Orthodox America

  The Harsh Truth

      On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, a day mourned by the Orthodox world, a day which led the Russian Church into captivity, Patriarch Pimen issued an encyclical appealing to the “patriotic” feelings of the faithful and commending the Church’s supportive role in the Soviet government’s mission for world “peace”.

     Although accustomed to hearing such twisted and spiritually vicious rhetoric in official communications of the Moscow Patriarchate, a number of Orthodox believers in this age of ‘glasnost’ have been emboldened to voice their bitter disappointment and clear opposition to the Patriarch’s message. Below is an open letter written by a group of Orthodox activists, which reflects the sentiments of many in the Church whose heartfelt cry is “enough”.


To Patriarch Pimen of Moscow and All Russia and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church

       Your Holiness, Most Reverend Archbishops, filled with great pain and hope we write to you today to talk about our Church which now stands at the threshold of the great Millennium of its existence.

      The eve of this Millennium bas coincided with the process of democratization and social-political renewal in our country. We are convinced that all the sound forces of our society should, in every possible way, contribute to overcoming the negative phenomena of the past and the present, to moral purification of our country. However, the effective struggle for the renewal of our society requires an admission of the errors committed, their exposition and critical appraisal: it requires the truth, the truth about the difficulties and tragic pages in the history of our Church, about her well-known and complex relations with the State, which have been passed over in silence in the course of decades.

     We are convinced that despite the errors, sins and even crimes of Christians committed in various periods of history, the world does not and did not know of a sounder moral and social force than the Church of Christ. Therefore, today, being conscious of the high responsibility imposed on every Christian, we, the children of the Russian Orthodox Church, cannot be silent, and "roar by reason of the disquietness of our hearts" (Ps. 38:8).

     The Message of His Holiness the Patriarch and the Holy Synod on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the October Revolution bewildered and embittered many believers. The position of the Church in our country and the history of relations between the Church and the State are portrayed in this Message as an ideal symphony, as if its text were written in Stalin's era. This Message is imbued with the spirit of political anachronism. And this is now, when the leaders of our State themselves speak of "the final overcoming of attempts to deceive history" (M. S. Gorbachev, "Pravda" 11/5/87) and of the fact that "the truth, although severe, is in any case better than flattering hushing up, fantasies and emotional outburst. History may be defiled only by lies--the truth exalts it" (Yakovlev--Director of the Central Committee on Propaganda--"Izvestia" 11/4/87).

     Is it not strange that the Chairman of the Council on Religious Affairs openly states that many errors were committed by the Government in dealings with believers, while our Church leadership continues concealing the truth about the Church history of the last decades? Commenting on the positive aspects of the Decree of 1918 on the Separation of Church and State, the Synodal Message keeps silent about the fact that this very Decree deprived the church communities of their rights as juridical persons, of their right to own property, and to instruct children in the principles of religion. And even this Decree was superceded in 1929 by the discriminatory and anti-church decree of Stalin's times on religious societies.

     The Message is imbued with the false pathos of happy relations between the Church and State, although the whole world knows now that the period of the ‘20's and ‘30's was marked by a particularly vicious persecution of the Church, unprecedented in history.

     Metropolitans Vladimir and Benjamin were executed. Metropolitans Peter, Agafangel, Cyril and Joseph died in prisons or far-away places of exile; Archbishop Seraphim Zvezdinsky, Archbishop Hilarion Troitsky, Bishop Theodore Pozdeev, priests Pavel Florensky and Sergei Mechev, laymen Novoselov, Samarin and Karsavin, and many thousands and thousands of bishops, priests, monks and laymen were executed, tortured to death or perished in exile; they had been subjected to unprecedented repressions by Stalin's regime, the injustice of which has now been officially admitted.

      Stalin's crimes, the innocent victims of arbitrary rules, and the inadmissibility of the betrayal of their memory--are now publicly discussed throughout the country. Even anti-religious men of propaganda now openly speak of "manifestations of lawless repressions of the '30's which had painfully hit believers and clergy" (Science arid Religion 1987, No. 11, p. 19).

    Meanwhile, the Church leadership keeps pretending that nothing particular had taken place. Does this not mean disregard for the memory of millions of innocent victims, martyrs and confessors of faith, who have become the pride not only of Russia but of the entire world community of Christians? Our Church has the power and magnanimity to forgive the persecutors, but in that case the forgiveness has to be uttered for all to hear, thus paying respect to the blessed memory of all the innocent victims who suffered in the name of Christ.

      Until now we have been observing Dimitri's Saturday by commemorating those who died on Kulikovo Field in 1380. Is it not time to glorify the martyrdom of the confessors of the 20th century?

      We welcome the general rehabilitation of the innocent victims of Khrushchev's persecution, but we cannot forget the fact that this period was the time of gross attack upon the Russian Church, the time of her gradual smothering, Between 10 and 15 thousand churches were closed during that period, often with the direct participation of bishops and clergy. As a result of the same kind of pressure, the Archbishops' Council of 1971 was thrust upon the Russian Orthodox Church; this Council confirmed the un-canonical Synodal Decree on the management of parishes, which eliminated the ranks of clergy from participation in the administrative-economic life of church communities, at the same time violating the ecclesiological structure.

      It is well known that certain steps have been taken recently to improve the position of the Church; however, only an extensive general Church discussion of all urgent matters, including their canonical interpretation, will permit the solution of all problems of our church life.

      That which the Synodal Message fails to mention is testified by Metropolitan Alexis of Leningrad and Novgorod: "It is sad when at times in an obvious contrast to the principles of our democratic socialist government, believers are treated as 'second-class' citizens, when atheistic articles and books are written in a tone hostile to believers and give false information. This does not contribute to the creation of a sound atmosphere of dialogue'' ("Moscow News" 1987, //38, p. 13). What a pity that this initiative found no support within the Holy Synod and amongst other bishops.

     The leadership of the country is now looking for a wide support of their enterprises-while the Church leadership calls upon the faithful merely to intensify the traditional prayers. Prayers must always be intensive, we know this and remember. But it is one thing when this appeal is directed at all "ranks of priests and monastics, and the parish clergy," and quite another thing when this is the only appeal directed at the millions of believers. Do the authors of the Message really think that believers among workers, peasants and intelligentsia would be able to contribute to the renewal of our society, to the purification of its moral atmosphere only by means of "traditional prayers for the leaders of our country," prayers which were just as intensely raised in the times of Yezhov and Beria, Khrushchev and Brezhnev? Today it is a matter of building a realistic humane society, a matter of the need to create a sound atmosphere in our country, of raising the moral level of the nation. Who but the Russian Orthodox Church should participate in the process of social renewal and democratization, without losing face, but actively confirming Christian values?

    Already twice our Church leadership missed a favorable opportunity to speak out and demand that the Church be given back her free and dignified existence: first, during the upsurge of patriotic enthusiasm in the time of the Great Patriotic War, and second, after Krushchev's demise. We fear that the harsh lesson of history will not be learned even today, that the Church leadership will again fail to take advantage of historic conditions for the improvement of the position of the Church and will consequently reduce the celebration of the great Millennium of Christianity in Russia to formally pompous measures, and will miss the opportunity to mark this great date by giving an impetus to a genuine rebirth of the Church.

     Our country is now experiencing a unique historical moment. It imposes an extreme responsibility upon us, upon the entire Russian Orthodox Church, "for the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God" (I Peter 4:17).

(signatures)   Priest Gleb Yakunin (Moscow)
Priest Nikolai Galnov (Moscaw)
Viktor Antonov (Leningrad)
Nikolai Balashov (Moscow)
Andrei Beasmertnyi (Moscow)
Valeri Borshchov (Moscow)
Alexander Ogorodnikov (Moscow)
Evgenii Pazukhin (Leningrad)
Victor Popkov (Moscow)
Vladimir Poresh (Leningrad)
Lev Timofeev (Moscow)

November 18, 1987 

(Translation courtesy of Orthodox Action in Australia)

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