Staunton, October 4 – In his “Letter to Soviet Leaders,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn said they should be aware that in the event of a war with China, only a tiny fraction of the Soviet population would be willing to die on behalf of the idea that the sacred truth in Lenin’s writings was on one page rather than another. “Only the very first will die for that,” he warned.
Much the same thing is true now regarding Orthodox religious obscurantism in Russia, Kseniya Kirillova writes. No more than four percent of even active members of the Russian Orthodox Church support religious radicals, although most don’t protest because of the usual Russian assumption that this is the way things are (svoboda.org/content/article/27262704.html).
In an essay taking on the all-too-easy assumption of some Western writers that recent outbursts of Orthodox fundamentalism that have enjoyed at least the passive support of the Russian government point to the emergence of a new “dark ages” in Russia “hardly less than that of ‘the Islamic state.’”
A major reason for that conclusion, Kirillova says, is that the attitudes of various groups within the Russian Orthodox Church, however much some in the Moscow Patriarchate or in the Kremlin might like them to be otherwise, are hardly inclined in the direction of “Orthodox fundamentalism.”
First of all, there is within the Russian Orthodox Church a large stratum of “’intellectuals,’ people who came to the faith consciously, most often in Soviet years during repression or at the start of the free 1990s. The majority of them are part of the liberal intelligentsia of perestroika times.”
They know about church doctrine, typically are well-educated and thus appalled by the current Kremlin ideology which although it cites religion frequently is anything but informed by Christianity. Such people are to be found not only in the population at large, Kirillova points out, but also “among the clergy.”
Second, there is another group of “’sincerely believing people,’” those who may not have significant education secular or religious but who are quite involved with church life in acts of mercy and providing assistance to those in need as church doctrine requires. Such people typically avoid any contact with the state.
And third, and in fact the majority consists of those “who go to church only on holidays, do not know the basic features of Christian teaching, and do not intend to change their lives to bring them into line with Orthodox doctrine. “For such people,” Kirillova says, “the official church plays approximately the same role today that the CPSU played” in Brezhnev’s times.
Such people and they are very much part of the Putin majority do not take seriously the declarations of the hierarchs. They are loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church “when it, in their understanding, ‘defends Russian identity from the aggression of the spiritless West,’” and “they are really proud” when Church leaders talk about how exceptional Russia is.
But that doesn’t mean that such people accept the ideas of Church radicals on gender roles or personal behavior. And their apparent support of the acts of vandalism by the radicals is not about shared “’religious feelings’” but “only because ‘this is how it must be,’” that is, that is how the state wants things to proceed.
At the same time, Kirillova suggests that Aleksandr Rubtsov was correct when he observed that “now, the conflict of fundamentalism with the contemporary world has become a sign of the times,” and that Russia “is beginning to reproduce this conflict within itself” in often disturbing ways (novayagazeta.ru/comments/69948.html).
The point here, of course, is that there is a real conflict in Russia as elsewhere, Kirillova says, adding that Moscow has an additional reason for not supporting Orthodox religious radicals. By doing so, she says, it would be opening “a Pandora’s box” given the presence of other faiths and thus creating a disaster from which Russia would hardly be able to escape.