Staunton, September 10 – Most of those leaving Russia to live permanently abroad are scholars or entrepreneurs, but among this flow now are some Russians typically view as committed to the regime’s new patriotism. Their reasons constitute a searing indictment of both the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate.
Today, in a report on this perhaps for most Russians and others unexpected phenomenon, the Lenta.ru news agency publishes interviews by Vasily Chernov with three Russian Orthodox priests who decided they could no longer live under the conditions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia or of Patriarch Kirill’s church (lenta.ru/articles/2015/09/10/popsgo/).
Chernov’s first interview was with Father Andrey Markov, who became an Orthodox priest in 1992 but who subsequently emigrated to the United States where he now lives. The two main reasons were his disappointment in what had appeared the spiritual possibilities of the early 1990s and the unwillingness of the clerical hierarchy or his parish to help him with his son who suffers from Down’s syndrome.
“I came to understand,” Father Andrey says, that “the Russian Orthodox Church did not need me as I am. What it needed were triumphalists or people who invented triumphs. I wanted to save [my son], and I was told that in the US there are effective programs for helping people with Down’s syndrome. When I came to the US, I became convinced that this is the truth.”
The Orthodox priest notes that Father Pavel Adelgeym organized in his church a home for children with mental problems,” but when the church hierarchy took this congregation away from Father Pavel because of his public condemnation of social problems, the hierarchy immediately closed it down.
Father Andrey says that despite the fact that all his close friends now are in America, he dreams of “living to that moment when in our church something will change and [he] will be able to return to Russia in order to serve God and people at home.” That will require a sea change in attitudes within the church and within Russian society.
Nevertheless, he says, he retains his hopes: “one cannot deceive either the people or oneself forever.”
Chernov’s second interview was with Father Grigory Ryazanov, a Moscow State University graduate who has made a good career in an oblast center and even headed the missionary department of a Russian Orthodox bishopric. But despite that, he has filed his documents to emigrate.
He says he wants to leave because he was promoted by the previous bishop and does not get along with the new one, retaining his status only because he is a Moscow State graduate who was willing to come back to the provinces to work in the church rather than in private business.
Father Grigory says that many priests are thinking about living because that is “the only way to arrange life for themselves and their children, not just in the material sense but in the spiritual or church sense as well.” For anyone, there is a need for independence and a good milieu: as a priest in Russia now, both are hard to find.
An individual needs independence in order to make mistakes, take responsibility and correct them. But no less important is the milieu in which one lives. “It is said that whatever a priest is like, so too will be the congregation, but the reverse is true as well. If you for years serve among people who need nothing except rituals, you yourself begin to live that way.”
In Russia today, there are problems with regard to both of these, but the worst for priests is the lack of independence, Father Grigory says. Faced with a situation in which everything is decided for him, a priest may simply try to figure out how to form “a financial parachute” that will allow him a soft landing if the hierarchs change.
He says that he felt that he was at risk of going in that direction, something that would threaten his position as a Christian and his status as a human being. “I understood,” Father Grigory tells Chernov, “that sooner or later, I too would begin to degrade, and I did not want that fate for myself.”
The priest says that in his experience there are many Russian Orthodox priests who would like to emigrate if they had the chance. Such people are usually supportive of those who do, but other priests treat such actions as “treasonous” because they believe that the highest virtue is to bow down to those above one in the chain of command.
Father Grigory says that he hopes to continue to work as a priest. “The emigration which I plan,” he says, “is an emigration not from holiness but in the name of holiness. I want to have the chance to fulfill my calling as a priest to the best of my ability. This is the main cause,” and a comfortable life abroad without it would be for him “nothing.”
Chernov’s third interview was with Father Nikolay Karpenko who has emigrated but continues to serve in a church belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate in Germany. Father Nikolay at first didn’t want to talk with the Lenta.ru journalist, but he finally agreed and told the story of his complicated life.
The child of unbelievers, Father Nikolay became a priest in the early 1990s and felt the call to “serve God.” He trained as a priest and then was sent to a rural parish, one without any money and one in which he had a great deal of difficulty making ends meet for his wife and five children.
Despite that, he says, he did not have time to think. There was too much to do, “but when the parents of [his] wife, an ethnic German left for Germany, this thought came to [him] on its own. It was something entirely natural” because he wanted to maintain ties between his wife and children and her relatives.
His superiors in the Moscow Patriarchate had no interest in helping him maintain these connections. They told him that his lot was to serve “’Holy Rus.’” But it was obvious that if he did so, neither he nor his children would have any prospects for the future. Father Nikolay finally walked away from the church and fled to Germany.
His work in the church in Russia was boring, but after he came to Germany, he gained the opportunity to “serve without any monetary concerns, from the soul and from the heart. What a joy!”
He says he has helped other Russian Orthodox priests to resettle abroad and now sees his and their future only there. His children are Germans, and as for himself, he “remains a Russian priest, one of the many Russian priests who has no future in Russia.”