October 10th 2015

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COVER STORY Will drought and falling dollar spike food prices?

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nationals extract good deal in Turnbull takeover

EDITORIAL Obama's climate gambit: do as I say, not as I do!

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Senate committee says no to marriage plebiscite

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

RURAL AFFAIRS FTAs eat away at our food and agriculture surpluses

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Byzantine Catholics driven underground

FINANCE Hidden by a metaphor: the secret life of money

EDUCATION Proliferation of screens making kids no smarter

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cabinet door must be open to public service

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Child-support program under the microscope

PUBLIC POLICY Prohibition of drugs has the evidence on its side

CINEMA Kids will love pixelated Aussie classic: Blinky Bill: The Movie

BOOK REVIEW Hope for the Land of the Southern Cross

BOOK REVIEW Evaluating arguments against free will


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Byzantine Catholics driven underground

by Lawrence Cross

News Weekly, October 10, 2015

Orthodox Christianity in Russia has long had a fraught relationship with the state. A healthy relationship between God and Caesar has rarely been observed in practice.

Portrait of Vladimir Soloviev

by Ivan Kramskoy (1885).

The nadir of church-state relations was the intense persecution of the Church under Joseph Stalin. The Russian Orthodox Church was powerless under the Soviet regime to protect or defend its believers and fellow citizens from the brutalities that the state inflicted upon millions of people.

The persecution was savage. In 1918, Russia had some 50,000 priests. By 1935, it had only 500 priests and four bishops for the whole of Russia. It is useful to keep this in mind when trying to understand the Moscow Patriarchate in our times. It is a Church that has not really faced its past or found deep healing for the trauma it endured. It needs understanding as much as honest criticism.

Old relationship resumed

The events of 1991 allowed a short breathing space for the Church after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, the Church has entered even more deeply into its compromised church-state client relationship in what has become a pursuit of mutual advantage. It is no longer being persecuted, but it is being drawn into issues of state in a way that does not bode well.

At present there are two other Orthodox Churches in Russia: the underground Autonomous Orthodox Church, which descended from Patriarch St Tikhon’s locum tenens, Peter Krutitsy, and the older Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, which conceives of itself as Russian Orthodoxy in communion with the Chair of Peter in Rome. The members of this last are called Uniates, a term often used derisively. They are Orthodox in belief and practice, but are in communion with the Roman Catholic worlds and the Universal Church.

Soloviev looks to Rome

Sadly, the Uniates have been driven underground within Russia, supported by neither the East nor the West. While they only appeared in small numbers towards the end of the 19th century, their emergence was of first importance because it was the fruit of the thinking of the virtual father of the Russian Catholic Church, the brilliant Vladimir Soloviev. He was a layman and a friend of the great novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He possessed an exceptional intellectual gift for synthesis; indeed, he has been called the Russian Newman.

In the late 19th century, the national Orthodox Church was a department of state and controlled by the government. A Procurator, a government appointee, presided over the Holy Synod ratifying all decisions. The Church had been restructured along Lutheran lines by Peter the Great. As with the Church of England, the head of state was also the virtual head of the Church.

Soloviev eloquently argued that for the Church to be free, Russia needed to be in communion with the Universal Church, and that meant Rome. He used the French phrase, point d’appui: an external reference point that would allow it to define its identity properly.

He argued that the Byzantine Christianity that Russia had inherited contained an unhealthy element of caesaro-papism – a confusion of state and religion – that was harmful to the Church. To him, the centre of the Christian wheel was in Rome and this was something of which Russian Christians should take advantage.

Soloviev stands among the most original philosophical and religious thinkers that Russia has produced in modern times. The spiritual ripples that he created in Russian thought flow to all the best modern Russian Christian thinkers – Bulgakov, Florensky, Berdyaev and Bakhtin. He made original contributions to idealist philosophy, and his Russia and the Universal Church deserves to be read with deep attention.

He wrote: “A national Church that does not wish to be subject to the absolute authority of the state, that is to say, surrender its existence as a Church and become a department of civil administration, must needs possess a real point d’appuioutside the confines of the state and nation. With these it is connected by natural and historical ties; but as a Church it must belong to a wider social group with an independent centre and a worldwide organisation of which the local Church can only constitute a single individual member.”

Soloviev hammers home his obser­vation that it is not ecclesiastical freedom but caesaro-papism that was inherited from Byzantium, which results in the Church inevitably becoming subservient to the secular power.

The point d’appuiof whichhe is speaking is the same one to which John Chrysostom, Flavian, Maximus, Theodore of Studium and Patriarch Ignatius turned to with their appeals. It is not the later medieval or baroque forms of papacy, but the original Apostolic Chair of Peter.

It is no humiliation for the Great Russian Church, or for any of the Orthodox Churches, to recognise a real primacy attached to the Chair of Peter at Rome. The Church of Rome is no greater a Church than Moscow, or any other Church – it simply has a special function and mandate designed to promote and strengthen the brethren.

Soloviev’s ideas are as relevant to modern-day Russia as they were in the 19th century. Today the Russian Orthodox Church is receiving heavy investment from the government and the Church is expected to support its policies. The implications became clear during the Ukrainian crisis, for example. There is no doubt that the situation is better for the Church than during the Soviet Union era, when Christians were tormented and persecuted. But the portents are not good.

A voice that could be added to that of Soloviev is that of human-rights activist Andrei Sakharov, who insisted that only the Church, and no other agency, could lead Russia into her moral renewal, under a canopy of transcendent values, after the corrosion of communism and the moral shipwreck of the last 25 years. But how can she achieve this? Only by becoming repentant and free. But she is closely allied to the state, the very apparatus that is so much the cause of the disaster.

Uniates left out to dry

Meanwhile, few are more without friends than the Russian Catholics, the Uniates. It reflects shamefully on both the Orthodox and Roman Catholics. The Russian Orthodox Church’s attitude to Uniates is that they are an unwelcome fifth column, Rome’s attempt to fool the Orthodox into communion with Rome. It is seen as a fake church with a sinister missionary intention.

The Roman Catholic’s approach has been to cut the legs out from under the Uniates by converting Russians who want to be in union with Rome to the Roman rite, not to the Eastern rite as required by canon law. Under Pope John Paul II there was a stated desire to improve relations between West and East. The reality has been very different. The result has been that the representative of a universal Christian faith in Russia has been left without support and hounded underground. Which is why Soloviev’s ideas are so important, and remain so relevant.

In a strange and perhaps wondrous manner, the time of the Russian Byzantine Catholics – in the sense of relevance, not size – has come again. They are called in a special way to lead the way into the light for the Church and for Russia. The darkness surrounding both is now very deep and getting worse. But the minuscule number of Russian Byzantine Catholics may be a light upon the path, along with the Autonomous Russian Orthodox, though perhaps but the light of fireflies.

The Russian Byzantine clergy in Russia are now a mere handful and the tiny communities are virtually invisible. But this tiny presence is “the pea under the mattress of the princess”, or at least that seems to be the response of the Moscow Patriarchate to the very existence of the Russian Byzantine Catholics.

Rome and Moscow brother patriarchates

The Russian Byzantine Catholics have never been representative of the failed missionary-style proselytism of the largely Jesuit efforts in Russia. The handful of priests, still almost underground in Russia, represent the very opposite. They are the children of Soloviev, Feodorov, Abrikosov and Sheptytsky, and they are the ever-hopeful heirs of St Leonid Feodorov and St Tikhon of Moscow, whose eirenic dialogue was smothered by Satan in their mutual martyrdom.

Our remnant longs to commemorate both the Patriarch of Moscow and his brother the Bishop of Rome. They count the Moscow Patriarchate as their Mother Church and, like all children, they love that mother and long for unity with her. They ask themselves why it is not possible truly to be a bridge, an honest bridge, between the Mother Church and the elder brother in Rome?

Orthodox must seek freedom

But the main theme is the freedom of the Russian Orthodox Church and the necessary condition for her to lead the moral transformation of Russian society. Freedom depends on having that point d’appui, which, as it happens, the Lord gave to the Church in his post-Resurrection appearances.

Clearly there will be problems. Some quite insane and pseudo-religious political doctrines are at work in Russia. For example, Alexander Dugin is the high priest and ideologue of this semi-pagan madness. Dugin is known for his support of all-out war to provoke the End Times.

The Orthodox and Catholic Churches are already in union in the depths of the Churches. It is the communion between the Churches that we seek, the dearest wish of the Russian Byzantine Catholics. Is there a way, a possible model, by which they can be the often dreamed of bridge, a prelude or token of the full communion, which we trust the Holy Spirit to realise?

Archpriest Dr Lawrence Cross OAM is the Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity St Nicholas Russian Catholic Church in East St Kilda and leader of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Mission in Australia. He is an alumnus of the University of Sydney, St John’s College, Oxford, and the Melbourne College of Divinity.

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