Role of the Orthodox Church in Russia
IN 1847, Russian literary critic Vissarion Belinski wrote to an author who had eulogized the Russian Orthodoxy: “Why do you drag in Christ? What have you found in common between Him and any church, especially the Orthodox Church? He was the first to enunciate to mankind the doctrine of liberty, equality, fraternity, and with His martyrdom He has set the seal on the verity of His teaching.” Was there really such a vast difference between real Christianity and Russian Orthodox religion?
The book House Without a Roof (1961), by Maurice Hindus, observes: “In Czarist days the peasantry made up over 80 per cent of the population, but the Church never strove to shake the muzhik [Russian peasant] out of superstitions that had come down from pagan times. The clergy was apathetic to the witches, sorcerers, magicians, incantation charmers, that infested the village and preyed on the muzhik’s gullibility and ignorance. The village batushka [priest] was often himself an ignorant man, addicted to vodka and not averse to seducing an attractive woman parishioner. . . . The muzhik, chief pillar of the Church if only because of his overwhelming numbers, remained in comparative ignorance of the faith into which he was born. Rarely was he a Bible reader. Overwhelmingly he was illiterate. He learned more about good and evil from the tales and ballads of wandering beggars and pilgrims than from the parish priest.”
Why was this? Why did not the Orthodox Church more effectively emphasize the religion and high moral standards of God’s Word? Author Hindus continues: “The fatal liability of the Russian Church was its complete subordination and subservience to the Czarist state, which in the words of Milyukov ‘paralyzed all living buds of religion.’”
‘But surely things have changed; it is not that way now,’ some may think. On the basis of many years of close, firsthand observation, Hindus points out about the Orthodox Church in Russia today:
“The Constitution bars the Church from politics, limits its function solely to religious observances. But when called upon by the Kremlin, it readily responds with its blessings on Soviet foreign policies, whatever they may be. Though the Kremlin no longer speaks of Russia as holy, to the highly nationalistic Church, Holy Russia is always right and its enemies, real or imaginary, as determined by the Kremlin, are always wrong.”