Bitter Fruits of a Sweet Captivity*
Two circumstances impel me to speak out.
The Millennium of Christianity in Rus' has become a world event. Professors of patristics and Church history, of ecclesiology and philosophy of culture presented a great variety of papers in our country and abroad. (Religious programs of the "Voice of America" and the BBC informed us about the more serious of them.) but considering the manifold treatment of the topics on the Millennium one main topic has remained outside the interests of scholars and theologians. Namely, the crisis of church-consciousness within the Russian Orthodox Church which had been placed in a phenomenal situation by the atheistic state authorities who at the dawn of their power undertook the global task to destroy religion in the USSR. Our specialists on religion delegated abroad to participate in conferences and symposia dedicated to the Millennium, did not speak of any church problems, or the Church history of the latest period, or of characteristics of a certain type of spirituality. Neither were these topics discussed at home. And yet, as a result of special circumstances explained below, there has been formed in our church a type of church-consciousness which is, in a certain sense, unique.
In the course of the last seven decades the teaching of the Orthodx Church turned out to be essentially INACCESSIBLE to the Orthodox population, deprived as it was of the catechetical and spiritual literature, of Holy Scriptures and Traditions of the Orthodox church, and of the true Christian sermon. Believers were given only one opportunity: to attend Church services (and even then, only where there was a church left) for a "performance of religious rites", as one could read in the official government instructions.
The holy Church professes faith "with all her life: her teaching, sacraments and rites"*
>*note: See A.S. Khomyakov. The Church is One, Vol II. Moscow 1907
and not one of these components may replace another. The principles of the dogmas of the Orthodox faith exposed in the Orthodox Creed were revealed in the course of many centuries in the writings of the Holy fathers and teachers of the Church. From one century to another the Orthodox Church was passing on her doctrine, preserving the cherishing its purity as the apple of one's eye. But the time came when this tradition was interrupted and the Orthodox Church in Russia suffered innumerable losses.
Obviously, the crisis of Orthodox sprirituality has affected several generations of the Church population in our country.
Researchers of Orthodoxy who live abroad are unable to fully analyze the particular features of this crisis, because realities of this sort are apprehended through personal experience of dealing with them. Our own researchers, however, have apparently chosen to disregard this problem in order not to cause a discord in the general pathos of the Milllennium celebrations. Meanwhile I consider this particular problem to be quite essential for the destiny of the contemporary world.
The forces of Antichrist who have raised the sword against God and His desciples, have not only changed the situation of the Church in Russia: they have changed and will be changing the spiritual situation thoughout the Christian world.
Mankind is one organism, the whole Adam, and if one part of this organism is destroyed, it becomes destroyed in its entirety, as a whole, regardless of whether or not this organism adequately comprehends the reason of the impending catastrophe.
The persecution of the first Christian Church revealed not only the power and the victory of the spirit of Christianity over the kingdom of the Prince of darkness; it opened a new era in the history of mankind in its civilization and culture.
What, then, is the spiritual meaning of the unprecedented persecution being now experienced by Christainity of the 20th century? What sort of lesson to mankind is it, and why has the Lord sent it? What is its providential meaning, and what fruit has the bloody harvest of the 20th century brought forth and is still about to bring?
It would be a shameful impudence on my part to try and answer these questions. In Russia they used to say: it's important to raise a question. The answer will be given in due time.
The second consideration impelling me to speak out on such topics of vital importance has to do with an insistent necessity to return to the discussion of problems raised at the "Round Table" dedicated to the Millennium. The listeners of religious programs of the "Voice of America" are by now familiar with these discussions.
This was the first experiment in free discourse on the actual problems of church life by Orthodox Christians. For the first time writers, literary men, journalists together with pastors of the Church had an opportunity to address their brothers in faith, to speak of the problems worrying the Church community and of the subject of their creative analysis.
We have neither an ambo (pulpit) nor an opportunity to publish our views in any of the mass-media of information, which undividedly belong to the atheistic state authorities. (Attempts of this kinds were made by some of us and remain without success.) The church organs of the press are not only minimal (the only journal being the Journal fo the Moscow Patriarchate), but, as is well known, they take the stand pleasing to the atheistic regime, as a matter of principle.
Some of the "Round Table" participants had recently returned from imprisonment, where they served their time for spreading the Word of God; others suffered for their faith while remaining outside the prison walls ('perestroika' interrupted persecution of believers, some "cases" were closed in a hurry).
'Glasnost' has slightly raised the curtain of lies and laid bare the surface of the first levels of inferno, only the nearest surface of the opened depth. But what lies beyond them, beyond the first circles of this inferno?
'Glasnost' brought out to the surface the sorrows of our people, the horror in the face of crimes in some and craving for justification of murder in others.
All strata of our society have found themselves drawn into the situation of 'glasnost' one way or another. And only the so called "official Church", as represented by the Church hierarchs, while welcoming 'glasnost' in their speeches, did not properly adopt it. On the contrary , they have erected a "screen" against 'glasnost' within the Church. As soon as one or another zealous Christian attempts to express his views, he is immediately declared as "gone astray spiritually" and burdened with horrible sins, and this regardless of the commandments of Christ, of the Church canons and of the true Church piety.
However, the church authorities, alas, do not confine themselves to exhorting their still very few accusers ("Fear not, little flock", - said Christ to those who will be persecuted by the powers of this world, should they be state or ecclesiastical powers. Luke 12:32), they prefer to include into their communiques and decrees political accusations, addressing those who dare to doubt their infallibility.
This fact is remarkable in the extreme. Not only is the wording of the accusations sadly reminiscent of sentences passed on the first prisoners for the sake of Christ, they bear witness to a particular political thinking adopted by the ecclesistical powers, and supplanting Christian thinking.
'Glasnost' has not only uncovered many secrets, but it has exposed with sufficient clarity those who are not prepared to welcome it. 'Glasnost is certainly not welcome to those who, in the first place, are afriad that it will disclose those depths of horror and lawlessness, of moral disintegratioon, mafia type of activities and corruption, concealed under the mask of piety. Therefore in the silence of the church authorities about the actual woes of the Church one can hear not only the mistrust of 'glasnost', but also fear of it cloaked by contempt: "we do not need you 'glasnost', everyone knows that we are held captive"...
As I was making my first steps towards the Church and asked about the silence of the Patriarch and Bishops, the more experienced and more "deep-rooted" of the church people often replied: "they are in captivity". Not once, however, did I see handcuffs on Patriarch Pimen, not once did I see a convoy accompanying him or the bishops, not once did I see them stepping out of the paddy wagon. But I observed them with amazement blessing the crowds humbly bowing to the wheels of black "Chaika" and "Zils", in which our hierarchs, the monks, traveled in comfort.
The myth about captivity is one of our most precious acquisitions. I too, paid my homage to it (which I now regret) in one of my articles expressing my hope that our hierarchs in their voluntary captivity may gradually undergo transformation, God willing. And that they cease to bear false witness. There is a "fatal point of no return" in the destiny of everyone of us...
The cruel persecution of Khruschev's era was followed by the 18 years of stagnation and decay. And while secular circles managed to produce at least some individuals capable of 'glasnost', the church hierarchy produced only those willing to encourage 'glasnost on an "official level".
The church authorities keep silent about the woes of the Church and they want the faithful to be silent as well. "Do as I do" - is the order known to a navy. The church is not a navy, but it has a similar order: "Bishops and priests know better, than we do"...
False humility, false obedience and false witness are the three pillars supporting corruption, rapacity and betrayal of the Truth.
The faithful too, are silent and inert. As it turns out, the Prince of darkness did not labor in vain by engendering the easiest, the most comfortable and prosperous "Christianity". Easy Christianity, because one easily adopts it and just as easily discards it - Christianity without the Cross. It turns out that the persistent propaganda efforts of the Moscow Patriarch extolling the freedom of religion were also not in vain; it was not for nothing that so many meals and so many drinks, all paid with the copecks of little old women, were consumed by foreign guests at the expensive restaurants, where enjoying the hors d'oeuvres they learned about the freedom of religion in our country!
Inertness hardened in silence generates contempt and even disgust in those who are happy with their comfortable Christianity.
They become squeamish about those who - one feels ashamed to say it - are imprisoned, who are sent to a concentration camp for the freedom of conscience, while they have all the freedom they need. Why shout? Better sit quietly. The times are hard. Keep silent or you'll interfere with 'glasnost'. Sit still, or they'll close us, sit still, or it may become worse...and so forth. All the time the same. Or you may hear the following: "Look, we are going through a complex period, our service is of such a complex nature, and you're wasting our time with such trifles..."
And all this loyal trepidation and cowardly, squeamish silence ALWAYS hiding under the name of God. It is so difficult to fight the burning grief when you hear this dead silence...
But sometimes one may hear voices coming out of the deaf tunnels of silence: along with those of reproach one may discern those expressing amazement or encouragement...and then suddenly one short retort, like a shot: "SCHISM" [Russ: raskol].
Is it possible, I think upon hearing this dreadful word reminiscent of another just as dreadful one: "Execution" [Russ: rasstrel].
Whence has it come? Why? Is it really so unexpected? And who has triggered it off?
The Church has always feared schism, because unity was bequeathed to us. And it was not simply bequesthed; the Lord declared it to be the condition of our union with Him.
The earthly Church has always carried a seed of schism within herself, while zealously guarding the Truth. In our own time two Christian Churches are experiencing the most difficult times of schism (parting of the ways?): the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church.
The Church is the living organism, and the Head is Christ: our Risen God, the God of the living, not of the dead. He brought into this world both division and unity. Unity among those faithful to Him and division between those who keep His commandments and those who scorn them in order to gratify their manifold passions.
When a secularized Church sets the laws of this world above the Laws of the Gospel, she too, like the world is faced with the division predicted by Christ, the division by the Word of God which severs lies from the truth with a flaming sword. Only he fears this sword who is endowed with the sacred fear. Only this sacred fear of God may safeguard against schism.