Difficulties, scandals and compromises in Church life always stem from a lack of spiritual freedom, which come about because the outward Church organization is subjected to secular interests, not to Christ. At the present time, we can perhaps identify the following four areas of concern in the life of the Church inside the former Soviet Union.
1. Paperwork and Statist Bureaucracy.
One thing that most clergy inside Russia complain about today is the mass of paperwork they are faced with. Is it really necessary? Is it the natural result of being a huge Church? I cannot say, but I do wonder. I cannot recall the apostles dealing with paperwork.
2. Simony, Money and Luxury
Simony seems to be rare in Russia, whereas the Constantinople and Romanian Churches are infected with it. In fact, in Russia I have only come across one case (a demand for $10,000 for an appointment to a parish in Moscow 12 years ago), but there may be more. I remember how one of our bishops in the Church Outside Russia once said: ‘We do not have problems of financial corruption in our Church. This is not because we are particularly virtuous, it is simply because we have no money’. He was right of course. Opportunity makes the thief, as the proverb goes.
The vast majority of parish priests (and even some bishops) in Russia are poor. However, a few clergy and monks, in the big cities where there is a lot of money, seem to be very rich. The stories of black 4 x 4s and Mercedes etc are true. I have seen them. He who drives one is not a priest (svjashchennik), but a bad priest (pop). Here there is corruption, and financial corruption quickly leads to other scandals, private flats and ….
And why do churches have to contain marble and gold? Wood and gold paint are fine. Then you can build three churches instead of only one for the same price. There is something wrong here. But then it was also like that among a minority before the Revolution, especially in the capitals. There is indeed nothing new under the sun: but that is no justification.
3. Nationalism and Ritualism/Superstition.
The attitudes of the unChurched masses can be very nationalistic, for example confusing the Church with Stalin, who persecuted the Church. This seems to go hand in hand with a formalistic ritualism to the point of superstition. Holy water does many things, but it will not cure cancer. No educated Orthodox says that a woman cannot pray in church during her monthly period. Patriarch Pavle of Serbia did not. Some clearly believe in a superstitious god of hatred and punishment resembling some sort of crazed dictator, not in the Christian God of Love.
These are the views of non-Churched people, those who say that children are born handicapped because of their parents. Such shocking, pharisaical and totally unChristian views do not come from the Church, they come from a lack of Churching and that is a voluntary matter. Here 75 years of Soviet-imposed ignorance have played a pernicious role; but there is no excuse today. For 25 years there have been plenty of books, now websites. The only reason for ignorance today is that you do not want to learn. And that is serious.
4. Different Attitudes towards Catholicism.
Today’s Russian Church has little time for Protestantism as such. The aggressive activities of mainly US Protestant sectarians (often CIA-funded) in the ex-Soviet Union since the 1990s, together with the complete secularization of most of the Protestant world with its subjection to political correctness, means that it has little attraction for Orthodox. However, attitudes to Roman Catholicism among the educated vary.
At one extreme, there are those who seem to admire modern, liberalized (Protestantized) Neo-Catholicism and the associated ecumenistic Paris /Crestwood philosophy of the liberal, deChurched emigration. However, most of the supporters of this trend are now quite elderly. At the other extreme there are those whose sympathies lie, somewhat naively, with traditionalist Catholicism and idealized concepts of the medieval West.
Of course, the Orthodox Church is neither, nor is it somewhere between the two extremes, but is different again. The Church is inspired and informed by the Eternal and All-Pure Holy Spirit, not by the spiritual impurity of manmade, secular and always political trends, whether liberal or conservative. For the Church and the Churched, Roman Catholicism is irrelevant.
We must distinguish between the Church and the clergy. The Church belongs to Christ, the clergy are human. The Church is perfect, the clergy are not. And we go to Church for Christ, not for the clergy. Definitely not the other way round. The clergy are called on to be mirrors that reflect Christ: sometimes we are, sometimes we are not. May God forgive us.