Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Moscow Patriarchate Building Churches the Same Way Bolsheviks Destroyed Them – and May Produce the Same Reaction

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 8 – Many Russians view the current campaign of the Russian Orthodox Church to build new churches as the mirror image of the earlier campaign of the Bolsheviks to close and destroy these facilities, with both efforts being marked by illegality, deception, and a lack of regard for the feelings of the population, according to Ilya Brazhnikov.

            And because that is so, the commentator says, the excesses of the Patriarchate today in promoting the construction of churches are likely to have the same effect as the excesses of the Bolsheviks did, alienating the population from the values that its authors say they are promoting and causing them to turn against the Church (

             This is an argument Mikhail Zhebyatyev, a specialist at the International Institute of Humanities and Political Research, has also made (, Brazhnikov notes. But the commentator’s argument puts the current conflict about church building in an even broader context.

             “Future historians,” he says, “will be interested in the trauma which [his] generation experienced in the second half of the 1980s,” when the media suddently exposed the tragic history of Russia under communism. While young people in their idealism wanted to “continue a great history,” they also were told daily about what the pursuit of that in fact would cost.

             One consequence of that cognitive dissonance, Brazhnikov says, was a desire to eliminate the source of trauma by acting as if one could “begin everything anew from a blank slate,” a delusion that almost certainly guaranteed that the horrors of the past would be repeated if under other names and by other people.

             In part this happened, he suggests, because the descriptions of the crimes the Bolsheviks had committed were enormously detailed, but these descriptions were not accompanied by explanations – or at a minimum, such explanations as were offered either seemed incomplete or never reached the entire population.

           And yet it is precisely explanations and not descriptions that are needed. The Bolsheviks, Brazhnikov continues, “were something like the ISIS of the beginning of the 20th century.”  When they blew up the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, they filmed it; and had they been able to, they would have posted on Facebook a video clip of the murder of the Imperial Family.

            That is because the Bolsheviks wanted people to see that they could destroy the sacred. If Orthodoxy was sacred to Russians a century ago, today, “’the sacred’ in the consciousness of the contemporary Russia is above all the good, the beautiful, the natural … and which does not bring harm.”

             What Patriarch Kirill doesn’t appear to understand, although he should, Brazhnikov continues, is that when the Church attacks those “’sacred’” spaces by its brutal campaign to construct more churches, it is not only behaving as the Bolsheviks did when they destroyed churches. It is setting itself up for a fall.

               The Patriarchate’s program to construct 200 new churches in Moscow regardless of what the population wants “violates the fundamental understanding about what is ‘sacred’” and makes the church into a scandal just as the Bolsheviks actions against the churches made a scandal of that political party and its regime.

              The population can “see what the construction of a church in fact is” under the Patriachate’s program: an act of theft, force, lies, deception and so on.  Not surprisingly, the Russian Orthodox Church will be blamed for “any excesses,” and that means that “the wave of ‘popular anger,’ which three years ago [at the time of Pussy Riot] … defended the church, may now shift in the opposite direction.”

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