Vladimir Putin’s restoration of Soviet-era norms has hit the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC MP) especially hard, and “the lies, corruption, force, [and] drunkenness” of the Russian state have not only “infected” the Russian church but driven many of the faithful away, according to Sergey Bychkov.
In a commentary on Portal-Credo.ru, the religious affairs writer says that the past year has “put all the dots over the ‘i’s in the contemporary history of Russia. Even for ‘the optimists’ it has become year that the Soviet spirit has been reborn in all its former glory.”
“Russia is again surrounded on all sides by enemy, inside ‘a fifth column’ is engaged in all kinds of destructive activity, the chekists are allowed to use weapons against ‘internal enemies’ without restriction, and the Constitution has been transformed into a meaningless declaration cut off from reality.”
Once again, Bychkov continues, “the pyramid of power has been built which for some reason is now called ‘the vertical.’ Under its domination falls not only the people but both chambers of the parliament.”
It is entirely “natural” that “there no longer remains in social space a free place either for the Russian Orthodox Church or even more for other confessions,” he says. “They also find themselves under the base of the pyramid and not as the result of force but by their own acts of will.”
“Over the last seven years, the ROC MP has constructed its own pyramid,” he writes. Russia has been covered by extraordinary number of new bishoprics run by 300 bishops. Church laws are ignored, and no one knows what will be said next by church leaders or be done by those supposedly in charge.
Not surprisingly, the church has fused itself with the state and been infected by the same bacteria that are destroying the latter. One bishop told Bychkov, he reports, that “in the 1990s, I could still distinguish who were the bandits and who were the bureaucrats. Today, it is impossible to make that distinction.”
But this is only at the superficial level, the commentator continues. More significantly, society has split between the majority which just as in Soviet times goes along formally with anything those in power say and do, and a minority, now again called “the fifth column” which “doesn’t feel any positive emotions about either the state or the church.”
“The ROC MP is losing its authority among the people at a catastrophic rate,” not only because of the often outrageous pronouncements of its leadership but also because it is increasingly obvious that the hierarchs are more concerned about their incomes than about the saving of souls.
“In almost all Moscow churches now there are price lists on the wall explaining to parishioners how much and for what services they must play so that the Muscovite clergy can live well,” he says. Among the consequences of this, Bychkov continues, has been a sharp decline in the number of church weddings and christenings over the past year.
Moreover, the situation in the provinces is if anything even worse. There both the clergy and the parishioners are sinking into poverty.
It is becoming ever more obvious to ever more people that “the [existing] church structure established by Stalin in 1943 has very little in common with the Russian Orthodox Church.” Instead, the institution which calls itself that has, as a result of its fusion with the state, entered a period of “the deepest crisis” with all the bad features of the one appearing in the other as well.
Just how bad things have become, Bychkov suggests, is shown by the statement of the Metropolitan Varssonofii of St. Petersburg and Ladoga. He suggested that “Russia’s new martyrs not only didn’t suffer in Stalin’s camps but rested in them as if they were vacation resorts.” To the ignorance of the church’s top hierarchs, tragically, Russians have long become accustomed.
Given such attitudes, it is not surprising that no one protested when the Patriarchate “’de-canonized’” 36 new Russian martyrs [who upheld their religious beliefs despite the tortures and executions at chekist prisons and GULAG camps — Ed.] and that what has occurred in the last several years is the re-emergence of a church that attracts ever fewer faithful and that is prepared to lie to the world about conditions in Russia just as it did in Soviet times…