From a remarkable interview with Sergei Chapnin, until his recent firing a senior layman in the Russian Orthodox Church. Chapnin says that Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Moscow Patriarchate’s embrace of nationalism has set in motion a series of disasters for the Russian Orthodox Church. Excerpts:
What about the realm of ideas? There is great geopolitical patriotism and fervor in our country today, which seems to be expressed even more strongly in the Church.
The main thing that happened in the ideological sphere in recent years is that Russia came to grips with its own history, so to speak. It decided that we can be proud of the history of the Soviet Union. The thought is: this is a mighty history, and we are its heirs, so we value that great and victorious history.
What does this mean? Today the Church—without any outside pressure—recognizes the general secretaries of the Communist Party as great rulers of the Soviet era. Whatever atrocities Stalin committed, it is thought that his great accomplishments cannot be diminished, since Russia won the war under his guidance. It’s as though that makes up for his crimes.
I see a serious spiritual and theological problem in the fact that the Church openly talks like this. In honoring Stalin as a “great leader,” we insult the memory not only of the saints who suffered during the years of persecution, but all those who fell victim to the Stalinist regime. The Church was virtually destroyed by Stalin, and now it recognizes his service to the nation. It’s an incredibly fragile position, and I would say, a spiritually unhealthy one. And now, Igumen Evstafii calls for Lenin’s remains to stay in their Mausoleum. Communists in various cities erect busts of Stalin, and the Church remains silent.
This is the first I’m hearing of this. It’s beyond shocking. More:
Well, then, what is the fate of the “liberal” wing? How does one go about being an “Orthodox European” in today’s Russia and its Church?
Of course, the “tentatively liberal” wing hasn’t gone anywhere. By the way, you should avoid this artificial dichotomy between “liberals” and “patriots.” The first are better called Christian democrats, and the second, followers of the post-Soviet civil religion. Christian democrats are those who do not see themselves as isolated from European Christian civilization. Many have been to the West and have seen how the Orthodox live in Greece, the Catholics live in Italy and France, and the Lutherans live in Germany. There are aspects of crisis there as well, but Christianity in Europe is much more rooted and vigorous.
Those Orthodox who participate in global Christian culture are not especially visible. For them the profession of faith is foremost a personal choice, an action. They do not feel the need for declarations, for public demonstrations, to fight for traditional values. The source of faith is Christ Himself, not fighting for values.
And plenty of Orthodox dioceses in Russia have long-standing and positive relationships with those very same Catholics. Orthodox priests easily visit them in Europe, befriend them, and arrange student exchanges; one receives a grant, another collaborates on social projects. It just goes unpublicized in order to fend off accusations of “betraying Orthodoxy.”
There are those who want to pick fights and find enemies, and there are those who just want to labor on the Church’s behalf. People who believe in Christ are peaceful.
Read the whole thing. Chapnin predicts major upheaval ahead for the Church, and says that all the money that has filled the Church with pomp and pride is running out. Says Chapnin, of his fellow Orthodox Russians,, “The ones who will remain are those who lived peacefully and prayed.”
UPDATE: You know, that last line is so very true of us American Christians, in a somewhat different context. But not all that different.
UPDATE.2: An alternative view from the English Orthodox priest Andrew Philips. Excerpt:
News from Moscow over the last two weeks has brought word that two figures who have figured quite prominently in Church life in Russia over the last generation have effectively been sacked from their posts. One of them is Sergei Chapnin and the other, bearing almost the same surname, is Fr Vsevolod Chaplin. As one of the few – I hesitate to say the only person – in England who knew them both, perhaps I should express some view on what lies behind their dismissal.
Sergei Chapnin was a Church journalist, the editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, an official publication of the Patriarch. When I first met him, in 1997, he was a young convert, zealous but not yet stable in the Faith. Meeting him a second time, ten years later, he had come to prominence, but his Faith, as that of some intellectual converts can do, had already by then taken, to put it mildly, a liberal turn, putting him at the margins of the Church.
Sadly, in the last few years, he had become quite notorious and there had been at least one petition asking for his removal on account of personal views which less and less represented the views of the Church. His increasing modernism and ecumenism and finally, his views expressed only weeks ago in a forum sponsored by the US Embassy, notorious for its attempts to undermine and protestantize the Russian Orthodox Church, were the last straw. He now has time for repentance and so the opportunity to reintegrate the mainstream of the Church, returning from his errors.
Fr Vsevolod Chaplin
Fr Vsevolod was for a generation more or less a spokesman for the Church and a prominent member of a host of committees where he represented the Church’s views on political affairs. Obviously, such a sensitive position brought temptations and dangers, particularly the risk of secularization, seen for example, in his smoking, never a good sign in a priest. Speaking to Fr Vsevolod eight years ago, I became aware of a strong, indeed, militant personality. It is this that has been his downfall.
His lack of sensitivity on problems in the Ukraine and in Syria upset many in the Church. Priests in Belarus called for his dismissal, as he was upsetting the faithful there and he also disturbed many in both the Ministry of the Interior and the Foreign Ministry with his description of Russian military action in Syria as a ‘sacred war’. The fact is that Fr Vsevolod was more and more becoming a Russian nationalist, forgetting that the Russian Church, unlike the other, much smaller Local Orthodox Churches, represents over 60 different nationalities. Russia is an Imperial Power, not a nationalist Power.
In the dismissal of both these figures we see the growing maturity of Church life inside Russia, the awareness that marginal views, expressed freely in the 1990s and early 2000s, have now been outgrown.