Empire State Church
First Things First magazine recently published a religion and public life article on the Russian church. The focus was on orthodoxy and its historic symbioses with the political state. Several remarks from various social observations are in order.
First off, the article seems to have been written by a person who never lived under socialist Soviet Russia and therefore presents a one-sided interpretation of the period. In order words, the information presented is true, but it’s limited to a single political, social and most importantly spiritual view interpretation. The used terminology of “de-Sovietization” is good example for the interpretive limitation. Other post-communist countries properly use the terminology “de-socialization” or even “de-communization,” though no country has ever reached a truly communist state.
Furthermore, the article’s purposefully excludes millions of Russian Catholics, evangelicals and Armenian Christian believers in Russia who were also severely persecuted under the Regime and were not allowed as much freedom of worship as the state Orthodox Church. They cannot be placed outside the perimeter of the revival movements after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, because many of those revivals happened first within their congregations and then influenced the Orthodox Church
The orthodoxy of the described state church is also under question since there’s never been a true Russian orthodox church. Eastern Christianity in Russia is rooted in the Greek Orthodox Church and heavily influenced by the 9th century Bulgarian Christianization of the Slavs prior to reaching Russia. Built after the early byzantine ecclesial model, the Russian church never experienced a true separation of church and state. One of the foundations of Orthodoxy since Constantine the Great has been a co-existential paradigm in the form of symbioses between the Orthodox Church and the political state. Thus, a true Orthodox church has always been an Empire church.
The article further omits historic communist influence of state police (KGB) over the church. During the Regime, KGB agents not only infiltrated Orthodox dioceses, but dictated the course of the church via specifically trained secret agents posing as priests within the church. Many of these agents were placed in key leadership positions as bishops and even the top patriarch of the Russian church. No one could obtain such position or any hierarchy promotion without signing up to cooperate with the state police. Until this influence, which continues in the church today, is exposed and the church is purified from all communist influence through “lustration,” there can never be an independent Russian church – it will always be an Empire church – with a capital “E,” and small “c.”