Holy Russia

holy-russiaA circular e-mail from Dr William Tighe gives us the text of The Russians are Coming by Dr Robert Moynihan. The idea is seductive. Should we do away with Roman Catholicism in Europe, all of us convert to Orthodoxy and have the European Union under Russia? On reading this letter, there seems to be a sense of relief with the idea that Holy Russia would come to be our saviour or messiah.

According to one person who has responded:

Sorry, one assumes everyone else knows the insider baseball.

First–there is no massive religious revival going on in Russia today.  Orthodoxy is pretty much a fashion statement at best.  On any given Sunday, you’ll only find about 5% of Russians in church.

Second–Russia as a society is in a practically irreversible death spiral–plunging birthrates (lower still among ethnic Slavs in Russia), low male life expectancy, endemic corruption, an economy with two ends and no middle, an increasingly autocratic regime more interested in maintaining power and lining the pockets of its cronies than in making Russia a viable state, and a Church which seems to have forgotten history and is cozying up to a brutal regime in exchange for some good press and “free” gifts.  Russia is dying, and its foolish to pretend otherwise; its a country with the GDP and political culture of New Jersey, but with 5000 nuclear weapons.  Only a major moral revitalization can save it, and that revitalization can only happen if the Church of Moscow decides to put enough daylight between itself and Vladmir Putin to let the Holy Spirit step in.

Third, the Moscow Patriarchate is in an ongoing contest with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over who can piss higher on the bathroom wall.  Having gone the full Third Rome route and gotten little traction from it, while the EP made friendly noises to the Holy See, Moscow now tries to outflank Constantinople on the left by suddenly getting all ecumenical (at least for external consumption–internally, Rome is still the sheep-stealing bogeyman trying to undermine Sacred Orthodox Russia).  A major see change in Russian attitudes towards Rome would have to manifest itself in some concrete way–nothing big, maybe just deciding to participate in the Joint International Orthodox-Catholic Ecumenical Dialogue would be a good start.

So, in all, yes, the BS factor was off the charts here.  We used to have names for people who swallowed such stories, back in the Cold War era.

It seems to be a particularly pessimistic cold shower. All the Russians are doing is taking a page out of the copybook of atheism, debt capitalism and consumerism. Or are they?

I would appreciate comments and informed opinions on whether there anything to hope for from Russia. Try to keep comments on topic or use the Orthodox Blow-out Department. I really would like to try to get some clear ideas.

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26 Responses to Holy Russia

  1. Father Martin says:

    As a child growing up in the RCC during the last days of the “Glory that was Rome”, the nuns would teach us about Our Lady’s appearance at Fatima (assuming it was more than the hallucinations of three children). This was concurrent with the Cold War and the threat of communist domination or nuclear annihilation. We would obey Our Lady’s request and faithfully pray for the “conversion of Russia”. Even at that young age I was aware, through lessons in religion class, that there were other Christians who had the apostolic ministry and valid sacraments and that in the case of an emergency we could turn to them for the sacraments, provided no RC priest was available – even though they did, as one nun put it, “worship their pictures”. We were instructed that the Russians, prior to the Communist Revolution, had been Christians and once all of Russia was Orthodox, making them almost as good as Catholics – but not quite.

    I began to question what Our Lady meant when she asked us to pray for the conversion of Russia, did she want Russia to become Roman Catholic or did she want Russia to return to the Orthodox Church. Now, as an Orthodox Christian, I prefer to believe the latter. Would it not be ironic if the prayers of these faithful RC children were answered by Russia’s return to Orthodoxy and now it is time for Russia to convert the West to the Orthodox Church. If this is what is happening things seem to have come full circle.

    • Peter Jericho says:

      > ,,, even though they did, as one nun put it, “worship their pictures”.


      Granted, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if that remark had come from, say, a Baptist or Pentecostal; but from a Roman Catholic nun … wow.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Peter, While I suspect the nun’s comment was mostly driven by her sense of superiority of Rome versus Constantinople, it does point out a few things.

        Being a nun and educator, she was educated. She knew the difference between worship and veneration. The proper catechesis of all is so very important. She also knew the sad state of religion in communist Russia. The State worked to remove religion and destroy a sense of God in all, but most especially in the young. The nun knew that the backbone of the Russian Orthodox Church were the little old ladies whom the State mostly left alone to light their candles and pray. And the nun knew that sad state of education of many an elderly babushka. Often illiterate and poorly catechized. Which helped explain their superstitions and how they often viewed life as being driven by magic (black cats, the evil eye, etc.).

        For the uneducated, illiterate, and uninformed, both EO and RC, many devotional practices can be seriously misunderstood and lead individuals away from Christ and toward a sense of relying on others, esp. angels & saints.

        I have a very elderly family member who is Polish. This grandmother-in-law lived most of her life in the old country before coming West when her daughter was expelled in the 1960s for not thinking and acting properly Soviet/Leninist. Nearly 100, she still throws things at black cats and works to ward off the evil eye. 🙂

      • Father Martin says:

        One would expect an RC nun to have a modicum of intelligence and education, but alas it’s not always so. After my conversion to Orthodoxy I encountered a nun I had known for sometime, I had been ordained to the diaconate and was wearing clericals. She inquired about my mother who at the time was hospitalized with little chance of recovery and subsequently died only days later. “All we can do is pray” I said, to which she replied “Haven’t you relinquished the right to pray”. The bloody ignorant woman thought I had become a Jew, as in Orthodox Jew. RCs are among the most ignorant of all Christians when it concerns knowledge about other denominations, they are second only to Baptists in their vast ignorance and stupidity.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Fr. Martin, As regards catechesis these days in all the faith groups… she ain’t what she used to be. I’ve met more than my fair share of ignorant and uniformed EOs, RCs, Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, etc.

        Take the Lutherans. They used to have a proud tradition of rather rigorous confirmation instruction. Like many things religious, including bibles, hymnals, and liturgies, it has been dumbed down and shortened. If I had just $1 for every Lutheran I’ve met who either didn’t know who Philip Melanchthon is or what is the Formula of Concord… 🙂

      • Peter Jericho says:

        > “All we can do is pray” I said, to which she replied “Haven’t you relinquished the right to pray”. The bloody ignorant woman thought I had become a Jew, as in Orthodox Jew.

        I think ignorance is only a small part of it. Even if she were justified in thinking you’d become an Orthodox Jew, what kind of a heart would lead a person to respond that way to your saying “All we can do is pray” ?

        > RCs are among the most ignorant of all Christians when it concerns knowledge about other denominations, they are second only to Baptists in their vast ignorance and stupidity.

        It’s difficult to generalize. Sure, there are some bad apples among Catholics, but I’ve also met some among Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists … oh, and let’s not forget Orthodox.

  2. Michael Frost says:

    Yes, Father, would be most interesting to read what Russians, living in Russia and who have lived there since the darkest eras of communism, have to say about the “real “state of their Church. All I can go by is what I’ve read in The Economist and elsewhere in the western press for the past many decades.

    The Russian Church appears to exist in a decaying society. The demographics are horrible. The societal problems immense (e.g., alcoholism). And it is tied far too tightly to an oligopolistic manipulative state. Far too much baggage. Far too little “Holy” and far too much “Mother Russia”. And a reason why they seem to fight so hard to keep out evangelical Protestants? If Russia were a free and open society as regards religious expression, I suspect we’d be praying for her continued existence. Not unlike RCs who better be praying hard for Brazil and all of South and Central America? I think current demographic projections have Brazil with a RC minority by 2050.

    Yet, ultimately, it will be the Holy Ghost who “decides” these things. I suspect that any true revival will come from the blood of martyrs. And that martrydom in western Europe is more likely from a resurgent, triumphant Islam that displaces Christianity (e.g., in England, France, & Germany), though this won’t happen in our lifetime.

    I’m reading Kingsley Amis’ rather forgotten small book from 1980, Russian Hide & Seek. He descibes a Britain in the 21st century that was conquered by the Soviets. But within a few decaes after their worldwide success, the Soviet ideology fails and the Russians return to an amoral existence that looks a lot like a feudal Czarist state controlling impoverished serfs, with just a bare nod to their former communist ways. (Of course, Anglicanism has died out.) While the Chinese might be viewed more likely today to be future global dominators, Amis’ world does anticipate to some degree the tacky Russian oligarchs who, having raped Russia with the connivance of the state & escaped Putin’s clutches, move to London, buy football teams and other high profile assets, and live like kings? 🙂

  3. StephenUSA says:

    Not sure why anyone would be upset with the Russians for trying to reverse course – unless of course you are at heart anti-Russian, however unconsciously. Why does their attempt at revival have to meet the standards of anybody else? Seems like a log versus sty in the eye sort of thing to say otherwise.

    Further, the West is decaying no less, and rather than try to reverse the process, seems intent on making things worse. At least some leaders in Russia are trying.

    The formula ain’t hard to understand. Get married and stay married. Make babies. Teach them the tools for interior development. Defend them. Demographics is destiny.

    • I agree. I see a lot of good in Vladimir Putin, but I only see things from a great distance and know very little about his political manifesto or policies. I would like to see a Russia that has renounced corruption and all the crap we have in the west, and then would be blessed by God in their sending us missionaries. Never mind whether they are western or eastern rite, with beards or without, just as long as they bring us Christ and the faith.

      Those of us over 50, we’ve had our chips. But I hope Russia will bring hope for the youngsters. Unless God has other plans…

  4. Fr. Lawrence B. Wheeler says:

    The Russian Church shed so much precious blood and treasure for the Faith in the 20th century that one would like to think that God has a key role in mind for them in the 21st century. When I was a kid in the America of the 1950s and ’60s, the hysteria was “The Russians are coming!” If they are coming as missionaries this time, I hope they come soon.

    • From your key-tapping fingers to God’s ear!

    • Dale says:

      Fr Wheeler, any study of Russian imperialism, political as well as ecclesiastical, would posit that instead of declaring “welcome” one should be running in the opposite direction!

      Have we already forgotten the western communist nutters of the recent past who hoped for so much from Stalinist Russia? I especially like the ones who were dumb enough to actually immigrate there…their bones joined the untold millions strewn across the tundra of Siberia.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, For once we’re on the same page. Whether it is a Czar, Lenin/Trotsky/Stalin/etc., or Putin, they’re only it to enrich themselves and their privileged class, including at the expense of the Church, which sadly has been all so willing to let herself be misused to advance political power. [Wasn’t even the horrible anti-semetic Protocols of the Elders of Zion a creation of the Czarist secret police?] 😦

      • Fr. Lawrence B. Wheeler says:

        Gentlemen, please let’s not forget that it was the Russian Church who sent the first Orthodox missionaries to North America (Alaska, 1794) and whose bishops took the pastoral care of the Orthodox faithful of all ethnicities, allowing the continuance of their various national traditions. The greatest of these was St. Tikhon himself, of course, who later became Patriarch of Moscow and died a martyr’s death under Stalin.

      • Dale says:

        Let us not forget that it was the Russian, official, church which firmly supported a three-hundred year persecution of the Old Believers. Let us not forget that although the average women in Russian gets about ten abortions, the official Russian Church spends most of its political leverage in making certain that the Old Believers are refused recognition as a “traditional Russian religion.” Let us not forget that the official Russian Church has openly supported anti-Semitic pogroms. Let us not forget that the official Russian church supported the almost forced conversions of Estonia and Latvian Lutherans to the Russian Church. Let us not forget that it was the Russian Church that was used as a means to Russify and assimilate as many minorities, including Alaskan natives, to the imperial Russian culture as possible. Let us not forget the it was the Russians who purposely forced the cultural and liturgical Russification of millions of Ukrainians and Rysin both in the old country and well as the United States.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, Though we do have to be very careful both to be fair and to remember the times. The desire of rulers to have their empires and nations united by religion was a curse that afflicted them all. The pope and HR Emperor Charles V used church and state to fight against Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans, and others. I’m sure French protestants are well aware of what happened to them? Or look at the mess that is England from about 1535-1714. RCs vs Anglicans and vice versa. Anglicans vs Puritans and vice versa. Anglicans against Non-juring Anglicans. Look at the horror of the 30 Years War. Sure, Czars were every bit as bad as their peers. And pretty much every national Church let itself be used to support the state and to protect its own interests. I think we tend to view history more thru the lens of post-1714 England and America rather than say France (with is revolutions), Italy (with its chaos, corruption, and religion), Turkey, or Russia. When we do that, we want to think we’re good and better and why weren’t they more like us. Took WW I to remove 3 empires (German, A-H, Russian) and essentially undermine a 4th (Britain). The secular materialist successors in Germany and Russia were every bit as bad and far worse than their religiously-oriented predecessors.

      • Dale says:

        But Michael, the actions of the “Russian” in MODERN Russia in support of the political persecutions of Protestants and Old Believers is not ancient history, it is happening now! Yet, on questions of moral imperative, such as abortion, the Russian Church is strangely silent.

        The forced Russification of Ukrainian and Rysin parishes in the United States was instigated on the part of the Russian Church without interference from the Russian government!

        This Orthodox Byzantine fixation on always blaming the government for many of their almost criminal actions is simply not acceptable.

        It would appear that Fr Wheeler, perhaps after his experiences with the Ordinariates is now simply swallowing, hook, line and sinker propaganda from the Byzantines without any attempt to get a more balanced view point. “allowing the continuance of their various national traditions”; actually laughing out loud at this one!

      • Dale says:

        Sorry, meant “Russian Church” in the last posting!

  5. Michael Frost says:

    Fr. Wheeler, My initial focus is on the historical political aspirations of the Russian state and its misuse of power and religion. When missionaries were sent, it was by the Holy Synod as the Czar had abolished the patriarchiate, with little real long-term resistance from the ROC. A ROC that had no problem persecuting Jews and Old Believers. The ROC has all too willingly allowed herself to be used by a voracious Russian state. Even today Russia is most resistant to returning real political power to the people. When Tikhon was martyred, it was at the re-start of the patriarchiate. One would like to think that the blood of the martyrs to communism have cleansed the ROC, but she still acts all to ready to do the bidding of Putin’s oligopolistic state, esp. when that state rewards it with new churches or laws to keep non-Orthodox out of Russia.

  6. Lots of moral preening in this thread.

    Europe is eating its young and ceding its Catholic homelands to Muslims. The Anglosphere is making its founding stock minorities in their own countries and deconstructing themselves into Brazil, complete with the synchretized folk religion/neo-paganism and crass consumerism. Rome will segue fully into her new role as champion of the Global South, and not in the Abp. Peter Akinola sense–more like the liberation theology/open borders/carneval-bread-and-circuses sense.

    At the end of this century, I’m betting Russia and her Holy Orthodox Church will still be Russian and Orthodox. By contrast, the West and its institutions which formerly built and defended the civilized world will be disappearing under an r-selected flood of Third World anarchy.

    • Michael Frost says:

      AG, The sad fact of reality for all of Europe, Russia included, is one of the decline and decay of Christendom under the onslaught of materialism and secularism. I suspect that Islam won’t find it much easier in the long run in places like France or Germany. Just look at the divide in Turkey between secular and traditional Muslims.

      Russia has a serious demographic problem. Too many abortions, too few live births. Too much alcoholism. Too much divorce and too little marriage. Though if history does repeat itself, the blood of the martyrs under communism may be the seeds and lifeblood of the preservation of the Church. In traditionalist lands where there was either no or little religious martyrdom over the past century or so (e.g., Ireland, Poland, Spain), we’re seeing decline and decay.

      Though if martyrdom were enough wouldn’t poor Albania be the most holy land in Europe?

      • I think you answer your question: martyrdom is not enough. Christian Albania fell to the more ruthless and numerous Ottomans. Russia is at least showing some spine in the other direction. In the West, Christians gush and boo-hoo over their invaders.

        I happen to think protestantism is poison. The end result is an atomized, secular people whose only creed is tolerance uber alles, guaranteeing eventual conquest by the illiberal and intolerant. It does not bother me in the slightest that the Russian Orthodox Church seeks the assistance of her own nation-state in suppressing it; there is a lot at stake here.

      • Michael Frost says:

        AG, I do hope you have concerns about how the ROC interacted with the Soviets, during the entire history of the Soviet Union. Too worried about losing beautiful churches, power, and money. Too willing to collaborate. A sad time. Collaborating with Putin is not the answer and will not convert the nation.

        Any good history of the period from say the year 500 AD to 1700 AD will show you that Christians–EO, RC, and Reformational–could be equally “ruthless”. Muslims fought Muslims and Christians fought Christians and sometimes Muslims used Christians to fight both and same for Christians. Everyone, including mercenaries, could be so mercenary! 🙂

        And a good history of the Byzantine Empire will show you just how ruthless emperors and kin and generals could be. Often the first thing a new “emperor” (often a usurping general) would do was to kill off his siblings and other family members or at least to visibly main them by taking out an eye or hacking off a nose or an ear (since a disfigured person could not be emperor). A good history of the Russian state and Empire under the czars will do the same. Ivan the Terrible got his name deservedly. Catherine the Great was quite a debauched person consumed with power. Look what they and Peter the Great and the others did to the ROC, which usually did nothing but help the czar. (Though sadly that was pretty much the same behavior in Anglican England, Lutheran Scandanavia, Roman Catholic France, etc.)

      • Dale says:

        Yes perhaps the Russian church can once again gain her place of prominence and proceed to burn dissidents at the stake… especially for such heinous crimes as making the sign of the cross with two fingers instead of three. Give me enlightenment blighted western Europe!

  7. Dale says:

    I think that we should also take into consideration that those groups who have had the closest historical connection with the Russians, both under the Tzars and later the Communists, the Ukrainians, the Poles, the Finns, the Lithuanians, Estonians, and Latvians, want nothing whatsoever to do with the Russians; there has to be a solid reason for this.

    One should also mention that even the above groups, when Orthodox, such as the Finnish, Latvian and Estonian Orthodox also want nothing whatsoever to do with either the Russians or their Church. Speaks volumes. We should listen.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Dale, Imperialism and colonialism don’t tend to engender long-term friendships between peoples or nations. And it tends to warp religious perceptions, too, esp. given the unique ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, with its emphasis on bishops and independent and non-independent Churches.

      The Turkish Empire isn’t fondly remember anywhere it lost its overlordship. The Indians and Pakistanis so loved the British Empire that the former jumped into the Soviet orbit and the later became an American ally. Finns actually got along with Russians pretty well for most of 19th century until changes in the 1890s when nationalism and imperialism came into conflict.

      And neighbors often have hard time getting along. Just check out the bickering and battling between Poles and Lithuanians in the 1920s-1930s. Or Poles with Czechs. (Pilsudski’s new Polish Republic stole Lithuania’s Wilno by crook and force. And couldn’t agree on a border with the Czechs. Few in the area cried initially when the Nazis eliminated Poland.) And everyone, Poland included, wanted a piece of the Ukraine.

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