NEZAVISIMAIA GAZETA: Online edition, No.235 12/16/96

LETTER TO EDITOR

Nezavisimaia gazeta, 16 December 1996

by Nikolai, metropolitan of Nizhny Novgorod and Arzamas:

The article by Mr. Krasikov "State, Church, and Religious Freedom" amazed me. The material, occupying a whole newspaper column, says essentially one thing (except for the excursions into history), which is not really new, namely that the law guarantees freedom of conscience, that is, the possibility for Russian citizens to profess any religion or none at all. Surely this is a case of the mountain giving birth to the mouse.

The writer is greatly concerned and worried that in the "Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" that is being drafted priority will be given to one religion, the Russian Orthodox church. If that happens, the leader of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the RAN Institute of Europe thinks that great harm will be done: Russia will set itself against the entire civilized world and will isolate itself. Anatoly Krasikov views a different, unique course, the equality of the rights of all religious associations, traditional and nontraditional. This idea sounds really quite attractive for the casual reader, like the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity for the person of the past century.

We shall ignore the ironic tone of the writer, his loud but hardly correct epithets directed against priests (of course he means only priests of the Russian Orthodox church), whom he calls "intriguing fathers who do not tolerate competition with anyone," and "hawks in cassocks." In general, Krasikov is convinced that a "significant part of the Orthodox and para-Orthodox activists dream only about a return to the past." He arrives at his conclusion on the basis of conversations "with several archbishops, including some occupying high positions."

Mister Krasikov tries to be impartial in the historical part of the article, but even here the dominating theme is rather clear: its name is hate. Hate for Orthodoxy. Well, you will not be kind by compulsion.

But...How can one not recall the words of Saint John of Kronstadt: "Remember that the earthly fatherland with its church is the earnest of the heavenly fatherland, and thus you love it intensely and are ready to lay down your life for it. . . . The Lord entrusted to us, Russian, the great saving talent of the Orthodox faith. . . . Arise, Russian man. . . . Drink the full bitter cup of poison for yourself and for Russia."

Like a red thread running throughout the article there is the thought that the Russian Orthodox church always was subordinate to the state and ideologically enslaved to it. Well, what's so bad and shameful? "By Me tsars rule and sovereigns enact justice" (Pr 8.15). "Let every soul be subject to higher authorities, for there is not authority but from God; existing authorities are established by God" (Rm 13.1).

State authority always was the defense of the church and the church educated the citizens spiritually and morally. Did those "Russian protestants" who the writer says existed "several decades before the western Europe reformation" produce Minin and Pozharsky, Germogen and Avraamy? Or wasn't it an Orthodox bishop who inspired the grand prince for defense with the words "Will we who are mortal fear death?" and persuaded him to fight the Tatars, even though the military leaders wanted it otherwise? And who blessed Grand Prince Dmitry of the Don? And which faith did Grand Prince Alexander of the Neva follow? And Ivan Susanin? And which of the churches other than Orthodoxy prays for everyone who lays down his life on the battlefield. Incidentally those laying down their lives for us now are considering whether to betray or not betray the faith of the fathers to please the West: if only they receive them and not reject them.

So what is there in the church's service to the benefit of the state that is shameful? The church has always served its homeland not out of fear but for the sake of conscience, and the state in its turn has cared for and is concerned about the church as for a mother. And this union, signified once in the Byzantine double-headed eagle, can only be welcomed.

What are Krasikov and the others who share his views pleased about? Judging from the subheadings of the article, we see that they are pleased that Russia has become a law-based state (as if recognizing a leading place for the traditional religion would interfere with this!). The writer of the article considers that a law-based stated offers identical rights to all religious confessions without exception. But is that what happens in the West that is so admired by the author? It is well known that is not the case. Totalitarian sects are prohibited in all "law-based" states.

And in Russia? To give to all confessions without exception equal rights is, in my view, to negate all the service of the Russian Orthodox church to the fatherland and to equate it with Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Krishnaists, and other sects. Anatoly Krasikov sees a unique path "through a strict observation of the constitutional norms and international obligations of Russia," or else he thinks that we will wind up "in the backyard of history," and "in a blind alley of self-isolation and futile opposition to the entire civilized world."

Tell me what kind of self-isolation are we talking about when they haven't begun to talk about the equality of confessions and the press, radio, and television all are filled with western propaganda?

Will the "civilized world" (which obviously means the West) turn to us if we are ashamed of our own history? And instead of the faith of our fathers, which was hard but good, are we supposed to offer our children protestant rationalism or eastern escape from reality, a schematic, simplified concept of religion or, alternatively, the sage teachings of Ramacharak, Vivikananda, and the like? Even without these aren't we already destroying the shaky structure of the Orthodox family? Will we permit ourselves to be fettered by alien worldviews and morality? The equality of rights of confessions will lead to Russian boys and girls growing up without a memory of their heritage because some preacher or guru who comes from abroad, or more accurately just drops in, teaches our children Lutheranism or Calvinism or eastern beliefs.

Mister Krasikov confidently declares that the Russian Orthodox church cannot stand competition and seeks to be defended by the state. In the first place, our church is not about to compete with anyone, and in the second, why would you seek defense from a state whose citizens you already have been educating for many centuries? Orthodox priests, according to the writer, "neither are able nor wish to work as missionaries." Well this is a sore point. Indeed our church for the time being is short of highly educated, qualified ministers (it was Orthodox priests who were shot and rotted away in the camps and not the sleek envoys from overseas). Of course we have problems with our means of mass information and publishing and with everything that is essential for missionary activity. The Orthodox church is supported by the grandmother who lights a candle to the Most Holy Mother of God for her dead son, but for the western missionaries it is entirely different.

But nevertheless missionary work is going on. And it is considerable. Look and judge for yourself. Of course, the Orthodox church never will publish the flashy booklets like the protestant publications that their creators consider to be virtual passports to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Our main missionary work is the temple that is always open for people, the sermon from the amphon (and not in the House of Culture where the night before they showed a porno film), the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Sacraments, and the production of the writings of the holy fathers. And we should talk about the parish Sunday schools, the catechism classes, the new seminaries and church schools, where, incidentally, the competition has not lessened but rather has grown because not all our youth are being lured into the western trap of secularism.

Of course, Orthodox do not have the protestant aggressiveness or the pressure, by which the crafty sectarians approach people who seek the truth but who are spiritually weak. But we are not all worked up because we are on our own turf. With our own people. For us the words will always resound as a motto: "Holy Rus, preserve the Orthodox faith because therein lies your salvation!"

We are not for isolation. And we are not for a return to the past. But we are not for forgetting it either. Let each person freely choose a confession of faith, but the preeminence in law should go to the traditional, historically proven faith of Russia, the Orthodox church. And as one of its pastors, I try to lead my flock to the light of the true faith along the path which our Savior, the apostles and father, the holy martyrs and confessors commanded for us. For me as, I hope, for many Russian, the fatherland and the church are inseparable concepts. And the law should preserve freedom, but should also remember: "Freedom is very attractive, but it is no less destructive for people when it has no reasonable limits" (Ivan Krylov).

Each of us often faces a choice. This distinguishes the human soul. I would like to cite the words of the holy saint Nil of Sora: "Choose what you want, either to hold the truth and die for it and you will live forever, or to please others and be loved by them and be rejected by God." That's the heart of the matter. (tr. by PDS)

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