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The Russian Way: From Rasputin to Putin

Beloved land, soon to be made fragrant and all-holy, shone through and warmed by the love of so many martyrs' blood, there is an unknown redolence and effulgent light in thy still brightening churches; we neither ask why nor question how - but we know and feel and have faith.

From Premonition, in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, April 1974

Twenty-five years have now gone by since the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. As we believe, the result of that glorification was that ten years later, on the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord in 1991, the Soviet Empire collapsed. Thus, almost three generations after the Russian Revolution, there came into being the Russian Federation.

For fifteen years now that Federation has been living on a knife-edge, facing momentous problems. Unsure about its way, it has faced meltdown with mafia corruption, anarchic lawlessness and violent crime, a widening gulf between the very rich and the very poor, widespread and profound alcoholism, drugs, AIDS, prostitution, abortion, catastrophic levels of pollution, the Chechnia war, terrorism, mass emigration and an ever-declining birth-rate. Especially under Yeltsin, it seemed that the Russian Federation might yet descend into total chaos. In order to move out of that chaos, different groups offered different options.

The first option was the old Soviet way. This was supported by those nostalgic for the Soviet system, who hankered after the often imagined security of the spiritually and morally bankrupt past. Their nationalistic ideology, which could be called either ‘Communist Fascism’ or ‘Fascist Communism’, was supported mainly by the elderly, many of whom actually had a cult of the wartime leader and mass-murderer Stalin, as well as the diabolical Lenin.

The former option prospered to some extent because of the utter poverty of the second option. This option was the new Western way. This ideology, supported largely by the younger generations, simply wanted Russia to be absorbed into the Western humanist system. It was symbolized by the opening of MacDonalds in Red Square and the proliferation of 'gay’ parades - in other words, the wholesale adoption of the egoistic Western consumerist lifestyle.

Given the incredible spiritual and moral poverty of both these ideologies, it is no surprise that at last a third way, the Russian way, began to emerge. Despite the opposition of minorities, in the year 2000 a turning-point came at last. At its Moscow Council in August of that year, the Russian Orthodox Church finally upheld and confirmed this Russian way, through its own glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. This third way, neither the Soviet way, nor the Western way, is the Russian way. It is Russian inasmuch as it refers to the only alternative that Russia has had in her long history to paganism – both the old Soviet paganism and the new Western paganism. This is Russian Orthodoxy, a national and international treasure.

However, the resurrection of Russian Orthodoxy from generations, indeed centuries, of State oppression cannot happen all at once. Many difficulties have to be faced before the Orthodox worldview can be re-established in Russia.

On the one hand, after decades of enforced Soviet ignorance, Russian Orthodoxy has to fight off the temptations of superstition which have become attached to the Russian people. These are pagan magical beliefs, ritualism, isolationism, xenophobia with its calls to canonize the unworthy, and the corruption of clergy through greed and laziness.

On the other hand, Russian Orthodoxy also has to fight off 'educated ignorance', the temptations of Western humanism and modernism in a 'reformed Orthodoxy'. Neophytes inevitably have to go through the spiritual shallowness of Neo-Renovationism, absorbed from intellectuals like Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Schmemann and many others, from both outside and inside Russia.

Once Russia has fought off these temptations, two types of ignorance – the uneducated ignorance of fantasy and the educated ignorance of vain human reasoning - her mind will be ready to descend into her heart.

At this very moment, the right hand of the Forerunner John the Baptist is being taken to thirteen Russian cities. Queues miles long are gathering to venerate the very hand which baptized our Lord. This is the hand which points to repentance, to which His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II is calling the Orthodox peoples of the Russian Federation, repentance for the crimes and errors of Soviet atheism, committed by them and their forebears.

Ninety years ago, in 1916, just before the Russian Revolution, a man called Rasputin died a violent death. Rejected as quite unsuitable for the monastic life after only a very brief stay in a monastery, he became a notorious debauchee. His name Rasputin, meaning ‘crossroads’, 'the parting of the ways', became a symbol of Russian decadence, a symbol of national schizophrenia, of the Russian inability to take the right way, and so choose to descend into regicide, civil war and spiritual and moral chaos for three generations.

Today, the Russian Federation is led by a man called ‘Putin’. His name means ‘the way’. It is not our intention to eulogize him or engage in party politics. Like other politicians, he has no doubt made many mistakes, even grave errors. But symbolically at least, after ninety years of not finding her way, of hesitating at the crossroads, after ninety years of ‘Rasputinism’, contemporary Russia under President Putin seems to be finding her way.

There is a way, and it is more and more apparent - it is the Orthodox way. Although it may yet take many years and decades for Orthodox Russia to be restored, it is this which Patriarch Alexis is now openly calling for, through repentance. And surely the first signs of it are now here. For a brief moment we can perhaps at last look to the future with a little confidence.

All the Saints of the Russian Land, pray to God for us!

Priest Andrew Phillips

12/25 June 2006
All the Saints of the Russian Land

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