by Anatoly Krasikov

The illness of Boris Yeltsin has intensified the ongoing discussion in our country about the principles of state construction in Russia and about what place the Russian Orthodox church, as the religious association of the majority of Russian believers, should occupy. While politicians have reopened the old question about the advantages and disadvantages of the parliamentary and presidential form of government, within the church priests who frankly pine for the tsarist system have gained strength.

Out of the crypt of history once again has been resurrected the seemingly totally forgotten slogan: Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality. And along with it the idea of a real joining of church and state.

This article by Anatoly Krasikov, the director of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the RAN Institute of Europe, deals with the problems of church-state relations and the causes of the nostalgia for the past on the part of some Orthodox archbishops, clergy, and laity. Until the spring of 1996 Krasikov was the executive secretary of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the presidency of the Russian Federation.

The other day the State Duma renewed discussion of amendments to the law "On the Freedom of Confessions of Faith" (which now has a new name, "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations"). The version that the deputies approved on first reading 10 July resulted from a compromise worked out in several years of discussion. The government (through its representative Andrei Sebentsov) and the left opposition (primarily Viktor Zorkaltsev, who heads the appropriate committee in the State Duma) and the democratic center (Valery Borshchev, president of the Yabloko faction and deputy chairman of the same committee) made a positive contribution to it. And it is necessary to recognize that the draft of the law approved on first reading thoroughly comports with the constitution, which has the supreme juridical force throughout the country.

We recall that according to the constitution the Russian Federation is a secular state and that no religion (or any ideology) can be established as the state or obligatory religion. Religious associations are separated from the state and are equal before the law. Each person is guaranteed freedom of conscience and the right to profess any religion or none. Advocacy of racial, national, religious, or linguistic priority is forbidden.

The leaders of all traditional religious association, including the most influential of them--the Russian Orthodox church--officially recognize these principles that constitute the basis of state-church relations and freedom of conscience. The Most Holy Patriarch Alexis II frequently has spoken directly and unambiguously against grating Orthodoxy established status, in view of the long-term interests of the church itself. Neither the primate of the church nor its synod nor a council of bishops of Russian Orthodoxy has ever proposed a departure from the equality of the rights of religious associations before the law.

The Russian Orthodox church officially supports proper relations with other religious associations, including Old Believers, Catholics, various protestant denominations (Adventists, Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, etc.), Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews. It participates in several inter-confessional organizations, including the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches. The conference on "Christian Faith and Human Strife" held in Moscow's Saint Daniel's monastery two years ago is a clear example of inter-religious cooperation in Russia.

"We want to create justice and harmony in relations among all citizens, people of various cultures and of various political and philosophical convictions," said the patriarch at a reception in honor of the conference's participants on 23 June 1994. "To achieve this we are open to cooperation with adherents of other religions and to nonreligious brothers and sisters."

Even in cases dealing with the controversial "new religious movements" officials of the Russian Orthodox church do not fail to emphasize (as did the last bishops' council in November-December 1994) that "opposition to false views should not be accompanied by intolerance to those who profess doctrines incompatible with Christian doctrines." To support such a position the participants in the council cited the Bible: "If someone does not obey our word in this epistle, do not fellowship with him, but do not consider him an enemy, but warn him as a brother" (2 Th 3.14-15).

Alas, by no means do all of those who call themselves Orthodox priests demonstrate such tolerance. Having been conditioned as part of the command-administrative system, first under the tsars and then under the soviets, these intriguing fathers do not tolerate competition from any quarter. They cannot, and in part they do not wish to, act as missionaries and they ignore the decision of the bishops' council and the repeated calls of the patriarch. Instead of zealous work with believers and with those who might be drawn into the church, these "hawks" of Orthodoxy strive to draw the government into their struggle with their competitors.

Such direct interference of the secular authorities in inter-church relations was demanded long ago by the committee "For the Moral Rebirth of the Fatherland," which was formed by a group of Orthodox priests. In its magazine "Antichrist in Moscow" members of the committee, one after another, condemned the "notorious" pluralism which guaranteed "unprecedented freedom" to those who are not among the Orthodox majority. At the same time, since the church cannot keep pace with the avalanche of intrusion by outsiders, nor should it have to, these riled-up fathers suggest that it is the "obligation of the state structures to carry out police surveillance and stop the aggression."

Do you think that the authors of this manifesto are unique? Just go to the churches of Moscow, Petersburg, the large cities and the small settlements, read the newspapers published with the supposed blessing of the hierarchy, talk with some archbishops, including those in high positions, and you will be convinced that a substantial part of the Orthodox and para-Orthodox activists are dreaming only about some kind of return to the past.

The "hawks" in cassocks simultaneously embrace the triad "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality," which was so dear to the prerevolutionary Black Hundreds, and the red banners of the Soviet regime. They go along with anyone who wants a state church and a clerical state, no matter what new system of restrictions and prohibitions it entails.

On their part, many representatives of the unrestrained new nomenklatura are doing essentially the same thing. Before every election the leaders of the contending parties literally compete among themselves to draw the church into politics. Members of the LDPR tried to get through the duma a law calling for the creation of a "Holy Synod of the Government of the Russian Federation" and the establishment of religious censorship of the press. Former agents of the stalinist-brezhnevite Council on Religious Affairs of the USSR Council of Ministers insisted upon the restoration of their agency with the same or another name.

Boris Yeltsin took a different path when he created the Council on Relations with Religious Associations. This consultative organ included not representatives of civil authority (since they work in appropriate state agencies), but leaders of the largest groups of believers: Orthodox, Muslims, Buddhists, protestants, Catholics, Jews, and several others. The president proposed that they advise him regarding relations of religious associations with respect to various internal matters and the external policies of the state, as well as to prepare recommendations on these matters. Russia never had anything like this in all its history.

However, the "hawks," who feared that the religious leaders who were members of the council would present a united front against the Russian soldiers in Chechnia, achieved the transformation of the council into a substantially different structure that was completely controlled by the state apparatus. Above the religious leaders was place a permanent member of the president's administration (at the time Nikolai Egorov). Along with the imposed chairman the council received more than a dozen other representatives of secular authorities, people who were not authorized to make recommendations in the name of the churches.

The phenomenon of Orthodox "hawks" and their sympathizers in state structures cannot be understood unless we recall the historical experience of our ancestors from the moment of the birth of the Russian state a thousand years ago. Indeed, to confirm the new practice of relations of the church and state on the Russian land we must be aware of the lessons of our distant and recent history.


Ancient Rus received baptism in 988 from Byzantium and after the division of the Christian church into Catholic and Orthodox it remained true to its spiritual teacher. All Russian lands throughout six centuries remained within the canonical territory of the Constantinople (Byzantine) patriarch.

Our prominent contemporary Academician Dmitry Likhachev quite rightly emphasizes this enormous role which Byzantium played in the establishment and development of Slavic culture. At the same time the influence of Byzantium on Kievan and later Muscovite Rus was not exclusively positive. A particular conception of church-state relations, which is known in history as "symphony" and which originated in Constantinople in the sixth century under Justinian I and came to us from there along with Christianity, in the final analysis for our country was turned into the notorious caesaropapism, that is the state's usurpation of the rights of the church.

In one of his first newspaper interviews (Komsomolskaia pravda) after election to the leading episcopal throne the Most Holy Patriarch Alexis II recalled that "both in Byzantium and in Russia the sovereign continued to consider his own interests to be absolute interests and treated the church as some kind of instrument of his state policy."

Hegumen Ioann Ekonomtsev noted in his careful study of the problem of the Byzantine roots of the Russian state that, strictly speaking, genuine "symphony" never existed either in Russia or Byzantium except, perhaps, during brief transitional periods ("which," he writes, "were the exception rather than the rule"). The hegumen is convinced that the national-religious idea deals with the spiritual and moral sphere and "its marriage with the state in impossible in principle."

When was under the hegemony of the Golden Horde, paradoxically the situation of the Orthodox church is some sense became even easier. The well-known study of church history Metropolitan Makary describes, in particular, those rights and privileges which the Orthodox clergy received from the khans of the horde. The church was free from taxation, fees, and obligations, the clergy was responsible to the church alone and not to the civil authority. With the church under the protection of the khans, the historian emphasizes, no one--subject or prince--was able to infringe upon the rights of the clergy.

Alas, the long-term subordination to the horde led to serious negative consequences. Professor Znamensky (author of a textbook recommended for ecclesiastical seminaries by the Holy Synod of the Russian empire) considers that the piety of the elite of the time consisted in the observation of rituals, it was entirely external, and it had nothing in common with genuine religiosity. "Hypocrisy, deceit, groveling, and despicable phenomena of self-preservation" became typical. In administration, the historian continues, the old principles of the veche gave way to the brutality of the princes, arbitrary authority, confiscations, and injustice.

It is no wonder that in the country there began to arise dissident attitudes among people who resisted all official structures. State and church authorities joined together in the struggle against heresies since they could not help but see in them a serious threat to the foundations of the social structure. The movements of Russian protestants, who preceded by several decades the west European reformation, were crushed with a brutality that was typical for that time. The most active dissidents were executed and the rest with imprisoned.


The second half of the thousand-year history of Christian Rus began under the sign of great changes. In face of the decline and then the destruction of the Byzantine empire, the true Orthodox medieval superstate, the Muscovite state emerged as the new center of universal Orthodoxy. After the marriage of Ivan III to the only remaining heiress of the Constantinopolitan throne Zoe (Sophia) Paleologue Moscow took as its own the state seal of the "second Rome," the double-headed eagle, and somewhat later began to call itself the "third Rome" (with the very significant addition that "a fourth there will not be").

The fall of Byzantium corresponded in time with the disappearance of the Golden Horde from the political map of the world (100 years after the battle on the field of Kulikovo). Under these circumstances the state-church relations in the "principal capital" again assumed the form of practical subordination of church to state. Orthodox bishops tried to retain some right to judge the action of the secular authority from a moral and ethical point of view, but the rulers of the Muscovite state already viewed them as their inferiors.

Ivan the Terrible summoned the Hundred Chapters council of 1551 to support administrative reforms and more precisely delineate the prerogatives of the secular and ecclesiastical authorities, and he made a show of intending to pay heed to the opinion of religious leaders. In reality the autocratic tsar inclined more and more toward despotism, imposing his will on both civil society and the church. The most offensive demonstration of Russian caesaropapism of that time was the murder in 1569 of Filipp, the head of the church who dared to condemn the repressive policies of Tsar Ivan. The holy martyr was removed by the autocrat from church leadership and killed by Maliuta Skuratov.

A century later the representative of the new Romanov dynasty, Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich, acting as if he were adopting the role of defender of the faith (a role which in the West was fulfilled by the church inquisition), signed the conciliar decision that confirmed the necessity of punishing heresy (sacrilege) by the death penalty through burning. Armed by this document the power structure of the state actively entered into the struggle with Old Believers, who refused to accept the results of the corrections of the church books adopted by Patriarch Nikon with the tsar's consent and the

introduction of changes into liturgical practice. Only in 1971 did a local council of the Russian Orthodox church lift the anathema on the old rites and it characterized the church reform of the seventeenth century as "abrupt and hasty," based on the mistaken notion that ritual differences were differences of faith.


Alexis Mikhailovich's son Peter I, who proclaimed himself emperor, went still further along the road of transforming the Orthodox church into an ideological support of the state. For more than 20 years he did not permit the Russian bishops to elect a new primate to replace Patriarch Adrian who died in 1703. In 1721, by monarchical decree, he wiped out the patriarchal system which had been established in Rus in 1589 in accordance with the canons of ecumenical Orthodoxy.

If one calls things by their proper names, from this moment all priests of the Russian Orthodox church were reduced to the capacity of state bureaucrats. Their activity was regulated not by church law, but by civil law. Bishops were appointed by imperial decree on the recommendation of the chief procurator. Ecclesiastical consistories were formed to administer dioceses ruled by diocesan archbishops who were subordinate to the synod. Imperial authorities under Peter and his successors paid little attention to those whom they considered little more than representatives of the court's ecclesiastical administration. Evidence of this lies in Catherine's "war" against the monasteries, direct contacts of several Russian autocrats with foreign religious centers behind the back of Orthodox archbishops and the refusal in this century of Nicholas II to abrogate Peter's antichurch decree, the "Rasputinshchina," and occultism on the eve of the collapse of the empire.

On the other hand, as if to compensate for this infringement of the rights of the Orthodox church the state restricted the religious freedom of followers of other religions. "Within the borders of the state," declared article 3 of the charter of ecclesiastical affairs of foreign confessions, "only the state Orthodox church has the right to convert adherents of other Christian and non-Christian religions." All missionary activity in the opposite direction was most strictly prohibited. The only thing that was permitted, as not harming the interests of Orthodoxy, was conversion from the less favored confessions into the more favored confessions, but even then it was only with permission of the ministry of internal affairs.

At the Second World Russian Sobor on 1 February 1995, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad recalled in his report that the history of the Russian church of the 18th and 19th centuries was extremely contradictory. On the one had it was the state church and received a kind of "supreme favoritism." However, on the other hand, the metropolitan emphasized that "church leadership was under the strictest state control. No single decision of the synod was taken without participation of secular authorities."

There is thus no reason for surprise that both within the country and beyond its borders there gradually emerged the image of an Orthodox church that was the obedient weapon in the hands of the autocracy. This was particularly noted by Nicholas Berdiaev, who concluded that "Christianity was accommodated to the realm of caesar. It was discovered that Christianity could be socially useful for building the kingdom of caesar. False conclusions were drawn from the doctrine of original sin to justify all forms of existing evil and injustice. Christianity was used for justifying human suppression and defense of oppression."

Only in 1903-1905, under the pressures of profound economic, social, and political crises that created a revolutionary situation, did the authorities declare toleration, while of course preserving the official state establishment of Orthodoxy. The 17 April 1905 document signed by Emperor Nicholas II, "Concerning strengthening the bases of toleration," stated: "To recognize that apostasy from the Orthodox faith to another Christian confession or belief system is not to be persecuted and should not result in any disadvantages in personal or civil rights." Even under these circumstances a substantial portion of the Orthodox clergy demonstrated that it was not ready for a situation in which it was necessary to fight independently for believers without appeal to the state and its power structures. A large group of Russians who had been only formally associated with the church left.

In contrast to the ecclesiastical manipulators who immediately tried to get the state to return to its use of repressive apparatus for the struggle with other religions, the most far-sighted representatives of the clergy strove to strengthen the Orthodox church as an independent force, separate from civil authorities. Understanding that subordination to the state really causes the church more harm than good, they raised the question of the restoration of its autonomy and of the convocation of a local council for electing a patriarch in order to free, in the words of Father Sergius Bulgakov, Orthodox "from unnatural ties with the monarchical state order."


Alas, the last Russian emperor did not give the church back its freedom which his predecessors had deprived it of. Instead of cooperation with the church on a basis of equality he preferred the friendship of Rasputin. After this could there be any surprise in the response of church leaders to Nicholas' abdication in March 1917? The synod refused to fulfill the demand of its chief procurator N.P. Raev, who tried to get from the archbishops a call for support of the monarchy. Metropolitan Pitirim of Petersburg, Makary of Moscow, and a number of other bishops who owed their positions to Rasputin were removed from the synod.

After the departure of the tsar the renovated synod declared (29 April) that henceforth "the dream of the Russian Orthodox people has become reality" and petitioned the provisional government for consent to conduct a local council. And in November, for the first time after two centuries of synodal administration the Russian Orthodox church installed a legal primate. To this position it elected the new metropolitan of Moscow, Tikhon.

As one of the participants, Metropolitan Evlogy, later recalled, everyone wanted to believe that with the election of a patriarch Russia had gotten an advocate, representative, and intercessor for its people. However a different fate was prepared for both the country and the church. Having won its long-awaited freedom, the Orthodox church, along with all other religious associations, was deprived of it as a result of the violent revolution carried out by the bolsheviks.

Although by the decree of the Council of People's Commissars of 23 January 1918 the church was formally separated from the state, in reality for some seventy years of totalitarianism the authorities implemented harsh control over the life of all religious societies. In the years of totalitarianism, as the present primate of the church Patriarch Alexis II eloquently stated, "the fruit-bearing layer of the life of the Russian people was severed and subjected to total suppression."

The repressive apparatus of the state dealt in a physical way with the life force of the church, taking the lives of a half million religious leaders. Only his death saved His Holiness Tikhon from the bolshevik trial. Metropolitan Peter whom he named acting patriarch was shot. Of 130 bishops of the Russian Orthodox church who made up the episcopate on the ever of 1917, by 1943 only four remained alive outside of the Gulag, and even these had earlier gone through the torments of the soviet inquisition. All religious societies were to the same extent victims of the dictatorial regime, but actually the greatest losses in absolute numbers were borne by the Orthodox church.

In 1943-1944, in the midst of war, the religious policy of the state underwent a certain change. Trying to play on the patriotic sentiments of believers and to persuade the western allies of his respect for religion, Stalin allowed several of the demolished churches to be reopened for worship. At the time the Council on Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Council on Affairs of Religious Cults under the government of the USSR were created. One of the most important tasks laid upon these state institutions was the preparation of new cadres of ministers to replace those who were victims of stalinist repressions in the preceding period. It is easy to imagine how this task was accomplished under conditions of the totalitarian regime.

Ten years earlier the possibility of the emergence of a new, "soviet" clergy was predicted with amazing foresight by mother Maria (Elizaveta Yurievna Skobtsova), a Russian nun living as an emigre in France. Mother Maria herself, who in the years of the war took part in the movement of opposition to Nazism, would help in hiding Jews from murders and perish herself in the gas chamber of a hitlerite concentration camp literally on the eve of victory. In March 1936, speaking at a monarchist meeting in Paris, she declared prophetically: "In case of the recognition of the church in Russia and the development of external success, she can count on no other kind of cadres except cadres education in an uncritical, dogmatic spirit of authoritarianism. And this means long years of the dying out of freedom. It means new prisons and camps for all who insist on freedom in the church. It means new persecutions and new martyrs and confessors."

It seemed that the leaders of the state could take satisfaction from their total subordination of the religious life of the country to them. And nevertheless gradually they began to realize, especially after the death of Stalin, that professing an ideology of hatred and violence the atheist regime had lost the competition with religion. Studying archival materials of the Khrushchev epoch, I came upon a curious document that has no less curious signatures. The then leader of Agitprop Leonid Ilichev and the deputy of one of the sections of his department, the future general secretary of the CC CPSU Konstantin Chernenko recognized that "religious association have substantially strengthened their positions and have expanded their ideological influence on a certain part of the soviet people."

The removal of Khrushchev from power and the beginning of the brezhnevite "period of stagnation" were characterized by a deceleration but not a cessation of persecution of the church. The new united organ that replaced the two state organs held over from the stalinist period, the Council on Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers of the USSR began even more actively to interfere in the internal affairs of religious associations. Many "prisoners of conscience," struggling for real religious freedom, suffered behind barbed wire in this period.


The dissolution of the totalitarian regime established in 1917, the struggle for power at the summit of the soviet political Olympus, and chiefly the failure of the bolshevik attack on religion and the church opened up the way for the deideologizing of the state and the recognition of pluralism of worldviews. In 1988 the state was forced to consent to a solemn celebration of the millennium of the official acceptance of Christianity in our land and these celebrations became the prologue to the entrance of the country onto the path of transition to democratic reforms and the recognition of universal human values, rights, and freedom of citizens, including religious freedom.

On 25 October 1990 Russia received for the first time in its history a law "On Freedom of Religious Confessions," which secured the exit of the church from the ghetto, where it had been chased by the soviet government, and real equality of the rights of all religious associations. Ruined churches were begun to be restored and new ones built. Hordes of books stores overflowed with religious literature. Church sermons became an integral part of radio and television programs. Cooperation between religious associations and the state gradually spread to such areas as spiritual education, charity, peacemaking, science, culture, the preservation and restoration of historical monuments, and concern for morality in society.

However a little more than two years passed and from various quarters voices began to be raised speaking of the need to introduce into the newly adopted law substantial changes, directed in essence to the restoration, even if in a somewhat different form, of the old Byzantine "symphony." The law of 1990 really was not worked out with equal care in all of its details, but opponents of religious freedom used this not so much for fixing the problems as for realizing far-reaching goals, the chief of which were the restriction of the confessional space in Russia to a few traditional religions, the restoration of practical control by the authorities over religious associations, and the granting to civil bureaucrats a deciding voice in purely church affairs.

In the summer of 1993 the Supreme Soviet led by Ruslan Khasbulatov adopted a substantially reworked version of the law which infringed the rights of believers and violated the international obligations of Russia. From the existing law was removed the article that stated the juridical equality of religious associations. At the same time into the text of the last was introduction a provision restricting the freedom of religious confession of foreign citizens. Finally, there was added an article about differences in the relations of the state with various religious associations insofar as not all of them preserve and develop "the historical traditions and customs, national-cultural identity, art, and other cultural traditions of the peoples of the Russian Federation."

Boris Eltsin did not agree with these amendments and vetoed them. In his letter to the deputies of 4 August 1993, in particular, he stated: "It is necessary to develop more precisely from the point of view of legislative technique the legal provision that every person, independent of Russian citizenship, has equal possibilities to enjoy freedom of conscience and religious confession on the territory of the Russian Federation, individually and collectively."

In another letter, dated 17 September 1993, the president suggestion to the deputies to remove from a new law draft which they had approved the words about special support by the state for traditional confessions of Russia. Eltsin's statement was based on the notion that such a provision violated the equality of religious associations before the law. The dispute that followed delayed the working out of a final text of the law. And the subsequent events connected with the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet, the adoption of a new constitution, and the formation of the State Duma returned the discussion to the starting line, from which the development of the current version began.

Today, as three years ago, Russia faces a choice. In can return to that time when under the noise of discussions about "symphony" civil authorities assumed for themselves the functions of a state church, and the church, having been politicized, served the secular power and eventually, as the patriarch accurately noted, became a political widow at every change of Kremlin politics. This is a path to nowhere, or more precisely to the blind alley of self-isolation and fruitless contradiction of the entire civilized world.

The complex of a "besieged fortress" always has come about from attempts to bind the country to a monopoly of one officially approved ideology, whether marxist-leninist or "national Orthodox." These attempts a dangerous not only for the state and society but also for the Russian Orthodox church, insofar as they place it in essentially the same situation which the CPSU so recently occupied in our country. We have not yet forgotten what this led to. It would be a real tragedy if something like this happened also with Orthodoxy. Even more so if it happens right after the "second baptism of Rus," on the threshold of humanity's entrance into the third millennium of the Christian era.

Another way is possible, however, This is the way which comes through thoroughgoing observation of constitutional norms and the international obligations of Russia. This path leads to good relations with the whole world around us, to the preservation of person and freedom of each in the respect of the freedom of others. For a multinational and multiconfessional state, spanning two continents, it is the only acceptable course if we do not wish to wind up in the backyard of history.

(tr. by PDS)

copyright Nezavisimaia gazeta