Orthodox America

  Soviet Youth Ask “Why?”

AN ARTICLE IN a recent issue of the Moscow Church Herald (July 1990, Russian-language edition) examines the current popularity of religion among Soviet youth:

      "Why are young people attracted to the Church? There are many reasons: social protest, a thirst for self-realization, spiritual impoverishment, dissatisfaction with the surroundings... Our world is changing; some causes for protest and discontent are decreasing, others are increasing. But the stream of young people seeking God is not diminishing. Gradually we are coming to understand that no society-no matter how perfect--can answer that all-important question: 'Why?' Why live? Why, finally be concerned over one's welfare, or the welfare of one's neighbor, if every desire, every effort meets with the lid of a coffin?

    "And so people continue to come to church." For many, however, it is difficult to acquire a proper understanding of what the Church is all about. Nineteen year-old Lena, a former hippie, wears a scarf and holds a prayer rope; another hangs around her neck. She describes her spiritual father as "great, holy, the only genuine one...in our community the Holy Mysteries have the most grace." 'To adopt an external churchliness," writes the author," is easy. To assimilate the spirit of the Gospel, to nurture this within oneself, is much more difficult. And this kind of education a young person will not find in our churches."

     Twenty-three year-old Andre), left the Church, disillusioned.     "One priest...heard confession as though standing at a conveyor belt; another spoke only of the parish's financial difficulties, about the high taxes..."

     Yuri, 24, is dismayed by the failings he sees in the Moscow Patriarchate hierarchy. He favors a "parliamentary ecclesiastical structure," believing that "the voice of the people is the voice of God." He would agree to an absolute authority "only if it were the hierarchy of the Russian Church Abroad."

       The author Concedes that the blame for such disillusionment rests largely with the Moscow Patriarchate: "In coming to us, delinquent guardians of a priceless spiritual treasure, they were unable to delight themselves with even a particle of Orthodoxy's wealth."

       It is not surprising that many young people are looking for guidance to the Church Abroad. In response to numerous requests, last winter Metropolitan Vitaly wrote the following open letter, which is reported to be widely circulated and the subject of much discussion among those youth burning with the question, "Why?"


A Word from the Metropolitan to the Young People in Russia

       In your letters you constantly write that you expect from me some guidance, that you listen to me, that you would like to know what I think about all that is happening now in Russia. From the sidelines perhaps I do have a somewhat more objective view, and my position helps me here, offering me, simply because of my responsibilities, a broader perspective. But believe me, this is a matter for God's Providence over Russia, and therefore you are asking for the gift of prophecy, which is beyond me.

       You are right, judging from a purely human, earthly, logical point of view, everything appears extremely dark. I would even say that, with clouds on all sides, God's light is not visible. If Russia does not get out of these ,suffocating slums, then in all likelihood we are going--the whole world is going--to the End, and then we can say with the Apostle, Come, Lord Jesus. However, all of our Russian religious literature, our elders, our saints, God-inspired writers and simple enlightened people of Russia, have more or less foretold both the calamities and the rebirth of our land.

      I see two obstacles to this rebirth. First, the un-repentance of our people and the onslaught of severe trials in the form of immorality, shamelessness, drunkenness, drug addiction. At one youth gathering I said that Russia would come to a spiritual collapse not from the debauchery of Bolshevism, but when it will elect prostitutes and give them the names of our sacred cities, glorified by our great hierarchs and saints, when it will choose "Miss Moscow", "Miss Kiev", "Miss Kazan", "Miss Novgorod", etc. You may say that this is already happening. But you are wrong. True, such "misses" have been elected, but this is still a simple imitation of the West; it is not something organic, and for this reason it is not yet an expression of deep moral rot. The society of pre-Revolutionary Russia was profoundly rotten, and on account of this organic corruption God allowed the Revolution, that bloody font in which many hopelessly defiled people cleansed themselves and somehow saved their souls. Similarly, in the Great Flood many people were saved, because God's punishment always conceals within itself mercy, if only one accepts this with one's heart. In all probability there have occurred in the history of humanity such cases of abysmal defilement, such evil distortions, that for the sake of possible salvation it was necessary to allow shakeups, even cataclysmic all according to the invisible mercy of God.

      One can repent of any sin, no matter how terrible. But just try to repent of one's entire sinful world view which you have gradually developed for yourself, day by day, year after year. It's obvious: you grew up with it, it's become part of you, and according to the laws of human nature you will certainly live by this worldview. Here there is no room for repentance because a person doesn't see of what, concretely, he must repent. He must, of course, repent of everything, from head to toe....But this is not repentance; it is a complete rebirth; it is that which the Saviour spoke about to Nikodemos: one must be born again. The Lord has countless ways to bring about this rebirth: the miraculous appearance to Saul, the future Apostle Paul; the miraculous conversion of St. Mary of Egypt, illness, calamities, and other means unknown and invisible to us which serve for the transformation of a hopeless fallen creature into a saint. But let us return to the subject of Russia.

     There is another danger, whose character is purely deliberate, calculated. Evil forces have labored so hard to destroy Orthodox Russian might,. that for them the rebirth of Russia is a nightmare with a cold, icy future. One representative or senator here in the West said cynically, "We won't allow such a thing." What does this mean? All powers, billions of dollars will be used just to extinguish the flame of Russia's rebirth. And they will be more thorough than Napoleon or Hitler. But if God is with us, what have we to fear? Everything depends on this, and on nothing else. And so 1 should like to remind all Russians of the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov: "Save your own souls, and a thousand around you will be saved."

      In our activities we often resemble the man in the Gospel who desired to gain the whole world and in so doing destroyed his soul. We should leave the world in peace and in the most serious way occupy ourselves with the salvation of our souls. Then, and only then, will we see around us many wondrous, new, unexpected and joyous things. Let's not be like senseless people who beat the air with sticks. There's a mass of energy, movement, effects, but ultimately--emptiness, nothing's accomplished. Our eternal foe, the devil, is cunning. He leads us by the nose, making us do useless things, making us think that it's so important and at the same time filling us with exalted feelings, enthusiasm, emotionalism and a kind of nervous joy (I so dislike all this words beginning with "e"--ecumenism, evolution, emancipation...). In our spiritual immaturity and naivete, we accept these feelings as being God's grace, we get caught on the hook and with yet greater zeal we sink into the worldly vanity of society. Here we could bring to mind our Dostoevsky, how a young society lady came to Elder Zossima and told him that she had come to love all of humanity. You already know how the elder answered her. [1] We should not be like Dostoevsky's young lady, but rather turn to God with all our heart, to His Most Pure Mother and cry out: "God, forgive my sins and my transgressions, cleanse me, enlighten me..." Let us say this from all our heart, from all our soul, putting into these words our entire being-body and soul, so that not a single cell of our spiritual-physical being is missing from this cry of the soul. And you think the Lord will not answer such a cry from your soul? Absolutely! He will answer in such a way that you won't feel your legs under you, and what you ask will be fulfilled. The word of God will come from the throne of the Most Holy Trinity: "Let it be..," and from this word the entire creation will tremble, the entire universe, and all the powers of heaven will strive to fulfill this word, and the earth will bend before the will of God. And there where there was a mountain will be a ravine, while there where there was a ravine will be a mountain. All peoples will look with holy awe at the sight of Holy Russia rising out of a sea of blood, cleansed, forgiven.

       You might say that I am falling into phantasmagoria, that I am taking the apocalyptic tone of a diviner. But after all, we are living on the verge of this Revelation, perhaps we have already entered the last phase of the history of the earthly part of Christ's Church, which the last book of Holy Scripture speaks to us about. And can one speak differently, when so much blood has been shed by confessors of Jesus Christ? (In Greek our word "martyr" comes from martirios which means "witness;" this gives deeper meaning to this podvig.) Our Orthodox Russian Church has provided so many martyrs that one could fill up all twelve volumes of the Menaia, every day, with the names of the New Martyrs alone. Every year we celebrate the memory of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, but somewhere in the taiga in Siberia we have a pit in which fell, one by one, priests, shot in the temple after answering affirmatively to the question, "Does God exist?" There were sixty of them. Is it even possible to enumerate all the kinds of tortures to which hundreds of thousands of Orthodox were subjected?

      Now, glory to God, there is some talk about Christ's Church, but it's still unclear, as if it's about some institution or even department. People still do not have the sense that it is the heart, the very reason for everything, the beginning and the end, the focus of the entire universe. Its voice is not yet clearly heard among all the various currents. It's very difficult to sort out all these ideas, theories, endless recipes for renaissance, for renewal. But the day will come when the Church will arise in all her beauty and glory, and the whole world will see the Truth. Our Church will be given the power to meet her implacable foe, Antichrist. And you, young people, do not despond. Do you not see how the grace of the Holy Spirit is clearing a way for His Church? All of Russia is restless, the whole world is restless. And it may be that in your lifetime you will see this triumph.

      So, I have conversed with you. I call God's grace upon all of you. Your sincere well-wisher, Metropolitan Vitaly

(Translated from Tserkovni Vestnik, June/July 1989, publication of the Diocese of New York and Canada)


[1] "...love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams." The Brothers Karamazov