The Universal Message of the Russian Orthodox Church

Introduction: The Fringes

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the advent of religious freedom, tens and tens of millions of former Soviet citizens were baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church during the 1990s and after. The baptisms were rushed because we did not at that time know how long we would have. We believed that atheism might come back and the final persecution of the Church would begin. People were baptized, but instruction generally started only afterwards. With just a few thousand priests and open churches, we had to cope with a flood of tens of millions who clamoured for baptism. As a result of lack of instruction, some small groups of newly-baptized on the fringes fell into different extremes, both in fact as secular as each other. The first forgot that, though we are in the world, we are not of the world; the second forgot that, though we are not of the world, we are in the world.


Firstly, there were a few who, horrified by the collapse of the Soviet Union, became what the Russia media call ‘Orthodox Stalinists’. In other words, for reasons of psychological insecurity and through spiritual impurity, they tried to bring the world into the Church with themselves. In their case, the world meant Soviet nationalism. For example, together with the real saints, they began to make out that such individuals as Ivan IV and Stalin were also saints.

True, Ivan IV, in the West incorrectly called ‘the Terrible’ (the translation ‘the Formidable’ would be correct), was not at all as bad as he is made out by Russian Westernizers like Kurbsky, Karamzin or the oligarchs of today, let alone by Western Westernizers. Certainly, Ivan was more innocuous than his Western contemporaries, for example, in England Henry VIII, who murdered 72.000 people and destroyed the monasteries. But Ivan IV a saint? No, he was not, whereas his contemporary, the martyred Metropolitan Philip of Moscow, is a saint. As for Stalin, it is true that the post-Nazi invasion Stalin was more patriotic than the pre-1941 mass murderer Stalin, but I know no-one who could possibly think much good of a dictator whose unspeakable crimes involved slaughtering millions, not least martyring millions of Orthodox.

The fact is that such ‘Orthodox Stalinists’ are not Orthodox. They are simply nationalists and every nationalist is an idolator, a worshipper of this world. The last thing we want in the Russian Orthodox Church is narrow, balkanized nationalism, the flag-waving that, sadly, we can daily see in other, far smaller, Local Orthodox Churches and Patriarchates, where sometimes the cult of a single nationality seems to have replaced the worship of Christ. After all, it was Greek Orthodox nationalism, that is, the loss of a multinational, Imperial vision, that led to the fall of Constantinople.


Among the newly-baptized masses of the 1990s, there also appeared a small group, mainly of Western-minded intellectuals, who fell under the influence of Protestantism – which seemed to be the remedy for ‘Orthodox Stalinism’. In the ‘free market’ of Western religion, private pietism, ‘heavenly citizenship’ reigned. This was why His Holiness Patriarch Alexey II called the extreme elements here ‘neo-renovationists’. For they were merely imitating the old Protestant renovationism from before the Revolution. This had died out inside Russia by the 1930s, but continues to poison Church life abroad even today, though the influence of the so-called ‘Paris School’, which also infected North America.

In the 1990s American Protestant ‘missionaries’, encouraged by the CIA for ideological reasons, tried to buy the souls of Russians with their dollar bills. They failed; the sincere missionaries converted to Orthodoxy; the majority returned to the USA, poorer but no wiser. However, they did manage to influence a few in the generation of newly-baptized Orthodox. Thus, you can meet Russian Orthodox who have uncritically adopted Protestant Creationism and its obsessions with the Six Days of Creation, the age of the Universe, the Flood, Noah’s Ark etc. Such individuals often seem to know nothing of the New Testament and the Church that was founded therein and Her life over the last nearly 2,000 years, but, like every Protestant, know every detail of the Old Testament. They will even, with only a literalist, almost pharisaical understanding, quote Church canons at you, just as real Protestants quote chapter and verse at you.

Orthodoxy with them is often reduced to narrow-minded bigotry and moralizing puritanism – just as in Protestantism. Rationalist understanding of everything, as in its extreme form of Kochetkovism, is the only thing that counts. Worse still, just as Protestants consider religion as a mere piece of disincarnate ‘God-slot’, personal pietism or ‘spirituality’, without any political, economic and social implications and ramifications, such fringe Orthodox have no concept of the Incarnation. In other words, such intellectuals do not understand that Orthodoxy is about Christianizing ‘ourselves, one another and all our lives’, not just a private, theoretical part of ourselves.

Conclusion: The Mainstream

Such fringe groups do not represent the Church. Opposed to both nationalism and disincarnationism, the mainstream of the Russian Orthodox Church is neither national nor anti-national, it is above both these narrow views, above both national bigotry and personal pettiness. The Church is Imperial, both Global and Local. It is the task of us Russian Orthodox to spread the spiritual enlightenment of Christ worldwide, incarnating it through example into lives, not just in the vast multinational Russian Federation, but from the Philippines to Cambodia, from Argentina to Scotland, from New Zealand to China, from Canada to Italy, overcoming narrow nationalism and petty pietism alike. Having come through the Golgotha of atheism and risen from the dead, we Russian Orthodox give this universal message to the world’s increasingly atheistic States, politics, economics and societies: Follow the Church of the Risen Christ.