Orthodox America


 The Mission of the Russian Diaspora - Russia Needs our Repentance 


In 1938, Saint John (Maximovitch) made a report to the Synod of Bishops of the Church Abroad, analyzing the state of the Russian Diaspora.  He concluded:

"Russians abroad have been given to shine with the light of Orthodoxy throughout the world in order that other peoples, seeing their good works, might glorify our Father Who is in heaven, and in so doing the Russians will themselves draw nearer to salvation.  By not fulfilling this task and even degrading Orthodoxy by its behavior, the Diaspora has before it two paths: either to beseech God's forgiveness and, renewing itself spiritually, to make itself capable of giving rebirth to our suffering homeland, or to be finally cut off by God and remain in exile, persecuted by everyone, until, gradually degenerating, it disappears from the face of the earth."

As identified by Saint John, this dual mission-of dissemination and preservation-is discussed at greater length in a doctoral dissertation (1994, in Russian) by Elena Olkhovskaya, a graduate student of philosophy and cultural anthropology at the Polytechnical University of Tomsk in Siberia.  While the subject of her paper, "The Culture of the Russian Diaspora," is broader in scope, its salient features determined the author's focus on the religious aspect.

In this seminal study, Olkhovskaya distinguishes three defining characteristics of the Russian Diaspora: its political genesis, its national identity-a sense of belonging to Imperial Russia, and its religious affiliation to the Orthodox Church.  The latter, observes the author, has proved to be its strongest unifying factor:

"From the beginning of the diaspora's existence, there is a noticeable heightening of interest in the Church.  The Church is a unifying link with the homeland, its tangible symbol.  Russian churches built in major European cities before the Revolution attracted concentrations of Russian émigrés. The growing religious interest of the diaspora was, moreover, a continuation of the religious renaissance which had begun in Russian already prior to the Revolution.  A turn to a Christian world view is noted also among those intelligentsia who prepared the Revolution: the former militant Socialist Revolutionary, I. I. Fondaminsky-Bunakov, for example, became one of  the editors of the Christian magazine, Noviy Grad; the revolutionary E. Y. Skobtsova, became the nun Maria and engaged in missionary work.  N. Zernov notes that the return to Orthodoxy marked the end of philosophic wanderings in search of truth.  In the emigration, more so than under normal conditions, the need was felt for a spiritual foundation, which absolute values alone could provide."

An important peculiarity of Russian religiosity, notes Olshanskaya, is its messianic character, out of which was conceived the notion of "Moscow-the Third Rome," "Russia-the new Israel."  Imbued with this consciousness, "the Russian diaspora . . . saw its mission as spreading Orthodoxy to the people of other countries, wherever it happened to be. At the same time, a new purpose developed,  and that was to preserve the faith in its purity for the Russian people in Russia, which found itself under a secular, atheistic regime and its war against religion."

Now that this "war against religion" is officially over, some would suggest that the Russian Church abroad no longer need concern itself about preserving the faith "for Russia."  However, against enthusiastic accounts of packed churches and renewed monasteries, there are those, who paint a different picture, indicating that the real work with respect to Russia-that of repentance-has barely begun.

 Russia Needs Our Repentance
Notes and Reflections of a Pilgrim

It had been three years since I last made a trip to Russia [from Ukraine]. In listening to religious broadcasts from Russia, particularly the station "Radonezh," I had the impression that Russia was experiencing a religious renaissance. The broadcasts spoke about the opening of many churches and monasteries, about the large number of people who were turning to Christ, about the veneration of the Tsar-Martyr and the Royal family, about the revival of the Cossacks and religious-nationalist movements. And all this not somewhere way off in the West, but right next door.  And so, one thinks, glory to God, Holy Rus' is at last rising up; the people have come to their senses, they are waking up from the communist stupor and beginning to repent, to rebuild those churches which they themselves destroyed.  And if all these people came today to church, they would have to pray on the street; there wouldn't be room enough for all of them.

But what is really happening?  I'll begin by describing the ancient, once blessed land of Kursk, the home of St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Theodosius of Chernigov and other righteous ones.

I left Kiev by train in the evening on the day of the commemoration of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God.  Between Russia and Ukraine, there is now a border.  As yet no visa is required, but we were nevertheless held up for two hours while the border guards checked passengers' documents. We arrived in Kursk on July 10.

I'm going to make here a slight digression.  In the Ukraine we have the same kind of government as in Russia, but in Kiev, despite loud protests, they removed Lenin from the city's main squares and from the train station. In Kiev one no longer sees streets with names like Komsomol, Pioneer, Kirov, etc.  Thanks to the nationalist movement such names have been changed. In other, smaller cities and towns, they still remain.  The Ukrainian people themselves have gone into cemeteries and removed almost all the communist stars, replacing them with crosses.

The name of the main street of Kursk has not been changed.  An enormous black statue with outstretched arm still rises above the city's central square opposite the monastery "Of the Sign," which was only recently returned [to the Church].  Under the communists it had been transformed into a movie theater.  Together with another believer, I entered the monastery.  The service was just coming to an end.  The local archbishop, Juvenal, was officiating; he was elderly, his left hand trembled noticeably. He conducted a service of intercession and the blessing of water.  Aside from the five seminarians in the choir, the church was empty. There was no iconostasis, no Royal Doors; the altar was open, the walls bare.  Monumental columns supported the central dome.   The other domes had been removed by the godless.  This is the center of a populous city. People were shopping, having a good time, eating, drinking-while in the church there was no one. Only a few elderly women, after requesting a moleben, venerated the copy of the Kursk Icon of the Mother of God, were anointed with oil and received a blessing.

We proceeded to look around the city.  I learned from one pious old woman that the church built by the devout parents of St. Seraphim, Isidor and Agafia, was still standing.  This was the Kazan-St. Sergius church on the corner of Gorky and Ufim-tsev streets.  Thanks to the prayers of St. Seraphim, the church has been well preserved.  It is a two-storey church. The lower church is dedicated to the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, and to the right as you enter there is an altar dedicated to St. Seraphim. The church contains many ancient icons; the frescoes have been executed more recently.   The church is quite dark, but so warm and cozy; very conducive to prayer.

The upper church is spacious; it is dedicated to St. Sergius of Radonezh. The nine-tiered, gilded iconostasis is in the Russian baroque style. Here, too, there are many old icons.  To the left is a reliquary with relics of various saints. The church is light, and one is reminded of the words with which St. Seraphim greeted his visitors: "Christ is risen, my joy!" The interior arrangement, its height, the choirs, the light-all combine to create a mood of paschal joy. It is a grace-filled church.

After spending some time in that holy place, we went out again into the sinful world.  On some of the most prominent places in the city, where at one time devout Russian people placed large crosses and icons for the protection of the city, there still stand monuments to the destroyers and corrupters of Holy Russia, monuments to the founders of so-called "scientific materialism."   Here, there, protrudes the beard of Marx, of Engels, or of some other demon. One wonders when the Lord will free us of this new Babylonian captivity.  The ancient Jews sat and wept on the banks of the River of Babylon, repenting and entreating forgiveness. Today a majority of the [Russian] people are not opposed to this Babylonian captivity-so long as there's enough to eat, to drink, clothes to wear. They think little about their sacred heritage.  Wonder-working icons like the Vladimir Mother of God and Rublev's Trinity are still in the possession of museums.*  How can Holy Russia hope to be resurrected when at her very center lies that evil criminal, who transformed people into slaves and forced them to bow down to themselves instead of to God. When the people unanimously sweep him out of their hearts and souls, out of their towns and villages, when the Church proclaims a conciliar anathema against him and his accomplices, only then will the renewal of Russia be possible, only then will forgiveness come.  Meanwhile, we are still rolling into the abyss.  To think that we Russians are a special, God-chosen people is ruinous. After all, God can create children of Abraham out of stones! But again I've strayed from my subject.

We walked from the cathedral to the north bus station, where we took a bus to the Kursk Root Hermitage, some 35 kilometers from the city, an hour's ride.  It followed the same route taken by the procession with the wonderworking Icon.  I thought-what a grace-filled time was granted to the Russian people: an Orthodox kingdom, a tsar-the anointed by God, a loyal son and preserver of the Orthodox Church, a land rich in resources, a labor-loving people, nurtured by Orthodoxy.  Prayers were continuously being offered to God, like the clouds of incense St. Seraphim saw in a vision, rising up from the land to heaven. And how little our forefathers valued this time, how poorly they defended the last kingdom and the last tsar.  Not a single Ivan Susanin was to be found.  Part raced after the degenerate West, they began to mock God and corrupt their own people.  And so God's wrath was visited upon us.

The historian Kostomarov writes about his father, who had an estate near Voronezh.  Educated according to Western fashion, he began teaching his peasants that there was no God, no after-life, etc. One day, carrying a substantial sum of money received from the sale of part of his estate, he was returning home.  His coachman and valet, whom he had taught that all was permissible since there was no God,  murdered him in the forest and took his money, skillfully covering his tracks so that the evidence led nowhere.  It was decided that the horses must have overturned the coach and crushed him. An accident.  But in those days the door of salvation was still wide open for all, even criminals, and the voice of conscience cried so insistently in the soul of this murderer that he could bear it no longer.  He climbed up into the belfry of the village church and began ringing the big bell.  People came, and when he confessed his crime they asked what had brought him to do it, to which he answered that his master had taught that there was no God, that all was permitted.

What remains of the Hermitage is only ruins. The main church, dedicated to the Nativity of the Theotokos, that once stood in the center of the hermitage, was blown up.  To the left is a building in which there are now two churches: a lower one in honor of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, and an upper one dedicated to the Kursk Root Icon of the Sign.  The churches are in satisfactory condition; they are in the process of being repaired and restored. At one time a passageway led from this church down to the Life-giving spring.  Today, not a stone is left in place.  I descended to the spring. Around it a church is in the process of construction, dedicated to the Life-giving Spring icon.  Water from the spring flows out from an iron pipe.  Pilgrims drink this holy water and wash with it.  Further on the water flows into a small stream, and pious pilgrims immerse themselves in this healing pool.  About half a mile east of the Life-giving spring there is a spring with healing properties beneficial to eyes. Up to the time of the Revolution there were some forty such springs.

The monastery has its own fields, farmyard, cows, sheep, geese.  Produce from the farm goes primarily to Kursk, to the seminary.  Everything is in a state of neglect.  Only the walls are standing from what were workshops and a small candle factory. One of the former guesthouses is now a monastic corpus; the other is occupied by civilians.  The local people rarely attend services; those who do are mainly visitors.  It is sad that when the bell rings announcing the beginning of morning or evening services, none of those living on the monastery grounds hurries to church.  They simply continue sitting on benches nearby, smoking and conversing.   Currently there are three monks: Abbot Gregory, Hieromonk Simon, Hieromonk John, and the elderly Hieromonk Jonah. Jonah is very kind and full of grace;  he is ill, but after conversing with him one is left feeling light-hearted and joyful.  At one time elder Jonah lived in Pochaev, as a disciple of the last Pochaev elders.

I was interested in the fate of the last monks and their abbot.  No one seemed to know anything for sure.  But when they began restoration work and dug the foundation area, on either side of the church they found a great quantity of bones of executed monks.  The skulls had bullet holes.  Nearby a chapel-sepulchre was built, and there they placed all the bones of these new martyrs and confessors of Russia.  Next to the chapel, the rain is washing away the earth and revealing more burial pits, new skulls and bones of those martyred for the faith. But for some reason, no one is collecting them. . .

By God's mercy, and with the blessing of Hieromonk Jonah, I went in the company of another believer to Zadonsk, to venerate the relics of St. Tikhon.  We arrived on the eve of the feast of Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Princess Olga.  Besides ourselves, there were only two old women and an elderly invalid in the church.  The service was short; there was no polyeleos and it felt like an ordinary weekday service.

Near the bus station a religious bookstore was open, and I asked the novice who was selling the books where the Russian people were, why they didn't go to church.  She answered that the people were asleep.  Were they sleeping, or had the Lord already closed the door of salvation to the former pagans, God alone knows.   Today the doors of the church are open to everyone, there is no outright persecution, and yet there is no one in church.  This is the impression I had on visiting monasteries in Russia.  It's not possible, of course, to convey everything.  The apostasy is progressing; only the blind cannot see this, fooling themselves with false prophecies. If there does not come a general repentance among the people, there will be no Orthodox kingdom.  For their Orthodox faith, God granted the Russian people an anointed monarch and an Orthodox homeland.  Today there is no faith, there is no tsar, there is no homeland.

Do not think that I am against Russians and Russia.  I am for Holy Rus', not Soviet Russia or any other Russia.  For the sake of this Holy Rus' the best sons and daughters laid down their lives, as did the last Tsar-Martyr and his family-and their remembrance will be unto generation and generation.   A tsar cannot be chosen; God grants a pious people a pious tsar, but since there is no faith, no repentance, what can one expect.

(From a letter, in Russian, to Orthodox Action in Australia, October 1993.)

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