My speech at the 45th annual Congress of Russian Americans’ Forum in San Francisco

It was a great joy and honour for me to attend and speak at this wonderful Saturday, September 8th event at San Francisco’s historic Russian Center mansion. The Russian Center’s staff and volunteers beautifully executed all the details, both the Forum itself and the Banquet afterwards. It was a beautiful gathering of many interesting, passionate citizen diplomats, educators, businessmen and women, nobles, volunteers, and San Francisco lay Russian community leaders  and Church dignitaries!

My speech was well-received, and I was deeply moved by how many people from the audience asked thoughtful questions at the end, and then came up and congratulated me afterwards and asked for copies of the speech. My address—on the centenary of the martyrdom of the Russian Imperial Family—was only a very small contribution to a wide-ranging event, whose organizers prepared a detailed, comprehensive program in the historic Russian Center mansion. Every speaker was engaging, eloquent, and deeply committed to improving Russian-American cultural and interpersonal relations through interpersonal, Tier II civic diplomacy. It was a pleasure for me to be among the speakers at such a beautiful event.

Listening to all the speakers and interacting with so many of the different attendees, I was deeply inspired by the diligent witness and efforts of so many generations of Russian-American patriots who love this country, and also wish to preserve and pass on their cultural heritage and traditions to their children and grandchildren. The work of the CRA leaders, and their associated friends, sponsors, patrons, educators, and Church and business supporters, is vital to this process.

On Friday, before the Forum on Saturday, I was blessed to visit the house and orphanage founded by San Francisco’s great Orthodox saint, Archbishop John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (+2 July 1966). Here, his successor, the present Russian Orthodox Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, unveiled and dedicated a lovely statue to the saint, which, like me, had traversed the country from New York to San Francisco, but had, before that, arrived all the way from Russia.

Standing with Vladyka John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Standing ‘with’ Vladyka Ioann, St John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (+2 July 1966). This new statue of the holy hierarch was dedicated at St Tikhon’s Church this past Friday by H.E. Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, the present successor of St John over the ROCOR Western American Diocese. St Tikhon’s is the site of Vladyka Ioann’s cell, school, and orphanage. He rescued hundreds of Chinese war orphans whose parents were executed by the Japanese Imperial Army forces or, later on, the Maoist Red Army Communist forces.

After the dedication of the statue, we then enjoyed a lovely festive meal and great conversation. Afterwards, I explored the beautiful City by the Bay with a new friend, and, under the stars, put my feet in the Pacific for the first time.

After the delicious and entertaining Banquet on Saturday night, complete with traditional Russian songs and dance, I explored the city some more with new friends.

On Sunday morning, I met my gracious hosts, and we attended the historic Holy Virgin Cathedral—Joy of all Who Sorrow, where St John of San Francisco is entombed. I then drove with some dear new friends up through majestic Sonoma County, past vineyards, the Russian River, Bodega Bay, and the river estuary to the historic Fort Ross. This two centuries-old Russian fort and fur-trading settlement lays along California’s magnificent north Pacific coast surrounded by the Redwood forests and nearby wine country.

I could not have asked for a more gracious reception, and I am deeply grateful to those who invited me and graciously arranged my accommodation, especially CRA President Natalie Sabelnik, her wonderful children and volunteers, and Russian Imperial Union Order Los Angeles area director Ivan Podvalov​.

Not just Russians, but all of our ancestors, and all of our future descendants, owe the CRA and Russian Center a great debt, for the difficult work in preserving a society’s language, traditions, and culture in the wake of revolution, trauma, and the changing winds of time is invaluable in transmitting and preserving its history, not only for the peoples of that society, but for the knowledge and enrichment of the entire world. Я очень благодарю вас!

Me speaking at September 8 Congress of Russian Americans 45th annual Forum in San Francisco -- 8 Sept 2018

A friend took this photograph of me delivering my speech at the CRA Forum on Saturday, 8 September 2018 at San Francisco’s Russian Center.

I showed the following photograph of the Imperial Family as the visual background during my speech. The unabridged text of my original speech—which I shortened slightly for time considerations prior to speaking—is below. People may share it in full with my permission, but please accredit the source and link to the post here. Thank you.

Romanovs 1913

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At the Crucible of History: The Centenary of the Romanov Family’s Murder

and the Tragedy’s Implications Today

By Ryan Hunter

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Congress of Russian Americans’ 45th annual Forum and Banquet

San Francisco, California

Introduction:

Your Excellency [Ambassador Anatoly Antonov];

Your Eminence [Archbishop Kyrill];

Dear Nataliya Georgievna;

Esteemed ladies and gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today. Not being of Russian heritage myself, I am mindful of the honour that has been shown me in being asked to speak at this forty-fifth annual Congress of Russian Americans Forum. My topic is one quite familiar to most of us, and one which, I expect, is engraved upon all our hearts. Above all else, in terms of my remarks, I would ask you to keep in mind the old adage from George Santayana (1863-1952), the Spanish-American philosopher and man of letters, who observed that “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

First, let me begin with a brief note about the photograph: it was taken in 1913, 105 years ago. In 1913, World War I had not yet begun, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, and George V the King of Great Britain and Ireland. Pius X was Pope of Rome, while China had only just overthrown its millennia-old monarchy. An Ottoman sultan still reigned from Istanbul, while the Meiji Emperor had died in Tokyo the year before. Most homes in the world used neither electricity nor gas, most people used horse-drawn carts or carriages rather than the just-introduced automobile, and the wealthiest kings and captains of industry were just as vulnerable as the poorest factory workers or paupers to numerous diseases which we now no longer have among us.

I invite you to look closely at this family pictured here, seemingly of a world so far removed from our own, a century apart, and see if you can find a glimpse into their unique personalities. Look at the faces of the two eldest daughters on the photograph’s left and right edges, beautiful in the golden age of their late teenage years. Notice the shy, inquisitive gaze of the oldest one, on the left, and the somewhat bolder smile and direct gaze of the next-oldest, on the right. The youngest daughter, who her parents called the ‘Imp’ for her mischievous antics, stands next to her clearly naturally reserved father. She is linked, arm-in-arm, with her brother, the family’s youngest child and only son. Standing in the back, the mother—who looks much like her own maternal grandmother—places her arm on her husband’s chair; even in this photo, worry etches her face, while to her right, our left, the middle daughter, whose face radiates kindness, looks on with a thoughtful stare.

Given the intimate serenity of this photograph, staged and pre-arranged as it was, it is almost astonishing to think about what happened to this family only five years after they sat for this photograph. This image here— born of a momentary flash of light, which captured forever a transient moment lost to Time in the blink of an eye—is a window into the ephemeral life of this family. It preserves for all time a moment when their father and husband’s dynasty had been on the throne of Russia for three hundred years, and—at the time this photograph was taken—seemed certain to continue in power for generations to come. Yet only a year after the family sat for their photograph, the old world order shattered as all of Europe and her colonies descended into the horrors of mechanised, post-industrial war.

The murders: A world ended in a hail of bullets in a foreboding basement

Just over one hundred years ago, in the pre-dawn hours of 17th July, 1918, the unlawfully imprisoned Imperial Family of Russia—held without any semblance of legitimate political authority, trial conviction, or legal pretext—was murdered by a team of Bolshevik Cheka secret police, along with four of their devoted servants and assistants. This was both a horrific tragedy and a history-changing political murder story.

The murdered family members were seven: The Emperor Nicholas II Romanov (50), his wife, Queen Victoria’s beloved granddaughter, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna (46), their four daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga (22), Tatiana (21), Maria (19), and Anastasia (17), and their son and heir, the Grand Duke and Tsarevich Alexei Nikolayevich (13).

Murdered with them were their four devoted servants and friends, three men and one woman who have often been sadly forgotten next to their more illustrious co-sufferers. These noble souls who chose to share in the Imperial Family’s exile and imprisonment were: the physician Dr Yevgeny Botkin (53), palace footman Alexei Trupp (62), imperial cook Ivan Kharitonov (47), and maid Anna Demidova (40). All the servants who stayed with the Imperial Family and shared in their martyrdom were Orthodox Russians, save for Trupp, who was a Catholic Latvian. Interestingly, despite Trupp being a Catholic, he was also glorified (canonised) as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) along with the others in 1981.

[Do not read aloud the following two paragraphs mentioning the gruesome details of the murders].

The murders took place in the dimly lit cellar of the Ipatiev House in the isolated town of Yekaterinburg, Ural Siberia. Led by Yakov Yurovsky, the ten killers were all convinced atheistic Bolshevik revolutionaries from Baltic Latvia and Lithuania. From examining the sometimes conflicting later testimonials of the assassins themselves, it is believed that only the Emperor, the Empress, and the two men died from the initial hail of bullets, while tragically, the Tsarevich, his sisters the Grand Duchesses, and the maid Anna Demidova survived the initial blasts. The princesses—wearing diamonds and other gems sewn into their dresses, which had stopped the bullets—were savagely bayoneted and then shot at point-blank range along with their brother and Demidova, who had initially fainted but then, coming to, attracted the attention of her killers. In her last moments, according to the later testimonies of the men who killed her, Demidova attempted to fight back against her murderers.

One of the family’s poor pets, a French bulldog, had begun to bark from the noise; he was also killed by the Bolsheviks, while another dog escaped and was later found and adopted by the anti-Bolshevik White Army soldiers. To their horror, several days after the murders, the anti-revolutionary soldiers found that they had arrived too late in Yekaterinburg. So began, with these gruesome murders, Lenin and Trotsky’s consolidation of power and gradual defeat of the White Army forces. The details of the murders are disturbing to hear, but I believe that we must know these things—even the gruesome reality of the brutality inflicted—in order to fully understand the depths of the inhumane evil that motivated the murderers, both those who gave the order from afar and those who drunkenly carried it out.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the murders is that Lenin and all his lieutenants had—after inventing a revolutionary propaganda machine to spread both slander and distorted half-truths about the Tsar and his policies—somehow convinced themselves that these heinous murders were for the ‘good’ of ‘The People’. To them, no lives were sacred apart from the totalitarian cause of advancing the Soviet Proletariat against its ‘Class Enemies’, and no lives were to be spared in the relentless totalitarian pursuit of realising a classless utopia and cleansing it of all ideological enemies. In this madness, Lenin was consciously following in the ‘intellectual footsteps’ of one of his heroes, the Jacobin demagogue and would-be-dictator Maximilien Robespierre, upon whom rests most of the bloodletting of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror and the near-genocidal massacres of Catholic royalists and counter-revolutionary traditionalists in the Vendee.

The latest archival research and careful examination of the existent primary sources has shown that the Soviet order to kill all those who were murdered on 17th July, 1918—not only the Emperor, but his wife, children, and their servants—came directly from Lenin and his close lieutenants, Yakov Sverdlov and Filipp Goloshchyokin. Not content with murdering the Imperial Family and their servants, their killers mutilated the victims’ bodies, attempting to destroy them by kerosene and fire before irreverently dumping them nearby at Ganina Yama. Typical of all dictatorial powers before or since, the Bolshevik revolutionaries sincerely believed that they would succeed in concealing the news of their atrocity from the world, but news of the murders began to circulate within days of the crime.

On 18th July, 1918—the very next night after the murder of the Imperial Family and their associates—the Bolsheviks killed the late Empress’ older sister, who was also the late Emperor’s aunt-by-marriage, the widowed Grand Duchess-turned-abbess Elizabeth Fyodorovna. Along with her devoted former maid and fellow nun Varvara Yakovleva and several cadet relatives of the Romanov family, Her Imperial Highness was taken by the Bolsheviks to an old mine shaft at Alapayevsk, clubbed on the head, and thrown alive down the mine shaft. Save for one grand duke, Sergei Mikhailovitch, who had been shot, the other victims survived the fall. They sang Orthodox hymns down in the shaft until they died of Bolshevik grenade blasts, blood loss, and smoke inhalation from burning brushwood that their killers had thrown down upon them.

One of the most beloved women in Moscow who was immensely popular with the faithful for all her social work and loving kindness—in some ways comparable to a kind of Orthodox Mother Teresa figure—the Bolsheviks did not dare to arrest Abbess-Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna in broad daylight. Like her sister, brother-in-law, young nieces and nephew, and millions of other future victims of Soviet repression and mass murder, Grand Duchess Elizabeth was arrested without legal pretense, imprisoned, and ultimately killed under that favourite weapon of tyrants, the shadow of darkness.

Glorified Orthodox saints with an ecumenical and universal appeal: The Imperial Family’s increasing veneration among Orthodox, traditional Christians, and both Christian and non-Christian conservatives and monarchists

Glorified (canonised) as martyrs in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in 1981, and glorified as passion-bearing saints in the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000, the Imperial Family and their dear servants are widely honoured and venerated throughout the Orthodox world today. They are viewed by many Orthodox worldwide as martyrs (Greek for ‘witnesses’) who were killed in large measure due to their killers’ ideological hatred for all religion, Christianity generally, but Orthodoxy in particular. Many other Orthodox view them as ‘passion-bearers’—those who went to their deaths with Christ-like composure, pious forgiveness, and longsuffering meekness. In the case of the Imperial Martyrs, if we remember the whole of their lives and their final witness, whether we use the term ‘martyrs’ or ‘passion-bearers’ becomes ultimately rather semantic or pedantic. All passion-bearers are by definition living ‘witnesses’ of the Faith in the literal sense, and all martyrs are always ‘passion-bearers’ when approaching their deaths. From the historian’s perspective, it is immensely difficult, if not impossible, to clearly distinguish in examples of Christian martyrs between those killed only for their faith and those who were killed in related political persecutions. This is because, until very recently, religious and political affairs were deeply conjoined and interrelated in most states and societies, and victims of political violence were often targeted for religious reasons, and vice versa.

It is worth noting that the Romanov Imperial Family is widely loved and venerated beyond the canonical bounds of the Orthodox Church by many Christians of other confessions, and even non-Christians, in a manner which can be called a kind of ‘ecumenism of sacrifice’. Many Catholics and high church Protestants today revere the Imperial Family as the first holy sufferers among the Russian people under the Bolshevik yoke. Conservatives, traditionalists, and monarchists of all nationalities and religions often see in the Imperial Family both a beautiful embodiment of the lost ‘Old World’ social and political order, and a praiseworthy example of righteous, pious Christians whose lives and deaths manifested a perfection of traditional Christian virtues.

Legacy of a Regicide unique among ancient and contemporary regicides

It is certainly possible to see historical parallels between the murdered Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich and Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna with earlier regicides of Christian monarchs, including the Jacobins’ judicial murders of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France (January and October 1793), Cromwell’s execution of the Anglican martyr King Charles I of England (January 1649), and that of St.  Charles’ paternal grandmother Mary, Queen of Scots (February 1587), who regarded herself as a Catholic martyr and was widely seen as such after her death at the order of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England. The ‘long nineteenth century’ in Europe saw many regicides in the wake of the revolutionary forces of Liberalism and budding political Marxism. The century opened with the regicide of Emperor Paul of Russia, and approached its end with that of the ‘Tsar-Liberator’ Alexander II (13 March 1881), the martyred Emperor’s grandfather, and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria (1898).

Serving as a monarch was, indeed, an immensely dangerous position in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Emperor and Empress would have been intimately aware of this reality, since the Emperor himself had survived a Japanese assassin’s blade while traveling as the Tsarevich in spring 1891, and, as a young boy, he had been present at his dying grandfather Alexander II’s deathbed ten years earlier. The twentieth century began with the regicide of King Umberto I of Italy in 1900, followed closely by the double regicide of King Alexander I of Serbia and his consort Queen Draga in 1903. Prior to the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, King Carlos I of Portugal and his crown prince Luis Felipe were assassinated in 1908, while in 1913 King George I of Greece was assassinated. The First World War itself was famously begun as Serbia and Austria fought in the wake of the fallout of Gavrilo Princip’s June 1914 assassination of the Austrian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. One can also discern a common ‘passion-bearing’ spirit, if not a full martyrdom, in the Romanovs’ Austrian contemporaries, the forcibly dethroned and exiled Emperor Karl and Empress Zita, both of whom are presently being considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. Emperor Karl famously longed to end the First World War, much as Emperor Nicholas had done so much to avoid its outbreak.

In these examples of other European regicides, I have no desire to at all diminish the significance of the Imperial Family’s murder—this was the first time that a monarch’s consort and entire immediate family were killed with him—but rather to instead show that they can be taken in association with other historic and contemporary regicides as examples in which these monarchs and consorts were attacked and killed by anti-traditional or radical revolutionary forces within their societies.

Out of divine providence: The murders/martyrdoms as a symbol of Russia’s outlasting of and triumph over Marxist-Leninism

 

In the short term, these brutal murders achieved what Lenin had sought—they eliminated the main focal point for the unity of anti-communist White Army resistance to the Bolshevik Red Army. Within several years, as the Russian Civil War began to wind down under Lenin, Trotsky, and then Stalin’s brutal regime, Britain and the United States recognised the Soviet Union as a legitimate political entity, and established full diplomatic relations with it, with other countries quickly following suit.

Yet today, increasing public veneration of the Imperial Family in Russia and Eastern Europe, and their popularity across Christian confessional lines, represents one of the most visible healings of memory, and a major component of Russia’s ongoing evaluation of its Soviet history in the wake of the 1991 dissolution. For many, the Imperial Family today serve as an inseparable symbol of the ongoing civil society transformations of post-Soviet Russian cultural, political, and religious life. Just as many formerly communist countries have torn down their Soviet-era statues of Lenin and Stalin, statues of Nicholas II and his family and shrines to their memory have risen across Russia, Ukraine, and Serbia, with plans for more to follow. The increasing public veneration of the Imperial New Martyrs in Russian society is thus an integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church’s vision of votserkovleniye, or the “in-Churching” of society, the comprehensive, multifaceted vision of a gradual re-Christianisation of Russian society and culture in the wake of the Soviet system’s collapse.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”, Santayana wrote. Today millions of Western schoolchildren rightfully learn about the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, but very few are educated at all about the horrors of the Soviet persecutions, purges, and successive international communist revolutions, in which tens of millions of people have died since 1917 as “enemies of the People”. This was not just in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, North Korea, and Cuba, but all across the world. From Vietnam and Cambodia to Georgia and Armenia, Ethiopia and Angola to Belarus and Latvia, Poland and Czechia to Slovakia and Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria to Serbia and Macedonia, millions of people died under communist firing squads, in gulags, concentration camps, torture chambers, and mental hospitals. Millions more died of deliberate famine-inducing policies and purges of dissenters.

It is undeniable that the Soviet Union was an experiment which could boast of many extraordinary scientific, industrial, and medical achievements, but I believe we should give praise for these successes to the peoples of the Soviet Union, rather than the Soviet government, which—especially under Lenin and Stalin—presided over policies which ultimately claimed the lives of tens of millions of people from 1922 to 1991. People worldwide—especially Westerners, and in particular, my fellow Americans—must study and educate ourselves about Communism’s murderous history or, in their ignorance, they will be more likely to sympathise with its proponents today. While it is fortunate that many American university students are increasingly reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s writings on the Soviet regime, the great majority of Americans remain unexposed to and uneducated about the realities of the Soviet system. We cannot afford to ignore the unavoidable historical realities of its brutal legacy of totalitarianism, mass murder, and systematic repression. This murderous legacy began symbolically, in many respects, with the murder of the Imperial Family on 17th July 1918.

The Imperial Family as a symbol today of Russia’s ongoing resurrection, healing, and revitalization in the wake of the Soviet legacy

The ever-increasing, popular veneration of the Imperial Family today is not merely a socio-cultural and political phenomenon. It is also undoubtedly part of something else, a metaphysical reality that transcends the purely earthly political dimension. There is something here which, while working “in” and through time, also stands outside of it: Divine Providence and the healing of historical memory which is only possible through such Providence. After an almost seventy years’ long experiment in atheistic, totalitarian Soviet dictatorship, today’s ongoing spiritual process of a gradual re-Christianisation of Russian society is something which—while often connected to visible political developments—also exists outside of or beyond them. It is here that the historian in me must put on another ‘hat’ or ‘face’, as it were, to observe a supra-political reality that is undeniable to those who perceive it. I must here put on the hat of ‘believer’, ‘amateur theologian’, and ‘Church historian’.

Through the wise actions and policies of so many brave Soviet citizens—Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Moldovan, Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek, Kazakh, and Kyrghiz men and women across the world—and, I believe, Divine Providence—the Soviet experiment collapsed in less than seven decades in the same place where it had first been violently launched a century ago. The devastating manner of its collapse—and the often either indifferent or incautious response of international communities and state actors to the enormous economic and political void left in its wake—is something that any sentient person would view with sadness and the greatest empathy.

Every country and people must come to terms with the complexities of its past, and my own nation is no exception. I am certainly among many of my fellow Americans who believe that the United States could and should have done far more to aid the peoples of the former Soviet Union in the destabilising decade of ‘shock privatisation’, economic collapse, and terror by oligarchic mafias after 1991. Despite that many Western and former Soviet economists and humanitarian leaders urged the United States, NATO, and the UN to lend far greater assistance to the peoples of the suffering former Soviet states in the 1990s, there was no Marshall Plan for the peoples of the former Soviet Union. Along with many related foreign policy issues, and moral and ideological shifts both in American and Russian political society, the historical memory of the 1990s is unsurprisingly a source of resentment among many people and governments of the former USSR today.

Yet, both as a believer and an American, I cannot help but marvel at the hand of God working in the gradual re-Christianising Russia of today. This Providential hand does not work in isolation, but acts alongside the extraordinary efforts of all levels of Russian society today to creatively reimagine, reconstruct, and revitalise their national identity and image after the Soviet dissolution. Who could have imagined, a half century ago, that we would be in our present state of affairs? For all the ongoing drama, dysfunction, and distrust fostered by the latest Moscow-Washington political crisis, unproductive consulate closures, mutual allegations of international election interference, and talks of this present ‘New Cold War’, I remain—perhaps due to my youth—a cautious optimist with a view toward the longue durée.

Even if one examines many of the conflicts currently dominating Eastern European and Central Asian politics—whether one is talking about internal Orthodox Church geopolitical conflict between Moscow and Constantinople over Kiev, the deepening Orthodox-Catholic divide over the Ukrainian crisis and the complicated relationship between the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Moscow Patriarchate, or the response of both non-Muslims and Sufi Muslim religious leaders to the rise of fundamentalist Wahhabi and Salafist political Islam in Central Asia and the Middle East—it is undeniable that religion, once pushed to the very bottom and margins of Soviet society, is now a major component of public life, civil society, and political debate in all the former Soviet republics. None of the former Soviet states today maintain atheistic, single party communist dictatorships, and—regardless of the exact state of rule of law, due process, or democracy in any former Soviet states—none of the various political leaders in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) can aspire to anything even remotely approaching the totalitarian level of political control or terror held by Lenin and Stalin.

Think of all the progress that has been made in Russian and American commercial relations, developing business ties, and above all the laudable work of so many citizen diplomacy groups in overcoming negative stereotypes, biased news coverage, and misguided ideological prejudices between ordinary Russians and Americans. Think, also, of those who, even now, sadly seek to bring to Western countries the murderous communist ideology which inflicted untold suffering on tens of millions in Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and indeed worldwide.

We certainly need a new spirit of mutual respect, rapprochement, and détente today, but I believe that it is vital that we hail what progress our two countries have made in the last five decades. Who could have imagined in 1968—shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which both superpowers confronted the very real possibility of imminent nuclear destruction—that an ambassador appointed by Moscow would one day gladly share the stage with a Russian Orthodox archbishop? Who could have imagined that, one day, the Russian president and prime minister would publicly attend Paschal and Nativity services in Russian cathedrals and monasteries, and exchange gifts and greetings with the Patriarch and bishops? These unquestionably positive developments would have been unthinkable only a half century ago, as would the notion of statues of Lenin being replaced across Eastern Europe with ones dedicated to the very family whose execution he ordered. We can see prudent statecraft, political changes, and careful diplomacy behind these shifting realities, but also, surely, the hand of Providence. As my godmother is often wont to say, echoing her dear, late spiritual father, His Grace Bishop Basil Rodzianko (1915-1999), a man who once served in this city: “the Providence of God brings good out of evil.”

Let us marvel at the work of  this Providential hand. A century ago today, the men newly ruling Russia ordered the murder of its previous ruler, its last monarch of a three centuries-old dynasty, and his entire family and household. Today, the people governing Russia overwhelmingly abhor the Marxist-Leninist ideology that inspired these murders, and instead, many of them are among the patrons and pilgrims of the commemorations taking place across Russian cities and towns this year. It is remarkable to me, as a historian, that this past summer, the men and women governing post-Soviet Russia today attended the solemn memorial services officiated by His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill in Yekaterinburg in observance of the centenary anniversary of the murder and martyrdom of the Imperial Family. This is a truly extraordinary development: in only a century, think of all that has changed in Russia and the other former Soviet states that has led us to this moment in history.

Conclusion

As we remember and honour the glorified Imperial Family throughout this centenary year, it is only fitting that we do so in the spirit which, I am sure, they would want us to remember them: prayerfully, charitably, and seeing them not as disunited from their people—whose first sufferings under the Bolshevik revolutionaries they themselves experienced all too intimately—but as co-sufferers with their people. This is the truest, highest, ancient ideal of Christian kingship: the notion that monarchy—far from being some sort of purely authoritarian top-down relationship—is a mystical three-way consecration, in which the monarch is consecrated to God and made responsible before Him for the spiritual welfare of his or her people. Given how seriously the Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich took this meaning behind the words of his Coronation Oath, it is not impossible that the Tsar-Martyr might have recalled them in his final moments on this earth.

It is only my imagining, but I cannot help but wonder if he recalled—even momentarily—some of the words of his solemn Oath, with which he consecrated himself to serve his people before God:

[…] I acknowledge Thy unsearchable purpose towards me, and bow in thankfulness before Thy Majesty. May my heart be in Thy hand, to accomplish all that is to the profit of the people committed to my charge and to Thy glory, that so in the day of Thy judgment I may give Thee account of my stewardship without blame…

The spiritual fruits of this “unsearchable purpose” can be gleaned in the notion which the Emperor himself referred to several times during his reign: his premonition that he would serve—in his earthly reign and ultimately his death—to symbolically expiate the sins of his people before God. This concept—introduced to the Emperor at an uncertain date, but, according to tradition, communicated to him through a letter which St Seraphim of Sarov had written many decades before and entrusted to his disciples—naturally utterly confounds and baffles secular historians. However, to dismiss it out of hand is to miss a vital aspect of how the Emperor saw himself and his own life, reign, and death. It is this inner, metaphysical, and deeply spiritual dimension to the Emperor, his ultimate podvig, in a sense, which is untranslatable or utterly inconceivable to an entirely secular mind, and yet glimpses of it appear in the late writings we have from the Empress, and from their eldest daughter, in the surviving diary entries of the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna, who famously composed the haunting poem in which she prayed for her family to receive the grace to pray for their persecutors (and ultimately, their killers), “Father, forgive them!”

On that infamous July night a century ago, after an extraordinary, tumultuous reign and a life of tremendous trials and tribulations, Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, entered into eternity, suffering—depending on one’s perspective—martyrdom or murder along with his entire family and closest servants. Recalling the cautionary words of St. Olga Nikolayevna written shortly before her death—words passed from her august father that “the evil which is now in the world will become yet more powerful, and it is not evil which conquers evil, but only love”—we see both a magnificent encapsulation of the Christian message, as well as a cause for ultimate spiritual triumph. Bearing her words in mind, we can think of the family’s horrific deaths not with a sense of isolated tragedy, confined only to their suffering, but instead we can think of how they consecrated themselves to their people in an imitation of Christ’s sufferings.

Having been first consecrated together as Emperor and Empress of all the Russias on 26 May 1896, just over twenty-two year later, on 17 July 1918, Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna, along with their five dear children and four closest servants, were consecrated in a different way, a manner which ultimately mystically fulfilled the Tsar’s coronation oath in a deeply metaphysical sense. Bearing this in mind, it is then possible for us to say—in the same transcendent spirit which animated their last days and final writings— “Christ is Risen!”

While the sheer brutality and tragedy of their deaths would disturb anyone, we can also see the Imperial Martyrs as the first of millions of sufferers in the long Soviet saga of persecution, which, by the grace of God, came to an end in less than seventy years, while still casting its shadow across the world today. Honouring the Imperial Family’s lives and legacy today, we also inseparably honour the tens of millions of victims of communist totalitarianism in the former Soviet Union and, indeed, everywhere. In doing so, let us keep in mind the nuances and examples found in their lives and deaths, and the metaphysical reality of the hope of our Resurrection above all else. May this centenary year be a Providential source of healing of divisions and wounds between friends, families, neighbours, and nations and peoples, especially Russia and the United States, and Russia and Ukraine. May the witness and prayers of the Imperial New Martyrs, and all their co-sufferers, be with us, in every city and country, and may they bring much-needed healing of the traumas of historical memory, the bitterness of ancient conflicts, and resentment of past wrongs. May we strive to build a world worthy of their legacy as they intercede for us all before the Throne of God! Thank you very much—Я очень благодарю вас!

At the Crucible of History: The Centenary of the Romanov Family’s Murder

Romanovs 1913

For today and tomorrow, I am using this photograph as my Facebook cover photo.

Many of you already know who these people are, but for those who do not, let me tell you why I am featuring them, and what they represent to me. Above all else, in terms of my thinking, keep in mind the premise that “those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it…”

First, let me begin with a quick note about the photograph: it was taken in 1913, 105 years ago. In 1913, World War I had not yet begun, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, George V King of Great Britain and Ireland. Pius X was Pope of Rome, while China had only just overthrown its millennia-old monarchy. An Ottoman sultan still reigned from Istanbul, while the Meiji Emperor had died in Tokyo the year before. Most homes in the world used neither electricity nor gas, most people used horses or carriages rather than cars, and the wealthiest kings and captains of industry were just as vulnerable as the poorest factory worker or pauper to numerous diseases which we now no longer have among us.

Look at this family pictured here, seemingly of a world so far removed from our own, a century apart, and see if you can find a glimpse into their unique personalities. Look at their faces: the two eldest daughters on the photo’s left and right edges, beautiful in the golden age of their late teens. Notice the shy, inquisitive gaze of the oldest, on the left, and the somewhat bolder smile and direct gaze of the next-oldest, on the right. The youngest daughter, whom her parents called the ‘Imp’ for her mischievous ways, stands next to her clearly naturally reserved father, arm-in-arm with the family’s youngest child, her brother and the only son. Standing in the back, the mother, who looks so much like her own maternal grandmother, places her arm on her husband’s chair; even in this photo, worry etches her face, while to her right, our left, the middle daughter, whose face radiates kindness, looks on with a thoughtful stare.

Who were these people, who was this family? What happened to them only five years after they sat for this photograph, a moment in history when their father and husband’s dynasty had, been on the throne of Russia for three hundred years and seemed certain to continue in power for generations to come?

One hundred years ago, in the pre-dawn hours of July 17, 1918, the unlawfully imprisoned Imperial Family of Russia—held without any semblance of legal authority or pretense—was murdered by a team of Bolshevik Cheka secret police along with four of their devoted servants and assistants. This was both a horrific tragedy and a history-changing political murder.

The murdered family members were: the Emperor Nicholas II Romanov (50), his wife, Queen Victoria’s beloved granddaughter, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna (46), their four daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga (22), Tatiana (21), Maria (19), and Anastasia (17), and their son, the Grand Duke and Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich (13).

Murdered with them were their four devoted servants and friends who chose to share their exile and imprisonment: their physician Dr Eugene Botkin (53), footman Alexei Trupp (62), cook Ivan Kharitonov (47), and maid Anna Demidova (40). All the servants who stayed with the Imperial Family and shared their martyrdom were Orthodox, save for Trupp, who was a Catholic Latvian, but, interestingly, he was also glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) along with the others in 1981.

The murders took place in the dimly lit cellar of the Ipatiev House in the isolated town of Yekaterinburg, Ural Siberia. Led by Yakov Yurovsky, the ten killers were all convinced atheistic Bolshevik revolutionaries from Baltic Latvia and Lithuania.

The Emperor, the Empress, the two oldest Grand Duchesses, and the men died from the initial hail of bullets; the Tsarevich, Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia, and Anna Demidova survived the initial blasts. The princesses, wearing diamonds and other gems sewn into their dresses, were savagely bayoneted along with their brother and Demidova, who attempted to fight back. One of the family’s poor dogs, a French bulldog, was also killed, while another escaped and was later found and adopted by the anti-Bolshevik (White) Army soldiers. These details are disturbing to read and to learn, but I believe that we must know these things to understand the depths of the utter evil and the sadism that motivated the murderers, both those who gave the order and those who drunkenly carried it out.

The most disturbing part is that Lenin and all his lieutenants had—after inventing a revolutionary propaganda machine to spread both slander and distorted half-truths about the Tsar and his policies—somehow convinced themselves that these heinous murders were for the ‘good’ of ‘The People’ and the totalitarian cause of advancing the Soviet Proletariat against its ‘Class Enemies’…

The order to kill them all—not only the Emperor, but his wife, children, and their servants—came directly from Lenin and his lieutenants Yakov Sverdlov and Filipp Goloshchyokin. Not content merely with killing the Emperor, Empress, and their children and servants, their killers mutilated the victims’ bodies and then attempted to destroy them by kerosene and fire before irreverently dumping them nearby at Ganina Yama.

The very next day, July 18th, 1918, the Bolsheviks killed the late Empress’ older sister, who was also the late Emperor’s aunt-by-marriage, the widowed Grand Duchess-turned-nun-and-abbess Elizabeth Fyodorovna. Along with her devoted former maid and fellow nun Varvara Yakovleva and several cadet princes of the Romanov family, the Grand Duchess was taken by the Bolsheviks to an old mine shaft at Alapaevsk, clubbed on the head, and thrown alive down the mine shaft. Save for one grand duke, Sergei Mikhailovitch, who had been shot, the others survived the fall and sang hymns down in the shaft until they died of Bolshevik grenade blasts, smoke inhalation from burning brushwood that the Bolsheviks threw down upon them, or blood loss.

One of the most beloved women in Moscow who was immensely popular with the faithful for all her social work and loving kindness—in some ways comparable to a kind of Russian Orthodox Mother Teresa figure—the Bolsheviks didn’t dare arrest Abbess-Grand Duchess Elizabeth in broad daylight. Like her sister, brother-in-law, young nieces and nephew, and millions of other future victims of Soviet repression and mass murder, Grand Duchess Elizabeth was arrested without legal pretense, imprisoned, and ultimately killed under shadow of darkness.

Glorified as martyrs in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in 1981, and glorified as passion-bearing saints in the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000, the Imperial Family and their dear servants are widely venerated throughout the Orthodox world. Many Catholics and high church Protestants also revere them as well. They are viewed by most Orthodox as martyrs (Gr. ‘witnesses’) who were killed in large measure due to their killers’ utter hatred for all religion, Christianity generally, but Orthodoxy in particularly. Others view them as ‘passion-bearers’—those who went to their deaths with Christ-like composure, forgiveness, and long-suffering.

In the short term, the brutal murders achieved what Lenin had sought—eliminating the main focal point for the unity of anti-communist White Army resistance to the Bolshevik Red Army. Within several years as the Russian Civil War began to wind down under Lenin, Trotsky, and then Stalin’s brutal regime, the United States recognized the USSR as a legitimate political entity and established full diplomatic relations with it, with other countries quickly following suit.

Yet today, increasing public veneration of the Imperial Family in Russia and Eastern Europe represents one of the most visible healings of memory. For many, it is an inseparable part of the ongoing civil society transformations of post-Soviet Russian cultural, political, and religious life. Just as many formerly communist countries have torn down their Soviet-era statues of Lenin and Stalin, statues of Nicholas II and his family and shrines to their memory have risen across Russia, Ukraine, and Serbia, with plans for more to follow.

“Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it”. Today millions of Western schoolchildren rightfully learn about the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, but very few are educated about the horrors of the Soviet holocausts and various communist purges and revolutions, in which tens of millions of people have died as “enemies of the People”. This was not just in Russia and China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, North Korea, and Cuba, but all across the world. In Vietnam, Cambodia, Georgia, Armenia, Angola, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, and Mongolia, millions of people died under communist firing squads, in gulags, concentration camps, torture chambers, mental hospitals, etc. Millions more died of deliberate famine-inducing policies and purges of dissent. People must learn of communism’s murderous history or, in their ignorance, they will be more likely to sympathize with its proponents today and ignore the historical realities of its massive abuses and murders.

While controversial among some Westerners for how the Russian government has utilized the Romanovs’ murders to foster conservative nationalist and Orthodox political sentiments (it is worth noting here that all governments engage in co-opting national historical events and prominent personalities for ideological purposes), the growing popular veneration of the Imperial Family today is also undoubtedly part of something else, a reality that transcends a purely earthly political dimension. This is something that, while often connected to political considerations, also exists independent of them: the ongoing spiritual process of a gradual re-Christianization of Russian society after the +70 year experiment in atheistic communist Soviet dictatorship. This was an experiment with many scientific and medical achievements, but also one of innumerable totalitarian horrors, persecutions, and genocidal levels of engineered starvation in Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which, along with all the purges, claimed the lives of tens of millions of people from 1918 to 1991.

Through the wise actions and policies of so many brave men and women across the world, and, I believe, Divine Providence, this murderous experiment collapsed in less than eight decades where it had first been violently launched a century ago. A century ago today, the men ruling Russia ordered the murder of its previous ruler, its last monarch of a three centuries-old dynasty, and his entire family and household. Today, the people ruling Russia overwhelmingly abhor the ideology that inspired these murders, and instead many of them are among the patrons and pilgrims of the commemorations going on across Russian cities and towns today. In only a century, think of all that has changed. Think, too, of those who, even now, seek to bring to Western countries the communist policies which led to untold suffering for tens of millions in Russia, Eastern Europe, and indeed worldwide.

In remembering and honoring the Romanovs today and tomorrow—and all the tens of millions of victims of Soviet and communist oppression everywhere—let us keep in mind the historical nuances surrounding their lives and deaths, the examples found in both, and the reality of the hope of our Resurrection above all else. May they intercede for us all before the Throne of God!

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 

 

Metropolitan Hilarion, DECR Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate, Greets Catholic Synod on the Family in Rome

Published by Mospat.ru,  the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk greeted the Roman and Eastern Catholic delegates at the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church on the “Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World” in the Vatican on 20 October 2015.

Your Holiness!
Your Beatitudes, Eminences and Excellencies!

On behalf of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus I extend fraternal greetings to you on the occasion of the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church on the theme of the family.

In our restless and disturbing world the human person needs a firm and unshakeable foundation upon which he can rest and upon which he can build his life with confidence. At the same time, secular society, aimed primarily at the gratification of individual needs, is incapable of giving the human person clear moral direction. The crisis of traditional values which we see in the consumer society leads to a contradiction between various preferences, including those in the realm of family relationships. Thus, feminism views motherhood as an obstacle to a woman’s self-realization, while by contrast having a baby is more often proclaimed as a right to be attained by all means possible. More often the family is viewed as a union of persons irrespective of their gender, and the human person can ‘choose’ his or her gender according to personal taste.

On the other hand, new problems are arising which have a direct impact on traditional family foundations. Armed conflicts in the contemporary world have brought about a mass exodus from areas gripped by war to more prosperous countries. Emigration often leads to a disruption of family ties, creating at the same time a new social environment in which unions of an inter-ethnic and inter-religious nature arise.

These challenges and threats are common to all the Christian Churches which seek out answers to them, proceeding from the mission that Christ has placed upon them – to bring humanity to salvation. Unfortunately, in the Christian milieu too we often hear voices calling for the ‘modernization’ of our ecclesial consciousness, for the rejection of the supposedly obsolete doctrine of the family. However, we ought never to forget the words of St. Paul addressed to the Christians of Rome: ‘And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God’ (Rom. 12: 2).

The Church is called to be a luminary and beacon in the darkness of this age, and Christians to be the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light to the world’. We all ought to recall the Saviour’s warning: ‘If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men’ (Matt. 5: 13-14). The salt which has lost its savour are those Protestant communities which call themselves Christian, but which preach moral ideals incompatible with Christianity. If in this type of community a rite of blessing of same-sex unions is introduced, or a lesbian so called ‘bishop’ calls for the replacement of crosses from the churches with the Muslim crescent, can we speak of this community as a ‘church’? We are witnessing the betrayal of Christianity by those who are prepared to accommodate themselves to a secular, godless and churchless world.

The authorities of some European countries and America, in spite of numerous protests, including those by Catholics, continue to advocate policies aimed at the destruction of the very concept of the family. They not only on the legislative level equate of the status of the same-sex unions to that of marriage but also criminally persecute those who out of their Christian convictions refuse to register such unions. Immediately after the departure of Pope Francis from the USA, President Barack Obama openly declared that gay rights are more important than religious freedom. This clearly testifies to the intention of the secular authorities to continue their assault on those healthy forces in society which defend traditional family values. Catholics here are found at the forefront of the struggle, and it is against the Catholic Church that a campaign of discrediting and lies is waged. Therefore courage in vindicating Christian beliefs and fidelity to Church tradition are particularly necessary in our times.

Today, when the world ever more resembles that foolish man ‘which built his house on the sand’ (Matt. 7: 26) it is the Church’s duty to remind the society of its firm foundation of the family as a union between a man and woman created with the purpose of giving birth to and bringing up children. Only this type of family, as ordained by the Lord when he created the world, can forestall or at least halt temporarily modern-day society’s further descent into the abyss of moral relativism.

The Orthodox Church, like the Catholic Church, has always in her teaching followed Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition in asserting the principle of the sanctity of marriage founded on the Saviour’s own words (Matt. 19: 6; Mk. 10: 9). In our time this position should be ever more strengthened and unanimous. We should defend it jointly both within the framework of dialogue with the legislative and executive branches of power of various countries, as well as in the forums of international organizations such as the UN and the Council of Europe. We ought not to confine ourselves to well-intentioned appeals but should by all means possible ensure that the family is legally protected.

Solidarity among the Churches and all people of good will is essential for guarding the family from the challenges of the secular world and thereby protecting our future. I hope that one of the fruits of the Assembly of the Synod will be the further development of Orthodox-Catholic co-operation in this direction.

I wish you peace, God’s blessing and success in your labours.

Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev)

Magnificent Rachmaninov arrangement of “Glory to God in the Highest”

British traveler Nigel Fowler Sutton maintains this superb YouTube channel which features magnificent Russian Orthodox choral music, photo montages of scenes from daily life in pre-revolutionary Russia, etc. Here he shares this magnificent rendition of Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Glory to God in the Highest” (Hexapsalmos) from the All-Night Vigil Op. 37, No. 7 as performed by the Children and Men’s Choir of the Moscow Choral Academy. The photographs are of the Church of the Annunciation in Taininsky, Moscow Oblast.

Слава в Вышних Богу…
Шестопсалмие
Музыка С. Рахманинов
Всенощное бдение, Op.37. № 7
Детский и мужской хор московской хоровой академии

Glory to God in the Highest
Hexapsalmos
Music by S. Rachmaninoff
From the All-Night Vigil Op. 37. No.7
Sung here by The Children’s & Men’s Choir
of the Moscow Choral Academy

Photographs:
Church of the Annunciation in Taininsky, Mytishchi District, Moscow Oblast

A short history of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow

Interior of Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

Interior of Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral (Храм Христа Спасителя) is the mother cathedra or see of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, whose current primate is His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia. The cathedral is located on the north bank of the Moskva River to the immediate southwest of the capital’s Kremlin fortress, where, inside the Dormition Cathedral (Uspenskiy Sobor) all Russian tsars and tsarinas have been crowned and anointed. Christ the Saviour is the tallest Orthodox cathedral in the world, standing at 103 metres (338 feet) above the pavement. The main sanctuary (temple) can fit over 10,000 standing worshipers.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow.

On Christmas Day in 1812, Russian Imperial forces drove the last of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grand Army off of Russian territory — once 600,000 men strong, now a mere 20-30,000 remained. In thanksgiving, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Alexander I (1777-1825, r. 1801-1825) signed a Manifesto ordering the construction of a magnificent Cathedral in honor of Christ the Savior in Moscow as a thanksgiving to God and to honor the victorious Russian army.

The Emperor’s Manifesto reads, in part:

To signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her and to preserve the memory of the unheard of efforts, loyalty and love for our Faith and Homeland displayed during these difficult days by the Russian people, We hereby intend to build a Cathedral in honor of Christ the Saviour in our capital city of Moscow, wherein the appropriate Decree will be issued in due time. May the Almighty bless Our intentions. May our intentions be fulfilled. May the Cathedral stand for many centuries. Let the incense of thanksgiving, together with love and a desire to imitate the feats of our anscestoral feats, burn before the holy altar of God for many generations.

After over 40 years of initial construction paid for by donations from across the Russian Empire and with imperial patronage, the cathedral was first consecrated on 26 May 1883 in the presence of Emperor Alexander III and senior members of the Imperial Family along with numerous Church and foreign dignitaries. Demolished on Soviet dictator Stalin’s orders on 5 December 1931, the site was initially envisioned to hold a colossal monument to Marxist-Leninism, a gaudy skyscraper called the “Palace of Soviets” raised to the memory of Lenin. Here is a brief video showing the cathedral’s destruction.

Fyodor Klages (1812-90).

Fyodor Klages (1812-90). “Interior of the Cathedral of Christ Saviour in Moscow” (1883). The cathedral before its destruction.

Photograph taken of the demolition of the cathedral on Stalin's orders, 5 December 1931.

Photograph taken of the demolition of the cathedral on Stalin’s orders, 5 December 1931.

Plans for the “palace” stalled during the Great Patriotic War (WWII), and afterwards the foundations were turned into the world’s largest open-air swimming pool, in which numerous Soviet citizens drowned. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the newly-free Moscow Patriarchate announced plans to rebuild the demolished Cathedral on its pre-revolutionary model and scale. Funds poured in from all across the former Russian Empire, including from Russian emigres living in Western Europe and the Americas. Construction was finished by 2000, and HH Patriarch Alexey II consecrated the new cathedral along with numerous other Russian clergy on 19 August 2000. Besides functioning as the Patriarch’s cathedral church, the building is a monument to the suffering of the Russian people under communism and a symbol of the resurgence of Orthodoxy in Russian cultural life following 1991. Every year, the President and Prime Minister of the Russian Federation attend Nativity (7 January on the civil calendar/25 December on the Julian) and Pachal midnight services in the cathedral, and are greeted with an address by the Patriarch, who they in turn address with the traditional festive greeting “Christ is Risen!”, “Truly He is Risen!” (Христос Воскресе! Ваистину Воскресе!).

In front of the iconostasis (icon stand/wall) and altar solea inside the cathedral.

In front of the iconostasis (icon stand/wall) and altar solea inside the cathedral.

moscow-cathedral-christ-saviour01

Nigel Fowler Sutton notes

Here I present a look at the history of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Built as a result of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, the Cathedral was a thanksgiving for Russia & the victorious Russian Army. Construction lasted for 40 years & resulted in the largest Orthodox Cathedral in the World. Following the Russian Revolution, Stalin had the Catherdral blown up to make way for the Palace of Soviets, a “skyscraper” to Socialism & the memory of Lenin. Only the foundations were built by the time Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. Work ceased & following victory in 1945, the foundations were turned into an open-air pool. I actually swam there in 1966…… In 1994, the pool was closed and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour rose again. This time taking a mere fraction of the time to build. This is the story……..

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia Seeks Abortion Ban in Russia

Patriarch Kirill 3

Under the Soviet Union, Russia became the first country in the world to decriminalize abortion, and during the Soviet period abortion was widely used as a primary form of birth control. I have known a number of older Russian woman who, tragically, had multiple abortions. In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the revitalization of Orthodoxy in the countries of the former Soviet bloc, the abortion rate remained high as the period of shock privatization saw many Russians endure terribly low wages, high unemployment, high alcohol consumption, etc. The Russian Orthodox Church steadfastly urged reforms to the adoption system, state assistance to unwed mothers, and, above all, the preservation and revitalization of marriage. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia has addressed this issue in numerous homilies and at many conferences. In January 2015 he appeared before the Lower House of the Russian Parliament, urging lawmakers to act to reduce the number of abortions and ensure stable population growth.

Published here by RT on 22 January 2015 is the Patriarch’s address:

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has called upon MPs to begin a campaign against abortions, starting with canceling state sponsorship for the procedure and aiming at a total nationwide ban.

If we manage to cut the number of abortions by 50 percent we would have stable and powerful population growth,” Patriarch Kirill said, speaking before the Lower House on Thursday. This was the first ever speech of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church before the State Duma.

The argument that a ban would cause an increase in the number of underground abortions is pure nonsense. People have to pay money for these operations and our task is to make the price of a legal infanticide the same as of the illegal one. Taxpayers must not pay for this,” the church leader told the MPs, suggesting the exclusion of abortion from the list of services covered by the obligatory medical insurance program.

However, the Patriarch acknowledged the solution to demographic problems was complex. According to him, apart from bans and restrictions, the state must help young families with money and housing and also introduce strict ethical norms in the medical sphere, giving doctors additional stimuli to care about the life of “conceived children.”

The top Russian cleric again attacked surrogacy in his parliamentary speech, urging lawmakers to take steps to completely replace it with adoption.

In mid-November last year, a large assembly formed of lawmakers, rights activists, medical experts and members of various church-related groups passed a resolution seeking legislative changes to ban all abortions, saying human life begins at the moment of conception. The authors of the document said that although Russia ratified the International Convention on Children’s Rights in 1990, the authorities still do nothing to “protect children before birth.”

The bill brands abortions as murder and completely bans them along with contraceptives “with an abortive function” – morning-after pills and intra-uterine devices.

In October 2013, an official representative of the Russian Orthodox Church attacked abortions and surrogacy as a “mutiny against God,” and less than a month later State Duma Deputy Elena Mizulina said in a speech that the community must urgently stop tolerating abortions and surrogacy, as they threaten to wipe out the population of Russia and the world as a whole.

The move gained little support from other politicians, who argued that such a ban would only lead to more illegal abortions that are much more dangerous and leave many women infertile, only aggravating Russia’s demographic problems. Eventually Mizulina had to play down her statements, saying that she merely wanted to draw attention to the problem and start a discussion, not introduce any legislative bans.

According to pro-life activists, every year about 1 million women in Russia have induced abortions with only 10 percent of them being carried out for health reasons.

Patriarch Kirill 1

Patriarch Kirill 2

Romanov Family Invited to Return to Russia

As many of you have heard by now, a Leningrad Oblast legislator, Vladimir Petrov, affiliated with President Putin’s ruling party has extended a formal invitation to the two rival branches of the Romanov family to reside in an old imperial palace, either in St Petersburg or the Crimea, and begin to take up a host of national functions. RT reports:

A regional lawmaker has addressed the heirs of the Romanov imperial house with a request to return to Russia promising them a special legal status and one of historic palaces in Crimea or St. Petersburg.

Vladimir Petrov of the legislative assembly of the Leningrad Region wrote letters to Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and Prince Dimitri Romanovich asking them to become symbols of national culture and maintaining traditions, like in many European nations that retained their monarchies to this day.

Coming as it does from a relatively minor official in Putin’s governing United Russia party, Petrov’s invitation does not mark a restoration of the Romanov monarchy, but the beginning of what will likely be a several years-long process of deliberate rehabilitation of the living Romanov family members. Should HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and HIH Prince Dimitri Romanovich accept Petrov’s invitation, we would likely see their incorporation into leading echelons of Russian high society. They would serve, as Petrov notes, as a symbol of national unity and historical identity, an institutional connection to Russia’s pre-revolutionary imperial past, and as non-political embodiments of Russian heritage and cultural history.

Petrov writes:

For the whole length of its reign the Romanov imperial dynasty remained a foundation of the Russian statehood. At present Russia is undergoing a complicated process of regaining its glory and worldwide influence. I am sure that in this historical moment the Romanovs would not stay away from all processes that are taking place in Russia…

Petrov “suggested that this move would help to smooth political controversies within Russia and help to restore the “spiritual power” of the nation”, adding that he and other United Russia leaders in the Leningrad Oblast legislature “would very soon develop and draft a bill “On the special status of representatives of the Tsars’ family” that would give some guarantees to the returning Romanovs. He also said that the royals could use one of the palaces that belonged to them before the revolution and that now remain vacant or are misused.”

To this day a lot of wonderful Tsar’s palaces near St. Petersburg are either empty or used not according to their destination. I think if one of these palaces is used as an official residence of the Romanov family it would only be for everyone’s benefit,” the lawmaker said in comments to Izvestia daily. He noted that another option was to settle the royals in the Livadia Palaces in Crimea.

So far, Prince Dimitri Romanovich has not yet commented publicly on the invitation, but Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna’s representative, ” the head of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House, Aleksandr Zakatov” told Izvestia “that some representatives of the dynasty were ready to move to Russia. However, he noted that Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna held a high post of the head of the imperial house and therefore her return should be decent and solemn.”

Noting that the Grand Duchess claimed neither “property or political privileges [or]  powers, she only wants the imperial house to become a historical institution and part of the national legacy”, Zakatov observed that “this recognition must be manifested in a legal act” passed by the legislature before Maria Vladimirovna would consider moving to Russia.

While the “two major competing branches of the Romanov dynasty – one headed by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and the other by Prince Nikolai Romanovich” have often sparred with each other in the past century, “their representatives often visit Russia and take part in various events.” As RT reports, “none of them have made any political claims.”

RT notes growing support for the possible reestablishment of the constitutional monarchy: “An opinion poll conducted in 2013 in connection with the 400th anniversary of the Romanov royal house showed that 28 percent of Russian citizens would agree to the rule of Tsars…” My own hope is that, with a peaceful and popular restoration of the monarchy some years from now in the wake of the Romanovs’ rehabilitation, Russia could continue to strengthen its post-Soviet national identity and economy, and civil society at large.

No less prominent a person than His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has publicly supported HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna’s claim to the Russian throne, observing the following:

Are the claims of the descendants of the Romanovs to the Russian throne legitimate? I would like to say right away that there are no pretenders. Today, none of those persons who are descendants of the Romanovs are pretenders to the Russian throne. But in the person of Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and her son, Georgy, the succession of the Romanovs is preserved—no longer to the Russian Imperial throne, but to history itself.

And I should acknowledge with gratitude to this family and to the many other Romanovs the current contributions they make to the life of our country. Maria Vladimirovna supports a great many good initiatives, she makes visits to Russia, she meets with people, she grants noble status to ordinary people who have in various ways distinguished themselves. I remember very well how, when she was visiting Smolensk, she elevated an old peasant woman to noble status who had done much for her neighbors during the difficult years of the war and immediately after the war. Thus the cultural contributions of this family continue to be very significant in our society.

As His Holiness notes, the Grand Duchess has already been closely engaged in fulfilling non-controversial, ceremonial aspects of imperial duties that would typically be performed by a constitutional monarch. This pattern of already-existent engagements and public activities would likely set an example for any further incorporation of Her Imperial Highness or the other Romanov claimants into Russian public life. With their presence at major national and religious events celebrated by the Russian State and the Russian Orthodox Church, we would likely see an ever-increasing rise in support for the monarchy’s restoration.

This could be a huge, groundbreaking development, with could being the operative word. While the Romanovs are not being offered the Russian Throne, the Leningrad Oblast is offering them residence in one of the many imperial palaces that surround St Petersburg. If they accept, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and Prince Dimitri Romanovich will likely be acting as cultural figures in Russia, showing up to all the culturally and historically important events and celebrations, and doing charity work on the side, much like King Alexander II in Serbia and Tsar Simeon in Bulgaria. While this is not an invitation to return to the Imperial Throne, this action will surely help rehabilitate the image of Monarchy in the collective mind of the Russian people.

Clandestine plans possibly exist between the Kremlin and the Danilov (MP headquarters) to restore the Romanov House in time for the 2017 centenary of Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication or the 2018 centenary of the imperial martyrdoms. One thing is certain: Petrov could not have extended such a high profile invitation to the Romanov family without the Kremlin’s direct approval and Putin’s subtle encouragement. As one priest friend of mine observed, an eventual “restoration of the Romanov dynasty represents a breathtaking turn of events because it repudiates the Marxist claim to historical inevitability that lies at the heart of that spiritually bankrupt (and murderous) ideology. Like him or not, Putin is a very smart man, arguably one of the strongest leaders on the world stage today. This man understands culture and history.”

This is precisely why a minor Leningrad legislator could not have done any of this without first checking with the Kremlin and the Danilov. This carries the clandestine approval of Putin and his inner circle as well as the Patriarch. We are about to see a breath-taking overturning of the “inevitable” Marxist “once you become a republic you can’t go back” Hegelian view of history. As the same priest observed, when it comes to the possible eventual restoration of the Romanovs, “Dostoevsky may trump Nietsche, at least in the Christendom of the East.”

My thoughts on Paul Coyer’s Forbes essay on Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church

This is a fascinating article which all Russianists should read, even if they strongly disagree with it.

The author, Paul Coyer, a Forbes commentator and professional foreign policy analyst affiliated with several interventionist Washington think tanks, accurately notes the close collaboration between the Russian State under Putin and the Russian Church. He assumes it is a bad thing, and doesn’t provide any actual empirical evidence for his claims in this area, but simply regurgitates the usual “Russia should be a Western style democracy” Washington line, bemoaning the lost promise of the Yeltsin years when, likely unbeknownst to him, the suicide, abortion, and unemployment rates peaked following the Soviet collapse while wages and life expectancy plummeted.

Many of Dr Coyer’s observations about the close relationship between the Russian State and the Russian Orthodox Church are correct. Where I disagree with him is his view that this close relationship is either unnatural, evil, or both. Where Coyer sees disingenuous mafiosi looking to atone for their sins in the fact that so many Russian oligarchs are contributing funds to rebuild churches demolished under Soviet rule, I leave room for a less cynical possibility: that the move to rebuild Empire-period, ancient churches which the Soviets destroyed constitutes a society-wide impetus among Russians of all classes to reconnect with the best aspects of pre-revolutionary culture, which was inextricably bound up in, permeated by, and historically defined through the mission of the Church.

It is cultural imperialism of the worst kind, an extraordinary ignorance and arrogance, to assume that everyone in the world wants Western-style liberal democracy and total separation of Church and State, when, on the contrary, the tradition of Russian society for a thousand years has been ever-more centralized rule (Kiev to Novgorod to Vladimir to Moscow, and Grand Princes to Tsars to Emperors in the “gathering of the Russian lands”) and close collaboration (symphonia in Greek, cooperatio in Latin) in areas of common social witness and motives between the political rulers and the Church. The symbol which more than any other defines symphonia is the double-headed eagle (one head the Church, the other the State) which the Romanovs adopted as their own from the earlier Byzantine or East Roman empire (330-1453). You may despise Putin, as many Westerners do, but all Coyer’s article shows him to be is a masterful politician who has a powerful sense of history, religious revival, and Russia’s national identity and the soul of its people.

When Putin came to power he shrewdly noted the ROC’s useful role in boosting nationalism and the fact that it shared his view of Russia’s role in the world, and began to work toward strengthening the Church’s role in Russian society. Early in his presidency the Russian Duma passed a law returning all church property seized during the Soviet era (which act alone made the ROC one of the largest landholders in Russia). Over the past decade and a half, Putin has ordered state-owned energy firms to contribute billions to the rebuilding of thousands of churches destroyed under the Soviets, and many of those rich oligarchs surrounding him are dedicated supporters of the ROC who have contributed to the growing influence of the church in myriad ways. Around 25,000 ROC churches have been built or rebuilt since the early 1990′s, the vast majority of which have been built during Putin’s rule and largely due to his backing and that of those in his close circle of supporters. Additionally, the ROC has been given rights that have vastly increased its role in public life, including the right to teach religion in Russia’s public schools and the right to review any legislation before the Russian Duma.

The glue that holds together the alliance between Vladimir Putin and the ROC, and the one that more than any other explains their mutually-supporting actions, is their shared, sacralized vision of Russian national identity and exceptionalism. Russia, according to this vision, is neither Western nor Asian, but rather a unique society representing a unique set of values which are believed to be divinely inspired.

Superb essay on U.S. and U.K. media’s ongoing Russophobia by Catherine Brown

I know no Russian who has any knowledge of Russia’s representation in Britain who is not strongly critical of it. I too am depressed by it, specifically because I think that it is intellectually and morally demeaning, and counter-productive to a dangerous degree.

-Dr Catherine Brown

I could not agree more with these words. They describe the sentiments held by all of my Russian friends, of all religious persuasions, and of all political persuasions. Of my Russian friends–only three of whom are from Moscow, and none of whom are active members of Putin’s political party– all of them nonetheless strongly support President Putin’s policies, believe he has had a strongly positive impact on their country’s economic development, and believe that Crimea, historically part of Russia until Nikita Khrushchev drunkenly signed it over to the Ukrainian SSR in the 1950s, is now rightfully once again part of nasha strana.

Noted British professor, author, and academic Dr Catherine Brown recently published a superb essay “Deconstructing Russophobia” on her blog. By her own admission, Dr Brown has “no ethnic, financial, professional or political ties to Russia whatsoever. It follows that I am not a Russian expert – but nor am I, on the other hand, parti pris. I am a friendly, distanced observer of the country.” This is the way I would describe my own godmother, a lifelong Russianist who has no ties to Russia save her abiding interest in the pre-Soviet Tsarist period, especially its magnificent artistic, cultural, and religious heritage.

Dr Brown, while not claiming herself to be “a Russian expert”, is nonetheless immensely qualified from her decades of direct experience with all matters Russian to write on the topic. Her academic resume is of the highest calibre:

My academic position is as Senior Lecturer and Convenor (Head of Department) of English at New College of the Humanities in London.

I took a BA in English Literature at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, then an MSc in Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at the London School of Economics. I lived in New York and Moscow, and learned Spanish and Russian, before coming back to literary academia with an MA in Comparative Literature at University College London, and a PhD at Caius College Cambridge as an Anglo-Russian comparatist.

I taught English at the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Greenwich, before starting in my current position in London in 2012.

Dr Brown begins her essay by reeling in her readers with a gentle yet damning satire of the ongoing idiotic British and American narrative of Putin as a tyrant and thug:

Imagine that Vladimir Putin were not a murderous autocrat and kleptocrat who has spent his fourteen years in power living up to his KGB past and dragging Russia ever back towards Communist autocracy, illiberalism, and expansionism. Imagine that instead he were the one of the greatest leaders that Russia has had, whose policies have helped produce a massive rise in living standards and life expectancy, recuperation of national pride, and enforcement of the rule of law, who has tackled kleptocrats and gangsters wisely and well, whose foreign policy has on balance been realistic, diplomatic, and conducive to peace, who has presided over a country of which the human rights record is considerably better than that of the United States and in which civil rights are improving, and who richly deserves the steady support of 65% – currently at a Ukraine-related high of 83% – of the population that he possesses. It is my understanding that the reality is closer to the second scenario than the first…

Dr Brown notes that, since the early 2000s, she has noticed a steady improvement in the conditions of life for ordinary Russians under Putin’s tenure as President and then Prime Minister:

A year later, on a visit, the situation was slightly better. The most extravagant misery was no longer apparent. A year later, better still. And that has been the consistent pattern on all my visits since then. Capitalism has been getting its gloves back on. Public facilities are in a much better state. Nothing is sold in dollars and Western brands have Russian rivals. A sensible tax structure means that businesses and salaried employees can and do pay their taxes. One sees no-one drunk in public. Muscovite women no longer exaggerate their femininity in a way which testifies to financial insecurity and a strenuous imitation of a pornographically-imagined West. And most reassuringly of all, to Westerners used to this custom, people have begun to smile. Even the hardest cases – the babushki guarding the museum rooms, and the border guards at passport control – will now return a smile. Last year, for the first time, I felt that Russia was in a new phase – the post-post-Soviet, in which people are no longer waiting for normality to be re-established, or yearning to live in a ‘normal’ country. A new normality, and a new optimism, have emerged.

Dr Brown also notes how the Western condemnation of the Russian government’s prosecution of activist group Pussy Riot for their “punk prayer” on the solea of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral was both grossly inaccurate and flagrantly hypocritical. She also observes how Pussy Riot are anything but a legitimate musical band or decent political activist group, noting that prior to their desecration of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, they had done even more offensive things in public to attract attention:

In certain respects the operation of the Russian law is more lenient than the British. Prior to their ‘punk prayer’ in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, members of Pussy Riot had performed public sex in a museum, and thrown live cats at workers in a McDonalds restaurant. In Britain such acts could have resulted in prison sentences of at least two years, whereas in Russia they were not prosecuted at all. One reason why Pussy Riot were prosecuted for their ‘punk prayer’ was that it disrupted and parodied a religious act of worship, which is specifically prohibited under Russian (as also British) law, and which is particularly comprehensible in a country with a history of state persecution of religion.

Dr Brown goes on to note how the Russian human rights record is far superior to that of the United States, with Russia incarcerating fewer prisoners, the death penalty no longer practiced at all there, and Russia not allowing its President to “authorise the kidnap, torture, and killing of domestic and foreign citizens without trial” as the United States has done since the authorization of the Patriot Act.

Let us compare Russia to the United States (China being of course much worse than both). The US has around 730 to Russia’s 598 prisoners per 100,000 of the population. It uses the death penalty, executes minors, and empowers its President to authorise the kidnap, torture, and killing of domestic and foreign citizens without trial. Russia does none of these things. The US government has significantly curtailed Americans’ civil liberties under the Patriot Act, extensively spies on the media activities of its own and other countries’ citizens, and detains hundreds of people without trial in an international network of secret prisons. Russians’ civil liberates are now more strongly guaranteed by law than are Americans’; there is no evidence or suggestion that Russia kidnaps individuals abroad or outsources torture, nor that it runs a torture camp resembling Guantanamo Bay, nor that the FSB spies on Russian citizens to anything near the extent that the NSA spies on Americans, let alone on foreigners. In this respect – the extent of spying on their own citizens – Russia and the US have changed places since the end of the Soviet Union.

Dr Brown’s essay is refreshing in that she analyses Western media’s biases against Russia from a purely secular perspective. Thus, her analysis appeals to the majority of Russian scholars in Britain and the United States who are not Orthodox. Nonetheless, I think her essay would have befitted from one additional area of analysis: religious identity. This is a core difference between American and British civilization and Russian civilization. Neither Britain nor the United States have been defined by a single unifying, common religious heritage, whereas all of Russian history is closely tied to the country’s embrace of Eastern Orthodox Christianity over a thousand years ago. Unlike the mostly non-religious country of Britain, Russia saw no inter-confessional religious wars, and large Muslim and Buddhist religious minorities continue to live in Russia today.

British history is marked by years of intermittent violence between Catholics and Protestants, with the pendulum of persecution veering from the targeting of both Catholics and Lutherans under Henry VIII, to savage persecution of Catholics under Edward VI, to the Marian persecution of Protestants under the infamous “Bloody” Mary I, to a less intense but still damning level of persecution of Catholics under Elizabeth I and James VI and I. The English Civil War was fought in large measure because Puritans despised the High Church Anglican King Charles I, whom they feared was sympathetic to Catholicism, while in 1689 the English Bill of Rights specifically disenfranchised English Catholics and made them second-class citizens under the law.

The United States is the first nation in history to have been uniquely founded without a national confession, a single, unifying religion, and so we have no concept of what it means to have a people’s national identity married to their religion. Suzanne Massie, American author, Russian expert, and President Reagan’s adviser on Russian culture and history, understood this when no one else did: that a significant factor behind the disconnect between Russia and the U.S. was the complete unfamiliarity of Americans, on a cultural level, with the notion of a nation being founded on one religion. Reagan called Massie “the greatest student I know of the Russian people.” Massie writes in her memoirs Trust But Verify: Reagan, Russia and Me that:

“There were reasons for our official blindness, among them that in the United States we have the tendency to see everything as a reflection of our own beliefs. Being “like us” is equivalent to being “right.” We in America can choose our religion as if we were shopping for a new car, changing at will, and harbor thousands of offshoots and sects. Because our history is founded on personal choice for all religions we have no experience or understanding of a religion that represents a nation, and we find this somehow disturbing. The history of Russia is the opposite, and the communist regime of the Soviet Union always understood this fact completely.” (135).

In fact, far from having “a religion that represents a nation”, our national identity is in many ways influenced by our lack of a single, unifying religion. Russian history, void of the religious wars that devastated Europe in the wake of the Reformation, is one of largely peaceful coexistence between the Orthodox majority and local religious minorities. While we have all read of the infamous anti-Jewish pogroms that occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century during the Tsarist period, the inescapable reality is that all of these tragedies occurred not in Russia proper, but in Ukraine, predominantly western (Greek Catholic) Ukraine.

I interviewed Suzanne Massie in late November 2014 after Liturgy in the Holy Archangels Chapel in Washington, DC, where my spiritual father regularly presides over the divine services. She and I share the same godmother– my godmother is a dear friend of hers– and we were both received into the Church within a year of each other. Massie told me that to know Orthodoxy is to know Russia, and to know Russian history is to begin to know Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is inextricably bound up in Russia’s national identity. The only intellectual force — if one wants to so denigrate the term “intellectual” — that ever pushed for the separation of this dual Russian and Orthodox identity was Marxist-Leninism, or, more properly, what came to be Soviet Bolshevism.

What Massie insisted that Reagan learn, and what President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron and their advisers remain sadly ignorant of to this day, is that one cannot hope to understand Russia today without first coming to understand its religious history. Russian Orthodoxy is the only cultural and religious institution that survived Soviet rule. It is the single and deepest connection Russians have to the pre-revolutionary period, to the thousand years of Russian history before the Soviet nightmare. If you dismiss Orthodoxy’s role in shaping Russian history, as both Obama and Cameron clearly have, you will remain profoundly ignorant of the most basic aspects of Russian cultural history.

The Orthodox Christian faith has influenced the very foundations of Russian society. The Russian word for ‘Sunday’ is воскресенье (voskresenie), [Christ’s] ‘Resurrection’, while the most common phrase for ‘Thank you’, спасибо (spasibo), is a compound of Spasi bog — literally ‘God saves’ («Спаси тебя/вас Бог» means, literally, “God save you” ). The Russian word for peasant–the vast majority of Russians in Russian history — is крестьянин (khrestyanin), literally, a Christian. These nuances are all tragically lost on those who rule in Washington, London, and Brussels today.

The very heart and soul of Russia — the Orthodox Church — is experiencing a steady, imperfect yet unstoppable revival, and all that this merits from senior U.S., British, and EU policymakers is cynicism. Take for example the widely circulated yet disputed figure from the Pew Forum that, as of 2008, only 7% of Russians attend Orthodox services every month. This claim merits deeper examination. Even if we take that statistic as accurate, Russia’s population is currently 144 million, so seven percent of this figure is just over 10 million people. By contrast, in England, which still has an official, state-funded Church, only 800,000 Britons attend Church of England services weekly, out of a population of 64 million.

Russia is experiencing a cultural renaissance, a rediscovery of its true identity after seventy-four years of enforced atheism and Marxist-Leninist ideology. Should we miss the opportunity to reach Russians where they are, at this moment in their history, I fear we will lose a crucial chance to genuinely come to better understand Russian society’s past, present, and future.

One cannot understand the religious revival taking place in Russia today if one does not first understand, and contrast it, with the state-sponsored suppression of and attempted extermination of religion under the Soviets. When the Bolsheviks had taken power, Massie writes, they attempted to completely destroy all vestiges of religion, considered the chief obstacle to building an ideal socialist state:

“. . . all religion was considered Enemy Number One, but Orthodoxy the most dangerous, to be eradicated with all the ruthlessness they could command. They set out to commit what can only be called a genocide of the Church. In 1918 they began to wage what they called a “war on God.” All manifestations of religion were prohibited as were all Church holidays, even Easter and Christmas. Liturgical music was banned until the mid-1980s. Sunday was made a compulsory work day. . . the word god was always to be spelled in lower case. Thousands of historic churches and all their treasures were destroyed outright. . . Millions of icons were destroyed, broken, or sold abroad along with other treasures of the Church. Multitudes of priests and believers were murdered outright, more imprisoned or sent to labor camps. (136-37).

A quarter century after the fall of the USSR, the most important national institution in Russia today, the only one to outlast the Soviet Union, remains the Russian Orthodox Church. It is impossible for anyone hoping to understand Russia to do so without first coming to understand the guiding role the Church played—and continues to play— in forming the country’s national identity.