mixed with the perversions of Slavophile ideology.

As G.K. Chesterton astutely observed: “The tyrant never lives by force but mostly by fairytales”. The much idealised mir easily became the proletariat.

What happened in 1917 was thus no accident. Having created an unhealthy mix of nationalistic politics and religion, it was comparatively easy to turn it into a mix of politics and irreligion. It was not just the seizure of power by a small group of villains; the Russian Revolution was the offspring of two parents: the autocratic Russian monarchy and the Orthodox Church. To find the roots of post-revolutionary atheism one should look to pre-revolutionary Russian society and the Church.

Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion, when he was Bishop of Podolsk, commented that the atheism imposed on the Russian people was not unbelief: “It was, rather, a very strong belief in the non-existence of God, in a happy future in this life, in the infallibility of the Communist Party and its materialistic ideology. The God-like figure of Lenin – and later of Stalin – was dominant everywhere, in all places, in every room of every official building, whether kindergarten or university, shop or hospital.

“Lenin as God, the Party as the only Church, its leaders (the Politburo) as an assembly of saints, the works of Lenin as the Bible. The Soviet people were not given atheism, but a pseudo-religion, a religion of the anti-Christ.”

The theme of the anti-Christ, and what it may be, appears in the work of two of the great literary and philosophical figures of 19th-century Russia: Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Vladimir Soloviev. The former’s great novel The Brothers Karamazov features Ivan Karamazov’s encounter with the anti-Christ in the form of the Grand Inquisitor, and exemplifies Dostoyevsky’s prediction of what the anti-Christ will be. For Dostoyevsky, the anti-Christ appears as a consum­mate humanist.

Dostoyevsky’s friend, Vladimir Soloviev, the spiritual progenitor of the Russian Catholics, wrote a short story, A Short Tale of the Anti-Christ. He conceived the infernal figure in the same terms: a world ruler promising human flourishing, whose great darkness is disguised by apparent benevolence.

It is a moot question as to who got the idea from whom. In any case, both were right about the nature of the anti-Christ: the deadly promise of material prosperity and happiness by way of the wonders of social engineering and the abdication of human freedom.

Soloviev was one of the first to oppose the Slavophile ideology and name it for what it was, the basis of an unhealthy romanticised binding of the Church and state. It is true that he was a monarchist, and did believe in the idea of the righteous prince, but only because a true righteous prince would guarantee the freedom of the Church, and endorse its separation from the control of the state.

His was an accurate diagnosis of the illness afflicting the Russian Church in the late 19th century. The Procurator, a civil servant appointed by the government, was in charge of the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Orthodox Church. Soloviev’s conclusion was that the Russian Church needed to reconnect with the universal Church, which meant reuniting with the Chair of St Peter in Rome.

The Russian Catholics were, unsurprisingly, almost wiped out in the aftermath of the Revolution; they were on the wrong side of the new atheistic religion. The Orthodox Church lost most of its members, leaving a small number who were prepared to die for Christ. Adherents to the infant Russian Catholic Church were similarly martyred, either by being killed or severely persecuted. They were small in number to start with and very few survived. There was a short breathing space until the early 1920s, though, as it took a few years before the full force of the Bolshevik horror was unleashed.

In 1918 the first Exarch (non-territorial bishop) of the Russian Catholics, St Leonid Feodorov, began discussions with the newly elected Patriarch of Moscow, St Tikhon Belavin, which were aimed at renewal of the Church. In 1919 they issued a joint condemnation of Bolshevism.

But such dissent was snuffed out by the Terror. Patriarch Tikhon was murdered in 1923. St Leonid spent 10 years in the horrific Soviet prison at Solovetski. He later died of the effects in internal exile in the village of Viatka. Russia had 50,000 priests in 1917. Very few survived. In 1940, when Stalin released some controls over the Church in order to galvanise patriotic fervour against his former friends the Nazis, there were only four bishops left in the whole of Russia – one of these was the patriarch – and only 500 priests.

Almost a century after the Revolution, there is still an unhealthy relationship in Russia between the Church and state, although there are some differences. The effect of the Slavophiles strangely lingers. A quarter of a century after the fall of communism, Russia is still an authoritarian regime in which the Church is struggling to find a new identity.

Post-communist and post-atheist Russia presents two great dangers. The first is that the Orthodox Church may be tempted to make a return to being a state Church, rather than aspiring to be the Church of the nation.

Many commentators believe this is exactly what the Church has done, and in doing so it has made a great mistake. Under state patronage, the public face of the Church looks impressive. But the majority of the nation still rejects it de facto. Little has changed since 1917.

The persecution of the Russian Church under communism might have meant it emerged renewed. But it has not happened that way. The phoenix that emerged from the Soviet ashes is bombastic and confident of its place alongside the State. Sadly, it does not touch the lives of most Russians.

In 2008, Bishop Hilarion warned about a second danger for the Orthodox Church. His presentiment has proven accurate. A militant Orthodoxy is now emerging as a counterpart of militant atheism.

In colluding with the Putin-run state, Orthodox propagandists are now loud in their fight against Jews, Masons, democracy, Western culture and any glimmers of the Enlightenment. As the Russian state flexes its military muscle, the Church is at hand to bless missiles and armaments.

Bishop Hilarion points out that many of the hierarchy, by becoming prey to this second danger, sow the seeds for later problems. Militant Orthodoxy, he says, “may force Russian atheism to withdraw temporarily to the catacombs. But Russian atheism will not be vanquished until the transfiguration of the soul and the need to live according to the Gospel have become the only message of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Above all, the Russian Orthodox Church’s intractable, sometimes brutal, opposition to the existence of the Russian Catholic Church, which has been forced underground, shows that nothing has been learned.

Soloviev was right. The only way for the Russian Orthodox Church to gain freedom from the state is through renewal of communion with Peter’s Chair in Rome. It is only when that happens – and the day does not seem close – that Russian Christianity will finally find a point of reference outside itself that will guarantee its spiritual freedom.

Archpriest Dr Lawrence Cross OAM is the Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity St Nicholas Russian Catholic Church in East St Kilda and leader of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Mission in Australia. He is an alumnus of the University of Sydney, St Johns College, Oxford, and the Melbourne College of Divinity.

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