Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs -  The Church Must Be Free

An interview with Fr. Glob Yakunin and Fr. Georgi Edelstein, July 22, 1989

Part I

Part III

(Continued from previous issue) 

Fr. Gleb: Fr. Georgi spoke about the fundamental principles of evangelization. Evangelization is not to be conducted in the abstract. It is actually preparation for entering into the fullness of the Church, because the aim is not that a person should merely hear, but having heard he should...How will he come to Christ? The icon of Christ is the Church. If he does come, what will he see in today's church? Bear in mind that in our country there is only the Moscow Patriarchate. If he comes and looks in, he will be shocked to find there is no preaching. Such negligence! He will find only Divine Service being conducted or, in the official language of the State, the "performance of the cult". This service will not be familiar to him; he does not understand Church Slavonic. Only rarely will he hear a sermon. In the city of Moscow he will find perhaps three, five, well at the maximum ten priests who preach. As for rectors, unfortunately, the higher they rank in the nomenklatura the less they preach, the fewer living words we hear. Systematic teaching of religion is not conducted. Here we have a complex problem. Some kind of renewal in the Church is needed, a regeneration of the Church structure. The Church must be freed from state regulation and prohibitions so that a young, ardent soul who has come for the first time to church may find there Truth incarnate, in all its fullness.       Unfortunately the majority of Moscow priests do not perform this genuine, spiritual work; there is no real priesthood, no good general confession, no good sermons. Under such circumstances, how can we acquaint our people with the Church, the fountain of Christ's truth? This is a real problem which we face today.

      Today's monasticism is also experiencing a crisis, for it likewise is not free from government influence. The government assiduously contrives that in the monasteries there should be no genuine church spirit, no fervor. The authorities try to muzzle such priests as preach energetically. Fervent and dedicated monks and elders they try to drive away, not allowing them a word. We know many cases! When the present Bishop Gavriil of Vladivostok was Abbot of the Pskov-Caves Monastery, how they hounded Elder Ioann Krestiankin, how they tried to prevent him from having contact with the people. The same is true for Fr. Kirill, a fine priest, in the monastery at Zagorsk. They simply do not allow such excellent pastors the possibility to properly conduct spiritual work,

      At one time the monastery was a source of enlightenment in Rus'. Unfortunately, the authorities try to limit today's monastery to the "performance of the cult": divine services are conducted but the people are not afforded spiritual education. The personnel is completely controlled--in particular the heads of monasteries are not appointed without the knowledge of the authorities, without the knowledge of the KGB. And such a zealous monk, pastor, as will bring hundreds of people to follow him and save their souls---such a monk cannot hold an influential position in the monastery, in areas where there are no churches, people strive even once in several years to come to a monastery and receive some spiritual guidance, to have confession, and receive Communion. Therefore it is very important that these spiritual centers, the monasteries, be in good order, in good spiritual order. Unfortunately, they flourish only externally. Take the Danilovsky Monstery, on which more than 30-40 million rubles have been spent and still more are being spent. These are all ostentatious institutions which by the design of the government are to produce on foreigners, especially from the West, a favorable impression, through such a false witness, of the feigned thriving of faith in Russia.

      Again we return to the point that without the Church receiving full freedom, without being freed from this yoke of the government, it is hard to foresee a religious regeneration in our country. Let us hope that the Lord will help us overcome this disastrous situation.


Fr. Georgi: I think that in our country today we have an inverted pyramid: our laymen are bolder and more active than our pastors, while the most timid segment are our hierarchs, i.e., the hierarchs are the most backward, the farthest removed from evangelization. Therefore, I think that this lay apostolate, lay preaching is just now a very topical issue.

      One small example: Zoya Krakhmalnikova, a woman who is seriously ill, who engaged precisely in evangelization. What is her Nadezhda? There are absolutely no politics in it. It is a collection of Christian readings, and so it is subtitled. This is evangelization. For this she was sentenced, She returned from exile firmly persuaded that she would not become involved in any human rights activities: I'm not going to engage in anything; I'm simply going to pray... She did not hold out, and again I recall the words which were said--if I'm not mistaken--to Radishchoy* when he returned from exile and again wrote some memorandum which he intended to present to the Tsar. They asked him reproachfully: 'What's wrong, wasn't Siberia enough for you?" I often want to put this same question to Zoya: "Zoyechka, my dear, wasn't Siberia enough for you?" The way she wrote (Fr. Gleb and I are far from agreed on this)---and she after all is only a lay person-unfortunately, not a single archpastor of ours will speak, and are there even among our pastors many who will speak or write like her? The whole world knows what she has said in her Bitter Fruits of a Sweet Captivity, written simply as her reflections on the present day's situation of the Russian Orthodox Church.


OA: What is the most critical problem facing the Church in the Soviet Union today? 

Fr. Georgi: I think that the most critical problem of the Russian Orthodox Church--not only today but in the last 60 years--is the problem of the separation of Church and State.

      The fact is that on January 20, 1918, the Soviet authorities issued a decree that had the force of law, that the Church in our country is separated from the State. At first the State crushed the Church; it tried to tear it apart from within by means, for example, of the so-called renovationist movement which was without doubt established and directed by the State. But inwardly the Patriarchal Church remained free. beginning, however, with the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, the Church gradually lost its freedom; it became a department of the state apparatus. In time this relationship solidified. When, in September 1943, Stalin allowed the legal existence of the Church, the Church's dependency on the State in creased still more. The Council of Religious Affairs was created. It was precisely this organ of the state, organ of the Party, organ of the Ministry of Public Safety, which directed the affairs of the Church.

      Since Patriarch Tikhon we have not had a single patriarch who was freely elected on the foundations established at the Local Council of 1917-18. The State interferes in the decrees of bishops; the State interferes in the ordination of priests; the State interferes in questions whose jurisdiction belongs solely with the bishops: the transfer of clergy from one parish to another. Without permission from the state bureaucrat, not a single bishop can accept a priest into his diocese. Without the permission of the plenipotentiary, not a single bishop does virtually anything in his diocese.

      In any case, what is crucial for us today is the separation of the Church from the State.

      The Church is not free in any sphere of its activity. I think that the clearest example of this is the Church’s so-called struggle for peace. For about the past thirty years we have been persistently fighting for peace. But we do only that which our government commands us to do. Not once has any hierarch--as far as I know, at least openly in the press-censured a single aggressive act of our government. For nine years our government conducted war in Afghanistan, and not one of our hierarchs raised his voice to say a word about its being a cruel, unjust war; that the Soviet Union is the aggressor; not one hierarch ever said that our Orthodox children are perishing in Afghanistan, although every priest-without exception--knows that he has served funerals for officers and soldiers, brought back from there in zinc coffins. Who of us, who of our priests raised his voice against this war? We did not do this only because the government wouldn't have it. At the same time we condemn Ronald Reagan as the firebrand of the war (the Patriarch sent him a special message): "What a bad man Ronald Reagan is, and what a good man Brezhnev is." This all goes to show that our Church is not free, that it is always creeping along in the train of our government.

       I repeat. Our primary concern is that the Church must be free from the State. First, because this is a civil law, and if the State issues some laws, then this same State is obliged to obey its laws. And second, because such is the conciliar voice of the Russian Orthodox Church. The conciliar voice of the Russian Orthodox Church has sounded only once in our country: in the so-called Solovetsk Epistle (or the Epistle of the Solovetsk Hierarchs) in 1926. And the first thesis set forth by the Solovetsk confessors is the separation of Church and State. This is the underlying purpose of this decree. Only on this condition can the Orthodox Church exist in this atheist state, which has proclaimed its principal aim to be the destruction of all religions, beginning with Orthodoxy.


Fr. Gleb:    As you know, a law passed in 1929 forbids the Church from engaging in works of charity-not only in the society at large but even among her own members. Today certain statutes of this law are no longer enforced -- specifically, those parts which benefit the government. For example, Metropolitan Pitirim is helping victims of the Afghan war. He has published reports in both the church and secular press that with the help of the Germans he is restoring the Volokolamsk Monastery (talks are now underway). He bought some houses in the neighborhood of the Volokolamsk Monastery, and there he is going to arrange for the settlement of veterans and widows of the Afghan war It is characteristic that he speaks a lot about the victims of the war, but not once has he criticized the war itself, although it is the sacred duty of the Church, in the first place, to give a moral evaluation of political affairs, especially in the case of such acute issues as the Afghan war. What is more, in the last election Metropolitan Pitirim supported the candidacy of a certain colonel Rudsky, an Afghan warhawk; he is a pilot who boasts that he is a Soviet war hero, that he flew 400 bombing missions. These bombs, of course, killed many innocent civilians. He is one of those military men who are striving for power with the intent to reverse the present course and get things back onto Stalinist tracks.

      Here's another example: The Church is conducting charitable work in some Moscow hospitals This is all very well, but one must understand the situation. The Church gives thirty million rubles a year to the Peace Fund. What is the Peace Fund? This could more accurately be called the War Fund. These monies go to support the so-called "national liberation movements" in Cuba, Nicaragua, Mozambique. At the same time, the Church hasn't enough money--and the diocesan administration hasn't the right to allocate its own money--for the restoration of churches. As you know, during the past year some one thousand churches were opened. For the most part these are in ruinous condition, having been used as warehouses and the like. Now the faithful are expected to restore them, and no money is given for this, although there is money enough for the Peace Fund, for the support of veterans of the Afghan war, for the sick... Of course, if the Church were free and in a state of well-being, if it were well off materially, it could afford to help the State. But since ours is a socialist state it should provide for social welfare, medical aid, etc. This should be the primary obligation of the government. In fact, the government throws away an enormous percentage of the county's resources on the military budget, while the Church is yoked into this program of social welfare to ease the burden of the State.

       To cite another example: the taxation of clergy The clergy is the only category remaining under the discriminatory twenty-first statute (this used to include doctors and a number of others, but they have since been moved to a more privileged status). I, for example, earn 400 rubles [per month], of which must give 180 to the government. If I earned 500 rubles, I would have to give half to the government My friend and co-worker in the human rights movement, Fr. Nicholas Galnov, refused; he can't pay the tax, and for more than a year he hasn't been paying it. He is threatened with a lawsuit. We expect this and will protest and give the case the widest possible publicity.

       Metropolitan Pitirim has tremendous financial resources. Where do these monies go? Mainly on impressing foreigners. All the guests of the Patriarchate are lavishly wined and dined; the amount spent on cognac and champagne is unbelievable. They receive expensive gifts: cameras, for example, video cassettes---of which there is such a shortage in the Soviet Union , where a single cassette costs 60 or 70 rubles. At last year's Millennium celebration, 1500 cassettes were given away to foreigners. Here's an example of external well-being. But the Metropolitan won't help repair a leaking church roof, he wont help a needy priest, and yet on foreigners he's ready to spend any amount of money. Why doesn't he turn to the Patriarch, now that he's a deputy, and ask that the government allocate a few million to help the victims of the Afghan war--it was their war, after all instead of emptying the coffers of the Church.

       These are all measures governed by the Council of Religious Affairs.

(To be continued)