Joseph Stalin icon was used to bless Putin’s strategic bombers at Engels Air Base in Russia. June 2015 (Image: dsnews.ua)
The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP) at the present time is “99 percent controlled” by the special services of the Russian Federation, the FSB at home and the SVR abroad, according to Yehor Bozhok, the head of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service.
The evidence of this control is overwhelming, the Ukrainian intelligence chief says, but unfortunately, many in the West cannot accept it because it is beyond their imagination.
Many will be quick to dismiss Bozhok’s remarks because of the conflict in Ukraine between the Moscow Patriarchate’s exarchate in the country and the newly-autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, but that would be a mistake. The problem he is pointing to is far deeper than that and one that must be addressed and overcome if Christians in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere are going to be able to live according to their faith.
When Stalin allowed the Orthodox Church to resume functioning during World War II, that step was first and foremost a propaganda gesture toward the West; but to ensure that it did not have negative consequences for his regime, Stalin created a variety of structures to ensure that the ROC MP did not act in any way at odds with the Soviet state.
Many in the West did not want to accept that reality, even though they could not point to a single instance in which the ROC MP chose to defend Christian values rather than Soviet positions and even though many victims of the KGB-ization of the church hierarchy documented official control.
The KGB recruited all priests with aspirations to higher positions and many even without them. They were given code names and run like agents in a hostile state. And their actions gave rise to hundreds of religious dissidents, a group that unfortunately received far less attention than human rights groups.
When the USSR collapsed, many hoped that the situation would change, that the church would be truly independent. But, tragically, that has not happened. Instead, if anything, FSB control of the hierarchy is now greater than it was in Soviet times, although its control at the parish level is almost certainly less.
The catacomb church continues because it wants to profess true Christianity, and both the ROC MP and the FSB continue to harass, arrest and imprison those who feel compelled to manifest their Christian faith instead of take orders from a state, all its protestations to the contrary, that is not informed by Christianity but by values antithetical to it.
One can only hope that the Ukrainian conclusion, following on the release of KGB files in Latvia showing the organs’ involvement in the Orthodox church there, will lead to a new focus on this most unfortunate legacy of Stalinism and prompt Christians in the West to ally not with the ROC MP but with those that that entity, together with the FSB, is persecuting.
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