Orthodox America


  A Victory of the Spirit


      During this Millennium year, the subject of Church-State relations in the Soviet Union has generated an overwhelming amount of written material. Assessment is difficult not only by reason of its bulk but because, as watchful observers agree, this is a time fraught with contradictions. As articles on the following pages show, there is good reason for hope, but even more for caution.

      Indeed, many see this as a time of danger. There is fear that the ultimate aim of the government's new conciliatory attitude towards the Church is to give it a semblance of freedom while turning it into a mere propagator of morality, a tool for its international "peace-making" activities, a cultural showpiece, and thereby quenching its spiritual fire. For true Christianity can never peacefully coexist with a state whose ideology rests upon a godless, anti-theistic materialism. It is not surprising, therefore, that believers are feeling "a deep pessimism for the long-term future"---a remark made by Keston College researcher Jane Ellis in a lecture at Holy Trinity Monastery, NY in October. But she also noted that they hold great hope for the immediate future, "while the opportunities are there."

      In trying to present a balanced perspective on the subject, we were fortunate to have available a wealth of material from Archpriest Victor Potapov who, as a representative of "Voice of America," was in the Soviet Union in June to observe the Millennium festivities. There he had contact with people on the street, with rank and file believers and clergy whose opinions rarely appear in the press. Fr. Victor was also able to meet with a number of Orthodox activists. Their valuable "insider" views (see pages 6-11) illustrate clearly the contradictions and uncertainties underlying Church-State relations in the Soviet Union today.

      Some background for these views is provided below in an account of some of the highlights of the two-week long Millennium celebration. Although the occasion itself was unique---featuring magnificent services and the first meeting of a Local Council since 1971--it allowed many basic issues to be raised, issues of concern to believers in their daily church life. The article is based on press releases from the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate and on Fr. Victor's unpublished "Chronicle'' (in Russian). All quotations are taken from these sources unless otherwise noted. For purposes of simplification the Moscow Patriarchate Church is referred to here as the Russian Church (to be distinguished from the Russian Church Abroad). 

    Considering the negative treatment which the Russian Church has endured over the past decades, the pre-Jubilee period witnessed some remarkable developments. For example, the Moscow Patriarchate was allowed to sponsor a number of substantial conferences which brought together clergy and scholars---many from abroad--to examine various aspects of the history, theology, spiritual tradition, liturgical life and art of the Russian Church; more than 100 papers were presented at the Leningrad conference in February (1988).

      Among the more dramatic concessions made by the government (and duly publicized) were the return of several monasteries and a number of sacred relics to the Church; the ceremony of the transferal of the relics was broadcast on national television. Just days later, on May 29, a monument to St. Sergius of Radonezh was unveiled in the town of his childhood (years ago the Soviet changed its name to "Little Town" to dim the association.) The monument was erected as a tribute to "the powerful and pure spirit” of St. Sergius who was acknowledged as "a great ascetic and patriot." In addition, permission was granted for the construction of a cathedral in honor of the Millennium on the outskirts of Moscow. The cornerstone for this memorial was laid with great ceremony on June 13 as part of the celebrations.

      Numerous cultural events related to the Millennium were staged in the period leading up to and including the two week celebration---exhibits of ecclesiastical arts, paintings by contemporary artists reflecting the Orthodox cultural tradition; there were concerts of religious music by various choirs and ensembles; and there were lectures and literary evenings dedicated to the theme of the Millennium.

      While citizens of Moscow were the principal beneficiaries of these cultural offerings, it should be noted that a number of Millennium related programs were nationally televised. One of the most remarkable was a documentary film Khram ("Temple ") which showed scenes from the barbaric demolition in 1939 of the majestic Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. The celebrations' proceedings received extensive coverage by all media: bishops and priests were interviewed on radio and television, parts of the services were broadcast, church music was heard daily... Readers of the magazine Family were informed that it was initiating a series of Lives of saints, beginning with that of St. Vladimir, in order to give examples of moral purity...

        Whatever the Soviet government's ulterior motives in adopting its new policy towards the Church, there is no doubt that these concessions--which far exceeded even optimistic expectations---were enthusiastically welcomed by believers and immeasurably enhanced the Millennium celebration, making of it, as one believer remarked, a veritable sermon.

 

      "Every nation," wrote one Russian journalist, "has a religious calling of its own which is realized to the fullest extent by its men of religious genius-its saints. One can say that the history of the Church is the history of holiness." It was appropriate, therefore, that the official celebration, which took place from June 5-16, was scheduled to coincide with the Sunday of All Saints and the following Sunday of All Saints Who Shone Forth in the Land of Russia, for the Millennium was, indeed, their feast, the triumph of those who had "overcome" (Rev. 3:5, 12, 21), those who by faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness (Heb. 11:33).

        The principal services in honor of the thousand-year jubilee conducted by scores of clergy with the participation of numerous foreign guests and attended by tens of thousands of belie~ were most impressive. As Fr. Victor wrote, "they seemed to symbolize a victory of the Spirit over the 70-year attempt of militant godlessness to destroy religious life in that country.”

   The celebrations opened with a pontifical Liturgy in the patriarchal cathedral of the Epiphany. At the end of the service Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem addressed a word of welcome to those gathered, in which he said:

      "In the course of her 1000-year history, the Holy Russian Orthodox Church and her believing people have known glory and greatness. At the same time they have also had to go through the furnace of many trials and sorrows. There were times when your Church ascended Golgotha and her faithful children took upon themselves the crown of martyrdom. But, together with the people she cast her gaze upon the Risen Lord Who said: Be of good courage, for I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

      Afterwards Patriarch Pimen expressed the Church's indebtedness to the "soul-saving labors of the pastors and archpastors of Christ's flock. God alone can assess their spiritual exploit of service, of life. The feeling of gratitude to the host of worthy servants before the throne of God, spiritual guides of generations of our pious ancestors, will stay forever in the memory of God's people." A memorial service, specially composed for the occasion, was then held for all leaders and hierarchs of the Russian Church, for "all those who labored in asceticism and for all who had reposed since ancient limes---forefathers, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters---who had labored for the Church and for Holy Russia."

            The next day, June 6, witnessed the opening of the Local Council which was held at Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. The morning began with a Liturgy before the relics of St. Sergius in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.

      Participating in the Council, which met in the refectory church, were 272 delegates representing 67 dioceses within the Soviet Union and its exarchates abroad. The proceedings began with a moleben and the singing of the Creed. Patriarch Pimen then gave an introductory address in which he spoke about the importance of church councils and the conciliar principle governing the Church (Acts 1:15-26), and set forth the two main tasks on the Council's agenda-the canonization of nine new saints and the approval of a new Statute. He welcomed the delegates, expressing pleasure at the presence of so many distinguished guests (some 400 came as observers from more than 90 countries), and prayed that the Spirit of the Lord...the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might (Is. 11:2) rest upon all those gathered.

      Congratulations were then extended to participants on behalf of the USSR Council of Ministers. The message ignored historical realities in favor of standard Soviet rhetoric:

      "Having separated the Church from the State, the Soviet government proclaimed freedom of conscience, making religion the private matter of every citizen. The State, on its part, serves the interests and safeguards the rights of all its citizens, both believers and non-believers, forbidding any kind of coercion where individual convictions are concerned ....

We note with satisfaction the existence of normal relations between Church and State....As General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev has pointed out, we all have a common history, one Motherland, one common future."

      The message included praise for the Church's "vigorous efforts for peace", her work for disarmament, for international cooperation. "We are hopeful," it concluded, "that the Church and believers will continue to fulfill their patriotic and civic duty, champion the cause of peace and work to build up the humanitarian and moral potential of the people, mankind."

      Patriarch Pimen responded with his customary obsequiousness, asking the "highly esteemed" Kharchev (Chairman of the State's Council for Religious Affairs) to convey to the Council of Ministers gratitude "for the special attention of the Soviet government to the needs of the Church....We appreciate very much the fruitful activity of the Soviet government for the benefit of our Motherland."

      The remainder of the first session was taken up by congratulatory speeches made by various foreign guests of honor: Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch, Patriarch Teoctist of Rumania, Cardinal Willebrands of the Roman Church, Archbishop Runcie of Canterbury, Rev. G. Staalsett of the Lutheran World Federation, and others. Among the more salient remarks were those expressed by Archbishop Runcie:

      "We have come here with a feeling of profound gratitude and love towards the faithful members of the Russian Orthodox Church--towards her clergy and her people. You have managed to maintain the flame of the candle of faith and are seen as an icon of unwaning energy and beauty of the resurrected life. We are aware of the price you paid for your faithfulness in the frightful periods of war and persecution. The victorious confessions of faith, which we have heard at the services and various church celebrations this week take on a special significance in view of the fact that they are bedewed with the blood of martyrs. And martyrs---as we know from the past-are the seeds of a new church life.

      "Not long ago the General Secretary of the Communist Party spoke about the tragic events in the period of the 'personality cult'. We honor the sufferings which you endured then and in more recent times, and we bow down before the countless number of Orthodox believers who witnessed with their life that Faith into which Grand Prince Vladimir was baptized."

      Metropolitan Theodosius, head of the Orthodox Church in America, reminded the Local Council that the OCA grew out of the missionary efforts of such outstanding Russian ascetics as Archbishop Tikhon (Belavin), the future Patriarch of Russia, who devoted several years of his life in the Church's vineyard as head of the North American mission of the Russian Church. Metropolitan Theodosius expressed the-hope of Orthodox Americans that the time would soon come when the Russian strugglers of piety of the 20th century---beginning with the confessor Patriarch Tikhon--would be joined to the choir of saints. 

    The second session began with a lecture by Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev and Galich on the "Millennium of the Baptism of Rus'." He said that the history of each Local Church reflects the basic stages in the life of Our Saviour. Many times the Russian Church experienced '"transfiguration" in the lives of a whole host of Russian saints; at other times she also passed through the agonies of Gethsemane. "But every 'lenten' period in the history of the Russian Church was followed by a festal one in which the resurrected Church with all her faithful children beheld already in this world signs of the triumph to come."

    Metropolitan Filaret noted that the celebrations to mark the Millennium are taking place in conditions of growing democratization of all Soviet society. And this process, he said, gives grounds for optimism. The registration of parents' passports at the baptism of their children has been dropped. New churches are being built and new parishes being opened. But, he admitted, the process is proceeding at a slower pace than the preceding closure of churches. There is still a problem with the registration of Orthodox communities, especially in areas with no churches. In a number of regions diocesan administrations and communities of believers run into unjustified difficulties in dealing with basic problems of church life.

    The afternoon session was devoted to the glorification of nine new saints (see OA #83, p. 3). The solemn rite followed a report by Metropolitan Juvenaly of Krutitsa and Kolomna "On the Canonization of Saints in the Russian Orthodox Church." In conclusion the Council ruled that 1) the remains of the new saints be considered holy relics, 2) new services be composed in their honor, 3) their feast days be observed as follows: Great Prince Dimitri Donskoi of Moscow (+1389)----May 19, Monk Andrei Rublev (+early 15th c.)-July 4, Monk Maxim the Greek (+1556)--January 21, Metropolitan Makary of Moscow (+1563)---December 30, Schema-archimandrite Paisius Velichkovsky (+1794)---November 15, Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg (+ early 18th c.)--January 24, Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov (+1867)--Apri1 30, Elder Ambrose of Optina (+1891)---October 10, Bishop Theophan the Recluse (+1894)---January ;10 (Old Style dates). It ruled furthermore that icons be painted of the new saints and that their Lives and teachings be published. It was also decided that further studies be made "with the purpose of canonizing other locally venerated champions of piety and faith." This last was taken by some believers as a hopeful sign of intent to recognize the New Martyrs in the not too distant future, although the fact that they were not even mentioned in Metropolitan Juvenaly's report was taken by others as yet another confirmation of the Church's captive status.

      For the next two days the Council meetings were closed to observers. Of the many reports heard during this time, one of the more interesting belonged to Metropolitan Vladimir of Rostov and Novocherkassk who spoke on the "Life and Activities of the Russian Orthodox Church." After citing some statistical changes since the last Council (1971), he went on to outline what he considered to be the most urgent problems facing the Russian Church today. Among these were the need for the Church to expand its publishing work, to bring out greater quantities of Scripture, prayer books, catechetical materials; the need for periodicals where practical problems of church life could be discussed; the need for better educated pastors of high moral authority, who would be "constantly engaged in the propagation of Orthodox doctrine"; the need to encourage parishioners to engage in charitable work; the need to raise old-age pensions for clergy, to set up homes for the elderly, to provide for the training of icon painters and church restorers; the need for centralizing church restoration efforts. Metropolitan Vladimir concluded by saying:

      "The main thing now is to strengthen the conciliar principle in the life of the Church. The principle of sobornost must keynote the work of all church establishments, both in the center and at the grassroots level." The report was practical, to the point, and refreshing in its honesty---a welcome effect, one dare say, of glasnost.

      Glasnost was not so evident in the next two reports: "External Links the Russian Orthodox Church” by Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk, and "Peacemaking Activities of the Russian Orthodox Church" by Metropolitan Alexey of Leningrad. Ecumenism and peace-making are tightly linked areas of the Church's involvement which are encouraged by the Soviet government, while for believers they are a source of consternation and dissent. Here the captive pays tribute. 

     Concluding the evening session Metropolitan Pitirim of Volokolamsk and Yuriev, head of the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, gave a report on the publishing activity of the Russian Church. According to his statistics there were at the end of the last century more than 100 diocesan periodicals and an additional 256 church periodicals.

     By contrast, the Russian Church today produces only one periodical for mass circulation, the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, and this, he said, cannot meet the demands of the time. Due to an overabundance of information and protocol materials, space for theological and historical texts and articles or contemporary church life, church problems, is very restricted. The Metropolitan said there was a need to increase both the quantity and quality of the Church's publications if she is to fulfill her mission under the present conditions.

       The Metropolitan's report suggests a genuine concern for missionary work, so vital in a population scarred by 70 years of militant atheist propaganda. But one wonders about the sincerity of his remarks in view of his disregard for Zoya Krakhmalnikova's suggestion that his department undertake publication of Nadezhda, or the fact that he declined the government’s proposal for a church newspaper. In offering an explanation fog this seeming discrepancy, Sergei Grigoriants, editor of the samizdat magazine Glasnost, told Fr. Victor Potapov that while the Publishing Department has more than adequate staff to expand its activities those in charge are subservient to the governrneng and are afraid to activate religious life in the country, they are afraid of encouraging genuine spirituality. As it is, the JMP is devoted primarily to "safe topics: the Patriarch’s agenda, ecumenical gatherings, peace conferences, necrologies.

       Beginning the third day of the Council's deliberations, Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev briefly took the floor to officially announce the return to the Church of part of the Kiev Caves Lavra--the Far Caves, the churches of the Nativity of the Mother of God and the Conception of the Mother of God, the small bell tower, five other buildings and two wells (of Sts. Anthony and Theodosius). Although the news did not come as a surprise, it was greeted with unconcealed elation.

       Two reports followed: on "Theological Education" and on 'The Economic Activity of the Russian Church." Both speakers did not hide the Church': shortcomings in these areas and made some sound recommendations which found their way into the final "Decisions of the Local Council."

       In a subsequent discussion, it was recommended that a commission on legal problems be established to provide practical assistance to dioceses in dealing with new church construction, church repairs, restoration and purchases of various kinds, The acute need for catechetical work was also noted, as was the importance of a more active concern for the spiritual needs of orphans and elderly.

    The evening session was devoted to the central task of the Local Council – the adoption of a new Statute governing the Church's administration. It was to replace the 1929 Statute and the 1945 "Charter'' whose questionable canonicity was further eroded by amendments introduced in 1961 under pressure from the State. A draft Statute had been endorsed by the Pro-Coundl Bishops' Conference in March. In the past one would expect the Local Council to do little more than give the draft a rubber stamp of approval. In fact, it was subject to lively debate, and a number of amendments and clarifications in its wording were introduced before it was unanimously adopted. Participants endorsed with particular enthusiasm the section which read: "The Moscow Patriarchate, synodal institutions, dioceses, parishes, monasteries and convents, theological schools, and offices located abroad have full legal rights."

      The new Statute is much more detailed and comprehensive than the 1929 Statute; clearly, an attempt was made to leave less to arbitrary interpretation---a characteristic flaw of Soviet legislation. The Statute was conditioned by a clause which reads that it can be "altered or amended if new laws on religious cults which are now in the stage of preparation are adopted". And in fact, subsequent legislation has allowed the Church to engage in charitable activities.

On the final day of its meeting the Council was again open to observers and heard more felicitations from representatives of various churches and organizations abroad. There followed a memorial service for soldiers "who fell on the battlefields in Afghanistan." 

In the afternoon session the Council discussed and adopted a number of documents, the most important being 'The Decisions of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church." Based on the Council's deliberations, it contained 19 points. Of these, the following will perhaps have the greatest impact in revitalizing the life of the Church, if they are realized (numbered as they appear in the document):

       (6) "that the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church, which must disclose more fully the catholic nature of the Church, be approved and blessing be given to introduce it into life. It should be specifically noted that with the introduction of the new Statute, which gives to the pastor an important role in the life of his parish, he must conscientiously fulfill the behest of the Apostle to tend God's flock not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock (I Peter 5:2-3).

       (7) in pursuance of the Christian calling of being the salt of the earth and the light for the world (Matt. 5:13, 14), the Local Council underlines the extreme importance of taking care of the moral purity of the clergy, monks and nuns and all children of the Church. It is necessary to select for the clergy the best candidates so that, having received the grace of the holy orders, they might set a visible example of all this in their own life (Matt. 5:16);

       (12) ...the Russian Orthodox Church...gives her blessing to her children to provide a worthy contribution to the process of spiritual, social and economic renewal of Soviet society;

        (13) that, noting with satisfaction the possibilities of expanding Church publishing work, it be considered necessary to increase the publication of Holy Scripture, patristic works and prayer books as well as catechetical, edifying theological, church historical, liturgical and other literature indispensable for meeting the spiritual requirements of our flock of many millions .... Attention should be given to the need to have Church publications in the languages of nationalities included in the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church,

        (14)..the need should be noted to open new theological schools, to train psalm readers in dioceses, to raise the level of instruction and upbringing of students in theological schools... It should be considered necessary to find adequate forms of catechization and spiritual enlightenment of believers outside the liturgical limits.

      (16) that...it be considered necessary to establish a specialized department of restoration and new construction attached to the Economic Management of the Moscow Patriarchate in order to meet to a fuller extent the needs of the Church in this area. The importance should be noted of training our own specialists in church restoration.

      (19) that it be considered necessary to promote and develop in every way the traditional service of charity and mercy in our Church, and to work out adequate forms of this work as being inherent in the Church from her very beginning (Acts 6).

      Other points stressed the importance of external relations, of increasing ecumenical involvement, of continuing efforts for peace, etc. The document concludes:

        "As she enters the second millennium of her historical existence, the Russian Orthodox Church pins her hopes on the Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, and His abiding promise to be and remain with His faithful even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:20).

        Earlier, while still in closed session, the Council issued a number of letters and appeals. A letter to Gorbachev expressed gratitude for his "benevolent attitude to the spiritual needs of religious citizens," and pledged support "to the policy of promoting the social and economic development of the country, of perfecting socialist democracy."

        Another message was addressed to "All the Faithful Children of the Russian Orthodox Church." It contained numerous scriptural citations and was essentially a call to spiritual renewal: "...our celebration of this jubilee consists not only in recalling spiritual triumphs, but in a humble acknowledgment of our weakness and sinfulness. Along with thanksgiving prayers we must offer unto God our repentance....And repentance includes not only humility but also boldness, spiritual exploit performed for the sake of salvation and eternal life....On the strength of her millennial experience, our Church testifies that without spiritual exploit (podvig), without turning to lofty moral ideals there can he no renewal in the life of an entire nation.....We are calling all the faithful children of the Russian Orthodox Church within this country to a high moral life in the family and in society, to creative inspiration, to conscientious labor, to civic responsibility; we urge them to do all they can to render irreversible the vitally important social changes taking place in our country."

          A third letter was an appeal to those adhering to the Old Rite. It noted "the profound devotion of all heirs to the soul-saving cause of Prince St. Vladimir to patristic traditions" and "painfully" recalled · the 17th century division of the children of the Church. It reminded the Old Believers that the 1971 Council confirmed the Old Rite as being equally sacred and urged them to start a fraternal dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate for the sake of affirming our unity in the Church of Christ, for the sake of proclaiming the original spiritual values we inherited from the old Russian piety..."

      A similar appeal for reconciliation was made to the Faithful "who are not in canonical communion with the Mother Church": "You and we know that it is not faith that lies at the basis of the divisions, but external historical circumstances which have erected a wall of alienation towards us. We must believe, however, that this wall can be demolished through good common effort....We assure you that we do not at all want to restrict your freedom, nor to be lords over God's heritage (I Peter 5:3), but with all our hearts we desire that the temptation of division between brethren and sisters of the same blood and faith cease so that we could, with one mind and heart praise the Lord at His one Table."

   The surprisingly moderate tone of this appeal may well have been influenced by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh (British exarchate), who took part in the discussions surrounding these particular letters. A portion of his speech to the Council relates directly to the Church Abroad and deserves to be quoted here:

                   "... I consider it my duty to express not only sorrow but profound dismay concerning the Preconciliar Epistle of His Holiness [Patriarch Pimen; June 8/21, 1987]. In addressing the members of the Church Abroad, this epistle calls them, as schismatics, to repent, to soften their hardheartedness and return to canonical legitimacy. It shows no understanding of those complex reasons and those hitter sufferings which tore them away from the Patriarchate. I suggest, therefore, that our Council disregard the decades of slander, cruel accusations and misunderstandings which have fallen to our lot, and thank God for the faithfulness of the Church Abroad towards Holy Orthodoxy, for its building of churches, for its steadfast faithfulness to Orthodox teaching, for its establishment of monasteries, for its publishing activity--of which we avail ourselves with gratitude, for its reverence towards the Church order and the church service typicon. We should esteem their spiritual exploit which they have conducted under unprecedented conditions. and thank God for it. We must turn to them with words of sincere love and say to them, in the words of Apostle Paul: "Brethren, our hearts are open unto you," and offer them to enter into full communion, prayerful and sacramental, with us without setting any conditions, without demanding and without expecting their return under the omophorion of the Moscow Patriarchate until such a time as they can do so with joyfully open hearts. And, of course, stressing that no change in their political or social orientation is demanded or expected of them." 

The Council closed with a word of thanksgiving by Patriarch Pirnen and a common prayer.

       The next day, Friday, June 10, there was a special ceremony at the Bolshoi Theater for foreign guests and state representatives. In his opening speech Patriarch Pimen dwelt on "the contribution of the Church to the cause of international friendship" and greeted "the restoration of Leninist principles in Church-State relations" which he said would serve to promote the cohesion of the Soviet people,

       Metropolitan Juvenal spoke of the great contribution of the Russian missionaries in spreading a common Christian culture, and of the importance of understanding the spirituality of the Russian nation, which "has found its fullest expression in the life of its saints." He acknowledged that "due to various reasons Church-State relations have had their ups and downs. Both clerics and laymen were among the victims of mass persecutions. The Church shared with the people the trials that fell to their lot."

      While all these official celebrations were taking place, groups of Orthodox activists organized other gatherings. There was, for example, a three-day seminar organized by former prisoner of conscience Alexander Ogorodnikov, during which a number of lectures were read on historic-theological subjects and the legal status of the Russian Church was discussed. Earlier, the publishers and friends of the unofficial journal of Christian culture Vybor ("Choice") tried to organize a series of lectures open to the public. But in spite of the fact that they went about it openly and legally, and none of the scheduled lectures touched upon politics, their plans were foiled: on the very eve of their program, the hall they had rented was closed "for repairs". Undaunted, they moved the program to a private apartment; it was a great success.

 

The church must be protected from a serious danger of suffocating in the embrace of power, of turning into an official department, and losing its spiritual independence... A. Nezhny, Moscow News, 6/19 /88

       From within these "unofficial" circles of Orthodox believers, the most frequently voiced concerns have to do with the lack of glasnost in the Church. It was pointed out, for example, that representatives to the Local Council were not elected but hand-picked; the conciliar principle was not upheld. More serious is the Church's lack of independence, so clearly reflected in the timid attitude of her ossified hierarchy. Paralyzed by Metropolitan Sergius' Declaration of 1927, which pledged the Church's loyalty to the State, they dare not glorify the New Martyrs, they dare not admit the Church's role in supporting Stalin's personality cult, they dare not encourage spiritual activity beyond the bounds set by the State. As Fr. Victor points out, it is a sad commentary on the state of the Church that her most pressing problems are raised not by her hierarchy but on the pages of the Soviet press. Writing in Moscow News (June 19, 1988), journalist Alexander Nezhny observes:

      "Society now speaks at the top of its lungs about its past, realizing that the full historic truth is a sign of successful democratic development. But the Church as yet hasn't decided to speak out about its numerous pains and troubles over the last 70 years. Why not honor the memory of the Church martyrs who died in Stalin's camps? Why not speak with all sincerity about what forced the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church to promote Stalin's cult? Why not explain that the priest was deprived in 1961 of taking part in parish life?..."

       A number of reports at the Local Council reveal a desire to overcome the present inertia. And from time to time individual hierarchs have made bold to speak out. May God grant more of them--hierarchs, priests, laity--the courage of a true confession of faith, that in this second millennium of her existence the Church of Russia may continue to manifest the victory of the spirit--her witness to the world.


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