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A Dubious Reunion for the Russian Orthodox Church:

In this Wall Street Journal op ed, historian Nadia Kizenko analyzes the reunion between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and its parent church in Russia. As Kizenko notes, the Church Abroad broke with the Russian church in 1920 because the latter had fallen under the control of the brutal Communist government that, among other things, suppressed religious freedom. Now, the Church Abroad has again accepted the authority of the Patriarch of Moscow, the chief prelate of the Russian Orthodox Church, including giving the Russian church the right to appoint bishops and control church property.

Not being Russian Orthodox, it isn't my place to comment on the purely religious aspects of the reunion. However, like Kizenko, I am disappointed by the Church Abroad's willingness to accept the deal despite the fact that the Russian church hierarchy continues to embrace its long history of collaboration with the Russia's communist rulers, and is now supporting the increasingly authoritarian government of President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel who claims that the collapse of communism was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." While some individual Orthodox priests and laypeople bravely resisted the communists, the church hierarchy soon came to be controlled by communist collaborators, as Kizenko explains in her article.

Russian Orthodox believers in the US and elsewhere in the West will have to decide for themselves whether they will accept the merger. Perhaps, as in 1920, the time has come to once again establish a new church unsullied by collaboration with communists and authoritarians.

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  1. A Dubious Reunion for the Russian Orthodox Church:
  2. Estonia and the Legacy of Soviet "Liberation":
  3. A May Day Proposal:
M (mail):
The Orthodox Church in Russia has been completely attached to the hand of power in all of its history. In recent years the dispensation that Yeltsin granted it to import and sell alcohol and cigaretts duty free, thereby making the heads of the church very, very rich men, was enough to do away with any slight independence it might have had. (Also, while I agree that Putin's remark about the end of the Soviet Union is stupid, I think you harp on it too much. It was said in a particular context and was clearly propoganda for the domestic audience. Many, many people in Russia regret the end of the Soviet Union even though few regret the end of communism. And the end of the Soviet Union brought war, lower living standards, and chaos to large numbers in Russia and in many of the former republics as well as a deep loss of national pride. It was, in context (I was living there when the remark was made) this sort of thing he was talking about. Even so it's a silly thing to say but it's more a silly thing than a deeply evil one and probably not worth stressing so much as you have several times.)
5.26.2007 7:28am
Taeyoung (mail):
The Orthodox Church in Russia has been completely attached to the hand of power in all of its history.
To expand on this, hasn't the Russian Orthodox Church been led by individuals selected by an autocratic state since 1700, when Peter the Great replaced the autonomous Patriarch with a Tsar-appointed Holy Synod?
5.26.2007 12:18pm
Matt P (mail):
I am not a Russian Orthodox (IAMARO?) but it is an important thing to remember that the Orthodox churches (Greek, etc, etc) see the unity of the Church as sign of its faithfulness to Christ's prayer ('may they be one...'). For protestants a split within a church represents a painful thing, but it leaves open the possiblity of faithful persons in other denominations, within the Orthodox faith a church split isolates the smaller group thereby increasing the feeling of loss.

This is not to say that the church abroad is correct, but I would guess that the issue at the heart of this choice is different from the one that caused the split. In many ways I am suprised the churches abroad held out this long... it must have been very painful for them.

As for the question of authority in the church the Russian Orthodox church in America is autocephalous, 'self-headed'. If they did not give up this right when they returned they have more of a federalist church system in relationship to the Patriarch of Moscow. They would be more like one of the non-Roman rites who recognize the authority of the Bishop of Rome within the Catholic church.

In fact the Orthodox/Catholic split was over this over this very kind of issue(Patriarch of Constantinople vs. The Bishop of Rome). The Orthodox churches have always had a very strong connection to the political systems as well due to thier relationship to the trends started by Constantine. Where the Catholic Church claimed temporal authority through the Vatican state, the Orthodox Church worked with temporal powers to a greater extent.
5.26.2007 12:35pm
spectator:
Ilya claims that the Russian Church "continues to embrace its long history of collaboration with the Russia's communist rulers", but the joint declarations on the relation between church and state which prepared the union in fact reveal a more nuanced view on history and especially the role of Patriarch Sergius.
5.26.2007 2:21pm
The Cabbage (mail):
I'm a member of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. A couple of points:

1) In a nutshell, Putin is Nicholas I. He very well may be a religious person, but he will act exclusivly to promote a Greater Russia. I expect him to support the Church because it is a means to unite Russians and promote patriotism. As an Orthodox Christian, I'm highly indifferent to Putin; as an American citizen, I'm kinda skeptical about another oppresive Russian strongman.

2) As Matt alluded to, unity is exceedingly important to the Orthodox church. However, its important to distinguish this unity from the looser ecumenical movements that dominate western denominations. The Church is governed by canonical law that developed during the Byzantine Empire. Unity is basically mandatory amongst the canonical churches. The Church Abroad came into being in exceptional historical circumstances, and was always viewed as a temporary institution.

Canonically, we were only permitted to remain spiritually seperate from Moscow because of the unique circumstances of the Soviet period (and there was a canonical justification for this unique sort of administration- email me if you'd like more background, I'm trying to limit the history lesson here). After the fall, reconcilliation was inevitable (and canonically required). The bishops of the Church Abroad could only maintain a canonical separation from the Patriarch if the Patriarch himself entered into heresy (There is only one Church, so if the Patriarch was a heretic, he would have left the church).

Frankly, it has only taken this long to reconcil because of the longstanding mistrust that has existed since the Russian Civil War and the era of Sergius.

3)

"Russian Orthodox believers in the US and elsewhere in the West will have to decide for themselves whether they will accept the merger. Perhaps, as in 1920, the time has come to once again establish a new church unsullied by collaboration with communists and authoritarians."



To some extent, this has already happened. As some are unwilling to accept the union and have started new church. The problem with this is that, from an theological perspective, you can't just *start* a new church. The Orthodox faith requires One canonical, apostolic, church. Starting you're own church is a practice best left to the Protestants.


4) This is really only a spiritual union. The administration of the Church Abroad will remain seperate.

5) Spectator is correct. The history involved is actually quite nuanced. So while no one at the Church Aborad accepts the "Sergianist" doctrines, the general sentiment is that since Patriarch Alexey has disavowed them, that is all we can ask for.

Here is a more thorough canonical assessment.


- Nick Hantel
5.26.2007 3:01pm
Grover_Cleveland:
Something similar happened in the fourth century when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire under Constantine and his successors. The Donatists refused to accept the authority of anyone who had renounced their faith during prior episodes of persecution. Interestingly, the Donatists became regarded as heretics.
5.26.2007 3:30pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
In Romania, non-Orthodox groups regarded the Orthodox Church as the Communist Party plus candles and incense. While this is a prejudiced overgeneralization in itself, it was not without foundation. Orthodox priests would regularly identify the Baptists and others in their towns to the Securitate.
5.26.2007 7:34pm
Ilya Somin:
4) This is really only a spiritual union. The administration of the Church Abroad will remain seperate.

I don't know about that. In her article, Kizenko specificially indicates that, under the agreement, the Russian Patriarchate "regains control over bishops' appointments and the right to open or close all parishes." Is she wrong about that? If anyone has proof that she is, I will post a correction.
5.27.2007 1:23am
Ilya Somin:
As for the question of authority in the church the Russian Orthodox church in America is autocephalous, 'self-headed'. If they did not give up this right when they returned they have more of a federalist church system in relationship to the Patriarch of Moscow. They would be more like one of the non-Roman rites who recognize the authority of the Bishop of Rome within the Catholic church.

As I noted in my previous comment, this is directly contradicted by Kizenko's account of the terms of the reunion. While different national orthodox churches have a great deal of autonomy (e.g. - Greek Orthodox vs. Russian vs. Romanian), the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is not a fully independent national church, but rather a branch of the Russian Church that claimed temporary independent status in 1920 as a result of the situation created by the communist takeover in Russia.
5.27.2007 1:37am
The Cabbage (mail):
Ilya,

Yeah. From everything I've heard Kizenko is at least partially mistaken. For instance, her crack about the repatriation of the bells of Danilov Monestary isn't exactly how it sounds. Basically, some monks went to Harvard and asked for their bells back. Its not like some Putin put on his KGB thieving gloves and went to Boston and stole the bells.

I'm all but certain that Moscow will have no say over property matters-opening and closing churches, etc. I do not know the extent of their involvement with appointments to the episcopate. To a certain extent, that is a spiritual matter, and must be approved by the Patriarch. Obviously, appointment power is quite significant, but I don't know if we're talking veto power, or if future appointments will be dictated by Moscow. My impression, though it is late and I will have to double check this later on in the week, was that Moscow would have a sort of veto power, but that the Church Abroad would be given signifigcant leeway to conduct her own affairs. In fact, Met. Laurus has repeatedly emphasized this point.
- I can't find a cite. sorry, it's late. I'll try and remember to get one by Monday.

You're most recent comment is exactly on the mark. The Church Abroad was never a fully independant church; it was a historical anomoly.
5.27.2007 2:40am
ys:

From everything I've heard Kizenko is at least partially mistaken. For instance, her crack about the repatriation of the bells of Danilov Monestary isn't exactly how it sounds. Basically, some monks went to Harvard and asked for their bells back. Its not like some Putin put on his KGB thieving gloves and went to Boston and stole the bells.

Nobody stole the bells of course, but it was not just "some monks". It was the head of the monastery blessed for this meeting directly by the patriarch and accompanied, among others, by an appropriate functionary of the direct representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Central Region. You can check it out at the monastery's own web site here and here.
5.29.2007 2:49pm
Aleks:
Re: The Orthodox Church in Russia has been completely attached to the hand of power in all of its history.

A very gross generalization. During the pre-Tsarist period the Russian Church was the only universal Russian institution, in much the same way that the Roman Catholic Church was then the only universal Western European institution. Since secular rulers were weak and the country politically fragmented (or under Mongol suzerainty), the Church was indeed largely free from the "hand of power". In the early tsarist period the Church did for a while resist the demands of the tsars for supremacy, and for a while the Church even played the role of power broker in opposing the attempt by Poland to place its own claimant on the Moscovite throne and then, by bringing the Romanovs to power (the Patriarch of Moscow at the time was himself a Romanov; since the Orthodox Church allows for married clergy and even widowed bishops, Russian churchmen always tended to have stronger family ties than did Western prelates). It was Peter the Great, having studied the relationship of Church and State in western Protestant countries, who abolished the Moscow Patriarchate and finally and firmly reduced the Church to his "ministry of religion" where it languished for over 200 years. A very brief renaissance in the early 20th century, complete with the restoration of the Patriarchate in 1917, was ended by the Bolsheviks.

On the issue of ROCOR, one should note that in more recent times the principle issues ROCOR had with the rest of the Orthodox world have involved the use of the New Calendar and participation in the World Council of Churches. Moscow however never adopted the New Calendar and withdrew from the WCC about a decade ago. Putin himself is an Orthodox believer (at least he appears to be) so his kind words for the departed Commissars are likely to be indulged in much the same way that kind words for Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible are.
5.29.2007 4:26pm