1978 (5) Rebirth of Russia

from Orthodox Life magazine 1978 (5)
Commencement address delivered at Holy Trinity Seminary in June 1978
by Vladimir Sokolov-Samarin


The Church and the National Rebirth of Russia

The history of the Russian Orthodox Church is inseparable from the history of Russia.  The torch of Orthodoxy has illuminated our 1000-year path, and it is no exaggeration to say that Russia would not exist without the Church.

The baptism of Russia represents the date of birth of the new man, purified from the defilement of paganism.  It is the date of birth of a nation as a unified whole.

The process of purification of the national soul was a protracted process, but an irreversible one.  When the Church overcame paganism, she established new mutual relations between people in the family and in society: relations founded on compassion and charity to ones neighbor.  The Church also established new juridical norms in the State, founded on right and justice.  The Church transformed and consecrated our art and raised it up to spiritual heights.  Today, in our unspiritual times, it still enthralls the world.  Further, the Church has inspired our literature.  Without the Church, there would not have been the great prophet, Dostoyevsky.

Thus, the baptism of Russia was the date of the birth of a nation: it was the beginning of the formation of the State which has undergone the great trials of wars between princes, of the Tartar yoke, of internal discord and foreign invasions.

And all the trials that have fallen to our lot were overcome by our ancestors. 

While the Church has inspired the people to labor and to military feats, and her ascetics and saints have blessed and sanctified them, we must acknowledge that historical sins dot Russia's historical path –– from the tyranny of those in power to popular riots which, in Pushkin's words, were meaningless and merciless.  Furthermore, in the 18th century, the historically formed relations between Church and State were needlessly upset.  Even some of our hierarchs and pastors have not been without blemish. 

That section of the ruling class which for so long opposed the pressing reform of the liberation of the serfs wrought much evil.  But even more evil was brought by the radical intelligentsia –– Russian and non-Russian –– which must bear the moral responsibility for the senseless murder of the Tsar-Liberator and for the massacre of our last Tsar and his family.  This worst part of the intelligentsia is entirely responsible for the catastrophe of 1917 and for everything that followed from it. 

The years of the First World War were years of great hope. They were years of an unusual increase in industry, in workers' standards of living, and of improvement of their legal position.  They were years when thousands of peasants became independent farmers and their prosperity improved.  Finally they were years of spiritual enlightenment of the best part of the intelligentsia.  But a war which was fatal for Russia ––and not only for Russia –– had begun and all hope faded. 

The catastrophe was not slow to burst forth.  To those to whom it was given to see the future, it was not unexpected.  The elders of Optina foretold it, St. John of Kronstadt spoke about it, Dostoyevsky saw it with a prophet's spiritual view.  A decade before, he had seen them, the demons, the enemies of Russia, the enemies of the Church, the bearers of the evil spirit.  "And this evil spirit is near at hand," Dostoyevsky wrote.  "Our children will see it." 

He wrote about the revolution which destroyed Russia and shook the whole world.  He foresaw the enormity of the catastrophe which claimed a hundred million lives.  Who knows what sacrifices were borne by the Russian people?  A horrible number of people have been tortured and shot, exterminated in prisons and concentration camps, or have died from hunger or been killed in wars.   But no less horrible are the spiritual losses: the gaps in the national religious consciousness, the consciousness of the youth which has been perverted by the school system and atheistic propaganda.

From the first days of its existence, the godless government has regarded religion as its main enemy.  From its very first days, this government has attacked religion and the faithful have suffered such repressions as mankind has not witnessed since the time of the persecutions of the first Christians.  The religious persecution of the beginning of the 20th century, which eased for a short time, was renewed with great fervor during the 30's.

The religious upsurge during the Second World War and the widespread opening of churches on territory occupied by the Germans forced the government to take hitherto unprecedented steps: thousands of churches were opened throughout the country and believers and unbelievers turned to them in order to find faith.

When the danger passed, the government resumed its attacks on religion and the faithful.  During the years of Kruschev's administration, for ten years, from 1957 to 1967, approximately 15,000 churches were closed and destroyed.  From this time, the persecution continued with unremitting vigor: for their faith, people were incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps, or were tortured in psychiatric hospitals.  All measures were taken to prevent the opening of new churches. 

"For every active church," Solzhenitsyn wrote in his open letter to the head of the Moscow Patriarchate, "twenty have been demolished and destroyed, twenty are desolate and despoiled.  Is there a sight more heart-rending than these skeletons which have become the domain of birds?  How many settlements are there throughout the country where there is no church closer than a hundred or even two hundred kilometers away?  And the North has been left entirely without churches . . ." 

Indeed, this is a heart-rending sight which justifiably leads one to despair. 

"We are bearing a yoke," the Russian patriot and nationalist Vladimir Ossipov wrote, "which is not ours and not of our making: it is oppressing us and violating us and for this yoke we are insulted and slighted as though it were a national sin."

We are well aware that there was no majority of Russians among the ruling clique that seized control in Russia.  But let us not disclaim responsibility on our own part, on the part of our radical intelligentsia who betrayed the interests of Russia, on the part of our people who did not throw off the yoke from around their neck –– the yoke that Vladimir Ossipov speaks -about. We are all, each of us, guilty –– each is to blame.

But the patience of a great nation is great –– as great as the patience of our Lord.  The l.ord is longsuffering, says one of Solzhenitsyn's heroes, but when His patience is exhausted, He punishes severely.  One should not look at what happened in the years of Stalin's administration, when Lenin's entourage was destroyed, from a rationalist point of view.  These events had a providential character.  Stalin destroyed millions of innocent people but at the same time exterminated others like himself.  The demons annihilated the demons. 

"In your bosom, my Russia, 
There is also a quiet, clear spring; 
It also streams forth life-giving waters, 
And is hidden, unknown but mighty."

These lines by the Russian poet and philosopher Khomiakov, written more than a century ago, resound as though written now, when the sensitive Russian ear hears the almost inaudible noise of rebirth, still concealed from many but which, we believe, will be a mighty spring.

Perhaps it is still early to speak about a complete religious rebirth of Russia, but there are distinct stirrings that can be felt.  There are many witnesses to this who are coming out of Russia.  Among them is one confessor of the faith, famous around the world, an intrepid champion of the faith, Fr. Dimitry Dudko.  For example, this is what he says in his "Thoughts from my Notebooks":

     "The great grief that has befallen the Russian land is beginning to open the eyes of Russians.  They are becoming disappointed with what has taken place, they complain about what they have lost and in particular they are turning their gaze to the Orthodox Church."

In his book, Our Hope, Father Dimitry writes, "Glory to God. there are more and more believers; soon the atmosphere will be purified.  There are believers everywhere, amongst the simple and learned, in educational establishments, in work organizations, amongst Party members and non-Party members."

Russia is under a government which is satanic in essence and which intends to try to stifle every free word by a high-powered apparatus of violence and propaganda, and thus suppress everything that lives.  Fr. Dimitry prophetically writes, "fresh, purifying spirit must come from the Russians."

Evgeny Vagin has said, "His hope is shared by the participants in the Russian Christian movement, who each make their own small contribution to the common cause of the rebirth of Russia's Orthodox consciousness."

This evidence of Fr. Dimitry and Vagin is all the more important in that it is not the evidence of foreign observers, but of the very participants in this movement.

Perhaps it is too early to speak of national rebirth in its full sense, but there is evidence that this process of rebirth is beginning.  The magazine Veche, whose editor Vladimir Ossipov is languishing in prison, testifies to it.  The program of the Pan-Russian Social Christian Union for the Liberation of the People –– whose head is Igor Ogourtsov, one of the countless Russian martyrs who are perishing in a communist torture-chamber, speaks about it.  Some of the participants in the movement for the national rebirth of Russia see the future state structure in traditional monarchist terms.  Thus, we can speak about the merging process which is both religious and national.  And we can not only speak, we must cooperate in this process with all our strength, according to the ability of each of us.  And we must believe, as our prophets, writers and poets, beginning with the great Dostoyevsky, have believed.

Our Russian Church Abroad is the free part of the persecuted Russian Orthodox Church.  We are all obliged, hierarch as well as laymen –– as we have always been obliged –– to preserve our Church as a cradle of true Orthodoxy.  And we are all obliged, as we always have been, to preserve loyalty to the historical Russia, and at the same time, to live with her present misfortunes, to help her stand against an alien government, to help our suffering brothers in the homeland and to listen attentively to their voice.  Moreover, we must stand without wavering, as we have stood until now, in this world that surrounds us. 

The Russian emigration, whose history is closely connected with the history of the Church Abroad, is dispersed throughout the world.  Our churches are to be found in most countries and their head, the First Hierarch and the Synod are right here in this country –– this "blessed" country, as it is sometimes called.

America and her great people are in fact blessed with the gifts of the earth, perhaps even more than is needed; but does man live by bread alone? 

A notable American anti-communist, Clarence Carson, has painted a truly tragic picture of the total blackout of consciousness on the part of millions of Americans, by those who control the mass media: the press, radio and television.  He calls those who are in control "the liberals" and shows that they are on the same path as the communists and share the same driving force.  He concludes that the death of communism will mean the death of liberalism.  Fearing its death, liberalism does everything to preserve communism.

Is the great American nation guilty of all this?  Yes, so far the great Russian nation is also guilty of allowing the seizure of power in Russia by the communists.  None other than these same liberals –– in the press, in literature, in the universities –– for years have distorted and perverted the history of Russia, especially the history of the East pre-revolutionary decades.  None other than these people have slandered and still slander our past, the historical Russia, and at the same time pose as devil's advocates.  Perhaps it is they Fr. Dimitry Dudko refers to in the following words:

"They accuse Russia, 
They hate Russia, 
They spit at Russia, 
And Russia suffers."  

We live in a world that is externally and materially prosperous, but internally and spiritually bankrupt.  In this world, our Church is periodically subjected to attacks from its sworn enemy, the Soviet regime, through its propaganda apparatus and its agents in the Moscow Patriarchate.  Our hierarchs who lead the Church must have this great spirit and make great sacrifices –– and they do.  Those who are setting out on the path of service to the Church, and through the Church, of service to Russia, have an enormous responsibility.  Those who are in this hall, who have determined to devote themselves to the service of the Church, have an enormous responsibility, but the path is blessed. 

I do not think it would be incorrect to say that all faithful sons of our Church are experiencing the same spiritual joy I feel as l greet you.  Before you and before those who will come after you there lies a path that is not easy, but at the same time, filled with historical significance.  It is the path to that harbor of refuge that is called the Approaching Rebirth of Russia.

She will be reborn, and the reborn Russia is drawing nigh!


This article was the commencement address delivered at Holy Trinity Seminary in June, 1978.

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