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Russia’s Return to Orthodoxy

by Michael J.L. La Civita

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Now that the Russian Federation has cast off its communist yoke, the world’s largest nation can get on with the business at hand – sustaining and reconstructing its broken society.

To spearhead these efforts, government leaders and members of the intelligentsia have enlisted the aid of a former enemy, the Russian Orthodox Church, and her leader, Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow.

The evangelization of Russia – the traditional heartland of Slavic Orthodoxy and the center of the former Soviet Union – is an enormous task. Russians feel they have become morally corrupt; unadulterated laziness plagues an already inefficient system; corruption is rampant; and alcoholism and crime have reached epidemic proportions. After 74 years of poverty and “overtake and surpass” rhetoric, Russians are exhausted and bitter.

“All we hoped for, all we believed in, all we sacrificed for – were lies,” confessed a babushka (grandmother) to Anthony Ugolnick, an American Orthodox deacon and Soviet specialist. “We have lost our faith.”

Although some Russians claim they have lost the faith, many hanker for what was lost – pravoslaviye russiya, Orthodox Russia.

The few churches that the Soviets kept open are packed with both the young and old. The number of baptisms is innumerable. Each day, the Church receives notification of the return of yet another warehouse, vodka factory or scientific museum – all former churches.

While visiting John Cardinal O’Connor in his New York residence in late November, Patriarch Alexei received a cablegram informing him that Moscow had returned to the Church St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square and the Kremlin cathedrals of the Dormition, Annunciation and Archangel Michael – the sites where Russia’s tsars were christened, crowned and buried.

Throughout this vast empire, churches buzz with the hum of workmen’s saws and the rich deep basses of the chanting choirs. Where is the money and energy coming from to regild the onion domes, restore the whitewashed frescoes and replace the fallen crosses?

The defeat of Soviet socialism has unleashed a reaction to things scientific and rational. Suddenly Russians have begun dabbling in the occult; new age and spiritist movements compete with fundamentalist sects imported from the United States. Faith healers and the like are the darlings of the new Russian media. This “acute fever,” as described by Sergei Kapitza, a respected Russian scientist, is a serious threat to Orthodoxy’s mission.

“…the disappointment of life lacking in spirituality is not yet a spirituality,” Patriarch Alexei reflected in a speech at Georgetown University on Nov. 15. “The Church is to go through much pain and effort to bring millions of people, poverty-beaten and trodden by ideological and administrative oppression…back from the ashes and ruins…to a life of human dignity.”

To restore human dignity, the Church needs sufficiently trained priests, trained lay catechists, bibles and other religious literature to support charity and religious education. Denied the opportunity to fulfill its Christian mission under communism, orthodoxy must start from the beginning.

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Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Orthodox Church Communism/Communist Soviet Union