East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 10, No. 4, Fall 2002, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

The "Orthodoxation" of Russia

Sergei Markedonov

An active discussion is underway regarding the transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church of lands belonging to it before 1917.  A meeting between the keepers of throne and altar, President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Alexis II, became the center of attention.  And all this has occurred against a backdrop of a stormy discussion of the introduction into the curriculum of "Foundations of Orthodox Culture" which is already being vigorously taught to spiritually weak souls in Moscow, Smolensk, and other provinces.

Without an effective market economy, Russia will be doomed to play catch-up with Portugal and Brazil.  The market realities have been recognized by even the leaders and activists of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and smaller "leftist" associations.  For the better part of the Russian Orthodox Church, this is not such an obvious good.  Has anybody heard approving words from the lips of hierarchs about privatization and liberalization of prices, to say nothing of entrepreneurship, personal success, and wealth as positive factors?  The view of the events of the 1990s as the "fall of a great state" dominates the statements of church leaders.  But, after all, it is to a great extent thanks to the democratization of the past 10 years that the Russian Orthodox Church gained the social status it possesses today.

The church institutions of Spain found the strength to repent for cooperation with the regime of Franco.  European Catholics were able to work out the principles of "theology after Auschwitz" and have critically reevaluated their role in the tragedy of the Holocaust.  Alas, reflection is not the strong suit of the contemporary Russian Orthodox Church.  Our hierarchs, who made their careers during the Soviet period, do not want to repent for cooperation with the Communist--not simply cannibalistic but also atheistic--regime.  They are happily engaged in a search for ideological opponents and they succeed in finding them in the person of competitors on their own religious field--Catholics, Protestants, and "sectarians."  This is where church isolationism, xenophobia, and defensive tendencies arise.

The possibility of going to an Orthodox church, a mosque, or a synagogue should be exercised by each individual at the prompting of his own conscience and not from a wise bureaucrat or religious hierarch.  The attempt to replace godless atheism with "orthodoxism" imposed from above will have only one consequence: the growth of atheistic sentiments and a rejection not of church attendance but of religion as such.

Sergei Markedonov is head of the Ethnic Relations Problems Group in the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, Moscow, Russia. He holds the candidate degree in historical sciences.

Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Paul Steeves, PDS Russia Religion News (www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews).  Translated from "Dangers of Church Power; Plus the Orthodoxation of the Whole Country," Vremia MN, 31 July 2002.

Sergei Markedonov, "The 'Orthodoxation' of Russia," East-West Church & Ministry Report 10 (Fall 2002), 12.

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© 2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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