Father Georgi Edelstein
The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. (Matthew 23:2)
The Corruption of the Spirit
For some decades now our [Russian] society has been seriously ill. Contrary to the night-and-day propaganda of our secular and church mass media, the decay is not rooted in economic, political, ecological, or other external factors. The most important point is that we suffer from an illness of the spirit that is unsettling and destructive of heart, soul, and mind. A century and a half ago the diagnosis was stated unmistakably: "Not flesh, but spirit is corrupt today" (Feodor Tutchev). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made it clearer at the end of the twentieth century: "People have forgotten God; that's why all this [happens]." In the twentieth century corruption multiplied one-hundred-fold. And this, only Christ can heal.
The Church's Failure to Repent
But our official Orthodox Church structure--the Moscow Patriarchate--is even more hopeless than all our society. The Moscow Patriarchate is still a little island of Brezhnev-Chernenko stagnation without any sign of recovery. There are two major reasons for its illness. First, up to the present, our church has not repented of any of the abominations of the past half century: our close cooperation with a cannibal regime, our servile eulogies to that monster of humankind Stalin, our villainous praises of "the peaceful foreign policy of the Soviet Union" that were obligatory in Easter and Christmas pastoral letters, our false witness and slander against the whole assembly of new martyrs and confessors of Russia, our complicity with the KGB in the Lvov criminals' "council" that abolished Eastern Rite Catholicism in Ukraine and drove interdenominational relations in Ukraine to a dead end, nor our justification of manifold Communist and KGB crimes, including the execution of captive Polish officers at Katyn, Poland, in 1940.
The Church teaches us that God's love is limitless, but He does not forgive everyone for everything (Matthew 12:32). Forgiveness presupposes realization of one's sin and repentance for it. The Apostle Peter "went out and wept bitterly" (Matthew 26:75); the wise thief on the cross repented; the tax collector repented; the prostitute repented--and all were forgiven. But the second thief did not repent, Herod did not repent, and Judas did not repent. Who can say for sure that all of them are forgiven? None of our bishops have repented. If in previous decades we were hiding behind our puny excuses that we were "forced," that "they made us do that," that with our lies and compromises we "saved the church," today we dare not shift blame onto external causes and circumstances.
From Persecution to Careerism
When the Bolsheviks seized power they dreamed of the physical liquidation of the majority of priests. ("All the trouble comes to us from the pope and the kulak; we should cut the fat belly of parasites with a bayonet," wrote a poet who received an apartment in the Kremlin beside those of Lenin and other Communist bosses.) They dreamed of making slaves of those who remained alive. The major instruments of conviction and indoctrination of believers in the 20s and 30s were mass executions, concentration camps, and felling timber in forced labor. In the 20s, 30s, and 40s, it is not hard to understand the Renovationist Movement, "the red popes," and the compromises such as those made by Metropolitan Sergei. You cannot require complete heroism and martyrdom from people. But in the 70s, 80s, and 90s we were not threatened by German Mausers or the Solovki Gulag. We sold out to Communists for a mess of porridge: to climb the career ladder, to ride in shiny, black-lacquer limousines, to take trips overseas, and to eat caviar and salmon at our banquets. We became not slaves, but lackeys. We voluntarily served satanists and became the nuts and bolts of the devilish machine of the Communist state.
Second, we are seriously ill because we rejected all the decisions and definitions of the All-Russia Local Council of 1917-18. Renovationist adherents declared it "bourgeois" and "reactionary" and shut it down. But we forget its work at our peril. The Council's definitions are the constitution of our church, the cornerstone of our canonical being. None of the later councils discussed or dismissed the statements of that council. After 1918 we had no councils in the true meaning of the word. The meetings of 1943, 1945, and 1970, which were called councils, were a mirror reflection of the empty-talk sessions of the Supreme Soviet, which always voted by unanimous consent, following the will of the back-stage puppeteers. The decisions of these "councils" were made and edited long before council members sang "Today the Holy Spirit's grace has brought us together." All the issues of the councils' agendas were decided by Communist organizations that were hostile to the church.
All church "documents" of the Soviet period were the product of joint cooperation between church collaborationists and bureaucrats of the nation of militant atheists. They are interesting only to illustrate the dispositions of the epoch and cannot have any force in the Orthodox Church today. None of our hierarchs have yet told us--and without a doubt will never explain--the work of the Council on Religious Affairs which, as we always believed, seemingly "forced" our hierarchs to lie and deliberately make decisions harmful to the church. They will not tell us this because church and state collaborators loved each other tenderly and worked together hand in hand like brothers.
More Sins of the Hierarchs
The senior hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate completely removed laymen and lower ranking clergy from any decision making in the church, rejecting sobornost [koinonia/spiritual communion], which is the foundational principle of Orthodoxy. All decisions were made by the Holy Synod, which was formed illegally in very flagrant violation of the 1917 Council. Archbishop Ermogen (Golubev) wrote about this more than thirty years ago. The Synod was actually analogous to the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party. Fortunately, the Politburo has vanished, but its analog is still alive and well and is not going to die. The spirit of the strictest mystery veils all its work. It totally deserves the nickname "mitropolitburo," which it received many years ago.
It is not a secret to anyone that in the years of Soviet rule the KGB and the Ideological Department of the Communist Party made all decisions concerning career advancements for church hierarchs. This was one means of suppressing the church because the worst were allowed to advance. Almost all our present regular members of the Holy Synod were put in the highest church ranks in the years of the severe persecutions of the Khrushchev anti-religious campaign and their names are commonly known.
Courageous Voices Suppressed
Archbishop Ermogen wrote about one such smart-aleck who became metropolitan of Kyiv and a regular member of the Holy Synod only because during Khrushchev's outrage he closed more than 100 churches in a single diocese, closed a cathedral in another, and liquidated this diocese itself. But Ermogen did not allow the godless to close any of the churches in his diocese and that is why the Holy Synod (not government bureaucrats!) punished him; they gave him no choice but to retire. But even in the monastery they did not allow him to rest. The Holy Synod called the archbishop before a session presided over by the current Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II. He insisted that Ermogen answer clearly and directly: "Can you as a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church and a citizen of the Soviet Union allow your 'inquiries' to be used in the dirty struggle against the Soviet Union and our Church?" After this session Alexii addressed certain state organs and insistently asked them "to invite Archbishop Ermogen to Moscow and have a conversation with him to quench his fire."
It was very important for Alexii "to quench the fire" of another Orthodox dissident, Boris Talantov, a teacher in Viatka. He dared to state that in the Soviet Union the law on freedom of conscience was being violated: "The first hierarchs of the Church: Metropolitan Pimen, Metropolitan Nikodim, and the most holy Alexii are coworkers in the dirty plot," he wrote. "The responsibility for the massive closing of churches lies with the Moscow Patriarchate together with the [government] Department of Russian Orthodox Church Affairs." And again, "The highest princes of the Church--Nikodim, Pimen, Alexii--directed and direct all work of the Patriarchate. From their activities and speeches you can see the role of the Patriarchate in the anti-religious campaign of 1959-64." For this "evil slander" Talantov was sentenced to three years in a gulag labor camp and died on a hard prison bed. In this irreconcilable argument, without a doubt, I take the side of Metropolitan Kirill, Archbishop Ermogen, Fr. Nikolai Eshliman, and layman Boris Talantov against Metropolitans Sergii, Pimen, Nikodim, and Alexii.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that for decades very many "progressive" church leaders of Europe and America actively supported our "princes of the Church" and sowed the lie and false information about "freedom of conscience" in the U.S.S.R. all over the world. None of them have repented up to the present.
A Need for Cleansing
For more than 14 years now the whole world has been captivated by "the regeneration and healing process in the Orthodox Church in Russia" and questions, "Should we forgive or forget?" Our hierarchs served the KGB with zeal, were toadies of the Communist regime, slandered the new martyrs and confessors of Russia, and bathed themselves in unaffordable luxury, "eating the houses of the widows." Did they "save the Church?" Are they our heroes whose deeds do not need to be forgiven? I contend that their "heroic deeds" will not be forgotten. Many years ago Professor A.V. Kartashev wrote, "There is a repulsive caricature of false harmony [and] false union behind the Iron Curtain. Everything that transpires there needs to be dismissed and cleansed." Kartashev was mistaken: While the Communist dictatorship fell, the Patriarchate has not been cleansed. It safely survived a miraculous moment in its history and remains as it was shaped by Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev. And we, the members of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church are quite satisfied with this Orthodox parody on regeneration and healing according to the Communist recipe of day before yesterday.
Father Georgi Edelstein is a Russian Orthodox priest serving the Church of the Resurrection, Karabanovo, Kostroma Diocese, Russia.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report