Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Closing of Russian Churches Now Recalls Soviet Times for Many Believers

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – On this Russian Easter, it appears nearly certain that fewer churches held services there than at any time since the end of the USSR. Although they have been closed for health reasons rather than ideological ones, the fact that the government is behind this move is causing many believers to conclude what is happening is “like in Soviet times.”

            And consequently, MBK’s Mariya Zaprometova says, the faithful see this government interference in their lives as requiring the same kind of catacomb-like activity that their parents and grandparents engaged in during the atheistic times of Soviet power (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/kak-v-sovetskoe-vremya/).

            That reflects both their own conservatism and the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate after insisting it would not close churches on Easter backed down in the face of pressure or even in the minds of some direct orders from the Presidential Administration.  However justified medically, that was too much for many Orthodox activists.

            The result has been enormous pressure from below by Orthodox activists to keep the churches open lest this government move be followed by others against the church. What is important, Zaprometova notes, is that some bishops are prepared to go along and for the same reasons, conservatism and fear of state interference.

            The success some Orthodox lay movements have had in putting pressure on bishops in various parts of the country is likely to lead them to repeat this effort for other purposes, something that will inevitably weaken the power of the Patriarchate or at least Patriarch Kirill and create serious problems for the civil authorities.

            One means the Patriarchate and its bishops have sought to combat this trend is the promotion of the broadcast on television or online of religious services. Some believers accept this as a forced measure, but many object to it even now, fearing that it will set a precedent that will deprive them of real services (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/348471/).

            On the one hand, this resistance may seem both foolish and reactionary given the risk of coronavirus infections. But on the other, it is evidence of something perhaps even more important – the emergence of genuine religious life at the lower levels of the church whose followers are now prepared to challenge both the Patriarchate and the Kremlin once again.

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