Protopriest Peter Perekrestov
The Church in Russia Today
Your Eminences, Your Graces, Dear Brethren Pastors in Christ!
I believe that the lecturers from Russia can speak on the life of the Church in Russia better than I. For this reason I will limit myself with a few general remarks for consideration on this topic. In order to speak of the Church in Russia, we must define what we mean by this term. Do we mean the clergy and the flock living on the territory of the former Soviet Union who are under the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate, or do we mean only the hierarchy of the official Church in the Russian Federation, omitting the clergy and flock from this definition? Can we say that the hierarchy and the flock are divided, that the hierarchy stands alone and that the flock has no connection with it? We often hear that the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate is not on a lofty level, and that the flock is fully Orthodox. But the flock in Russia does not consider itself anything other than that of the Patriarchate.
If life in our little Russian Church Abroad differs from one diocese to another, and moreover that life in one parish is different than that of another, then one cannot be surprised if in the vast country of Russia, church life is varied. That is why it is impossible to make a judgment on church life in the MP based on Moscow alone, or by one diocese alone, or by clergymen alone. Church life in the MP is very inconsistentóif there are exemplary monasteries, priests and parishes, there are also unfortunate, even horrifying, ones.
In evaluating church life in Russia, we should also take into account our own objectivity, or lack thereof, and our expectation in regard to the level and tempo of its healing, as well as the character of church life in our Homeland. If we expect too much, if our sights are set too high, we will always find faults, there will always be things and events for us to criticize and raise our demands. Conversely, if we are too na’ve, too superficial, the danger exists for us to accept as true only what we wish to believe.
The Church in Russia is many-layered and multifaceted. The Holy Synod of the MP has one face, the Office of External Affairs has another, the leading clergymen and deans of Moscow yet another, the many monasteries and pilgrims have another still, etc. We might perceive a purely governmental structure in one area of the Moscow Patriarchate, and in another we might sense Holy Russia. The difference is not only on a vertical axis, but horizontally as well: one diocese may have a more liberal spirit, another, strictly Orthodox, both on the part of the clergy and the flock, and on the part of the diocesan bishop. The faces of the Moscow Patriarchate may change depending on circumstances, on locationóthe Moscow Patriarchate of, let us say, Vladimir oblast' is entirely different from that of Germany or Jerusalem.
Besides the variabilities within the Church in Russia itself, one cannot ignore the fact that the Soviet system, Soviet life and Soviet morals have left their mark on almost every resident of the Russian Federation. Seventy years is long enough to make a powerful impression on a person, to re-educate him, to instill in him a new value system. When we talk about the Church in Russia, this must be taken into account. Sometimes difficulties, troubles and changes are due not only to the life of the Church in Russia but to the ills of Soviet society. Sometimes they overlap, and it is difficult to determine the cause of some ailments in church life in Russia: is it from the Church or from Soviet society? We do not say this with recrimination, for the circumstances in which a person lives necessarily leave their mark, sometimes a profound mark. Does not our flock in the West suffer from the sickness of democracy?
If we consider the positives, I believe we must also note the following: firstly, any Orthodox visitor to Russia can testify to the amount of church literature published. Despite the fact that Russians find it hard to make ends meet, the number of church books grows annually. It is obvious that many books are published carefully, with great love and with great benefit (it pleases us that the first two volumes of the Life of Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky] were just published in Russia). Publishing activity cannot but encourage and elate every Orthodox Christian. Now the shelves of our church bookstores abroad are filled with Russian publications.
The second point is the involvement of young people and children in parish life. This is in fact the first generation which could freely attend church, participate in divine services and access church books. When these children, reared in the church from the cradle, grow to adulthood, they will be qualitatively different than their parents, who were raised in a militantly atheistic state.
The third consideration is the activity of many parishes that reach beyond divine services. Some are helping hospitals, others--old-age homes; some are involved in icon-painting, others--in church singing. In Moscow, for example, there is a Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Totalitarian Sects.
The fourth phenomenon is that the Church in Russia is attempting, and sometimes succeeding, to respond to contemporary issues, beginning with the relation of the Church and culture and ending with the attitude of the Church towards cloning. Such responses are a sign that the church organism is alive.
All the above bears witness to genuine church life.
There are many negative aspects in the life of the Church in Russia, and they are discussed at length in Russia itself, both by the clergy and by active people of the church. These include the education of the clergy, superstitions, inexperienced “elders,” ritualism, politicization…Some circles even avow so-called “Orthodox Stalinism” and there is a movement to canonize Ivan Grozny [the Terrible”] and Rasputin. The connection of some representatives of the Church with certain, let us say, “suspicious” representatives of the world of Russian business and politics may cause concern. Also, as far as I know, there is no Ecclesiastical Court in Russia. In fact, there is no one to turn to, no appeal process. As a result, there is often a chasm between the hierarchy and the rank-and-file clergy and the faithful as a result of the inaccessibility of the bishops.
If we ask the question: “What will the Church be like in Russia in the future?” we can respond: the future, or at least the part of it that mankind can control, will depend on people. As go the bishops and clergy, so goes the Church.
If we ask what hope there is for the Church in Russia, it would be best to say: “For Russia, there is no other hope but the Church.” Save us, O Lord!