On the Nativity of the Lord

When we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we celebrate not only His coming in the flesh 2000 years ago, we celebrate His coming to us – to be born in Him as He is born in us. Having taken on our humanity, we take on His Divinity. Having taken on our flesh, we take on His Godhead – by Grace. He came and became what we are, in order that He might make us what He is. He came in obscurity, in poverty, so that He might identify with our poverty. He became one of us, exactly as we are, so that He might make us as He is, and share His Glory, the Glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father Who is our Life, our Hope, the very reality of what we are and who we are. This is what it means to be a Christian – that our life is hidden with Christ in God. He is our true Life. He is the goal of our life. He is the substance of our life. “What an enormous Feast of Grace the Nativity is. It truly is the Winter Pascha. It is the very feast of our being reborn in God. It is the feast of our experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, and of our being born into Heaven.

-His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, then-reigning Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), January 1, 2012 at the Russian Orthodox (ROCOR) Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington, DC where he presided over the Divine Liturgy as the first OCA Primate to do so in a ROCOR church.

Metropolitan Jonah January 1 2012

His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah presiding over Divine Liturgy at the ROCOR cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington DC on January 1, 2012. He was the first OCA hierarch to celebrate Liturgy at a ROCOR church with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad.

On the shootings in San Bernardino

My inadequate prayers are with the people of San Bernardino, California, especially the 14 confirmed victims and their families. God grant them eternal rest and salvation. Lord have mercy on all those suffering tonight.

Something in my soul is becoming increasingly numb from the constant violence which permeates this country and, indeed, so much of the world today. But this is sadly nothing new. I have yet to find, in all my studies, any one period in history where there truly was universal peace. I suppose we must put our hope for such peace in the next life, in the hope of our individual and collective salvation.

I am moved, as I am more and more in the tragedy of these violent days, to supplicate God in prayer:

Almighty God and Father of mercies, Heavenly King and Lord of the Universe, we beseech Thee in the name of Thy beloved Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to cast Thy protection over Thy suffering people. Cleave them unto Thyself, O Lord, and shelter them from their enemies who seek their destruction. Confound their persecutors, O Good One, and render impotent their hateful works against Thy people. Turn those who do evil to repentance and show them Thy holy face, that they might abandon the sword and take up the Cross of repentance for all the evil they have wrought. Be as a beacon and light to our leaders, O Lord, and strengthen their resolve to protect Thy people in this country and throughout the world. Deliver Thy people everywhere from the horrors of war, and restore to all nations that peace which is Thy will for the world. Let not this evil continue unabated, but protect Thy suffering flock who flee to Thee in sorrow and tears. Receive our supplications at Thy heavenly throne, O King of kings, and cause this evil to flee from the earth. Hear this our fervent prayer, and protect those innocent people whom we cannot. For Thou art the fount of all mercy and goodness, and to Thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Evolving Power of Tudor and Stuart Royal Women, 1485-1603

Here is a paper idea which I will develop and expand upon once I graduate at the end of this semester and have more time (I am currently in the midst of final papers and exams):

The Evolving Power of Tudor and Stuart Royal Women, 1485-1603: A three-generational development from securing dynastic alliances through marriage, to ruling as regents, to reigning as Queens Regnant.

When Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian heir, took the English throne from Richard III by right of conquest at Bosworth Field in 1485, it was unthinkable to anyone in England or Continental Europe that less than 70 years later his granddaughter Mary would be ruling as England’s first crowned Queen regnant. Henry VII soon realised that a dynastic marriage with Princess Elizabeth of York, King Edward IV’s daughter by Queen Elizabeth Woodville, was essential to legitimising his tenuous grasp on the throne. Insisting on his right to the throne by blood and conquest, Henry deliberately had himself crowned and anointed as monarch *before* marrying Elizabeth, who received her own coronation and anointing as consort after their wedding.

That Elizabeth of York was crowned in a ceremony separate from and *after* her husband, in the French manner, signified that she was no monarch in her own right, despite being the Yorkist heir to the throne. In having himself crowned as King without a queen consort beside him — a queen who was the sole-surviving daughter and therefore the heir of a King — Henry VII sought to emphasise that his claim on the throne did not depend on his marriage to the Yorkist heiress, but instead that his marriage to Elizabeth served only to bolster his right to rule as King over a reunified England.

While some Yorkists continued to view Elizabeth as England’s rightful monarch, none of the many rebellions against Henry VII were done in her name or with the aim of deposing him to install her as monarch in his place. Instead Yorkist pretenders were invariably male, often claiming to be one of the Yorkist “princes in the Tower” — Elizabeth’s brothers — allegedly murdered by their uncle Richard III after Edward IV’s death. Elizabeth never pressed the matter or seems to have regarded herself as rightful queen regnant. Instead, she became a popular, model queen consort, renowned for her piety, courtly demeanor, and quickly producing a succession of heirs. She died on her thirty-seventh birthday, like so many queens consort before and after her, of childbed fever, devastating Henry and their young children.

While Elizabeth seems to have meekly accepted her status as consort, her formidable mother-in-law, Henry’s mother the widowed countess Margaret Beaufort, insisted on walking only a half-pace behind her daughter-in-law. Since Margaret had never been married to a king, she was not actually a dowager queen, so to solve the issue of how to treat her and what her status was, she received the unprecedented title of “My Lady the King’s Mother” and was treated in all respects as if she was a dowager queen, second in rank only to her son’s wife. Despite that her only son was King, Margaret viewed herself as the Lancastrian heiress. Seeing herself as somehow sharing in her son’s authority, she signed her letters during his reign as “Margaret R”, for Regina. Outliving Henry, Margaret insisted on planning much of her grandson Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s wedding and coronation, dying shortly thereafter.

While Elizabeth and Margaret were both married for primarily dynastic reasons and valued above all for their giving birth to sons and heirs, only a generation after their deaths two of their (respectively) son and grandson Henry VIII’s queens — both Catherines — would govern England as regents during his absences while at war with France.

Catherine of Aragon, the pious Catholic, highly intelligent, and capable daughter of King Fernando of Aragon and Queen Isabel I of Castile, “los reyes catolicos”, served as Regent during her husband Henry VIII’s absence in 1513 as he led an invasion of France to press his claim to the French throne. James IV, King of Scots and Henry’s brother-in-law, invaded England with an army in Henry’s absence. Despite being pregnant, Catherine, following in her parents’ footsteps, quickly raised an army to confront the Scots at Flodden. She addressed the English troops herself, who then proceeded to annihilate the Scottish army, killing King James and the flower of the Scots nobility in battle. Far from downplaying her role in the conflict, Catherine sent her husband James’ bloodstained cloak as a macabre sign of her victory, a victory achieved for Henry and in Henry’s name, but in Henry’s absence. Thirty years and five wives later, in 1545, Henry appointed his intelligent, pious Protestant and twice-widowed sixth queen, Catherine Parr, as regent in his absence as he sought to relive the glory days of his youth with another invasion of France. While Henry’s forces managed to capture the strategic fortified city of Boulogne, Catherine calmly and diligently administered the kingdom’s affairs. She constantly wrote Henry for his advice, but this did not mean that she only followed his instructions during her regency.

The powerful example of early and mid-sixteenth century female regencies under Henry’s two queens undoubtedly paved the way for the acceptance, in 1553 and 1558, of England’s first two queens regnant, Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Catherine of Aragon certainly would have told her daughter, the future Mary I, about her regency, while Catherine Parr’s regency influenced the young future Elizabeth I as an example of women ruling effectively in a king’s absence. Likewise, while 1513 and 1545 saw English queens consort govern as regents, the Continent already had a long history of women regents and several notable precedents for queens regnant in Spain, Hungary, Sicily, Navarre, and Poland.

Tying in Mary Queen of Scots, I would posit that Mary could have, had she stayed in Scotland — instead of being sent to France as a child where she was trained to be the future French queen consort rather than rule as the Scottish Queen in her own right — received a thorough training in rulership from two sources, her paternal grandmother and her mother. James V’s mother, Mary’s grandmother, Queen Margaret Tudor, Henry VII’s daughter and Henry VIII’s older sister, married James IV in a grand alliance between “the thistle and the rose” in 1503. She ruled as regent in several tumultuous tenures following James IV’s death at Flodden in 1513. Mary’s own mother Marie de Guise, James V’s widow, ruled Scotland effectively as regent while Mary grew up at the French court. Mary’s rather weak, disastrous approach to ruling Scotland shows the clear impact of her political and educational formation as a future French queen consort, not a queen regnant, as well as her lack of benefitting from her mother and grandmother’s examples as regents. In contrast, both Mary I and Elizabeth I of England received thoroughly more “masculine” educations in politics and statecraft typical of Renaissance princes trained to rule.

Analyzing the transformation of Church-State Relations in Russia from 1987 to 2008

The “Gorbachev Revolution” and Beyond: An End to State Repression and an Organic Orthodox Resurgence, 1987-2008:

The quarter century that has passed since the fall of the USSR has seen the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) [1] as a major force in Russian public and political life. Given that the Church is the only ancient public institution which survived Soviet rule, and that it serves to tie Russians to their pre-revolutionary national culture and history, understanding how it came to revitalize and resurrect its cultural influence and political power in the wake of the Soviet collapse is crucial to understanding Russia today. Russian church-state relations beginning with Gorbachev in the mid-1980s were marked by an end to the Soviet policy of marginalization and repression of the MP and growing state toleration of Church influence. The seeds for much of the Church’s rapid rise in political prominence, influence, and power under Yeltsin and especially Putin may be found, ironically, in Gorbachev’s personal attitudes and official changes in state policy toward the Church during his tenure at the helm of a USSR where, ironically, Marxist-Leninism and atheism remained official state ideologies until the 1991 collapse. Patriarch Aleksey II proved crucial to developing, along with Gorbachev and later Yeltsin, many aspects of this new church-state relationship which marked a complete departure from Soviet leaders’ entrenched anti-Church attitudes, laws, and policies before 1985. By the fall of the USSR, the Church’s resurgence and revitalization had already begun, and would only deepen and grow stronger in the following years.

Gorbachev and the Church’s new-found freedom: mid-1980s to 1991

As Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) observed in a January 2008 lecture one year prior to then-DECR chairman Metropolitan Kirill’s election as Patriarch and Hilarion’s own appointment as Kirill’s replacement, the case for a genuine religious reawakening in Russia can be made from as far back as the period of perestroika and glasnost under Gorbachev in the mid-to-late 1980s when Russia remained an officially atheistic communist republic. [2] As former Reagan adviser and Russian cultural historian Suzanne Massie observed in a lecture she gave at the Washington DC Kennan Institute in December 2008 [3], by the 1980s, an astonishing “55 million Russians were willing to say that they were Orthodox (almost three times as many as were in the Communist party).” [4] That a solid majority of Russians identified themselves as Orthodox in an officially atheistic political society is remarkable and speaks to the tenacity of Orthodox identity as an integral part of historical memory for most Russians. One telling anecdote Massie noted in her lecture, is that when reporters asked Gorbachev in France whether or not he had been baptized, he responded incredulously “Yes, isn’t everybody?” [5] [6]. For the leader of the Soviet Union to utter these words is nothing short of astonishing, and speaks to the Church’s quiet but continued influence among ordinary Russians despite intermittent waves of persecution under the communist regime.

A major watershed moment for the Church came leading up to the 1988 millennial anniversary of the historic baptism of Kievan Rus under Prince Vladimir the Great, in which, ironically, major state-supported religious celebrations took place in Kiev, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and many other cities. [7] While many anti-Kremlin Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox leaders and faithful laity opposed and protested the Soviet-sponsored celebrations, successfully urging Pope John Paul II not to attend any of the events in the USSR but to send a delegation in his place [8], major Orthodox dignitaries from around the world did attend. The Ecumenical Patriarch was, however, notably absent.

In the wake of these celebrations in numerous Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian churches, and the previously unimaginable state-sponsored publication of commemorative plaques, medals, and history books about the Millennium, the atmosphere of greater openness Gorbachev sought to encourage resulted in something happening which was unthinkable before his tenure: the Soviet state returned many desecrated churches and confiscated ecclesiastical properties to the Church. This began before the anniversary, but culminated with the symbolic handing back of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra [9], the center of Orthodox spiritual life in Ukraine, to the MP. Despite that many Ukrainian observers disappointedly noted how the commemorative events centered around Moscow, not Kiev [10], even if the celebrations were Russocentric, they were nevertheless enthusiastically observed throughout the USSR. Soon after the Millennium, the Soviet state sent shockwaves throughout Orthodox and Catholic circles by lifting the universal ban on religious broadcasts on state television. As Marilyn Pfeifer Swezey — Massie’s friend and a former Hillwood Museum docent [11] — observed in an interview, this meant that for the first time in Soviet history, both Orthodox believers and non-catechized Russians curious about their patrimonial Church could view Orthodox religious services on state television, the primary source of electronic media. As Ms. Swezey recalled, these services were immensely popular in part because everyone wanted the thrill of participating in history, in something that had until only recently been forbidden.

Ms. Swezey’s friend and spiritual father, whom she aided for over a decade as his personal assistant, was a Russian Orthodox bishop Basil Rodzianko (formerly Fr. Vladimir, 1915-1999) [12]. A veteran BBC religious news broadcaster to the Soviet Union who produced thousands of tape cassettes of Orthodox spiritual talks, sermons, and reflections, in the late 1980s Bishop Basil produced a widely circulated Russian language video “Reemergence” on the ongoing revitalization of the Church in Russian public life. Russians widely regarded Vladyka Vasily as a starets in the Orthodox mystical tradition; as my godmother, his assistant, told me, on one visit to a rural Russian village in the early 1990s, babushki crowded around him exclaiming “He is with the angels!”. Bishop Basil was formed spiritually during his Belgrade youth by Church luminaries living there at the time such as Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), the first First Hierarch of ROCOR, and the future St John (Maximovitch), archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco. [13]

Ms. Swezey credits Gorbachev’s reformist political policies with “liberating” the Church from what Bishop Basil and all his episcopal friends in Russia regarded as the “Soviet captivity” under Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev. She helped Bishop Basil and a Washington DC committee in defense of persecuted Christians organize the first ever state-approved religious pilgrimage to visit historic Russian churches and monasteries for the 1987 Nativity and Theophany celebrations. Ms. Swezey emphasized that this would have been unthinkable before Gorbachev; his predecessors simply never would have allowed it. Bishop Basil’s radio broadcasts had inspired a large popular following in Russia, and many people recognized him during the 1987 pilgrimage from his distinctive voice.

At this time, the timid Patriarch Pimen headed the Church (r. 1971-1990); he had endured house arrest for a number of years and rumored torture, as Bishop Basil recalled, and was unwilling to approach the Soviet authorities about the upcoming 1988 Millennial celebrations for fear of incurring their displeasure. Bishop Basil was aware from his close contacts on the MP Synod that, prior to Gorbachev, neither Brezhnev nor his two elderly, old guard successors had been willing to permit the Church to plan any public commemorations of the Millennial anniversary in major Soviet cities, especially Kiev and Moscow. In contrast to this ideological refusal, Gorbachev’s openness represented a virtual sea change in state attitudes toward the Church as an institution in Soviet public life.

One example of this radical change under Gorbachev, as Ms. Swezey related in the interview, was at a major diplomatic reception in the Kremlin in fall 1986. Bishop Basil’s friends on the Synod informed him that at the reception, at which both Gorbachev and Patriarch Pimen were present, the General Secretary approached the Patriarch, asking him “are you having any difficulties in your preparations for the Millennial celebration?” , knowing full well that he was. The Patriarch, taken aback, responded “no”. The General Secretary replied diplomatically, “Well, if you do have any difficulties, let me know” and the state would step in to help. As a result of this conversation, and the tidal wave it represented of a subtle but definitive change in official state attitude toward the Church, soon after it was announced that the ancient, crumbling Danilov Monastery in Moscow would be fully restored and serve as the principal patriarchal administrative center and site of the Millennial celebrations. By the time of Ms. Swezey and Bishop Basil’s pilgrimage with American Orthodox believers in January 1987, major restoration work on the monastery had already begun. These construction and restoration projects could never have occurred before Gorbachev’s tenure.

Ms. Swezey emphasized that most of this repair work was not financed by state coffers or supervised by the Soviet authorities, but represented a genuine, large-scale, organic outpouring of support and labour from all segments of Russian society. Ordinary babushki, specialist artisans, and thousands of ordinary Russian men and women set about donating what they could and helping physically in the restoration efforts at the Danilov and other monasteries and churches, mirroring the later efforts under Patriarch Aleksey in the 1990s to rebuild Christ the Saviour Cathedral which Stalin had demolished in 1931. [14]

One cannot ignore the personal aspect of Gorbachev’s reasons for so abruptly and completely reversing his predecessors’ restrictive approach to the Church. As Bishop Basil recalled to Ms. Swezey, it was universally known among Orthodox believers that Gorbachev’s mother was an active churchgoer and dedicated parish council member in Stavropol. After becoming General Secretary, Gorbachev ensured that a new parish church was built close to his mother’s residence.

Ms. Swezey described how, in her view,

the whole country came to do the work and donated rubles. The Church seemed to come together as people came to do the reconstruction and restoration projects — not just carpenters and masons and other specialists, but ordinary grandmothers and unskilled male laborers. Somehow the Church collected the money needed for all the construction projects, and this was no easy task, as the Danilov, among so many others like it, was in a state of rubble and near collapse.

Gorbachev not only designated the Danilov as the principal locus of the upcoming Millennial events, but facilitated the construction of a new administrative building from which to oversee the restoration work. Talking with a young monk at the Danilov who spoke excellent English, the American Orthodox pilgrims led by Bishop Basil and Ms. Swezey learned a revolutionary bit of news: the monk said quietly “Well, you see, we believe that the celebration of the Millennium will bring about a new baptism of Rus” and the reemergence of the Church as a prominent force in public life. Ms. Swezey clarified that this meant that Church leaders and ordinary faithful anticipated an organic revival of the Church’s position, but not the fall of communism itself. Like most clergy, Bishop Basil always attributed the rapid fall of the USSR to God’s providence.

Around this time, Bishop Basil learned that Gorbachev had asked four senior MP Synod bishops to meet with him, and that he had proposed an unprecedented, revolutionary alliance which violated the core tenets of Marxist-Leninism’s view of religion generally as an enemy of the working class and Bolshevism’s view of Orthodoxy in particular as backwards, superstitious nonsense. In the wake of Gorbachev’s campaigns to push for a more open and healthy society, Bishop Basil’s episcopal friends told him that the General Secretary asked the Synod bishops to enlist the Church’s cooperation in helping to restore what he called “moral values”, offering the Church a major cultural role in the public life of what he envisioned as a new, revitalized Soviet society. This shift in 1987-88 not only marked the end of all remaining Soviet state attempts to marginalize the Church, but instead prefigured the future efforts of Yeltsin in the 1990s and Putin since the early 2000s to co-opt the Church and use its influence to buttress government policies and ideals.

Under Aleksey II and Yeltsin: Greater transparency, confronting the Soviet legacy, renewed public prominence, and the seeds of close cooperation between Church and State:

Patriarch Pimen’s death in 1990 and the election to choose his successor marked a second major watershed; this was the first free (non-Soviet controlled) patriarchal election since the 1917 All-Russia Sobor raised St Tikhon as the first Patriarch since Peter I let the office fall into abeyance. Whereas Pimen and his predecessor Aleksey I (r. 1945-70) had presided over a Church which was completely dominated by, collaborated with, and subservient to the communist state [15], Aleksey II was the first patriarch to lead the Church in the post-Soviet era. He was chosen in large measure due to his established “reputation as a conciliator, a person who could find common ground with various groups in the episcopate.” [16] As Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) observed in a December 2013 interview with Pravmir, prior to his elevation as Patriarch, then-Metropolitan Aleksey served as a member of the Supreme Soviet, the highest parliamentary body, and he was thus well acquainted with all senior Soviet leaders at the time of his election. [17] As one of the archbishops who voted for his election observed in the MP’s official journal in October 1990, “With his peaceful and tolerant disposition Patriarch Aleksi will be able to unite us all.” [18] Aleksey was thus expected to be a conciliator and peace-builder who would work to resolve the tensions in Soviet (and soon, post-Soviet) society without upsetting the communist old guard who had reluctantly agreed not to interfere in the election process.

Unlike his two Russian predecessors whom Stalinist repression had cowed, Aleksey was born in Tallinn to an ethnically Baltic German family of emigres who had fled the 1917 Revolution. He grew up in a religious family prior to the Soviet invasion of his country, and thus, he was raised in a society in which the Church was essentially free. During his first year in office, as Soviet institutions remained paralyzed, the economy struggled, and millions of citizens suffered the fear and uncertainty of not knowing what the year would hold politically and economically, Aleksey shrewdly capitalized on the Soviet state’s weakness to insist on an increasingly public place for the Church in society. [19] Whereas Pimen had been shocked and unprepared for Gorbachev’s openness and desire to work with the Church, Aleksey quickly became a vocal advocate of what he regarded as the Church’s rights, calling for the Soviet government to allow religious education in state schools [20] and for a “freedom of conscience” law to protect believers from discrimination. [21] During the attempted communist hardliner coup in August 1991, the Patriarch shocked the Soviet old guard by publicly denouncing the plotters’ arrest of Gorbachev. [22] He went further and declared the plotters excommunicated (a largely symbolic gesture, since they were all atheists, this kind of bold gesture of defying the communists would have been unimaginable five years earlier). In a series of press releases and public statements, the Patriarch denounced the communist junta as illegitimate, implored the military not to attack the legitimate elected authorities, and demanded that Gorbachev be allowed to address the Soviet people. [23]

In order to better understand how the Church came to dominate Russian public and political life as it does today, it is crucial to first realize that the Orthodox religious revitalization began under Gorbachev, who, ironically, played a leading role in reviving this ancient anti-communist institution which would ultimately outlast the Soviet state he sought to restore. While Gorbachev departed from power in 1991 following the dissolution of the USSR, Patriarch Aleksey remained as the earthly head of the Church until his death seventeen years later.

As patriarch in post-Soviet Russia after 1991, Aleksey presided over Orthodoxy’s historic revitalization and re-emergence in Russian public life. It is a telling sign of his tenacity that Aleksey managed to outlast Yeltsin’s time in office, attend and formally bless the new President Putin’s first inauguration in May 2000, and, upon his death in December 2008 and his almost-official state-level funeral, receive official words of praise and elegies from both Putin and Medvedev.

Ms. Swezey recounted from her many visits to Russia how the Patriarch managed to retain a degree of popularity as his Church grew in appeal and public stature while old Soviet institutions crumbled, the Russian economy floundered under hyperinflation, and public confidence in democratically elected President Yeltsin quickly evaporated. As the economy worsened, the churches filled, becoming, as she recalls, stiflingly crowded on major holidays. Unlike his predecessors who never dared to publicly criticize the Soviet regime, during Aleksey’s first official visit to Germany in 1995, the Patriarch publicly apologized for the “Communist tyranny that had been imposed upon the German nation by the USSR”, for which Russian Communists criticized him for his supposed insult to Russian national memory. [24]

Symbolic of the Church’s ever-increasing role in public life, Patriarch Aleksey presided over the combined country-wide and international effort to rebuild the historic Christ the Saviour Cathedral in central Moscow, which Alexander I had ordered erected as a monument to Russia’s overcoming Napoleon’s Grand Army in 1812. Donations poured in from across Russia and the Orthodox world, and momentum continued to build for the temple’s dedication as a monument to all victims of Soviet oppression.

Ms. Swezey observed how it was universally known among all Russians that every Orthodox cleric, every seminarian seeking an ecclesiastical career in the USSR had to have a modus vivendi with the KGB; they were vetted by KGB officials and received frequent visits from their designated KGB handlers. Every Russian patriarch from Sergey on was rumored to have been a secret KGB agent, which the MP strenuously denies to this day. In an unprecedented gesture of transparency and reconciliation, Patriarch Aleksey boldly discussed the issue of collaboration between MP clergy and the Soviet state in a wide-ranging interview with Izvestia in June 1991, imploring forgiveness for the role Soviet-era hierarchs had in agreeing to the Soviet domination of the Church:

Before those people, however, to whom the compromises, silence, forced passivity or expressions of loyalty permitted by the leaders of the church in those years caused pain, before these people, and not only before God, I ask forgiveness, understanding and prayers. [25]

Serge Schmemann, award-winning son of the late Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann [26] and former Associated Press and New York Times Moscow Bureau chief, noted in November 1991 in The Times the many challenges facing Aleksey in the post-Soviet era:

Standing at the center of the magnificent Cathedral of St. Isaac [St Petersburg]… diamonds and rubies glittering from his miter and staff and with a host of Romanov princes, politicians and worshipers arrayed around him, Patriarch Aleksy II… was the image of the church victorious over seven decades of militant atheism.

Not long ago the great domed cathedral was a state museum, the Romanovs were a curse, no Soviet politician would dare step foot in a working church and Patriarch Aleksy was a bishop locked in a running struggle with atheist watchdogs of the State Council of Religious Affairs.

[F]or all the obvious gains of the Russian Orthodox Church and of religious freedoms in the years of perestroika, the 62-year-old Patriarch, like his country and his church, is also a leader who faces a barrage of new problems raised by the sudden outbreak of freedom.

In his sermon in St. Isaac Cathedral, the Patriarch… spoke of the urgent need for tolerance and unity. Those are themes to which the Patriarch returns often, as he did in a recent interview in Moscow.

[H]e seemed in personal awe as he checked off the statistics of the Russian church’s rapid revival. More than 5,000 parishes opened since 1988, 106 in Moscow alone. Baptisms tripled, marriages increased ninefold, the number of monasteries up from 18 to 121.

And yet the Patriarch also spoke, as he has in many sermons and speeches, of the deep and profound damage left by Communism.

“The greatest wound inflicted by the Communist dictatorship was lack of spirituality,” he said. “All other evils were the result of the planned, systematic and total eradication from the souls and consciousness of the people of the very notion of ‘spirituality.’ I am not even talking about the disgusting anti-church propaganda and actions against the church.” “I never thought the moment would come,” acknowledged the Patriarch,..

“We have to rebuild everything — charity, catechism,” he said. “The new generation has forgotten everything — the very word charity was barred from dictionaries. An immediate revival is impossible, but the will is there.” [27]

Symbolic of Russian society seeking to reexamine its immediate pre-Soviet past and freeing itself from Soviet communist propaganda, Aleksey II presided over the glorification of hundreds of Russian “New Martyrs” — bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and laity killed by the communist regime– including Grand Duchess and Abbess Elizabeth Romanova, widowed sister to the last empress, in 1992, and in 2000 the glorification of the “Royal New Martyrs”, the last Imperial Family, as “passion-bearers” (the assassinated Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarevich Aleksey, the Grand Duchesses, et cetera).

In September 1997, another major watershed moment in Russian church-state political relations took place when the widely unpopular President Yeltsin signed into law, despite vocal American opposition, a parliamentary bill “that protects the Russian Orthodox Church from competition with other Christian faiths…”. [28] While not officially establishing Orthodoxy as the state religion (forbidden by the Russian Constitution), “the law create[d] a hierarchy of religious groups, with the Russian Orthodox Church firmly ensconced in the first and most privileged category while rival Christian groups are afforded a secondary status.” [29]

Patriarch Aleksey unsurprisingly praised the law which cemented his Church’s predominant legal and political position, saying ”Today’s law is another step toward perfecting the legislation that secures and defends the rights of Russia’s believers”. [30] Despite that U.S. Vice President Al Gore had urged senior Russian politicians to persuade Yeltsin to veto the bill, and that President Clinton had personally urged Yeltsin not to sign it, the Church lobbied successfully to pass the legislation, which restricted the legal rights of faiths (mainly Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) that did not have a long-established presence in Russia to organize, proselytize, and build houses of worship. [31]

For those who would espouse the Western liberal critical view and blame President Putin and Patriarch Kirill for (by Western standards) an inappropriate church-state relationship today, this law is vital to understanding that as early as 1997 the Church was essentially operating as a quasi-established state religion, a protected and state-supported institution, and that it was President Yeltsin, the Western-friendly ‘democrat’, and Patriarch Aleksey II, not Putin and Kirill, who presided over this new arrangement. It is astonishing that, in only a decade, the Church went from being a cowed, barely public institution in an officially atheist state under a timid Pimen (a man who had no idea how to influence Gorbachev) to being protected under Aleksey as a semi-established state religion.

 

The Church in Putin’s Russia: Developing into the unofficial State Church, 2000 to today

Putin’s first inauguration ceremony in May 2000 solidified in a symbolic way the Church’s increasingly dominant role as the preeminent religious institution in Russian society. The Patriarch was not only prominently present at the inauguration in a seat of honor, but he formally blessed the new Russian president with the sign of the cross in the name of the Trinity, and presented Putin with an icon of St Alexander Nevsky.

Photograph courtesy of Kremlin.ru: Inside the Dormition Cathedral (Uspenskiy Sobor) in the Kremlin, the Patriarch presents new Russian president Vladimir Putin with an icon of St. Alexander Nevsky at the latter’s presidential inauguration, 7 May 2000.

 

As this photograph shows, Putin began his first term as president with the Church’s full symbolic (and literal) blessing. How did church-state relations develop in Russia to the point that in 2015, to all intents and purposes, the Church has become the unquestionably leading religious institution in Russia, whose Paschal and Nativity services the President and Prime Minister publicly attend each year at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral? [32] One of the watershed moments was the 19 May 2007 signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the MP under Patriarch Aleksey and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) under Metropolitan Laurus at the Cathedral in the presence of then-President Putin and then-Prime Minister Medvedev. [33] All Orthodox bishops I have talked with about the Act reported that the President had taken a keen interest in the restoration of communion (all these hierarchs likewise hold the President in high regard, including ROCOR’s present First Hierarch, Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral, and the OCA’s [34] former reigning Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, now a retired ROCOR bishop). It is impossible to know for certain whether Putin’s behind-the-scenes involvement in the reconciliatory Act is an example of his calculating politically to use the rupture between the Russian Church in and outside of Russia to solidify his political appeal among Orthodox around the world and Russian Orthodox in particular living abroad, or the genuine desire of a devout Orthodox believer who happens to be the Russian president to help facilitate the historic reconciliation. It is entirely possible that both political calculation and genuine piety informed Putin’s role in supporting the Act.

The extent to which, by 2008, Church and state had become firmly intermeshed and intertwined is evident with the Kremlin’s reaction to Patriarch Aleksey II’s death in December of that year. Immediately following his death, President Medvedev — widely held to be more personally devout than Putin — issued a presidential ukaz which “enjoined” that on the day of the Patriarch’s burial Russian cultural organizations and news broadcasters should cancel entertaining programs. [35] This decree stopped just short of ordering a day of full, official national mourning. While the President issued his decree, the Prime Minister (Putin) released a statement via Interfax, an official state news source, lauding Aleksey as a “a prominent figure in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as a great statesman” who “made a very considerable contribution to relations between various faiths.” [36] Putin also acknowledged that Aleksey “did a great deal to help establish a new governance system in Russia”. [37] Along with their wives, both Medvedev and Putin attended the funeral liturgy in Christ the Saviour Cathedral presided over by the Orthodox primus inter pares Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. [38] [39]

From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, his then-wife Ludmila Putina, Svetlana Medvedeva, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at Aleksey II’s funeral liturgy in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow.

Bibliography

Aleksey II: Patriarch of Moscow”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 19 January 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Aleksey-II

Davis, Nathaniel. A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003).

Gedney, Adam. “Reunification Service ROCOR and Moscow Patriarchate [Full] Moscow 5-19-2007”. YouTube. 29 December 2014. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_Rq7px-Z0c

Gordon, Michael R. “Irking U.S., Yeltsin signs law protecting Orthodox Church”.  The New York Times. 27 September 1997. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/27/world/irking-us-yeltsin-signs-law-protecting-orthodox-church.html

Greeley, Andrew. “A Religious Revival in Russia?”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), page 253. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386689?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Hunter, Ryan. “A short history of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow”. Pravoslavie.ru. 14 October 2015. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86793.htm

Hunter, Ryan. “Remembering a spiritual giant of our time”. Juicy Ecumenism: The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Blog. 17 September 2013. Accessed 29 November 2015. https://juicyecumenism.com/2013/09/17/remembering-a-spiritual-giant-of-our-time/

Interfax Religion. “Death of Alexy II a tragic and sorrowful event – Putin”. 5 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=5458

Kolarz, Walter. Religion in the Soviet Union (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966).

Kutash, Ihor G. “The Soviet Union Celebrates 1000 Years of Christianity”. Christian History. Christian History Institute. Issue 18. Accessed 30 November 2015. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/soviet-union-celebrates-1000-years-christianity/

Leustean, LucianEastern Christianity and the Cold War, 1945-91. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2009. 

Massie, Suzanne. “Reagan’s Evolving Views on Russia and Their Relevance Today”. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Kennan Institute. December 1, 2008. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Massie.pdf

“Патриарх Алексий завершил свой земной путь”. 9 December 2008. Accessed 30 November 2015. http://newsru.com/religy/09dec2008/pohoronypatriarha.html 

Pospielovsky, Dimitry. The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998).

Pravmir. “The Russian Orthodox Church and Contemporary Events: Dispelling the Myths”. Pravmir.com. 15 December 2013. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.pravmir.com/the-russian-orthodox-church-and-contemporary-events-dispelling-the-myths/

Sanidopoulos, John. “Atheism and Orthodoxy in Modern Russia”. 27 January 2011. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/01/atheism-and-orthodoxy-in-modern-russia.html

Schmemann, Serge. “St. Petersburg Journal; Patriarch’s Church Revives, but Will Spirituality?”. The New York Times. 9 November 1991. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/09/world/st-petersburg-journal-patriarch-s-church-revives-but-will-spirituality.html

Shevkunov, Archimandrite Tikhon (now Bishop). “His Eminence the Novice”. “Everyday Saints” and Other Stories. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://everyday-saints.com/eminence.htm

Указ Президента № 1729/2008. Kremlin.ru. 7 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.

VideoNews. “Russian President attends Easter services at Moscow cathedral”. YouTube. 12 April 2015. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeOJXO0619g

Weekly, The Ukrainian. “1988: A Look Back: The Year of the Millennium”, The Ukrainian Weekly. 25 December, 1988, No. 52, Vol. LVI. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/1988/528813.shtml

Zhurnal Moskovskoi Patriarkhii. No. 10 (October), 1990, p.16, quoted in Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003).

 

End Notes

[1] Hereafter, for brevity and consistency’s sake, I will refer to the Moscow Patriarchate as the “MP” and the Russian Orthodox Church as “the Church”.

[2] Sanidopoulos, John, “Atheism and Orthodoxy in Modern Russia”. 27 January 2011. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/01/atheism-and-orthodoxy-in-modern-russia.html

[3] A lecture at which my godmother was present.

[4] Massie, Suzanne,“Reagan’s Evolving Views on Russia and Their Relevance Today”, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Kennan Institute. December 1, 2008. Page 6. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Massie.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] According to Andrew Greeley, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, this anecdote actually occurred between Gorbachev and Pope John Paul I. See: Greeley, Andrew, “A Religious Revival in Russia?”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), page 253. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386689?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[7] Kutash, Ihor G, “The Soviet Union Celebrates 1000 Years of Christianity”, Christian History, Christian History Institute. Issue 18. Accessed 30 November 2015. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/soviet-union-celebrates-1000-years-christianity/

[8] “1988: A Look Back: The Year of the Millennium”, The Ukrainian Weekly, 25 December, 1988, No. 52, Vol. LVI. http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/1988/528813.shtml

[9] Ibid.

[10] Kutash, Ibid.

[11] Ms. Swezey obtained her MA in Russian History from Harvard, concentrating on Russian cultural and artistic history. Aside from her work at Hillwood, she ‎has also served as a Guest Curator at the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation. She lives in Washington, DC, where she served as the parish historian at St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral for over thirty years. She has edited and authored numerous articles on Russian history, Orthodox iconography, and imperial decorative arts, especially Faberge, an anthology The Tsar and the President: Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln, Liberator and Emancipator, and The Romanov Family Album

[12] Hunter, Ryan, “Remembering a spiritual giant of our time”,  Juicy Ecumenism: The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Blog. 17 September 2013. Accessed 29 November 2015. https://juicyecumenism.com/2013/09/17/remembering-a-spiritual-giant-of-our-time/

[13] Shevkunov, Archimandrite Tikhon (now Bishop), “His Eminence the Novice”, “Everyday Saints” and Other Stories. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://everyday-saints.com/eminence.htm

[14] Hunter, Ryan, “A short history of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow”, Pravoslavie.ru. 14 October 2015. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86793.htm

[15] Upon his Stalin-approved election as Patriarch in February 1945, Aleksey I assured the dictator of his “profound affection and gratitude” and vowed to “safeguard the Church against mistakes and false steps” against the communist state. See: Kolarz, Walter, Religion in the Soviet Union (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966), page 55.

After Stalin’s death in March 1953, the collaborationist Patriarch Aleksey composed a statement of condolence to the USSR’s Council of Ministers: “…His death is a heavy grief for our Fatherland and for all the people who inhabit it. The whole Russian Orthodox Church, which will never forget his benevolent attitude to Church needs, feels great sorrow at his death. The bright memory of him will live ineradicably in our hearts. Our Church proclaims eternal memory to him with a special feeling of abiding love.” See: Kolarz, page 65.

[16] Davis, Nathaniel, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003), page 86.

[17] Pravmir. “The Russian Orthodox Church and Contemporary Events: Dispelling the Myths”. Pravmir.com. 15 December 2013. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.pravmir.com/the-russian-orthodox-church-and-contemporary-events-dispelling-the-myths/

[18] Zhurnal Moskovskoi Patriarkhii, No. 10 (October), 1990, p.16, quoted in Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003), page 284.

[19] “Aleksey II: Patriarch of Moscow”, Encyclopaedia Britannica. 19 January 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Aleksey-II

[20] Mandated by a parliamentary law signed in January 2013 by President Putin.

[21] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ibid.

[22] Davis, 96.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Pospielovsky, Dimitry, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998),  page 394.

[25] From an interview of Patriarch Alexei II, given to Izvestia issue No 137, 10 June 1991, entitled “Patriarch Alexei II:—I Take upon Myself Responsibility for All that Happened”, English translation from Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, (Oxford: Westview Press, 1995), page 89.

[26] Father Alexander Schmemann, a prominent Russian Orthodox theologian of the St Sergius Institute in Paris and former dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary in NY, played a leading role in negotiating the autocephaly of The Orthodox Church in America (OCA), headquartered in Syosset, NY. The OCA received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the MP in 1970. Most of the world’s canonical Orthodox jurisdictions do not recognize the Tomos, since it was given at a time of Soviet oppression of the MP. Thus, to most Orthodox jurisdictions, there are 14, not 15, autocephalous or “local” (national) Orthodox Churches, with the OCA, like ROCOR, falling under the MP’s jurisdiction. The OCA disputes this, and insists upon its autocephaly.

[27] Schmemann, Serge, “St. Petersburg Journal; Patriarch’s Church Revives, but Will Spirituality?”, The New York Times. 9 November 1991. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/09/world/st-petersburg-journal-patriarch-s-church-revives-but-will-spirituality.html

[28] Gordon, Michael R, “Irking U.S., Yeltsin signs law protecting Orthodox Church”,  The New York Times. 27 September 1997. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/27/world/irking-us-yeltsin-signs-law-protecting-orthodox-church.html

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] VideoNews, “Russian President attends Easter services at Moscow cathedral”, YouTube. 12 April 2015. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeOJXO0619g

[33] Gedney, Adam, “Reunification Service ROCOR and Moscow Patriarchate [Full] Moscow 5-19-2007”, YouTube. 29 December 2014. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_Rq7px-Z0c

[34] The Orthodox Church in America (OCA), headquartered in Syosset, NY, received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the MP in 1970. Most of the world’s canonical Orthodox jurisdictions do not recognize the Tomos, since it was given at a time of Soviet oppression of the MP. Thus, to most Orthodox jurisdictions, there are 14, not 15, autocephalous or “local” (national) Orthodox Churches, with the OCA, like ROCOR, falling under the MP’s jurisdiction. The OCA disputes this, and insists upon its autocephaly.

[35] Указ Президента № 1729/2008, Kremlin.ru. 7 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.

[36] Interfax Religion, “Death of Alexy II a tragic and sorrowful event – Putin”. 5 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=5458

[37] Ibid.

[38] Указ Президента № 1729/2008, Kremlin.ru.

[39] “Патриарх Алексий завершил свой земной путь”, 9 December 2008. Accessed 30 November 2015. http://newsru.com/religy/09dec2008/pohoronypatriarha.html