Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – Views From Within

“The party’s politics regarding millions of believers must be conducted with maximum advantage.”  A.K. Kharchev, Chairman, CRA

 Church and State in the USSR

    Below are extracts from two interesting texts: the first is a report given in March by the Chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, K.S. Kharchev, to a closed meeting of teachers responsible for higher level atheist education (the talk was surreptitiously taped); the second is an interview given by the well-known Orthodox writer and former prisoner of conscience, Zoya Krakhmalnikova (another excerpt from this same interview appeared in OA #79 pp. 3,6).

    While these documents come from widely different perspectives, both present the same familiar picture in which the State holds the reins as it directs a basically subservient hierarchy. As Kharchev admits, however, this does not insure control over the mass of believers who, even official sources now concede, number some 70% of the population [this includes all faiths]. Old methods of repression proved futile and are plainly embarrassing, and since the present shows "no tendency to a decrease of religiosity," Kharchev poses the need for more sophisticated and constructive methods of control-allowing believers certain concessions in order to draw them into a "peaceful co-existence" with the State and encourage their loyalty as Soviet citizens. Krakhmalnikova notes this same trend in government policy, but cautions that new freedoms in "cult performance," i.e., in the external life of the Church, may give believers a dangerous sense of satisfaction and lure them away from the essence of Christianity. It is a danger which has universally faced the Church ever since it left the catacombs.

    Taken together, these texts offers valuable commentary on the rather "slippery" subject, of State-Church relations in the Soviet Union today.


Needed: A New Image

(Kharchev's report was translated by an Athonite monk from the May 20, 1988 issue of the Russian newspaper "La Pensee Russe," published in Paris.) 

The current tendency in party politics:

     '... There is an amazing phenomenon before us: in spite of all our efforts, the Church has survived, and not only survived, but it is beginning to undergo a renewal. And so, questions arise: what is more advantageous for the Party: a person who believes in God, a person who doesn't believe in anything, or a person who believes in God and in communism? I think that of two evils one usually chooses the lesser. According to Lenin, the Party must keep control over all the spheres of a citizen's life, and since you can't just get rid of the believers, and our history proves that religion is something serious and here to stay, then it is better for the Party to make a sincere believer believe also in communism. And so, here is our challenge: the education of a new type of priest….

     "...At present the priest is often completely dissociated from his parish. They are from different backgrounds, even often of different nationalities. Such a priest comes to his parish once a week in his car, serves liturgy, and that's all. He doesn't want to know anything about anything else. A lot of them like it that way. After all, they have no responsibility: not for the flock, not for money, not for the upkeep of the church. When the plenipotentiary gives him his license, he warns him: take your 350 rubles and don't stick your nose into anything else. Neither the priest, nor the plenipotentiary, nor the Party know anything about what goes on in the parish, and yet 70% believers--that's no joke. What are you going to do with them? You have to work with them somehow, and get some influence over them...

    "...there is now an intensive process of the Church penetrating into State politics. And take a sober look at this: whether we want it or not, religion has entered into socialism, and hasn't just entered, it has rolled in as if on rails. Since we have all the power, I think it is within our means to turn those rails in one direction or another, depending on our interests..."


(Zova Krakhmalnikova's interview appeared in the May "7. 1988 issue of "La Pensee Russe." It is translated here by Orthodox Action of Australia) 

Questions and answers:

    Q: What violations of Soviet law have been committed by workers in local government and by priests?

    A: The basic violation by civil servants and local authorities is the stubborn refusal to open churches; and there is also constant interference in the private lives of believers. ...As far as I know, not a single representative of the regime has ever been brought to court for violating the laws on religious cults. Priests are prosecuted at every step of the way. True, a recent incident made a lot of noise: the regional secretary was fired, but they left him in the Party. But that was too much, what happened: In a region in Ukraine they decided to take action against the growth of religion, and all they could think of was the old spirit of the thirties: militia men surrounded the church in a large village; they came in with a truck, and like barbarians they pried all the icons loose, loaded them up and drove off. But there's always God' s will, you know [laughter in the audience]--the truck got stuck in the mud in the middle of the main street and wouldn't go forward or backward. And these activists could think of nothing better than, right there, before the eyes of the believers, to put the icons under the tires!' They got the truck out and took the rest of the icons out into a field and burned them. Well, there was nothing for it but to remove the first secretary and his assistants for propaganda and ideology, and one other guy with them. We restored everything in the church. But for how long now are they going to point out to the young kids who come to church that in this place there used to be an icon of John the Baptist, but the communist-atheists burned it. With politics like that, what is the people’s attitude to the Soviet regime going to be? Don’t forget, comrades, that in many of our cities produce is being rationed…


Would the spiritual power of the Church increase if her members were to get real civil liberties? 

    Spiritual processes do not depend on civil liberties. 'Political freedoms are needed by all citizens of our country, but they do not assure the true freedom of the Church. According to our Faith, the Church is the pillar and confirmation of Truth. She is spiritually free; she lives in accordance with the "laws" of grace and does not pay tribute to anyone. Her members are only those whose knees have not bowed to Baal, "every mouth which hath not kissed him? (I Kings 19:18). In speaking of the Church, we like to recall Christ's words that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." These words hold not only a firm promise, "shall not prevail," but also an indication that "the gates of hell" will be trying to prevail against the Church. And those members of the Church, of whatever rank--be they patriarchs, bishops, priests or laymen--will be prevailed against by the "gates of hell" and vanquished by them if they bow their knees before the servants of hell. Then they will only be called the Church, have the appearance of the Church, but will be deprived of her power. The history of Christianity knows or many such instances when high-ranking patriarchs and bishops became heretics and apostates, and they were anathematized together with the decrees of their councils. God invariably disgraces Satan, but He does this in His own time. The essence of the Church's freedom is perceived only through persecution. May we think that persecution of Christians has come to an end in our country?

     As long as there are people in concentration camps sentenced for their religious convictions, to speak of the end of persecutions is to distort the truth. Strictly speaking. true Christianity has not known--nor will it know--a time in the history of mankind when it was not subject to persecution. This is God's intention with regard to His true disciples; this is stated many times in the Gospel and it is not subject to revision. The world has always warred and will always war against Christianity, but the methods and forms of this struggle, though stereotyped in character, vary from one historical period to another.


What, in your opinion, is the essence of this warfare today?

      In the '20's and '30's our land became stained with the blood of martyrs and confessors of Christ. These were the years of the triumph of faith. After centuries of alleged well-being, the Orthodox Church was spiritually exhausted as a result of the awful fratricidal schism, and had to defend her faith on the Cross. You can't vanquish the Church by crucifying her flock, inasmuch as she believes in the Resurrection. We are told by the Saints that "the fallen spirit, the spirit of malice and animosity towards God replaces cruel temptations by weak, though refined and very effective ones." Mankind has entered the age of great spiritual persecutions of Christianity. This is a worldwide process and it is inherent in all the Churches of today This is the fatal warfare between Christianity and a godless consciousness, between God and Satan. Atheism brings eternal death to mankind; Christianity brings faith in the Resurrection. Essentially, this is a war for mankind's survival. The aim of spiritual persecutions is to enfeeble the Church by way of compromises, to create a 'new Christianity," a Christianity without Christ, spiritually weak, comfortable, harmless. The period of bloody persecutions of the '20's and '30's has given way to the struggle to turn Orthodoxy in our country into renovationism, ritualism, a new paganism on a Christian foundation, idolatry, sectarianism.


What kinds of "neo-Christianity" do you think are particularly widespread in our country? 

    Perhaps the strongest temptation today is ritualism because of the "magic" of ritual. And it is well suited to militant atheism because, first of all, ritualism severely limits man in his service to God and his fellow-man; second, it is readily subject to criticism in atheist propaganda; and third, it lacks spiritual power since it believes not so much in God as it does in the patriarch, in bishops and priests. It believes in a form, trying in vain to acquire sanctity through the latter. Ritualism forms the basis of another branch of "neo-Christianity" or renovationism --political Christianity. Almost all ruling archbishops of the Russian Orthodox Church are active in state politics; they are political personae, constituting a certain institution which is sanctioned by the State and through which the atheistic regime effects its control of the religious life of the believers. It is this type of political figure which has been developed in the course of many years through all sorts of political and moral pressures and intrigues. Naturally, this peculiar nomenclature consists of those who agree to play the role imposed upon them...

     Political Christianity means bargaining. Politics and Christianity are incompatible. Bargaining is always destined to suffer defeat, both spiritually and politically. "A doable-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). No Christian has ever succeeded in sitting on two chairs. You will know them by their fruits, we are told. And the time is coming when it will no longer be possible to hide ~he fruit. Today 'glasnost' is making secrets manifest. The Chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, K.M. Kharchev, in his recent interview, made an unexpected admission when he declared that today the "religious leaders" in the USFR combine the socialist ideal with their theological doctrines! This revelation about the new "Christianity a la socialism" was made on the eve of the Millennial anniversary of the Baptism of Rus'. Kharchev is a responsible man, and he wouldn't talk about something non-existent. He precisely characterized the Christianity of the "religious leaders." They do in fact combine the socialist ideal with their own "doctrines" (I cannot bring my self to call them theological). 

The Church belongs to Christ, and I we cannot defend her by way of compromise.       Fr. Vladimir Shibayev

     Political emotions destroy faith in Christ. Political Christianity blossomed in our country at the time of Patriarch Sergius (Stragorodsky) and has become known as "Sergianism". It has marked the beginning of the dreadful times prophecied by our saints, when, according to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, "the increased number of apostates who outwardly call themselves 'Christians' will begin to use violence and slander." That time was marked by terrible division; some bishops occupied their cathedra, others--the plank beds in concentration camps. It was precisely in those terrible years that there was developed the anti-Christian, anti-Church myth about saving the Church by political compromise. I think this myth has always been popular with the Council for Religious Affairs and amongst our bishops. From that time forth the pulpits have been silent; the Church lost her voice. Politicking "religious leaders" enfeebled the Church spiritually by becoming the comrades of persecutors; they refused to unite with the confessors and martyrs for the sake of an imaginary "salvation" of the Church, repeating after the militant atheists that the canonization of the martyrs and confessors was a political act. Persecutors of Christ have always called His disciples political criminals, and it is well known that Christ Himself was accused of "seducing people" and being "an enemy of Caesar" (John 17:6, 19:12). Political interpretation of the persecution of Christians is as old as the world. The devil is always the same. As to the myth about the "salvation of the Church ," we know that it is not given to people to save the Church; Christ alone saves it, by sending fiery temptations and suffering unto death. Ritualism, idolatry, sectarianism-these have become the price of compromise and the result of the spiritual break with Orthodoxy.

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