H-D Döpmann’s Die Russische Orthodoxe Kirche in Geschichte und Gegenwart (1977_

A product of the old East Germany, this book is fascinating for how it says things as much as what it says. It’s been a while since I’ve read a study in which medieval political entities tend to be introduce by the word ‘feudal’. We read of the controversy between Joseph of Volokalamsk and Nils Sorski and the schism of the Od Believers, and the vibrant  spiritual life and religious thought of the nineteenth century, both fundamental to the development of Orthodoxy worldwide in the following century, are interestingly discussed. Its coverage of the Soviet period, on the other hand, is distinctly odd. Stalin is mentioned just once, and the presentation of the immensely controversial acts of Metropolitan, and later Patriarch, Sergius, credits him with far more freedom to act than he undoubtedly possessed, just as the opposition to him within the church is made to disappear. This is a slanted interpretation, although it is doubtful that even such a book could have been published in the USSR.

Most interesting is the account of the history of the Church after the Second World War. The treatments of monasticism and theological education (the latter a formalistic business, apparently, with nothing of the intellectual and spiritual liveliness of the pre-Revolutionary church or the contemporary Russian diaspora in Western Europe) give a picture of untroubled calm. Much is made of the ecumenical activities of the church, and the book culminates rather oddly with a discussion of its work for peace. It is easy to see the the church as having followed the policies of the government of the USSR, whether passively or under coercion. But when the Russian Church boycotted the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church held a few weeks ago in Crete, the determining issue was the independence of the Ukrainian Church, an issue where the policy of Patriarch Cyril was perfectly aligned with that of Vladimir Putin. Perhaps nothing has changed. The difficulty of finding a modus vivendi between church and state has been an issue in the West for centuries, which Britain, France and the United States have tended to address differently. But the East can give the impression of still living in a Constantinian world in which the difference between them comes has uncomfortably close to being elided, whether in Tsarist, Soviet or more recent Russia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *