Stalin’s Exploitation of Orthodoxy in Late 1940s Informs Moscow’s Strategy Today
March 22 – It is now a commonplace that Vladimir Putin is reviving many aspects
of Stalinism, but it is important to focus on the specifics of this trend -- and
one of the most important concerns the ways in which the Kremlin’s approach to
the idea of Orthodox unity under Russian leadership and of Moscow as the third
Rome are informed by Stalin’s approach.
After World War II, Klimenko argues, Stalin
re-interpreted the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome and decided to use the
Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church to try to undermine or even
destroy the Roman Catholic Church and thereby make Moscow the center of world
way, the Moscow Patriarchate would help spread Soviet influence across the
entire traditional Orthodox world “as was the case” with Constantinople “during
the times of the Byzantine empire;” and thus Moscow would truly become the
Third Rome, Klimenko says.
comparison with the ways the tsars used this idea, “the geopolitical plans of the
USSR were much broader: from the idea of a key position in the Orthodox-Slavic
area occurred a transition to the idea of Moscow as the center of all Orthodox
and soon of the entire Christian world in opposition to the Vatican.”
scholar quotes Helene Carrere d’Encausse on this point: “Stalin introduced the idea
about the unification around Patriarch Aleksi not only of the Russian people
but also of all Slavs … [The Soviet dictator] thus operated on a collective
Slavic consciousness and not on the solidarity of the working class” as had
earlier Soviet officials.
Nikolay Danilevsky had proposed the idea of a pan-Slavic union in the 19th
century, but Stalin and the Moscow Patriarchate after 1945 went much further.
In 1946, Klimenko notes, the patriarchate’s official journal underscored that
Moscow’s aspirations were much broader and promoted an anti-Catholic line.
as the Third Rome’ remains as before,” the patriarchal journal declared, “a
symbol of the worldwide collective idea of opposition to the papacy with its
striving to spiritual autocracy, episcopal aristocracy, and maniacal dreams of
Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe which was then under Soviet control lined
up behind this idea as did the autocephalous Orthodox churches of Jerusalem,
Alexandria, and Antioch.But Stalin
hoped for much more; and in 1947, the Moscow Patriarchate invited the heads of
all Orthodox churches in the world to come to the Soviet capital.
the 13 autocephalous churches attended that session in February 1948; but
Moscow did not get what it wanted.The
Soviet-controlled churches in Eastern Europe went along, but the others did
not.And that had two consequences which
continue to cast a shadow on Russian Orthodoxy to this day.
one hand, it prompted Stalin to drop his plans to create “a Moscow Vatican” that
could control the entire Orthodox world.And on the other, it led the Kremlin leader to launch a new and
extremely vicious anti-religious campaign first against the Uniates and then
against Russian Orthodoxy itself.
efforts to wipe out the Uniates who practiced the eastern rites of Orthodoxy
but were subordinate to Rome was the subject last week of an academic
conference in Kyiv which provides fresh details on just how repressive his
moves against that trend were.See the
parallels between what Stalin and the Moscow Patriarch tried to do in the late
1940s and what Putin and Patriarch Kirill are trying to do now, promoting
Moscow as the center of Orthodoxy by opposing recognition of new national
autocephalous Orthodox churches and moving against Uniatism, are obvious.
Klimenko’s article carries with it a warning for Kirill: if he is not able to
succeed in achieving what the Kremlin wants, he and his church may suffer a
serious defeat not just among the other Orthodox churches of the world but also
and more importantly in Russia where such a defeat could cost him Putin’s
backing with all the ensuing consequences that would entail.