Staunton, November 26 – After the demise of communism with its official atheism, many Russians accepted the idea that “to be a Russia is to be Orthodox,” a view that led many of them to identify as Orthodox even if they did not have any real faith and that contributed to a sense of national unity.
But that development, known as “the Orthodox consensus,” has now disintegrated, Dmitry Uzlaner says, as a result of corruption and scandals within the Russian Orthodox Church itself and the church’s slavish obedience to the political line of the Kremlin. And as a result, ever more Russians do not accept the necessity of such a link anymore.
In the latest Novoye Literaturnoye Obozreniye, the editor of Gosudarstvo, religiya, tserkov v Rossii i za rubezhom says that as a result, the church has become a source of conflict among Russians rather than a source of national unity (magazines.gorky.media/nlo/2020/3/konecz-propravoslavnogo-konsensusa-religiya-kak-novyj-raskol-rossijskogo-obshhestva.html).
This process which began approximately 20 years ago has picked up speed and been punctuated by the controversy around the Pussy Riot case, the willingness of those who had been believers to break with the church in public, the rise of what he calls “a new Russian atheism,” and controversies about church policy and its links with the state.
That means that the readiness of Russians even to identify as Orthodox has declined, although not yet to the extremely low levels of participation in the church, and that the Kremlin can no longer count on the church to bolster national unity in the way that it expected only a few years ago.
Perhaps the clearest sign of this trend, Uzlaner argues, is “the phenomenon of former believers.” In all times and places, people have left the church, “but only in the second decade of the 21st century have these former believers been converted into a significant cultural ‘event’” with prominent churchmen among those who have walked away.
There are three reasons for this: first, the generation that came back to the church in the 1990s is aging and thinking more seriously about ultimate things; second, social media have spread discussions about the church in ways that undermine it; and third, ever more people are willing to speak out about what they are doing rather than simply doing it.
In part, of course, these reflect trends broader than the church itself, the scholar says; but instead of addressing these trends in a serious way, the official church has simply condemned them and thus, at least in the eyes of some, legitimated the trends and delegitimated the church in the process, thereby further reducing its importance in Russian society.