title: 'The Russian Orthodox Church part of Russias DNA' published: true publish_date: '31-08-2016 14:56' taxonomy: category:

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    The Russian Orthodox Church today plays a very important role in Russia. Indeed, it has taken over from the defunct Communist Party of the Soviet Union in helping to maintain and strengthen Russian society, argues Dr Marcus Papadopoulos in this Talking Point. Sunday marks the 1,025th anniversary of the Christianisation of the first Russian state in history, Kievan Rus. Ceremonies across Russia have been held to mark the occasion, with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia having presided over a ceremony in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. While the Russian Federation is a secular, multi-cultural state, the Russian Orthodox Church today plays a very important role in Russia. Indeed, it has taken over from the defunct Communist Party of the Soviet Union in helping to maintain and strengthen Russian society. “True values” As President Vladimir Putin said: “The Church carries out a very important role even within Russia - the role of creating conditions for inter-confessional, inter-ethnic, international peace and accord. “People of our generation remember what the Code of a builder of communism - which actually was a simplified record of religious and moral principles of virtually all modern traditional religion - looked like; and when even this simplified form ceased to exist, there appeared a moral vacuum that could be filled by one thing only – the return to real, true values.” Building of the faith In 988 AD, in the ancient city of Chersonesos (on the outskirts of present-day Sevastopol, Crimea), Prince Vladimir the Great of Kievan Rus was baptised into the Orthodox faith. When the Russian state began to expand in size, adherents to the Orthodox faith naturally increased, too. Soviet persecution Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church was persecuted by the atheist leaders of the Soviet state. Thousands of churches were demolished and many priests were sent to prison camps. However, in spite of the campaign for atheism in the Soviet Union, many Russians held true to their Orthodox beliefs. It was often the case that an icon would be found behind a photo of Lenin in a Russian household. Liberalisation In 1988, as a result of the liberalisation polices of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian Orthodox Church and its followers across the Soviet Union were allowed to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Russian Orthodoxy. Today, when the Russian Orthodox Church refers to the last twenty-five years as “the second baptism of Russia”, it is referring to how the Church became free again in 1988 after 70 years of Communist persecution. Collapse of Communism When Communism collapsed in Russia in 1991, Russians were faced with an identity problem as the new Russian state which emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union was bereft of an official ideology. But, there was a ready-made solution to that problem. The then Russian president Boris Yeltsin decided to revive the position which the Russian Orthodox Church had held in Tsarist Russia prior to 1917 – namely, maintaining the togetherness of Russian society. And the leadership of the Church was only too eager to acquiesce to that. Kremlin, Church relationship That marked the beginning of an unofficial relationship between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, which remains very much intact today. In return for the building by the state of new churches, the Church encourages unity and patriotism amongst Russians and works to strengthen the institution of family and the education of children and youth. The outside world However, the Russian Orthodox Church also plays a role in Russia’s relations with the outside world. As President Putin said: “The meaning of the Church goes beyond the boundaries of the Russian Federation; it helps us to establish good relations with the peoples of other countries, and especially the post-Soviet space, and, of course, the Church is performing a very constructive, positive role here.” More and more parishes Today’s Russia is characterised by increasing numbers of Orthodox parishes (nearly 30,000 at present) while approximately 100,000 million people in Russia consider themselves Orthodox. Priests have replaced political commissars in the Russian Armed Forces and it is now customary for Russian presidents, in addition to leaders of other political parties including the Communists, to attend church services. Furthermore, in 2002, the late head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexy II, consecrated an Orthodox Church in Moscow for the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet Union’s secret police, the KGB. ‘Collusion’ between state and Church The closeness between the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church, which President Putin referred to as a “natural partnership”, has come under criticism from some liberals in Russia who accuse the Church of “colluding” with the Kremlin. However, the problem with that accusation is that the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church are, historically, indispensable partners. That was the case even in Soviet times. The fight for “Holy Russia” During the Second World War, or what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, Stalin dropped the campaign for atheism and appealed to the Russian Orthodox Church to rally support amongst Russians to fight for “Holy Russia” against the German invaders. In regard to the Russian Orthodox Church working with the Soviet state, this is not in doubt. In 1991, a document from the KGB archives appeared to demonstrate that the late Alexy II had been a KGB agent. His codename was ‘DROZDOV’ and, according to the document, Alexy was “the only one of the churchmen to be officially honoured with an award by the KGB for outstanding intelligence services.” No choice, some benefits To be fair, in order to survive in the USSR, the Russian Orthodox Church had no choice but to act as a partner to the Bolsheviks. However, the Church did benefit in other ways from the relationship. In 1946, with the consent of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine was forced to merge with the Russian Orthodox Church, resulting in the latter being the only legal church in Ukraine. The Soviet authorities also allowed the Russian Orthodox Church to reign supreme, within a religious context, the length and breadth of the Soviet Union. The schism When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russian Orthodox Church suffered, in that rival churches quickly sprang up in Ukraine, resulting, to this day, in a schism within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Those churches are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of the Russian people into the Orthodox faith is a major event for Russia and all Russians. Ever since the first Russian state, Kievan Rus, the Russian Orthodox Church has played an instrumental role in fostering love for the Motherland - be it the Russian or Soviet variant - and in calling for unity amongst the Russian people. From rallying the Russian people to defeat Napoleon and Hitler to currently helping to deal with the tremendous problems plaguing Russian society as a result of the Soviet collapse, the Russian Orthodox Church will remain an integral part of Russia’s DNA. Dr Marcus Papadopoulos is Editor of Politics First magazine. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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