Patriarch Kirill's public triumph in Ukraine in July was preceded with another achievement no less important for the Russian Orthodox Church. This took place in the much more intimate atmosphere of the presidential residence in Barvikha, in the Moscow Oblast. There Dmitry Medvedev met with the leaders of Russia's traditional religions, and responded to two appeals from them.
He agreed that the history and culture of the country's main religions should be included in the core school curriculum. He also agreed that the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation should have military priests.
Patriarch Kirill was the first to sign both documents. The Muslim and Jewish religious communities supported the Orthodox position, despite previous objections from some muftis and rabbis.
What will this decision mean in practice for schools? Twice a week from the spring of next year, pupils in the fourth and fifth classes will study one of three new subjects. They and their parents will be able to choose between the religious culture of one religion (Orthodox, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism), the history and cultural background of the world's great religions, or the foundations of secular ethics. It will be compulsory for pupils to choose one of these three modules.
To start with, it will be introduced in 18 regions in six of the seven federal regions of Russia. The three-year experiment will be introduced in 12,000 Russian schools, 20,000 classes, 256,000 children and 44,000 teachers, according to the Ministry for Education and Science. From 2012, the new modules will be introduced to all Russian schools.
These three modules, "Foundations of religious culture", "Foundations of history and culture of world religions" and "Foundations of secular ethics",- will be taught by teachers who have taken a special training course, though most of them will probably have had a secular education. The rector of Moscow's State University V.A. Sadovnichy has already expressed a desire to put the resources of the country's leading university behind the re-training of these specialists. But it is clear that at first the main problem will be a serious lack of qualified teaching staff.
The contents of the textbooks for these modules is also likely to prompt public debate. Consequently, the Church has already declared its readiness to work with the Ministry of Education and Science, the Russian Academy of Education, and a number of other institutes in order to inspect the new textbooks and study materials. This has already been announced by the head of the Synodal Department for Religious Education, Bishop Zaraisky Merkury.
The patriarchate has entrusted the writing of the new textbook on the foundations of Orthodox culture to the well-known Deacon Andrei Kuraev, professor of Moscow State University and the Moscow Spiritual Academy. "We must hope that these various textbooks will be written in such a way that whatever religion the children belong to, if they are going to fight during the school break, they'll use the books, rather than the words contained in them as weapons!" said the protodeacon.
"There should be no place for religious propaganda in these lessons, no appeals to perform particular religious rites or to accept particular dogmas. The textbooks should not contain criticism of other religions, and there should not be a single line which could be used as an argument in the debate of the superiority of one religion over another. The subject should be treated secularly. It should be financed by a secular organisation, and ‘indoctrination' into any faith should be prohibited," stressed the author of the future Orthodox textbook.
A long campaign
It took two decades to win state support for the teaching of religious culture. However, thanks to the persistence of children and their parents, and to the good will of local authorities and school heads, in many parts of Russia, classes in Orthodox or Muslim culture have in fact already become part of the curriculum - but only as optional subjects, or as part of the regional component of the curriculum.
For example, in the bishopric of Smolensk, which was headed by Bishop Kirill before he was elected Patriarch, they have already set up a three-tier system of spiritual and moral education for children and young people, embracing Orthodox kindergartens, lyceums and the appropriate faculties and departments in high schools.
In various other bishoprics it was agreed that the Church would work with local education authorities. Teachers were given training on the foundations of Orthodox culture. In one way or another, over half a million pupils are already studying the subject across the country. However, it was the abolition of the regional educational component two years ago that spurred the religious activists into action.
An open letter addressed by Patriarch Kirill to the minister for education and science A.A. Fursenko just over a month before the meeting at Barvikha testified to their disquiet. The Patriarch expressed his concern that despite the agreements previously arrived at, "the educational section on religious and moral culture was missing from the main (compulsory) section of the curriculum of the new federal state education standard for the education of the young proposed for publication on the official site of the Ministry for Education and Science of the Russian Federation. It had been proposed that this would come up with a number of subjects concerning a common system of moral values, to be chosen by pupils or their parents."
The Patriarch asked the ministry to reintroduce the subject of "spiritual and moral culture" to schools. He also asked them to include official representatives of the Church "in a working party tasked with developing federal state educational standards. Also to include them in all bodies connected with the confirmation of these standards, as also with the development of the curriculum on spiritual and moral culture".
The tone of barely restrained irritation in this document is understandable. For the Ministry of Education and Science had blatantly broken all previous agreements, including those reached at high-level meetings in the presence of the head of the presidential administration S.E. Naryshkin and his first deputy V.Yu. Surkov.
Besides, the Russian Orthodox Church (chiefly through the metropolitan, and subsequently through Patriarch Kirill), has been trying for years to persuade its opponents that teaching the foundations of religious culture is only intended to be a voluntary subject. There will be alternatives, which will take into account the regional predominance of different religions.
The Patriarch was at pains to stress that his overriding concern was that the historical and cultural aspect of the new subject should be well established. For without a good grasp of the foundations of the religion that defines the state, it is impossible to understand the country's historical roots, or to appreciate the riches of its national culture.
There was much discussion of the fact that although Russia's constitution stipulates the separation of Church and state, in Russian history the Church is none the less closely linked with the lives of the people, as well as being a significant and influential aspect of civil society.
Finally, the Church issued a polite but firm reminder that freedom of conscience, seen solely as an unlimited opportunity to inculcate atheist thought, is a hangover from the worst days of the state's war against religion
Responding to critics who accuse the Church of trying to clericalise secular society, the Patriarch said: "We are worried about the moral climate in schools which forms the personality of the person, and his or her understanding of good and evil. This is what concerns us, not lobbying for a particular subject of the curriculum, as people often try to make out".
However, the lack of balance in the national education system does raise issues. For example, in Moscow today there are plenty of ethnic schools which receive municipal funding, and sometimes also from the state. There are several dozen Azerbaijani, Armenian, Georgian, Jewish, Korean, Lithuanian, Moldovan, Ukrainian, Tatar and many other schools, upper secondary schools and education centres. But strange though it may seem, there is not one which specialises in Russian culture (unless you count private schools like the Radonezh gymnasium). In fact, they have not been allowed to teach a course on Orthodox culture in mainstream Moscow schools. It would seem obvious that such anomalies in our approach to educating young people could lead to serious inter-ethnic problems for those living in a multi-ethnic capital such as ours.
The Kremlin heard the voice of the Patriarch. So too did critics of the Moscow Patriarchate, who mocked the "Barvikha symphony" of the Church and State, the "Orthodoxisation of the country" and the "missionary revenge of the church". For they realise the threat which Patriarch Kirill's new policy, which is gaining increasing popular support, poses to their ideas.
This policy lies in turning nominal Christians, people who are Orthodox only in name, into active members of the Church. The Patriarch has set himself the task of bringing the growing generation of Russians into the church and taking care of them, a generation whose spiritual, moral and physical health is now being sorely tested by the false ideals that are forced on it - vulgar consumerism, social egoism, and attainment of personal success at any price. For as the old Russian saying goes, "he who does not know the law does not know sin either".
I hear that at a parish Sunday school where the well-known Moscow priest Maxim Kozlov teaches pupils sing this merry ditty after lessons: "Father Maxim is going to teach us ‘goats' (ed play on name Kozlov) everything!"
I like the pun, the self-deprecating humour. It makes me feel good about the future.Viktor Malukhin works for the public relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate
From the editors: The Russian Orthodox Church community of the Diocese of Sourozh was set up in 1962 by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom(1914-2003). He welcomed believers of all national backgrounds and developed the principle of lay participation in the management of Cathedral affairs. In1978 the Diocese bought the church in London's Ennismore Gardens that served as their Cathedral for nearly 30 years.When repairs to the building's fabric were needed in 1999, a Russian industrialist (subsequently revealed to be Oleg Deripaska) donated themoney.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,London has become home to ever increasing numbers of New Russians. They have their own ideas as to how the Cathedral should be run. This has resulted in what Paul Vallely (Independent 11.02.09) has suggested could be a ‘Kremlin-backed crusade to reclaim Russia's spiritual outposts in the West'. The Orthodox Community in Britain has splintered and a court case to settle the question of ownership of the Cathedral and its 5 houses and flats looms.
The differences are between the Moscow Patriarchate's way and the British way as developed by Metropolitan Anthony. The waters have been further muddied by politics. The UK Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, recently issued a legal opinion in favour of Moscow. Could it be that the state of British-Russian relations had something to do with this? The court case is due to continue soon.
Xenia Dennen describes the background to the conflict:
The year 2006 will be remembered in British church circles as the year of the Sourozh drama: by one of those strange historical twists the British Isles became the stage upon which a conflict within the Russian Orthodox Church was played out on foreign soil, between an "open" type of Orthodoxy, open to the culture around it, concerned with exploring the faith, unafraid of "the other", as opposed to one that is "closed", defensive, and focussed onpower and control. Within Russia itself many Orthodox believers, in their search for Christian authenticity, push against the rigid contours of a church adapted to the current neo-Soviet period in Russian history. This church is the direct descendent of one which, to defend itself against the greatest onslaught against the Christian faith since Roman times, had, if it was to remain above ground, to make compromises and create an authoritarian system of control from above, and leave behind the ideals of its 1917-18 Local Council. Russian Orthodoxy in the British Isles developed in a different environment and in a different way. It influenced quietly and nurtured an inconspicuous dialogue with Christians of all traditions; it became part of the local landscape and an example of Christian authenticity.
Many in Great Britain learnt about Russian Orthodoxy thanks to the work of the Sourozh Diocese and valued its main centre, the Cathedral of the Dormition and All Saints, known to us Londoners simply as "Ennismore Gardens", which became an oasis of prayer and devout liturgical life. So what happened at Ennismore Gardens? Suddenly word got around that hefty young Russian men in leather jackets were elbowing their way through the crowd at the liturgy, pushing aside the serious English converts and Russian émigrés who had arrived penniless in these isles after enduring the horrors of revolution, war and a hostile Communist system. The New Russians had arrived in town en masse! Many were relatively new to the church, they were not well-grounded in the Christian faith and, unable to converse easily in English, needed care, teaching, and support from Russian-speaking clergy. The solution to such a situation would seem obvious: bring in more Russian clergy. Unfortunately, however, the machinations of a small, well-organised, and determined group within the cathedral congregation, in league with a Russian priest and with the support of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations (DECR) at the Danilovsky Monastery in Moscow, undermined all efforts to solve what was an urgent but not at root insoluble pastoral problem.
The difficulties which accompanied the influx of Russians to Great Britain during and after perestroika had become apparent long before the crisis which erupted at Ennismore Gardens at the end of 2005 and in early 2006: Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, the spirit behind the founding and growth of the Diocese of Sourozh, and beloved of Christians in these islands, whether Orthodox or not, had himself struggled with how to care for so many Russian newcomers and their needs. Sourozh, under his leadership, had developed quite differently from dioceses within Russia; Great Britain had not, after all, had to survive within a Communist system; here there was a centuries-old tradition of tolerance and anti-authoritarianism - suitable soil for planting seeds which had not been allowed to germinate in Russia after the Revolution.
The Sourozh Diocese was formed in 1962, and 13 years later at its first Diocesan Conference principles on lay participation in the running of the diocese began to be discussed. By 1977 a Diocesan Assembly, formed by Metropolitan Anthony, met for the first time and from this body grew a committee which began work on a new set of statutes which, on Metropolitan Anthony's insistence, were intended to reflect the principles of the 1917-18 Local Council on the governance of the church. Thanks to these statutes the laity were able to contribute, with the clergy, at every level within the diocese to decision-making. Such lay responsibility, based on solid theological understanding and a mature spiritual life, which supported and worked with, rather than was subservient to, the clergy, is an aspect of church life which is very often absent in Russia today where unquestioning obedience is demanded of adults rather than mature Christian commitment which, after all,involves personal decision and individual thought.
Another important aspect of the Diocese of Sourozh was its identification with the culture of the country in which it developed; it had not tried to use the Russian Orthodox Church as a vehicle for preserving Russian national identity. This principle of acculturation was by implication condemned by the then Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk (now the Patriarch of Moscow) when, in a statement on 24 October 2006, he said that the Russian Orthodox Church should, on the contrary, seek to prevent assimilation and to preserve a separate cultural and religious identity for Russians abroad. Acculturation was also attacked in January 2004 by Mikhail Sarni, then a member of the Ennismore Gardens congregation, and Mikhail Peregudov. The latter two argued that Russians abroad needed their church to be a contact point with their country, language and culture; Sarni and Peregudov dismissed the Sourozh statutes with the words "so-called" as they had not been formally passed by the Holy Synod, and proceeded to suggest that the governance of the diocese be completely changed, with the removal of lay involvement and a return to what they considered to be the traditions of the Russian Church, that is clerical control along national lines, with only Russian clergy appointed at a senior level to care for the Russians. Such attitudes towards some of the founding principles of the diocese were bound to foment conflict.
And indeed they did. Despite efforts to satisfy the pastoral requirements of the many new arrivals from Russia - and plans were being worked out in the autumn of 2005 -the Russian priest, Fr Andrei Teterin, who had come to London in 2004 at the invitation of the diocese to help care for them, proceeded to foment a shocking and unchristian attack on Bishop Basil Osborne, the person to whom Metropolitan Anthony had entrusted his diocese. On 3 December 2005 he publicly attacked Bishop Basil and the diocese; on 10 December he sent a letter criticising his bishop's leadership to Patriarch Alexi in Moscow, Metropolitan Kirill (head of the DECR), Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun based in Paris, and even the Russian Ambassador in London, which he then circulated to the cathedral's parish council on 12 December leading to his banishment from the cathedral by Bishop Basil the next day. It had become clear that Fr Andrei felt no obligation to observe the usual rules of obedience to his bishop and acted confidently in a way that revealed he had protection and support from on high for his actions. Immediately on 13 December a small group of Teterin supporters gathered a total of 209 signatures and wrote to Patriarch Alexi and Metropolitan Kirill claiming that Fr Andrei was the only priest who had been educated in a Russian theological college and preached "strict canonical traditions". Evidence of his protection from on high came when on 13 January 2006 Bishop Basil received a telephone call from the DECR asking him to reinstate Fr Andrei. After expressing repentance Fr Andrei was allowed to return to his duties; on Sunday 15 January 2006 he took the microphone at the end of the liturgy and thanked those in the congregation who had supported him and who were later heard to exclaim triumphantly "We have won!" Unfortunately his reinstatement did not bring to an end his disruptive activity. Thus disciplinary procedures in conformity with British employment law were instituted until on 22 February 2006 Fr Andrei was given a "final warning" and dismissed on 3 March.
Meanwhile Fr Andrei's supporters within the parish council continued campaigning against Bishop Basil, gathering signatures for petitions and writing messages on the Internet (Fr Andrei Kurayev's website provided a rich feast of discussion between many a "humble servant of God" whose pious phrases masked a viper's tongue) until the troublemakers on the parish council were expelled by an Episcopal decree on 20 March 2006. By 25 March Fr Andrei, in a letter published on the Internet, was emitting wild accusations of "schismatics and sectarians" against Bishop Basil and his "team": they were leading an anti-Russian campaign and attacking the Russian Orthodox Church; it was time to form a "real diocese" in the British Isles in the place of a "fictitious"one. Three days later on 28 March Fr Andrei's supporters, calling themselves "the Initiative Group", were circulating a petition on the web "defending the norms of church life and the true legacy of Metropolitan Anthony". What on earth had such behaviour to do with the life to which Christ called his followers and about which Metropolitan Anthony preached?
By 30 March the situation had become intolerable: Bishop Basil wrote to the DECR asking Metropolitan Kirill to confirm that those writing petitions did not have the department's support. He did not receive such confirmation. At the beginning of April a gentleman called Viktor Nikiforov claimed that his "democratic rights had been infringed" because members of the parish council had been expelled. He announced that he would begin a strike, inviting others to demonstrate their "position as citizens" by joining the strike, while on the Internet bewildered parishioners wondered whether by singing in the choir they would be failing to stand up for their own "democratic rights".
Rather than firmly supporting Bishop Basil's authority, the DECR chose simply to investigate the situation at Ennismore Gardens: it sent over Fr Mikhail Dudko during Lent. The latter did not speak to those members of the parish recommended by Bishop Basil and made clear that headquarters considered it was time to bring the Sourozh Diocese to heel and turn it into an ordinary Russian diocese. Thus towards the end of April, Bishop Basil decided that if the diocese was to continue to develop along the lines instituted by Metropolitan Anthony, it was time to deliver it from imprisonment within an authoritarian system: on 24 April he wrote to Patriarch Alexi asking to be released from the Moscow Patriarchate as he proposed to approach the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This he did on 2 May with the request that he and all those clergy and lay members of the Sourozh Diocese who wished to do so should be received into the Archdiocese of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe (within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate). Patriarch Alexi did not accede to Bishop Basil's request and instead on 9 May issued a decree retiring him. The latter only learned of this decree on 14 May when the text reached London and was publicly read out by Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun whom the Moscow Patriarchate appointed as temporary administrator of the Sourozh Diocese. On 8 June Bishop Basil was accepted into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and accorded the title of Bishop of Amphipolis as head of the Episcopal Vicariate of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Great Britain and Ireland.
These events have divided the clergy of the Sourozh Diocese (most of whom are English converts to Orthodoxy) - some have remained in the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, others have supported Bishop Basil. A list of each side's clergy can be found on the relevant website so it is not difficult to establish that the split on this level has been about equal. Two Russian priests and one Russian deacon have stayed with the Moscow Patriarchate whereas four deacons of Russian descent (two of them recently arrived in the Britain) have sided with Bishop Basil. The division among the laity is not so clear, however. There were many who, unlike the small campaigning "Initiative Group" at Ennismore Gardens, stood on neutral ground, not wishing to take sides, and indeed deeply regretting the divisions which had developed. Many of the pre-perestroika Russian émigrés, and many of the English who were converted to Russian Orthodoxy by Metropolitan Anthony, followed Bishop Basil, but not all. The situation in different parishes has varied enormously: some followed Bishop Basil, and others, like the Russian Orthodox parish in Oxford, split into two separate groups, yet not along ethnic lines.
British secular and church circles have not shown any great interest in the Sourozh split, although among Anglican clergy and bishops Bishop Basil has many friends and is deeply respected. Some Anglican bishops and clergy have felt much sympathy for his position and indeed have tried to help him. But for Lambeth good relations with the Moscow Patriarchate are too important and not worth damaging for the sake of friendship with Bishop Basil. The official position of both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church is a strictly neutral one. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, is prepared to maintain good relations with whomever the Moscow Patriarchate chooses to appoint as head of the Sourozh Diocese despite his friendship with Bishop Basil. Bishop Elisei of Bogorodsk, recently sent to London by Moscow in order to help Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun, has been officially received by both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church.
The Sourozh Diocese was different from other Russian Orthodox dioceses and had become "an embarrassment" for the Moscow Patriarchate, according to Protodeacon Peter Scorer in a Radio Liberty interview given on 13 June 2006:
"Thanks to the labours of Metropolitan Anthony, Sourozh was a diocese unique in the entire Moscow Patriarchate. [...] Now this free, sobornaya (communal) diocese, unlike any other within the Russian context, has become an embarrassment for Russia. They would like to see them ‘all of a kind', so that the churches abroad, which are being built in many countries, would be something like the embassy churches before the revolution. They are representations of Moscow abroad, and are controlled not by their local bishops, but by the DECR."
The Moscow Patriarchate would like Ennismore Gardens to become a Russian enclave, an outpost of Moscow in London within a diocese ruled firmly by headquarters (DECR). The principle of lay participation in decision-making, which was central to the way the Sourozh Diocese was run, will not sit easily with the Moscow Patriarchate's authoritarian culture which prefers obedience to mature lay-clerical cooperation.
Does the split in the Sourozh Diocese sound the death-knell for Russian Orthodoxy in the British Isles? Time will tell. These events may, however, represent the growing pains of a Christian tradition in this country which will now develop towards greater maturity: let us hope that the Vicariate under Bishop Basil of Amphipolis can continue the mission of Metropolitan Anthony,opening up the riches of Orthodoxy to people in this country and nurturing mature Christians who can contribute at parish level to inter-denominational and inter-faith dialogue which is so essential if our world is not to disintegrate.
This article first appeared in 2007 in the journal"Humanitas" (Journal of George Bell Institute)
St Fidel, Equal-to-the-Apostles might be Castro's title in the Russian Orthodox Church. The communist crusader's signature is one of two gracing a gold-embossed deed buried deep beneath the foundations of Cuba's first ever Russian Orthodox church. The other belongs to the new Russian Orthodox patriarch, Kirill.
Mindful of militant atheist sensibilities when meeting an ailing Castro in 2004, then Metropolitan Kirill was astonished to hear him give his personal pledge to be "commissar" of the church's construction. In subsequent "Reflections by Comrade Fidel", the Cuban leader explained that the church was his idea; Kirill, he was reassured to find, "is not an enemy of socialism and does not condemn to eternal fire those who struggle for a better world on the basis of Marxism-Leninism."
Alexy II, Kirill's predecessor, will be remembered for delivering an unprecedented rebirth of religious life inside his country. Churches shuttered by seven decades of Soviet rule burst back into life as millions rediscovered their faith, even inside the Kremlin. But the late patriarch also leaves an overlooked, if no less significant legacy: the revival of Russian Orthodoxy around the world.
Over the past 20 years, a network of dozens of Russian Orthodox parishes has sprung up from Dublin to Reykjavik to Barcelona to Ulaanbaatar. Even the last bastions of militant atheism are falling, and not just Havana. "Isn't it a miracle that, in our time, people in a communist country can be converted to the Orthodox faith?" Russian rappers Komba Bakh recite in their Orthodoxy in North Korea. "Respect to Kim Jong-Il!" The reclusive North Korean leader - who fears flying - made a stop-off in Siberia as he rode his train to Moscow in 2002. Entranced by the glinting domes of a local church in Khabarovsk, he requested a visit. Soon, four North Koreans were dispatched to an Orthodox seminary outside Moscow, and work began on a similarly onion-domed church in Pyongyang.
Patriarch Kirill is the Church's man behind this overseas revival. As head of the Department for External Church Relations since 1989, he has been tirelessly jetting across the globe, hobnobbing with foreign dignitaries and pressing for Orthodox churches as far as the Antarctic. For him and the handful of post-War generation bishops who have experience in top Church positions under the Soviets, such activity is second nature.
One of the very few things the Soviet government ever encouraged the Russian Orthodox Church to do was promote national interests abroad. Once it entered the World Council of Churches in 1961, substantial condemnations of US aggression could be heard in a new arena. For the Church, involvement in ecumenical circles was largely superficial; a way of maintaining an international public profile at a time when its position under atheist rule was still tenuous. It also allowed Kirill - just 24 on his appointment as official Moscow Patriarchate representative to the World Council of Churches in Geneva in 1971 - to hone his formidable diplomatic skills.
Now the reverse is true. The modern Russian state is interested more in the symbolic importance than the activity of the Church overseas. When, on a visit to New York in 2003, then President Vladimir Putin encouraged the Moscow Patriarchate's fledgling dialogue with the émigré Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, he saw it primarily as proof that "Russia is re-entering the family of civilized nations."
The Russian Orthodox Church is now keen to pursue an agenda of substance, and Kirill is its main compiler. He is behind the Church's extensive 2000 Social Doctrine and 2008 Human Rights Concept, which emphasizes collective over individual rights. Such projects have so far contained little dramatically at odds with state policy, but Kirill's independent and unpredictable mind is in itself a worry to the controlling Medvedev-Putin regime. It was no accident that Kirill's main challenger for the patriarchal throne, Kliment, was the sole Orthodox bishop to be handpicked by Putin for membership of Russia's new Public Chamber in 2005.
Symbols of friendship with Russia," the new churches in Cuba and North Korea are a curious result of this contradiction at the heart of the nation's church-state relations. While greatly exaggerated, the perception of a Moscow Patriarchate in cahoots with the Kremlin, it seems, still leads some foreign governments to assume that pleasing the Church will automatically win the patronage of the Russian state.
As patriarch, Kirill's main task will be to juggle such different perceptions. At home, there is an almost complete absence of enthusiasm among grassroots Orthodox for any shift in the Church's theological position towards that of non-Orthodox Christians. If he is to win their trust, Kirill will have to allay their suspicions about his ecumenical past. Days before his election as patriarch, addressing students at the thriving St Tikhon's Orthodox Humanities University in downtown Moscow, he was doing just that. Their revered Fr Vsevolod Shpiller, a popular conservative priest who died in 1984, was prepared to discuss ecumenism with him, recalled Kirill, only once ascertaining that they shared a "sober-minded" attitude towards non-Orthodoxy.
A papal visit to Russia thus remains off the cards. But formal dialogue with the Vatican will continue - and may even be said to be warm. Benedict might clinch a meeting with Kirill on neutral ground overseas - but not yet.
If there is anyone in the Russian Orthodox Church who can pull all this off, however, it is Kirill; one of the most complex - even contradictory - figures in Russian public life. Growing up in Leningrad, the man who the archives suggest had the KGB codename "Mikhailov" defiantly refused to join the patriotic Soviet youth organizations, the Pioneers and Komsomol. Not characterized by the faithful - unlike his predecessor - as a molitvennik, or man of prayer, Kirill played at being a priest from age three and knew several services by heart at five. Exuding ambition and long tipped for the job, he was also once asked by a young monk what he would do if he became patriarch. "Go skiing," he replied.
Geraldine Fagan is Moscow correspondent of Forum 18 News Service www.forum18.org
Between forty and ninety thousand believers paid their respects to the late Patriarch Aleksii II, who died on the morning of 5 December 2008, as he lay in state in the massive Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It seems fitting that they should make their farewells to him in a church that has become a controversial and multivalent symbol of the ‘Orthodox Russia' he worked to rebuild. The patriarch is buried at the Epiphany Cathedral, however, at his own request. He lies near the relics of his patron saint, the medieval Metropolitan Aleksii of Moscow, who served a Church still dominated by the Golden Horde and engaged in fraternal strife with the neighbouring Orthodox Metropolitan of Lithuania. He lies, too, near Patriarch Sergii (Stragorodskii), whose 1927 ‘Declaration of Loyalty' to the Soviet state contributed to the schism between the Moscow Patriarchate and the émigré Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Both churchmen would no doubt recognise the immense moral, political and spiritual challenges Patriarch Aleksii faced as he shepherded his flock into the post-Soviet era; both, no doubt, would appreciate the delicate balancing act he sought to maintain in his eighteen years of office.
Patriarch Aleksii's clerical career spanned cycles of Church repression and revival, and myriad problems within and without the Church. Born in Estonia in 1929, Alexei Ridiger was inspired by pilgrimages with his parents to follow the religious life. The son of an Estonian priest of German descent and a Russian mother, by the time Alexei reached sixteen he had lived through the annexation of his country by the Soviet Union, its invasion by Nazi Germany, and its liberation. As a teenage subdeacon, Alexei participated in the 1945 reopening of Tallinn's Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, before studying at Leningrad Theological Seminary. He was ordained as a priest in 1950, during a period of relative calm for the Russian Orthodox Church. Shorn as a monk in 1961, at the height of Khrushchev's anti-religious campaign, Aleksii began a rapid rise through the ‘black' clerical ranks only open to monastics - Bishop of Tallinn and Archimandrite in 1961, Archbishop in 1964, Metropolitan in 1968.
During this period, Aleksii also became a member of the Synodal Commission on Christian Unity and Inter-Church Relations, and in 1964 was elected president of the Conference of European Churches. Khrushchev - while shutting churches, banning pilgrimages and incarcerating monks in psychiatric units - was acutely aware of the propaganda value of the Church, and ensured Orthodox participation in the World Council of Churches and various peace movements. The ritual dance of Soviet clerics denying problems at home whilst lobbying about problems abroad may have frustrated Western Christians, but it was one of many compromises that senior clerics made to ensure the continued functioning of the institutional church. The suggestion that Aleksii himself collaborated with the Soviet regime - in acting as a KGB informant codenamed ‘Drozdov' - has always been denied by the Patriarchate. Although some inside and outside of the Russian Orthodox Church have regretted a lack of transparency about and public repentance for collaboration on the part of senior hierarchs, in 1991 Aleksii publicly asked for the forgiveness and understanding of those hurt by the compromises the Church made during the Soviet period.
Aleksii was elected to the Patriarchal throne in June 1990, as the Church was emerging from the moral quagmire of the Soviet period into a minefield of new and re-emerging problems. Thousands of buildings were returned to the faithful in a state of disrepair. Parish churches reopened faster than priests could be trained to serve in them. Nationalist aspirations threatened schisms amongst Orthodox faithful in Ukraine and the Baltic states, while nationalists amongst Orthodox faithful in Russia raised the ugly flags of antisemitism and xenophobia. The Patriarch's moving address to rabbis in New York in November 1991 - which acknowledged a shared religious heritage and lamented antisemitism - unleashed a furious response from militant right-wing groups within the Church. Further threats to unity came from the ‘True Orthodox Church' and Moscow Patriarchate parishes re-aligning themselves with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. The unity of the Church looked very fragile in these early years of freedom.
The Patriarch had to contend, too, with the revival of the Ukrainian Eastern-rite Catholic Church, anxious to reclaim property allotted to the Orthodox under Stalin. That, and the influx of foreign missionaries and clerics reclaiming pre-revolutionary territories or simply preaching to the ‘godless', no doubt contributed to his continued refusal to meet the Pope, and his support for the 1997 legislation which privileged Russia's ‘traditional religions'. Westerners, in particular, have judged him harshly for this, but the insensitive behaviour of missionaries (and, one might add, of politicians and entrepreneurs) in the immediate aftermath of Soviet collapse is at least partly responsible. ‘Would you like to know Jesus?' enthusiastic American teenagers would call out to Muscovites in the nineties. The assumption - that Russians did not know Christ, or at least didn't know Him as well as these adolescent interlocutors - must surely have irritated those whose Orthodoxy had survived persecution for longer than their would-be saviours had been alive.
Under Patriarch Aleksii's leadership, the Church formulated a document on the ‘Social Concept of the Orthodox Church' to articulate the basic teachings of the Church on social problems and church-state relations in a secular world. It also embarked on the massive task of researching, recording and canonizing the Orthodox victims of Soviet repression - including, controversially, the Romanov family. This latter process, painful and fraught with theological and moral problems, resulted in the elevation of Nicholas, his wife and four children (but not their servants) to the ranks of ‘passion-bearers', and removed one of the barriers to the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad with the Moscow Patriarchate. This reunification, which eventually took place in 2007, will no doubt be remembered as the pinnacle of Patriarch Aleksii's achievements. The reunion agreement was signed at a ceremony in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a double emblem of Bolshevism overturned.
To construct the original Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (completed in 1882) in commemoration of Russia's victory over Napoleon, the seventeenth century Convent of Aleksii the Man of God was destroyed. Legend has it that one of the convent's nuns cursed the site, so that nothing built thereafter would last. The pre-revolutionary Cathedral was demolished in 1931, Stalin's grandiose plans for a Palace of the Soviets came to nought, and Krushchev's open air swimming pool was eventually replaced by Luzhkov's monument to Russia's renaissance. Buildings come and go, but somehow or other, the body of the Church endures. Russia is paying its respects to a man who has helped to keep that body whole.
Pilgrims at the St Seraphim Spring in Diveevo (phot.Sandra Reddin)
Some time after the war, in the 1950s probably, our factories made an unbelievable amount of plush jackets lined with cotton wadding. They were brown or black and shone with a sort of olive reddishness in the winter sun. The young people didn't wear them. It was the grannies who wore them. Kerchief on their heads, plush jacket, long satin skirt and galoshes with knitted socks - that's how I see the grannies in my child's memory...
I remember well our village in the steppes, exposed to the wind from all sides, a collection of mud brick or wooden houses (when the first real brick houses appeared they seemed palaces to us). There were blackened old fences and trees stuck up here and there. The little pond swelled in the spring and seemed to us like a whole sea.
There we were, my grandmother and I (she never wore a plush jacket), standing on the banks of our spring sea, looking across at the little mud brick house reddish on the other shore, and there went the plush-clad grannies in twos and threes, one after the other, all off to a meeting or something? My own grandmother, she was born around the same time as they were, in 1903, and figured out what it was all about, explained to me that today was a religious festival, the Annunciation it was called, and the grannies were all so stupid and ignorant that they were still celebrating the event.
My grandmother recounted as best she could what she remembered from her schoolroom lessons in religious instruction. She sounded like Leo Taksil at first, but as she talked her tone changed of its own accord, grew warm and even took on a sort of significant note. You can't ever scrub someone free of their childhood. But I was amazed nonetheless, wondered how anyone could ever believe such fairytales.
There was never any Orthodox church in our village or even in our whole district. We lived in what had been the Volga German Autonomous District. After Stalin deported the Germans and abolished the autonomous district others moved into the emptied lands. First it was the war evacuees who came, and then just people hoping to find a better lot here beyond the Volga. There were also those who, like my grandfather, were sent to the steppe by the Party's iron hand. Practically none of the original population remained, just a few scattered here and there, but the grannies in their black plush jackets clearly had something that bound them all together.
A few days later, my grandmother came home from beyond the pond, that is, came back from bread shop, with the news that the grannies held a ceremony the day before, took out the Shroud of Christ. She told me what the Shroud of Christ was and went on in tut-tutting tone to say that some of the grannies even dragged their grandchildren along to the event, and where are the parents when all this was going on, and surely the school should react somehow...
My school friend Tanya was among the grandchildren ‘dragged off to the event'. She turned unusually serious as she described to me what she saw there. Four grannies emerged from a room, carrying a large icon, holding onto its corners (they did not really have a Shroud of Christ of course) and laid it on a stool. They covered it with a white towel and placed flowers on top (the cheap plastic flowers sold in our village shop). A beautiful melody the grannies sang, many of them crying, and Granny Raya read something from a very old book.
I reminded my friend vigorously that we were members of the Young Octobrists, getting ready to join the Pioneers, and should not be going to these kinds of meetings. But my friend's unusual seriousness troubled me. I soon heard for myself just how those grannies could sing.
My grandfather's sister, who lived nearby, died. Serafima, Granny Sima I called her. On the night before her funeral, my mother, who had been helping to prepare the food for the wake, came home and said, "The grannies are reading there. They've brought an old book and they're reading in Church Slavonic. They say they're going to read all night. Do you want to go and see?"
"Whatever next!" my grandmother was disapproving. "There's nothing for her to see there".
The next morning, they carried Serafima in her coffin into the yard. The men raised the coffin to their shoulders and the grannies began to sing.
How was it they could sing this way, and where did their voices come from? How many years had it been since any of them could have heard a real church choir?
But the beauty of their melody amazed me. It more than amazed me. I was a faithful little Young Octobrist but I felt immediately that this religion denied and rejected by our entire Soviet life had an inexplicable attraction and even some strange power.
It would be a great exaggeration to say that from that moment I began to think seriously about religious faith. I'd need a couple more decades, great change in the country and big personal upheavals before I began to think about religious faith. But when I did finally turn my thoughts in this direction I recalled our miserable little yard, the grey sky, wet snow (it was winter then it seems), the coffin covered in something black, and the singing of the grannies in their brown plush jackets.
Each of them had their own road of trials behind them. Their fates were woven through with the common thread of revolution, the civil war, collectivisation, the famine of 1933, the arrests and terror of 1937, and the war. Many of them were war widows. The authorities had given up on them and let them live out their days unchanged, stay what they'd always been. The authorities were convinced that the grannies would die and take their religion with them, and it would all soon be over. The grannies' behaviour seemed on the outside to go along with that idea. "We'll live out our days as we've always lived", they'd say when the party enthusiasts thought to try indoctrinating them in the new ways. But they did more than just live out their days. Those grannies, they baptised half of Russia!
Propaganda was one thing, but when it came to the test it turned out that in our class, for example, only a handful of children weren't christened, the children of the state farm and railroad bosses and the schoolteachers' children, that is, those who had the Party's eye on them. The more ordinary families had their children christened. Usually it was the grannies who insisted, and who still had authority as the elders of the family in those days. The nearest working church was in Saratov. The train went there and the grannies would gather all their grandchildren of various ages and take them there in secret ceremony. They did not christen the children themselves, without a priest. They probably knew that this was possible only in the most extreme event. And there was already so much they had to do themselves as it was.
Now, many years later, I realise that what those old Russian grannies did was indeed a true feat of loyalty and faith. They stayed faithful to He whom all around had rejected. They continued to perform the holy rites in spite of everything. Like the sisters of Galilee they were truer than the men. Throughout all the post-war Soviet years the word ‘church' was always associated in our minds with the word ‘granny' but never with the word ‘grandpa'. It was always ‘old women' who came to mind, and never ‘old men'.
Barely any of our forty heroines lived to see the first glimmers of what is now called the Second Baptism of Russia. They could not see the future of course, but I think they believed that religion would return. One of them, Granny Raya maybe, Granny Nyura perhaps, said, "Whatever happens, faith will return". I have only a fuzzy memory now, a vague recollection of one of them making this assertion as we queued at the bread shop.
My own grandmother, who never wore a plush jacket or kerchief on her head, outlived them all. She entered her tenth decade and grew indignant watching perestroika-era TV.
"What is Gorbachev doing bringing the priests back?" she exclaimed naively.
But when she died, we found under her pillow a page from a notebook with something scrawled on it in pencil. Her hand had grown weak with age and it was hard to make out the letters: "Our Father who art in Heaven..." It was the only prayer she still remembered by heart from the religious instruction lessons of her distant schooldays.
Marina Biryukova is a poet and journalist who lives in the Volga city of Saratov.
The scandal of the rebellious bishop Diomid of Chukotka rumbles on. Yesterday, this strange figure pronounced a curse on Patriarch Alexei II. The church responded in kind, saying that Diomid was not coping with his missionary work and was just a ‘bad priest'.
Some people have suggested that Diomid has been set up, to show people what Orthodox fundamentalism is really like. Others see Diomid's statements as an attack on Metropolitan Kirill, regarded by many as the second most important figure in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and probably the next patriarch.
The view within the Church is that in his eight years as Bishop of Chukotka, Diomid ‘has been unable to create normal conditions for the spiritual life of believers'. ‘Proof of this is the empty churches and tiny number of signatures collected on appeals in defence of the former bishop,' Interfax Religiya was told by Hieromonakh Agafangel (Belykh), Acting Superior at the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord at Anadyr, where Diomid formerly served.
Whatever the truth of this, the ROC will have to react to the outrageous behavior of the former bishop of Chukotka. Yesterday a website close to the Church posted another appeal for signatures for the disgraced clergyman, which the Patriarchate called ‘madness and nonsense'. The former bishop, or whoever the authors of the text are, went on to excommunicate not only Patriarch Alexei II, but Metropolitan Kirill, (head of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate), as well as Kirill's predecessor in that post, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk. He even excommunicated ‘all their predecessors who took part in the uprising against the Tsar in February 1917, as well as everyone who shares their beliefs'.
Bishop Diomid has been criticising the ROC since 2007, posting his letters and appeals on the internet. He calls on the ROC to reject dialogue with other religions and the government, which is ‘against the people'. He wants a return to monarchy, rejects mobile phones, the newly-introduced passports and tax identification numbers. But note that almost all these appeals are posted on the internet, and Diomid does not call for that to be banned.
Bishop Diomid did not attend the last assembly of bishops, claiming he was indisposed (with a nervous complaint). The canonical rules stipulate that a bishop cannot be condemned and punished in his absence. But the participants decided that Diomid was feigning illness. ‘The reason Diomid gave for his absence is not legitimate,' declared Metropolitan Kirill. So he was removed from office.
The ‘virtual Diomid' - author of the letters and troublemaker - may not actually be a real person. But he undoubtedly reflects the beliefs of some of the Orthodox community and clergy. You could call this movement Orthodox fundamentalism. Although few priests hold such views, many are sympathetic to Diomid's ideas (especially those opposing all church reforms). Characteristically, Diomid's main message is about fighting the ‘secularisation' of the Church. He claims that the Church is deviating from its mission and that it's getting far too involved in modern technology and in making money. Many people would agree with that.
What's striking is that the real villain for Diomid is not the Patriarch so much as Metropolitan Kirill, Alexei's most likely successor. We may of course be getting altogether too conspiratorial here, but the message of our anti-hero Diomid seems to be this: that there are bad things going on in the Church (money-making etc, see above) and that Metropolitan Kirill is directly responsible for them, as he is for the fact that he does not know his own congregation and will not listen to his fellow priests.
Here's how the ‘revolting bishop' puts his complaint to the Church court about the decision to remove him from office: ‘Bishop Diomid is unrepentant. Furthermore, at the trial he intends to accuse Metropolitan Kirill (Gundyaev) of betraying Orthodoxy.'
This is pure politics. Note that this battle is being waged like a textbook piece of political strategy. Diomid (or is it someone pretending to be him?) has been making waves for the past year. He's created news out of nothing - bishops in the modern Church can't just excommunicate their boss, the top man! It's a revolt, and it might suggest there's going to be a split in the church. But he's turned it into news. The hounds of the liberal press, all secular to the core, have been falling over themselves to write about the bishop's latest pronouncement.
He's had mysterious supporters appearing in Moscow from nowhere, though admittedly not in great numbers. They've taken to picketting the Church of Christ the Savior during the Bishops' Assembly. Then the no less mysterious ‘Orthodox Nashi' and the ubiquitous Union of Orthodox citizens turn up to demonstrate against them - in the relatively short span of its existence this latter organization has already managed to ‘defend' everyone you can think of, down to the dean of the Sociology faculty of Moscow State University, Dobrenkov.
By the way, it was Diomid's supporters who've been calling for a Church Council to be convened. The ROC charter passed in 2000 states that this Council should only meet in exceptional cases, for instance when a new patriarch is elected (the charter of 1988 says that this council's supposed to convene every five years, but it never has). This has proved a fairly effective tactic in any organization. Stalin, for example, was called to account for not having held party congresses often enough. The device is aimed at winning over the parishes, if not to the views of Diomid, then to those of forces in the Church which do not like the present leadership of the Church.
This was the tactic which was used in the communist party's internal battle in 2003-2004, which almost led to Gennady Zyuganov's overthrow. It was orchestrated by his former associate and head treasurer of the party, Gennady Semigin, with the support of grass-roots party cells and regional party branches. Zyuganov was accused of being autocratic, too close to the oligarchs, out of touch with the grass roots etc.
The excommunication of the Patriarch and other ‘betrayers of Orthodoxy' is the subject of a blog by Diomid's former subordinate (clergymen really seem to like the internet. Or are they professionals acting on their behalf?). It's author Father Mikhail knew Diomid in the earl 1990s', when he was still a priest, serving in Kamchatka. According to Father Mikhail ‘when he began serving on the peninsula, the future bishop drove away all the parishioners. During services he would come out and yell at his praying flock, calling them goats and sheep. He has no respect for his congregation, he has no respect for the archbishop - what kind of priest is this Diomid anyway?'
About once a year articles start appearing in the press about various bishops of the Orthodox church who ‘like to do business'. Before the bishops' assembly, someone calling himself ‘Sobesednik' wrote that ‘the income of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is no longer calculated in kopecks', but in ‘millions of dollars', as the Church acts ‘as an investor, even investing in business centres'. Surprisingly enough, these rather monotonous ‘investigative attacks' come at a time when there are rumours that the patriarch is ‘ill', and may even die soon. These articles always criticise the Church's Department of External Relations, which suggests that this opposition is coming from within the Church. This may reflect disagreements that are not so much political as canonical, ideological, or have some completely different cause.
But when it comes to Diomid - whose actions aren't really very significant for the Church - the tactics he's chosen leave little room for doubt that the forces behind him are political.
This conclusion is reinforced by the way the bishops have been responding to questions from the press about him. ‘Who is this Diomid?' they tend to say, or just ‘No comment'. Doesn't that remind you of something, of the way Vladimir Putin responds when he's asked about someone like Boris Berezovsky: ‘Who's he?' Doesn't it sound like those generals when they're being asked to comment on the latest hazing scandal: ‘No comment, the investigation will get to the bottom of it'.
Russia's year of elections
Privatizatsiya, twenty years on
Russian economy: trying to please people doesn’t help, Dmitry Travin
Privatisation, but no private property, Andrei Zaostrovtsev
Is corruption in Russia's DNA?, Pyotr Filippov
Russia’s crony capitalism: the swing of the pendulum, Vladimir Gelman
Russian reforms, twenty years on. Introduction to the series, Dmitry Travin
Russian economy: trying to please people doesn’t help, Dmitry Travin
Privatisation, but no private property, Andrei Zaostrovtsev
Is corruption in Russia's DNA?, Pyotr Filippov
Russia’s crony capitalism: the swing of the pendulum, Vladimir Gelman
Russian reforms, twenty years on. Introduction to the series, Dmitry Travin