How “Peace for All” Turned into “War to Win”

Some leave the country, others simply remain silent. Only a few find the courage to stand up against them – and then the punishing hand of the hierarchy reaches them even earlier than the Investigative Committee.

Why is it like that?

Socially close and socially alien

Once upon a time, there were two priests in the Russian Orthodox Church. One was named John Koval, he served in the Moscow church. Even at the beginning of what Moscow is forced to call the SVO, Patriarch Kirill ordered all priests to read the prayer “for Holy Rus” during the liturgy with the following words: “Give us victory by your power.” Father John replaced the word “victory” with “peace” as his conscience dictated. And they complained about him to the patriarchy.

And the second was called Vasily Boyko, he was the rector of the Church of the Lifeguards of the Cossack Regiment in St. Petersburg, as well as the director of the Kronstadt Center for Spiritual Culture at the Nikolsky Naval Cathedral, he organized concerts “in support of the armed forces, the National Guard and law enforcement agencies” and was generally engaged in patriotic education parishioners in every possible way. To this must be added “according to the investigation”, because Fr. Vasily was detained. So, according to the investigators, he had an affair with a parishioner, her family broke up, the deceived husband wrote a complaint to the bishop, and Father Vasily ordered the kidnapping and beating of this very husband, but he turned not to real bandits, but to disguised employees of the authorities who lingered payment transfer.

Question: which of them will be subjected to the ecclesiastical court and deprived of priestly ordination? I think it is easy to guess the answer: socially alien to Fr. Jan. There is no doubt that if Vasily is convicted by a secular court, then he will also be in trouble along the church line, but … the famous priest Sergius (Nicholas in the world) Romanov once served 13 years for robbery, which did not prevent him from becoming a priest and rector of a large monastery in the Urals (of course, against church canons). It was only after he allowed himself to publicly criticize Vladimir Putin that it became clear that there were various abuses in the monastery, for which he was dismissed and then arrested.

The altar as a social elevator

What does the current Moscow Patriarchate demand from the clergy? Immaculate life, theological education or eloquence? All this will not hurt, but this is not the main thing. The main thing, and now almost the only one, is complete, reckless obedience to the authorities, first of all personally to Patriarch Kirill.

The church is understood there as a kind of franchise for the distribution of grace: the patriarch gives it to the bishops, they give it to the priests, and they pass it on to the parishioners, and only on the terms of a higher authority.

Thirty years ago, in the era of “church revival”, among others, smart, educated, talented people went to church. There are still such people among the older generation of parish priests in the capital, and of course they try to keep silent, and not even out of fear for themselves. Behind each is a parish, hundreds of people who need that particular priest have been gathering around him for decades. One careless word – and such a priest will be banned or simply retired, and a young dullard will be sent in his place. And then goodbye…

Where do young, obedient, disabled brains come from? Imagine a young boy from the province. Before him, there are really two options for social advancement: go to the security forces or become a priest. In the seminar he will be reliably hammered into his head that obedience is the most important thing, and if he does not like it, the system will reformulate him or simply reject him. And if disrespectful thoughts occur to him in the parish (for example, after reading the Gospel), then … and where will you go if your only profession is being a priest? Be patient, be silent, serve.

Moreover, all the rhetoric inside the church is really saying one thing: the most important and, in fact, the only important thing in the world is worship, and this can only be done in complete submission to your bishop. And parishioners: you give them the sacrament as a medicine for immortality and that’s enough, the rest is none of your business.

It’s just strange that such a person is called a “shepherd.”

How to restore ethics to the Church?

Each developed religion has its own rituals, theology or mythology if you prefer, it also has its own ethics, i.e. rules of conduct. With rituals in the current Russian Orthodoxy, everything is fine. Theology is a bit worse: the preaching of Christianity is gradually being replaced by the propaganda of “patriotism” in its official sense, all those endless stories about how Comrade Stalin flew around Moscow with a miraculous icon and thus saved it from Hitler. These stories are pagan, essentially shamanic.

And here is the problem with ethics. Even Nikolai Leskov in the story “At the End of the World” described such a problem (and then told a similar story in the novel “Silence” by Shusaku Endo). Suppose there is a certain pagan nation that knows that the gods punish treason and murder severely. And then a Christian preacher comes to them and informs them that every sin can be forgiven in confession. And someone understands it this way: now you can betray and kill anyone, even the same priest who just forgave you, the main thing, and then go to confession. Something similar is happening today… but there have always been conscientious people like Father John Koval. I would like to believe that this is the future.

However, the question arises: how, then, to restore ethics, preferably based on the Gospel (but at least on secular principles of decency), to the place currently occupied by undivided obedience in church structures? There is only one answer: competition.

The Catholic Church also had Pope Alexander VI Borgia, but it was greatly ennobled after the Reformation when Catholics realized that they would forever be compared to Protestants. There are already quite a lot of Protestants in Russia, although for now they prefer to remain silent or openly support the authorities, but in the new political situation they may regain their voice.

But even more important is the experience of Russian emigrants abroad. Finding themselves in countries where local governments were simply not interested in them, in conditions of strong competition of ideas and institutions, they faced the need to redefine what is most important to them in Orthodoxy.

It seems that such a scenario is the only way out of the crisis of meanings in which the RKP is currently facing.

Oh yes. Then, of course, we will hear many stories about how over the years someone suffered terribly from tyranny and secretly prayed for the innocent killed and prisoners… and most interestingly, many of these stories will be true.

Many, but not all.


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