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Putin At Church

A reader sent me a link to this Cathy Young piece [1] about the troubling relationship between Russian president Vladimir Putin and the resurgent Russian Orthodox Church, asking me for comment. Cathy Young writes:

All this is a far cry from theocracy, even if disturbing examples of religious coercion are common. (Last spring, REN-TV did a report on kids being pressured into baptism at a summer camp for the children of railway employees.) It is, rather, an unequal tandem of a cynically pious state and a cynically servile church.

Of course, subservience to state power is an old tradition for the Russian Orthodox Church; it started under the czars—particularly after the 1700s, when Peter the Great effectively reduced the church to a subordinate branch of government—and continued under the Soviets, when the church was brought back from near-obliteration as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet regime and the KGB.

That dark legacy lives on in the present-day church. In 1992 a parliamentary investigative commission co-chaired by Father Gleb Yakunin, an Orthodox priest and Soviet-era dissident, released KGB files exposing a vast network of collaborators among clerics, particularly at the highest levels. (Shortly afterward, Yakunin was defrocked, supposedly for violating church discipline through his political activity.) One of those collaborators, code-named Mikhailov, was almost certainly Kirill himself. In the 1970s, the future Patriarch, then an up-and-coming church official, traveled regularly abroad for conferences where he participated in the Soviet “struggle for peace” and pooh-poohed claims about religious persecution in the USSR.

Compared to Soviet times, the church today enjoys a far more exalted status. Yet there is no doubt as to which side dominates in the church-state “partnership.” A few days before the Pussy Riot verdict, a clip from a Russian newscast made a splash on the Internet: On a visit to a historic monastery, a startled Putin shrank back when the abbot bowed and moved to kiss his hand. Russian media outlets treated the abbot’s abasement as a comical gaffe, and he later apologized for his inappropriate zeal; but many Russians saw the gesture as a fitting bit of symbolism.

Young cites polling data showing that huge numbers of Russians who claim to be Orthodox also say they don’t believe in God. Abortion remains state-funded and commonplace. Russian popular culture, Young writes, is “sex-saturated” to an extent that Westerners find “jarring.” She brings up the case of a wealthy Russian pop star who got all Orthodox in denouncing the impiety of Pussy Riot, but who bore a child out of wedlock with her lover, whom she recently left. Young:

What kind of Christians are these? Ones for whom, writes Kommersant columnist Konstantin Eggert, Orthodox Christianity is “a new ideology to replace ‘the moral code of the builder of communism’—a quaint mix of ill-understood rituals, well-studied conspiracy theories, rote- memorized rules and state-backed patriotism.” Some Orthodox ideologues freely concede this communist lineage. Discussing the Pussy Riot verdict on a radio show, Roman Silantiev, an official in the church-sponsored activist organization the Russian People’s Assembly, predicted that the controversy would draw more “patriotic-minded people” to the church because Russia’s enemies were lined up on the other side. “Just as they used to say ‘anti-Soviet’ meaning ‘Russia-hater,’ they are now saying that anyone who hates the Russian Orthodox Church hates Russia,” Silantiev said. “These are the people who will make the church stronger.”

Religion as nationalism — a deadly enemy of the Gospel, in Russia and in every nation!

The religious situation in Russia is complicated, of course, and though I strongly prefer the American model of separation of church and state, I don’t think that’s the only acceptable way to do things. The complexities of religion in Russia causes me to hesitate to make pronouncements, and I am in the habit of deferring to my faithful Russian Orthodox friends — emigres and in Russia — who have a profound skepticism, bordering on visceral disgust, of the Russian religious establishment and its relationship to the State. These men are serious about their faith, and know Russian politics. If they say the situation is appalling, I believe them.

Their concern is my concern, which is not for the integrity of the State, but for the integrity of the Church and its witness to a society and culture traumatized by seven decades of militant atheism. The thing is, as outrageous as this kind of thing is, it is by no means historically anomalous; our American model is the historical anomaly. Christians found ways to be faithful even when the Church — Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant — kissed the ring of the King, Emperor, or Prince. They had to. Wheat, tares. It is one thing for a believer to suffer for the Church; it is another thing to suffer from the Church, and it requires developing a conscience as subtle as it is strong.

Anyway, if there’s one hard lesson I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that a Christian has to be extremely careful to protect himself from expecting too much from senior religious leadership. Or anything at all.

34 Comments (Open | Close)

34 Comments To "Putin At Church"

#1 Comment By M_Young On January 4, 2013 @ 11:30 am

“Religion as nationalism — a deadly enemy of the Gospel, in Russia and in every nation!”

Oh please. In Poland? In Ireland? In [2]

#2 Comment By Cbalducc On January 4, 2013 @ 11:33 am

Why does Orthodoxy have to be prefaced with a nationality – Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, etc.? Why not simply be “Orthodox”?

#3 Comment By Gavin On January 4, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

This kind of thing drives me crazy. From the liberation from state-as-cult in Egypt to the rebuke of Israel’s demand for a king to Christ’s invitation to transcendent intimacy in and with the Godhead, the biblical tradition constantly warns against the identification of faith with power and group or national identity politics.

One of the most striking memories I have of my father is when he requested the removal of the Canadian flag from within the sanctuary of our Presbyterian church.

#4 Comment By Andrew On January 4, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

Without understanding of the soviet past, and i stress–in all of its complexity–it will be very difficult to understand what is going on right now. Sadly, the expert field on the subject is very narrow and is impeded by the ideological approaches.

[Note from Rod: I’d love to read your further thoughts on the role the Soviet past plays in making the present, re: church-state relations. — RD]

#5 Comment By David J. White On January 4, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

Why does Orthodoxy have to be prefaced with a nationality – Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, etc.? Why not simply be “Orthodox”?

I’m a Catholic sympathetic to Orthodoxy, so I understand your objection, but isn’t that just the way Orthodoxy is organized? Autocephalous national churches? According to Orthodox friends — and I’m sure Rod can speak to this much more knowledgeably than I can — that presents a big problem for Orthodox unity in this country, because all the ethnic congregations are under their own bishops. When different Catholic ethnic groups came to this country, they were at least under the same bishop (often Irish, which caused its own problems).

One of the most striking memories I have of my father is when he requested the removal of the Canadian flag from within the sanctuary of our Presbyterian church.

I’m curious, Gavin: what was the result of your father’s request?

Catholic churches in the US display both US and Papal flags. I’ve read that this display of the US flag dates to WWII (as does, I think, the singing of the National Anthem at sporting events.).

#6 Comment By Bryan On January 4, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

Ms. Young’s concrete examples of this “troubling relationship” seem to boil down to a couple arguably-significant occurrences: Some abbot in some monastery kisses Putin’s hand (and even Putin is taken aback.) And some Russian pop star who denounced Pussy Riot had a child out of wedlock. Frankly, I’m on Russia’s side.

Let’s be clear on something: the people who comprise this “Pussy Riot” nonsense are leftist fools and troublemakers. They were spawned by some “collective” of anarchist idiots.
Sample Pussy Riot lyrics: “Patriarch Gundyayev [Kirill’s secular name] believes in Putin; try believing in God instead, scumbag!” And since being imprisoned they have not exactly found much common cause among their “fellow” poor and downtrodden in Russia’s prison system:

“In November 2012, Alyokhina requested to be voluntarily placed in solitary confinement, citing “strained relations” with her fellow prisoners. Tolokonnikova also has experienced friction with inmates at IK-14, who have regarded her “at best with contempt, at worst with hostility”, according to a report by Aleksey Baranovsky, Coordinator of the Human Rights Center.”

Finally, this “Levada Center,” which is responsible for the claim that 30% (hardly “huge numbers,” Rod) of self-described Orthodox Russians do not believe in God, is quite an ethereal institution in and of itself. Its polls are referred to by a couple media sites but its actual data and methodology are not available on its own website except for a price. Their website is mostly dead links. Its “senior staff have been trained in the USA and Western Europe. The research team has been conducting regular public opinion polls across the country since 1988.” And they are “guided by the principles of WAPOR and ESOMAR,” a couple of phantom post-WW2 public-opinion think tanks. Bottom line is that Levada seems to be basically a Western spook organization. Even if their numbers are accurate they are not at all unusual or startling.

Sorry, but as a first-hand witness to the Soviet-style slow-motion destruction of all that is good and traditional in America, I can’t find it in my heart to join in the condemnation of Russia’s emerging trends. Haters gon’ hate. God bless Russia and her Church.

[Note from Rod: You may not remember this, because you may not have been reading my blog then, but I had, and have, no sympathy for Pussy Riot. If they had held their protest outside of the cathedral, it would have been a different story. However, I think the Church behaved badly in all that, and one doesn’t have to be a PR fan to believe that the cozy relationship between the Church and the State in Russia has not been good for the Church — which, as an Orthodox Christian, is all that really matters to me here. — RD]

#7 Comment By Masy On January 4, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

“Why does Orthodoxy have to be prefaced with a nationality – Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, etc.? Why not simply be “Orthodox”?”

My very simple layman’s understanding is that it relates to history. Each Orthodox church reflects the history and culture of its nation, though certain features of liturgy and practice are shared. It also distinguishes the Orthodox church from the Roman Catholic church, which claims universality even in its name.

And then there are the Eastern Catholic/Uniate Churches..

#8 Comment By Andrew On January 4, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

[Note from Rod: I’d love to read your further thoughts on the role the Soviet past plays in making the present, re: church-state relations. — RD]

It will be my pleasure, Rod, whenever I will have the time (I’ll make some), but my post is not just about church-state relations, it is wider–it is about formation of Russian national psyche beyond well-known facts of enormous emotional and physical trauma of WWII or of the role of gulag. In general, even today, Russia is still unknown nation in the United States. Partially, it is because Americans don’t care (and it is quite all right), but mostly because, as I stated earlier, the true expert field on Russia is very narrow in the West and as ideological as was Ideological Department of CPSU. What is being “extracted” on the Russian side (today the flow of information and ideas is absolutely unimpeded) by American “experts” is mostly from the sources which “fit” desirable format–enough to mention ad nauseam presence in (American) media of opinions of such military “expert” as (I mentioned him before elsewhere) Pavel Falgenhauer (degree in biology with thesis on tape worms), or constant pressing of the news about so called Russian “liberal opposition”, which is not “liberal”, not an opposition, represents a tiny minority of population and is no less corrupt than the state itself. The issue is what are Russian people and what Soviet period did to them both good and bad. Final westernization of historic Russia came not through reforms of Tzars but through Bolshevism (and its later permutations), it all happened in Soviet times, especially after WWII. I have to agree also with the assessment of Russians being mostly secular people with Russian Orthodox Church playing role of the national, first and foremost, institution and a distant secondary–a religious one.

#9 Comment By VikingLS On January 4, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

“Russian popular culture, Young writes, is “sex-saturated” to an extent that Westerners find “jarring.” ”

If by Westerner she means “Americans” she’s probably right. Russian TV shows some nudity after 10 pm and nightclubs often have a midnight strip show. Compared to things I saw in Denmark, (for example a city bus ad with a couple engaged in sex act on the side, full female frontal nudity on ads on the sidewalk) Russians look prudish.

Parish life in Russia has about as much to do with the hierarchy in Russia as it does here. I know I keep saying this but really, if you want to keep writing about the Russian Orthodox church you need to visit Russia. Right now you’re like a Russian trying to write about college football in America based on the local American football teams (Moscow has a city team but they’re amateurs who play on the weekend) , news articles about the NCAA, and the opinions of American ex-pats.

Separation of church and state has not prevented American evangelical churches from being extremely nationalistic about US interests and doubly so about Israeli interests.

[Note from Rod: I don’t write often about Russian Orthodoxy, which is why I am careful here to note how little I know, and on what basis I form my opinions. This is why I appreciate hearing from readers who know more. I know you have lived in Russia, so I invite you to help me and other readers learn from your experiences. — RD]

#10 Comment By Bryan On January 4, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

Yes, but Rod, I can’t hep but feel that after seeing the course of events in other countries, the Church is somewhat justified in cozying up to the State. Experience and observation tells me that apparently the only other option is for Christians to suffer political persecution into social marginalization if not oblivion. In 2009 Crucifixes were banned in Italian schools by a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. Most Italians did not agree with this “ruling” but rolled over and played dead for it anyway.

The fact is that you will never be able to legislate or govern anybody into either sincere piety or fervent disbelief. Without subscribing to outright Calvinist pre-destination, I still believe that individuals are born with immortal souls, some of which are more inclined to genuine religious piety and some more inclined to disbelief.

And it is quite clear at this historical moment that those inclined to disbelief are just as willing, if not more so, to use force and dishonesty to impose their way of thinking on believers. That is the trend in Europe and America, and it is far more troubling to me.

As an Orthodox sympathizer, I see nothing happening in Russia that would preclude any individual from following a true, genuine calling into religious life or worship, nor even a harbinger of such a climate. Yet I see harbingers of genuine persecution of Christian believers in my own country. Which should concern me more?

#11 Comment By niccolo and donkey On January 4, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

Rod, a good relationship between Church and State in Russia is necessary. The separation of church and state in the West has been shown to be a complete disaster and is why conservatives will continuously lose on all issues in the long run.

Russia has entered an age of hypermaterialism after seven decades of Marxism. This materialism needs to be tempered by the Church and that needs state support.

#12 Comment By David J. White On January 4, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

And then there are the Eastern Catholic/Uniate Churches..

The Orthodox also have their own Uniates: churches that are in communion with the Orthodox Church but which are Western in liturgy and culture. Some of them, at least, call themselves Western Orthodox. A friend of mine in graduate school, raised Catholic (and very active in the campus Newman Center) ended up joining an Old Catholic Church (which broke from the RCC after Vatican I) which entered into communion with the Orthodox Antiochan Archdiocese. Their liturgy is essentially, mutatis mutandis, the Tridentine Mass (which they call the Liturgy of St. Gregory) in the vernacular. Last I’d heard, he’d been ordained a deacon.

#13 Comment By VikingLS On January 4, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

@Cbalducc

That basically relates to the geographic location of the Patriarch or Metropolitan one is under. We don’t have a single executive. The beliefs and practices are supposed to be the same from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We are supposed to be simply “Orthodox”.

Unfortunately the various jurisdictions often come with baggage and quirks of their own and the church can end up being treated as cultural artifact, but that’s not how its supposed to be.

#14 Comment By tmatt On January 4, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

Rod, may I offer this link to a column long ago — after a visit to Russia.

[3]

Key slice:

Two weeks after the 1991 upheaval that ended the Soviet era, I visited Moscow and talked privately with several veteran priests.

It’s impossible to understand the modern Russian church, one said, without grasping that it has four different kinds of leaders. A few Soviet-era bishops are not even Christian believers. Some are flawed believers who were lured into compromise by the KGB, but have never publicly confessed this. Some are believers who cooperated with the KGB, but have repented to groups of priests or believers. Finally, some never had to compromise.

“We have all four kinds,” this priest said. “That is our reality. We must live with it until God heals our church.”

#15 Comment By Chris Jones On January 4, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

Why does Orthodoxy have to be prefaced with a nationality – Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, etc.? Why not simply be “Orthodox”?

A good question, but one that actually has a good theological and historical answer.

In Orthodox ecclesiology, the Church is always local and always conciliar. The basic unit of the Church is the diocese, which is comprised of all of the congregations in a particular locality, under the headship of a bishop. An authentic Orthodox Church is a Church for a particular place, shepherded by a bishop who is responsible for preaching the Gospel and for the pastoral care of souls in that particular place.

But an individual bishop governing an individual diocese might very well go astray and start preaching his own opinions rather than the orthodox Gospel; and so each local diocese and each local bishop has to be accountable to the wider Church for the rightness of his teaching and practice. In Orthodoxy, that accountability takes the form of membership in, and obedience to, a council of bishops in the surrounding area. The area covered by that wider council often, but not always, corresponds to the borders of a particular nation-state.

So terms like “Russian Orthodox”, “Greek Orthodox”, “Bulgarian Orthodox”, and so forth, simply refer to geographical areas within which the Orthodox Church is governed by a particular synod of bishops. It doesn’t always correspond to a single nation, nor even a single ethnic or linguistic group. For example, the Church of Antioch and the Church of Jerusalem both serve Arabic-speaking Orthodox, but they are two separate synods; and the Church of Alexandria (in Egypt) serves Orthodox Christians in all of Africa, comprising a wide variety of ethnicities and languages.

#16 Comment By VikingLS On January 4, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

Rod 3 posts on Russia, all of which involved the church, in the space of a week seems like a lot to me.

The thing which must be understood about Russia, like any place, is that a lot of very normal things happen every day. That extends to parish life as well. A lot of that parish life is beautiful and humble while also rich and vibrant. Like here there are plenty of people who only show up to church at Christmas and Easter but there are plenty of people in those churches on Sunday too. (I have a smallish cathedral near my apartment in Saint Petersbug. I’d estimate there’s around 70 to 100 people there on a normal Sunday but close to 1000 there on Pascha.)

I am also going to second what Andrew said, it is VERY difficult to get a feel for what’s happening in Russia because the Russia “experts” in the west have agendas of their own. Remember if one wants one can depict our own country as endlessly virtuous or endlessly decadent and corrupt. The same is true of Russia.

And then there’s this

“In the web space groups of church liberals and conservatives are appearing that are not looking for the truth, divine truth but a means of finding fault, stinging each other. This is a very sad tendency,”

Patriarch Kirill

[4]

#17 Comment By Chris Jones On January 4, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

The Orthodox also have their own Uniates: churches that are in communion with the Orthodox Church but which are Western in liturgy and culture.

The idea that Western-rite Orthodox are “Orthodox Uniates” is a common misconception, but it is not true. An Eastern Catholic Church (the so-called “Uniates” — a term which the Eastern Catholics themselves don’t much like) is a quasi-independent Church whose bishops are not appointed by the Pope*, and which governs itself rather than being governed directly by Rome. There is no equivalent to this in the Orthodox Church. Western-rite Orthodox parishes are individual congregations which are part of the same diocese and are governed by the same bishop as the neighboring “regular” (Eastern-rite) Orthodox congregations. There are no Western-rite bishops and no Western-rite synods of bishops. Western-rite Orthodox priests serve under the authority of the local Eastern-rite bishop.

* I believe that the Pope signs off on the appointment of Eastern Catholic bishops, but he does not appoint them on his own initiative.

#18 Comment By Leo On January 4, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

You want to trust Cathy Young of Reason Magazine to write an unbiased or even informed piece on anyone’s Christianity, go for it. The majority of Russian Orthodox indeed do believe in God; I suspect Young’s polling data is just fake. Any Westerner alive since 1950 is assuredly not “jarred” by a supposedly “sex-saturated” Russia. Only someone who spent their visit solely in Moscow nightclubs would come up with that. The ROC remains more respected than either the government or opposition. Young’s piece parrots the neo-con complaints about the sinister ROC. Go over to the Center for Defense of Democracies site and a similar screed from a Mr. Lee is appearing now. Here’s the deal: every year Putin is supposed to be overthrown and he’s not. Since the 90s, and the infamous New Republic hit piece on the ROC ,the Church has been in conflict with “real” Christianity and conspiring with extreme “nationalists”. Yada, yada. You can go on and print another hundred more screeds every month and ROC and a nationalist Russia just keep on strengthening. At least for any foreseeable future. You need new sources if you’re falling for this decades old wrong narrative Young joined on. Decades old now. (And if I’m wrong, but I’m not, I’ll get new sources). Also no Russian passport for Dreher, so pay your taxes.

#19 Comment By VikingLS On January 4, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

From tmatt’s link

” you will find ice-cold parishes and others that are vital and alive, in the same city or town. …”

This is true, although overall I’ve found more parishes close to the latter.

#20 Comment By soren On January 4, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

” our American model is the historical anomaly”

Our American model is a failure and you should know this Rod.

#21 Comment By David J. White On January 4, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

Western-rite Orthodox parishes are individual congregations which are part of the same diocese and are governed by the same bishop as the neighboring “regular” (Eastern-rite) Orthodox congregations.

Interesting. Thank you for the correction. From your description, it sounds as if the closest Catholic equivalents to Western-rite Orthodox parishes would be traditional parishes run by the FSSP (and other authorized traditional societies) and Anglican-use parishes, both of which are liturgically distinct but are generally under the authority of the local Latin-rite bishop (though the new Anglican Ordinariates add an additional wrinkle in that regard).

#22 Comment By Andrew On January 4, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

Why does Orthodoxy have to be prefaced with a nationality – Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, etc.? Why not simply be “Orthodox”?

A very important question. Consider this historical fact: Russians did not have their own nation-state. Russians proper, from the get go, were imperial people. For centuries it was Russian expansion into the areas of a cultures drastically different if not antagonistic to Russian one. None other than Friedrich Engels noted:”Despite her Slavic dirt and baseness Russia does provide civilizing influence on Asia”. Russian Orthodox Church for many Russians (I am not going to go now into the depth of the problems related to the imperial multiculturalism), even for those who hardly could be called believers, is in some sense a surrogate in their longing for the nation-state of “Russian” Russians, not imperial Russians. Remember that proper name of Russia was Russian Empire. Russians are tired of the empire. I do not know about Bulgarian or Greek Orthodoxy, though. But for generations upon generations of Russians, Russian Orthodoxy became to a degree their almost ethnic identity, no matter how many people (and there were many) of non-Russian origin converted to Orthodoxy. In general, there could be no simple answer to this question.

#23 Comment By Jamie O’Neill On January 4, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

“Anyway, if there’s one hard lesson I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that a Christian has to be extremely careful to protect himself from expecting too much from senior religious leadership. Or anything at all.”

Or, to put it into your sister’s terms: “You liked the cheese; now you must learn how it was made.”

#24 Comment By Joseph D’Hippolito On January 4, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

Our American model is a failure and you should know this Rod.

Really, soren? Would you rather go back to the good ol’ days, when a European monarch of Christian Denomination X lent full support to the persecution of subjects from Christian Denomination Y? Would you prefer a model in which the State contributes to Church financial support (such as the Kirschensteuer in Germany?), thereby making the Church dependent on the State for support?

May I remind you, soren, that the “American model” includes the idea that God gave humanity inalienable rights that no government can take away, one of which is the freedom to worship? May I remind you that such an idea has brought many people to this nation to escape the persecution from state-supported churches? May I remind you that those people made massive contributions to this nation’s development?

How fortunate Americans are, and how little they appreciate their freedom!

#25 Comment By Joseph D’Hippolito On January 4, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

Dreher: Religion as nationalism — a deadly enemy of the Gospel, in Russia and in every nation!”

M. Young: Oh please. In Poland? In Ireland? In France for that matter.

M. Young, may I assume you’re Catholic? If so, may I remind you of Cromwell’s England or Calvin’s Geneva? How well did Catholics fare in those climes?

You cite Ireland. I take it you never heard of the Irish Republican Army or the Orangemen or “the Troubles.”

You cite France. I take it you never heard of the Huguenots or the Edict of Nantes.

My final point: What do any of the above examples have to do with Jesus, the Holy Spirit or the Father…except as outright disobedience to same?

#26 Comment By cecelia On January 5, 2013 @ 1:14 am

The relationship between Putin and the Church is fascinating to me -glad to see Rod writing about it. I have no expertise – just what I have been reading lately. But it seems Putin has been saying quite a few things about rejecting the European model of society – especially it’s hedonism and irreligious character.

It seems to me that Russia (and I would also like to hear more of Andrew’s comments on this) is kind of inventing itself again – coming to terms with the modern world and capitalist type economics – rediscovering its Imperial past and trying to deal with it’s Communist past too. Plus there are some very modern problems plaquing them – heroin addiction is resulting in somewhere around 30,000 deaths from over dose a year, HIV infection is problematic, and birth rates are dicey. So the notion that faith is an important element in holding a society together and tempering the effects m aterialism is something that Putin is supporting. Something startling has recently happened – the former Soviet Red Army now has orthodox chaplains and calls for muslim chaplains as well.

Stalin replaced religion with a belief in the state – so maybe now that the monolithic soviet style state is no longer the thing – religion has to make a comeback.

#27 Comment By Joseph D’Hippolito On January 5, 2013 @ 2:23 am

tennvols87, no “established church” can provide, let alone guarantee salvation. Only faith in Jesus Christ can do that.

#28 Comment By Joseph D’Hippolito On January 5, 2013 @ 2:30 am

Besides, tennvols87. if you want examples of how “established churches” behave, just look at Islam in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Also, I suggest that you read some American history. The Founding Fathers did not want to establish a state church because they knew all too well that a young, fragile nation — and only one-third of the colonists supported the Revolution at its beginning — would bleed itself dry with sectarian warfare, as Europe had done.

“Religiosity” is not nearly the same as ethics or morals. In fact, many “religious” people worship their confessional and theological identity as a god instead of the God they claim to worship!

#29 Comment By Peter On January 5, 2013 @ 6:29 am

Hi Rod, I think it might be useful to respond to Ms. Young’s assertions one at a time. I hope you will forgive me for a rather long post….

“The biggest news story out of Russia in 2012 was not Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May. It was the trial of three young women from the guerrilla-girl punk band Pussy Riot, charged with “hate-motivated hooliganism” for a protest performance in a Moscow church.” As a feminist and libertarian, Ms. Young’s fury over that case is not a surprise. However, she continues to pretend that her outrage is shared by the people of Russia. It is not. As Forbes Magazine pointed out (glumly, I might add) only 5% of Russians supported releasing the “ladies” in question without punishment; [5]

“The prosecution,…. was condemned by figures ranging from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Icelandic singer Bjork to Polish former president and dissident Lech Walesa,” Sure it was, but it was also supported by every major religious figure (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) in Russia and by no less than Pope Benedict 16th himself. This case was very much a showdown between radical secularists and religious believers; [6]

“The case looked and felt like something out of the Dark Ages.” Except that the law in question resembles similar laws in Germany, Poland and many other European nations.

“Authorities were nervous about the flood of post-Soviet missionaries from abroad and the massive crowds that turned out for Rev. Billy Graham’s historic 1993 trip to Moscow.” Half true, many Russians were deeply offended by the flood of well funded Western missionaries they felt were “sheep stealing” from the historic Faith which had suffered so much under the Communists. As for Graham, not true at all. Rev. Graham is highly regarded because he directed all who answered his famous “altar call” to Orthodox priests he had specifically invited to assist him at his event. He remains deeply admired by most Russian Orthodox clergy and laity (even if his theology is considered heterodox or simplistic).

“Today, less favored faiths endure routine discrimination and abuse: Last September, the evangelical Church of the Holy Trinity in Moscow was bulldozed into rubble after the city refused to renew its land-use permit; church belongings, including costly audio equipment, were carted away by the demolition team.” Actually the “church” in question was squatting on land it did not own and that was slated for development into a sports mall. The demolition was a city matter, poorly handled I agree, but that had nothing to do with either Putin or the ROC; [7]

“..the thought of an active-duty KGB officer wearing a cross is hilarious to anyone with rudimentary knowledge of Soviet society.” President Putin has always been clear that he was not a believer until his family, barely, escaped a fire at their summer home in 1996 (I believe). The thought of a kgb agent wearing a cross as either a decoration or because it was a gift from a relative is eminently believable and wasn’t even uncommon. Particularly if one kept the matter to oneself.

“In a televised debate during the 2012 presidential campaign, filmmaker and Putin crony Nikita Mikhalkov questioned whether one of Putin’s Potemkin rivals, businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, was fit to lead Russia since he was an avowed nonbeliever. Orthodoxy is the majority religion, Mikhalkov pointed out, and the Orthodox believe all authority comes from God.” Prokhorov is one of the wealthiest men in the world and yes, an avowed atheist. He is far from a “Potemkin” rival, as he made clear when he broke away to start his own political movement. Ms. Young is mostly outraged because Russians tend to distrust anyone who is an open atheist. Eight decades of brutal atheist oppression will do that to a person.

“…the 2008 formal statement of “Russian Orthodox Church Doctrine on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights” amounted to a Christian-flavored manifesto for Putin-style “sovereign democracy.” Individual rights, the doctrine made clear, must never take priority over the interests of “Fatherland” (Otechestvo); human rights activism must not advance the agenda of “particular countries” seeking to export their way of life (a thinly veiled jab at supposedly U.S.-sponsored dissidents); and citizens’ exercise of their political rights should never undermine social unity or the traditional Orthodox model of harmony between government and society.” This is absolutely true, Orthodox Christianity rejects the liberal, Enlightenment view of human rights and instead focuses on human duties. This view is not limited to Russia or the RO and is the common view of most Orthodox Christians worldwide (though perhaps not here in the States).

“Practical examples of such church-state harmony apparently include Putin dodging the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency by using loyal protégé Dmitry Medvedev as a placeholder.” Dodging? In 2008 Putin’s approval rate was over 85%. If he had wanted to amend the Constitution, or simply discard it, he could have done so easily and to wild applause. His FIDELITY to the Russian Constitution (a terribly flawed document) in my mind is a mistake, but it is certainly real.

“The winner (almost certainly government-approved, with Internet vote-rigging to avert a first-place finish for Stalin) was the legendary 13th-century prince and Orthodox saint Alexander Nevsky, famous for routing small bands of Northern European crusaders.” Wait a second, which is it Ms. Young? Is Putin secretly a Stalinist sympathizer or is he ‘rigging’ online votes to ensure Stalin loses to a famous Orthodox Saint, lol? Furthermore, St. Alexander first defeated the entire Swedish army and then turned and won the Battle on the Ice against the Livonian Tuetonic Knights. Incidentally, he faced the full power of the Knighthood in that battle and is esteemed by military historians for achieving the first victory over mounted cavalry by an army largely comprised of infantry.

“Kirill even praised Alexander’s choice to collaborate with the conquering Mongol Horde—whose rule is generally viewed as disastrous for Russia—while spurning an alliance with the Pope. The Horde “only wanted our purses,” Kirill said, while the West threatened Russia’s very identity.” Actually, Cathy, the Golden Horde had invaded Russia three years prior to St. Alexanders ascension. Rome wanted him to revolt, but he wisely refused. There is not one military historian, not one, who believes such a revolt could have ended in anything other than disaster for Russia. St. Alexander won autonomy for Russia and an exemption for Russians from Mongol military service through his canny diplomacy. Again, there is not one serious historian, anywhere, who disputes these facts.

“Last February, at a meeting with religious leaders hosted by the Patriarch, Putin mused that “the primitive understanding of the separation of church and state” should be jettisoned in favor of “cooperation.” Here’s one of Ms. Young’s real ‘bugaboos’. As an atheist and an American liberal, any ties between a Christian Church and the State are anathema. Religion is to be tolerated only so long as it is a private plaything with zero input on the issues of the day.

“In return for its loyalty, the church—or at least its senior hierarchy—has been amply rewarded with wealth, status, and perks. But that doesn’t mean the more faith-specific parts of its agenda get translated into government policy (aside from local bans on gay pride events and on “propaganda of homosexuality to minors,” an area where church dogma dovetails with majority biases). Abortion, which is as unacceptable in Orthodoxy as it is in Catholicism, remains not only legal but free at public clinics. In 2011 the Patriarch’s plea to end government funding for abortions was briskly dismissed by the ruling United Russia party, and legislation introducing some restrictions, such as spousal consent for married women, died in the Duma (the Russian parliament); the only actual policy change was tighter regulation after the first trimester. Church advocacy on this issue has been fairly low-key and deferential; when Kirill raised it in his meeting with Putin, it was to concede the pro-choice tilt of popular opinion and beg for better incentives for women to make other choices.” This one is a special blend of outright lies and half truths, lol.

Let’s start with wealth. Yes, the ROC has went from beggary to vast wealth under President Putin. Why? Because President Putin passed legislation restoring all of the lands STOLEN from the Church by the Communists to their rightful owners. Shady stuff that.

On abortion, the law was changed in 2011 (under Church pressure) from essentially having zero restrictions to banning abortion after the first trimester. The law also mandated a seven day waiting period, advertising, paid for by abortion clinics, informing women of the health risks of abortion, and state funded pro-life counseling for all women considering an abortion. The Church failed to pass spousal and parental consent laws. Is this perfect? No. Is it better progress than the American pro-life movement has achieved in decades? Yes, absolutely and unquestionably. Furthermore, the result of ROC advocacy has been a steady fall in the Russian abortion rate; [8]

“The effort to bring Orthodoxy into public education has yielded mixed results at best. A few years ago, proposals to make “the basics of Orthodox culture” a required subject for middle school students met with a strong backlash, including an open letter from a group of concerned scientists whom the church assailed as relics of militant Soviet atheism. Then Putin’s docile Duma nixed a resolution condemning the critics, and Putin himself warned that religious indoctrination in state schools would be illegal. As if on cue, church spokesman Chaplin made a conciliatory statement calling for a pluralistic approach to religious studies. The solution was a class in “secular ethics and world religions” (which recently became mandatory nationwide after a two-year pilot program), with several options from which parents can choose. So far less than a third of students have enrolled in the Orthodox track, compared to more than 40 percent for secular ethics and 20 percent for world religions. The Patriarch blamed the church’s comparative failure on “the liberal press.” First of all, Kirill has not blamed the liberal press. In fact, overall the ROC has been delighted with the progress to date. Think about it for one second and you’ll see why. Russian education has moved from officially atheist and hostile to an entirely new paradigm. All Russian children are today taught that religion, in general, is a positive good for society. 40% of Russian children are taught the Orthodox Faith directly, in public schools. Again, this is vastly more than the American “Right” has ever achieved or even dreams of any longer; [9]

“In 1992 a parliamentary investigative commission co-chaired by Father Gleb Yakunin, an Orthodox priest and Soviet-era dissident, released KGB files exposing a vast network of collaborators among clerics, particularly at the highest levels. (Shortly afterward, Yakunin was defrocked, supposedly for violating church discipline through his political activity.) One of those collaborators, code-named Mikhailov, was almost certainly Kirill himself. In the 1970s, the future Patriarch, then an up-and-coming church official, traveled regularly abroad for conferences where he participated in the Soviet “struggle for peace” and pooh-poohed claims about religious persecution in the USSR.”

Fr. Yakunin was defrocked for refusing to suspend his campaign for the Duma. Orthodox priests are not allowed to run for political office. Rome was forced to take similar steps in the 1960’s here in the States.

As for Kirill and the KGB, like all of the Russian hierarchy, Kirill was required to register with the KGB. There is little to no evidence that he actively worked on their behalf outside of his pursuit of peace. He was a close personal friend of Pope JP II, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict the 16th) and other noted “Cold Warriors” and is up front with his contempt for the CP. To say nothing of the constant flow of denunciations he and the ROC have leveled against the Soviet period.

“A few days before the Pussy Riot verdict, a clip from a Russian newscast made a splash on the Internet: On a visit to a historic monastery, a startled Putin shrank back when the abbot bowed and moved to kiss his hand. Russian media outlets treated the abbot’s abasement as a comical gaffe, and he later apologized for his inappropriate zeal; but many Russians saw the gesture as a fitting bit of symbolism.” Good lord, so much bad information (or outright lies) a simple Google search would dispel. The monk in question was a Macedonian, not Russian, and certainly not the Abbot of Valaam. Furthermore, President Putin reacted angrily because he said he was unworthy of such respect from a monk and was not the Czar; [10]

“Russian Orthodoxy today has another unusual quality: Many of its rank-and-file believers aren’t believers at all. Both church leaders and establishment politicians describe Russia as a highly religious, overwhelmingly Orthodox nation. Nearly three out of four Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, up from 30 percent in 1989 and just over half in 1994. Yet according to the Levada Center, Russia’s premier independent polling firm, only 40 percent of these self-proclaimed Orthodox say they definitely believe in God, while 30 percent definitely do not. Half never go to church; only one in 10 prays and fasts. Fewer than 5 percent know the Ten Commandments.” This one is quite common among Russia’s most rabid enemies. They get that number by including all who say they have doubts about God’s existence as “atheists”. Including those who classify themselves as believers in God. Got that? If you’ve ever doubted God’s existence you’re an “atheist”. The reality is that Russia is considered one of the most religious nations on Earth and this is the result of constant polling, including Levada; [11]

This rebirth of Faith has profoundly changed Russian beliefs; [12]. Is Russia uncatechized? Yes. Is the ROC making great strides in changing this? Yes again. Russia was officially, and brutally, atheist for eight decades. It’s going to take some time to fully reverse that damage folks.

Then Ms. Young attacks the ‘sex saturated’ nature of Russia’s public square. Rather unusual for a libertarian, lol. Yes, Russia’s public square is wildly unregulated, psst… Ms. Young, the Church is slowly trying to change that. Next we have some attacks on Russian abortion rates. No mention of the fact that abortion was encouraged by the Soviets as normal birth control or that the rate is falling rapidly under Church and Civil pressure (see my earlier link).

“Multimillionaire pop singer Elena Vaenga, who posted on her website a much-ridiculed semiliterate rant demanding punishment for “the skanks” and declaring herself deeply insulted as a Christian, recently had an out-of-wedlock child a few months after leaving her common-law husband.” OK, so what? Ms. Vaenga is not a spokesperson for the Church or the State and this is a rich criticism indeed, from a woman (Ms. Young) who promotes Ksenia Sobchak (Russia’s Paris Hilton) as a defender of the common man. When 95% of a nation is pissed off you can find a wide variety among the angry, Ms. Young cherrypicks her examples with great care, as usual.

“If the full-bore prosecution of the Pussy Riot trio was intended to rally the religious around government, or to drive a wedge between the secular and religious parts of the opposition, the move failed. In the end, the controversy may well hurt both the Russian Orthodox Church and the church-state alliance. While few Russians approved of the feminists’ stunt in the cathedral, opinions were sharply split on the prison sentence. In one poll, one-third felt it was too harsh, about as many saw it as appropriate; 15 percent found it too lenient, and 10 percent said there should have been no prosecution. Many were critical of the church’s response to the incident, which included calling for hate crime charges and penalties severe enough to deter future miscreants. On the eve of the trial, only one in five Russians agreed this stance was justified; twice as many said the church should not have tried to influence the court at all, and 30 percent felt it should have “shown Christian mercy” and asked for the women’s release. (After the sentencing, the church chimed in with a mealy-mouthed plea for clemency.)” Our feminist radical returns to her favorite hobby horse. Ms. Young, opinions on P Riot are not split. While most favored having them clean toilets, no one cares that they’re in Siberia instead. They’re universally loathed. So much so, in fact, that one of “ladies” in question has requested solitary confinement because the other inmates are threatening to beat her for her stunt; [13]

“The aftermath of the trial saw more moves by the government to tighten the screws on undesirable religious expression; a bill that would institute criminal penalties, including prison terms of up to three years, for “insulting the feelings of believers” began to move through the Duma.” Such laws are common throughout Western Europe. You may not like them, but they’re not signs of special Russian perfidy; [14]

“The Church’s image problems have been compounded by several unsavory recent controversies surrounding the Patriarch, including one featuring a luxury apartment, an extortionate lawsuit, and a rumored mistress. (Orthodox priests can marry, but bishops belong to the celibate monastic priesthood.) In late March, the news site Rosbalt.ru reported that a prominent retired surgeon was being forced to pay nearly $1 million for damage supposedly caused by dust from renovation work at his apartment to his upstairs neighbor’s furnishings. The owner of the apartment above was Patriarch Kirill, who has two official residences; the apartment’s ccupant, and the plaintiff in the dust-damage lawsuit, was one Lydia Leonova, described as the prelate’s longtime friend and “second cousin.” Then in April came what wags called “the miracle of the watch.” After a television interview in which Kirill denied owning a $35,000 Breguet watch and asserted that a photo of him wearing one was a fake, bloggers discovered that the watch had vanished from the Patriarch’s wrist in a photo on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website—yet a reflection of the offending object could be seen in a mahogany table.” Here’s a ‘scattershot’ full of lies, lol. A microcosm of the entire screed. Let’s deal with them, shall we?

The luxury apartment (House on the Embankment) is indeed owned by His Holiness, but it is not the residence of Patriarch Kirill. His cousin and close friend Lydia Leonova resides there and has done so openly for quite some time. Now, it might be inappropriate for a powerful clergyman to pull strings for a relative and friend but no one in their right mind thinks she’s his ‘mistress’. No one has ever been able to produce anything even vaguely resembling proof of any impropriety in their relationship (she’s a relative for crying out loud) and only the most unhinged, fringy elements of the ROC’s opposition even hint at such. It’s a scurrilous, disgusting accusation put forth by people without common decency. Furthermore, the doctor in question apologized for the damage done to a collection of extremely old and valuable books and the damages awarded were donated to a children’s charity.

The “watch”, lol. My God, how many times must I address this idiocy? The watch was a gift in 2009 from a wealthy parishioner (the Pope has a similar watch, also a gift). Kirill has never denied owning it, he has denied wearing it on a regular basis. Apparently an overzealous intern tried to airbrush it out of a photo to score brownie points and mucked it up, lol. Trust me, if this had been a professional job they wouldn’t have missed the reflection.

“In August the VTSIOM, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, found that half of all Russians trusted clergymen, down from two-thirds in 2010. Growing negativity about the church is found not only among secular Russians but among the faithful, including some members of the clergy. In 2011 three priests from the Izhevsk diocese in northern Russia wrote to Patriarch Kirill criticizing the church’s cozy relationship with government leaders and wealthy patrons; the local archbishop responded by banning the priests from service. ” For once she cites an actual source! Nicely done! However, she forgot to mention that the 50% trust made the clergy one of the most trusted professions in Russia, alongside of doctors, scientists, and teachers. Furthermore, the numbers rebounded a few months later according to Levada, see here; [15]

October 2012; “The approval rating of Patriarch Kirill is the highest in Russia Moscow, October 1, Interfax – At the moment Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia is supported by 69% of respondents. According to the sociologists of Levada-Center, received by Interfax, it is the highest approval rating among the Russian politicians.

Only 28% of respondents criticized him. Also 73% of those polled announced their support for the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church, and 24% did not.

The work approval rating of Russian President Vladimir Putin has gained five percentage points in the past month, rising from 63% in August to 68% in September, Levada-Center sociologists told Interfax on Wednesday.

The number of respondents who disapprove of the president’s policies decreased from 35% in August to 31% in September.

61% of those polled said they approved of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s work (57% in August), and 38% criticized him (41% in August).

The number of respondents critical of the Russian government’s performance has grown by five percentage points since May and stands at 51% in September, the sociologists said.

60% of those polled said they disapprove of the State Duma’s work (55%).

Asked to name ten political figures they trust the most, 36% of respondents mentioned Putin, 23% – Medvedev, 10% – Moscow Region Governor Sergey Shoigu, 8% – Russian Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 8% – Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov, 6% – Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, 5% – businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, 4% – Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, 4% – a Just Russia party leader Sergey Mironov, and 4% – Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko.

22% of those polled said they do not trust any politician in Russia.

The public opinion survey was conducted in 45 Russian regions and involved 1,600 people.”

Here’s another final link concerning religious belief in modern Russia; [16]. Anyway, I hope I helped….

Peter

#30 Comment By David J. White On January 5, 2013 @ 11:20 am

May I remind you, soren, that the “American model” includes the idea that God gave humanity inalienable rights that no government can take away, one of which is the freedom to worship? May I remind you that such an idea has brought many people to this nation to escape the persecution from state-supported churches? May I remind you that those people made massive contributions to this nation’s development?

The American model of church-state separation has also caused religion to flourish in America, since people seem more willing or even enthusiastic to support their church voluntarily than they would if it were compulsory.

#31 Comment By JonF On January 5, 2013 @ 11:24 am

Re: Why not simply be “Orthodox”?

I usually refer to nyself as an Orthodox Christian, or perhaps cite my faith as “Eastern Orthodoxy”. That’s to remove confusion with Jewish Orthodoxy.
The existence of national Orthodox churches is an unfortunate historical accident, nothing more– and something like this happened in Protestant Europe too, giving us the Church of England, the Dutch and Swiss Reformed Churches, and so forth.

#32 Comment By Joseph D’Hippolito On January 5, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

Bravo, David J. White! Unfortunately, “conservatives” are just as ignorant of history these days as “progressives.”

#33 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 6, 2013 @ 8:24 pm

If there is a hierarchy, and if it is not centered in an extra-national institution such as the Vatican has become, then it is a threat to any state dominated by co-religionists to have the top dog, or top collective, located in and subject to pressure by any other state. Thus, each king wanted his territory to have its own national hierarchy.

This can be dispensed with in a non-hierarchical church, sort of, but divisions in many Protestant denominations between northern and southern churches reflects the same division, in a republican context.

Whenever this subject comes up about church-state relations in the Russian Federation, I am reminded of Putin’s comment that the church is needed to fill the role of socializing children previously entrusted to the Komsomols (Young Communist League).

#34 Comment By Peter On January 7, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

Interestingly, Vladimir Putin never joined Komsomol and recently stated that Orthodox youth leagues should avoid replicating their methods; [17]