Grigory Lourié: How to Understand the Russian Orthodox Church

Belfry of Our Lady of Vladimir Cathedral, Petersburg, June 15, 2016. Photo by TRR
Belfry of Our Lady of Vladimir Cathedral, Petersburg, 15 June 2016. Photo by TRR

How to Understand the Russian Orthodox Church
Grigory Lourié
Ekho Moskvy
February 24, 2017

There are people whom the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has succeeded in surprising. This group now includes not only its own parishioners but also utterly innocent folks. Their terms of reference for the ROC were at odds with reality. That is the sort of thing that happens with terms of reference, even when they emerged in the pure souls of first-year seminary students or, on the contrary, in the elastic souls of museum directors. It even happens that officials of a secular state, who by constitution are not supposed to have souls at all, conceive false terms of reference for the ROC.

We won’t discuss the question of how the ROC is “actually” organized. Our objective is modest: describing the terms of reference by which we can predict all of the ROC’s actions as a corporation, both internally and externally—meaning what makes it tick.

Attentive analysts have already conceived one model. It is correct albeit too crude, and so it leads to lots of mistakes. It is only around 60% accurate. But we shall start with it, and then we will modify it to make it 100% accurate.

I am referring to the so-called business model, which imagines the ROC as a corporation with a monopoly on the business of religious ritual. Its unattainable paragon is Gazprom. Like Gazprom, it wants to be ubiquitous from bottom to top, from the flats of poor people to the Kremlin and international politics. Like Gazprom, it is involved in the international rivalry over natural monopolies. (The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, its main competitor, grabbed it by the throat and forced it to release Ukraine.) Like Gazprom, the ROC is not in the business of historical preservation. You can put the religious ritual businessman into a museum, but you cannot turn him into a museum curator. The controversy surrounding the potential transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC is on a par with Gazprom’s attempt to build a skyscraper on the spot where the Swedish fortresses Landskrona and Nyenskans had once stood.

The business model, however, is at odds with the ROC’s other qualities. Real money likes silence, but the ROC likes money and hullabaloo at the same time. Its bishops enjoy a luxury worth of African chieftains, not modest millionaires. The inefficiency of slave labor is a scientific fact, but rank-and-file ROC clerics say that slavery was outlawed in Russia in the nineteenth century, but not for Russian priests. Finally, run-of-the-mill businesses do not defend their turf either with religious processions led by storm troopers or round dances featuring “pale boys with burning eyes,” whatever their age or sex.

These things are symptomatic of the emergence of archetypal regressive groups within the business. As described by British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, all three such so-called basic assumption groups find a place in our precise portrait of the ROC.

Screenshot of an advertisement posted on the VK social network page of Andrei Kormukhin, coordinator of the astroturfed Russian Orthodox lay movement Sorok Sorokov (SS), which can be translated as "Multitude." The poster invites Petersburgers to take part in a religious procession at St. Isaac's Cathedral on 19 February 2017. It urges them to "join the right ranks," and not a "faggot" [sic] or people wearing blue ribbons, the symbol adopted by Petersburgers opposed to the Gazprom skyscraper project on the Neva and now plans to hand over St. Isaac's to the ROC. In Russia, "blue" also connotes "gay." Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Screenshot of an announcement posted on the VK social network page of Andrei Kormukhin, coordinator of the fascist Russian Orthodox lay movement Sorok sorokov (SS). (The name of the movement should be translated as “Multitude,” rather than “Forty by Forty” or “Forty Forties,” as you might find in other Anglophone articles on right-wing extremism in the ROC.) The poster invites Petersburgers to take part in a religious procession at St. Isaac’s Cathedral on 19 February 2017. It urges them to “join the right ranks,” and not a “faggot” [sic] or people wearing blue ribbons, the symbol adopted by Petersburgers opposed to the earlier Gazprom skyscraper project on the Neva River and now plans to hand over St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC. In Russia, “blue” also connotes “gay.” Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

The model takes the shape of a living being, consisting of a fleshy body and the two halves of a thin exoskeleton. The body is the leadership from top to bottom, their subordinates, and the few believers who ask the clergy for advice on how they should live. In Bion’s terms, this is the dependency group. Junior members of the group are infantile and irresponsible vis-à-vis senior members, while the latter are narcissistic and sadistic toward their juniors. Sadomasochism provides everyone with a bit of happiness, even the most abject. The narcissism, typical of the group’s leaders, is often coupled with homosexuality. (This is a medical fact.) You cannot do without it, but not everyone can be allowed to engage in it. So it is a product of elite consumption and a means of climbing the career ladder.

The exoskeleton is the only thing visible from afar, from the vantage point of secular society. The skeleton is thin but sturdy, although it looks shabby, since it is constantly exfoliating.

The first section consists of the storm troopers. Bion labels them the fight-flight group.  They are always itching for a fight, and always on the lookout for enemies. There are not enough enemies, so they have fight each other and, sometimes, the leadership. The old layers of chitin thus peel away, even as the exoskeleton accumulates new layers.

Courtesy of slidesharecdn.com

The other section of the exoskeleton consists of idealists. They wait and they hope. They know everything about the leadership, but they believe in the Church. Not, however, in the Church that has canons and the examples of the saints, which show how bad church leaders need to be replaced and, most importantly of all, which oblige the faithful to do this. No, they believe in their own church, where “things have always been this way.” Bion call these groups pairing groups. They resemble married couples who go on hoping that Someone with a capital “s” will be born to give their lives meaning, but for the time being they wait and are barely alive. Some grow weary and leave the group, but they are replaced by new members.

Russia’s cultural figures thus “dialogue” with this combative creature, while the country’s officials stumble over themselves trying to sate its appetites, hoping it will cover their own ugliness with its beauty. You cannot even say who are the most inveterate idealists in this case. Judging by their persistent belief in beauty, it must be the government officials.

2682794Grigory Lourié is a bishop in the Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church. He blogs (as Basil Lourié) on Facebook and (as Bishop Gregory) on LiveJournal. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. For a different perspective on the fascization of the Russian Orthodox Church, see Nikolay Mitrokhin’s articles, as translated and posted on this blog.

“A Great City Deserves a Great Library”: Petersburg Professors Defend the Publichka

Literary scholar Dmitry Kalugin picketing the entrance to the Russian National Library (“Publichka”), February 9, 2017, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Serafim Romanova/Novaya Gazeta

Professors Stand Up for Librarians
Serafim Romanov
Novaya Gazeta Sankt-Peterburg
February 9, 2017

“Have you heard they want to merge the Russian National Library with the Lenin Library in Moscow?” Boris Kolonitsky, a senior researcher at the St. Petersburg Institute of History (Russian Academy of Sciences) asked passerby.

On February 9, a “professors’ picket” took place outside the Russian National Library’s main building on Ostrovsky Square. Lecturers from the European University, the Higher School of Economics, and other institutions rallied to preserve the so-called Publichka and defend its former head bibliographer Tatyana Shumilova [who was summarily dismissed from her post last week for speaking publicly about the negative consequences of the merger.]

Most bystanders heard about these developments for the first time. But after a short briefing, passersby agreed it would be wrong to merge one of the country’s most important academic and cultural institutions.

“It is not so much the library, St. Isaac’s or anything else that causes people to protest, as it is the fact that no one reckons with them,” Viktor Voronkov, director of the Centre for Independent Social Reseach, explained to Novaya Gazeta. “Why is everything being centralized? To make it was easier to control. The entire country is being formed up into a [power] vertical, and it is the same way in every field.”

“It matters that people from the outside, people who don’t work at the library but understand its value, speak out,” said journalist Daniil Kotsiubinsky, who organized the rally.

“The people who came here today are not random, but one of a kind. Petersburgers should listen to them.”

As the rally was drawing to a close, the overall enthusiasm was disturbed by a police officer.

“We’ve got a solo picket here,” the guardian of order reported on his cell phone, asking the picketers to show him their papers.

“It’s an A4-sized placard,” the policeman reported. “What does it say? ‘A great city deserves a great library.'”

Historian Boris Kolonitsky shows the group’s placard to a policeman. February 9, 2017, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Serafim Romanov/Novaya Gazeta

Translated by the Russian Reader

Leagues of the Militant Godless

Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression, lying everywhere on the masses of the people, who are oppressed by eternal work for others, need and isolation. The helplessness of the exploited classes in their struggle with the exploiters just as inevitably generates faith in a better life beyond the grave as the helplessness of the savage in his struggle with nature produces faith in gods, devils, miracles, etc. To him who works and is poor all his life religion teaches passivity and patience in earthly life, consoling him with the hope of a heavenly reward. To those who live on the labor of others religion teaches benevolence in earthly life, offering them a very cheap justification for all their exploiting existence and selling tickets to heavenly happiness at a reduced price. Religion is opium for the people.

—Vladimir Lenin, in Emilian Jaroslavsky, Thoughts of Lenin about Religion (Moscow: State Publishing Company, 1925), p. 10, as quoted in William Henry Chamberlin, Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1930)

Milonov No Hindrance to Atheists
Svyatoslav Afonkin
ZakS.Ru
February 5, 2017

The ninety-ninth anniversary of the 1918 Bolshevik decree separating church and state was marked by a small group of ardent leftists protesting the current clericalization of the Russian state and Russian society. On February 5, over a hundred people attended a picket on Chernyshevsky Square in southern Petersburg. For two hours, they fiercely criticized both the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the relationship that has been built between the ROC and the Putin regime.

Members of various low-profile leftist movements gathered at the monument to Russian philosopher and revolutionary Nikolai Chernyshevsky. The protesters held the flags of the Rot Front, the United Communist Party, the Workers Revolutionary Communist Party, and Communists of Russia. Even truckers from the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) came to condemn the ROC’s increasing appetite for property. Members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, which holds seats in the municipal, regional and national parliaments, ignored the event, for which they were roundly condemned by their non-systemic counterparts on the podium.

Unlike liberal opponents of plans to transfer ownership of St. Isaac’s Cathedral Museum to the ROC, the protesters made no attempt to be diplomatic and did not mince their words. Some speakers declared the ROC “satanic” and compared it to Islamic State, an organization that has been banned in Russia.

For ten minutes, Ivan Lokh, leader of the Witnesses of Foucault’s Pendulum, an atheist community, fiercely and emotionally denounced the ROC’s desire to exterminate science and culture. He then quoted Chernyshevsky, whose monument was the focal point of the entire rally.

“Religion’s purpose is to inure the unfortunate and hungry to the notion they must perpetually be hungry and rejoice in their plight. That’s what religion is!” proclaimed the activist.

ROC leaders are themselves not inclined to the asceticism they popularize among the oppressed classes, and this can only indicate that the highest ranks of ROC clergymen do not believe in God, said Lokh.

“We see the indecent luxury in which ROC hierarchs live. They do not fear their own God. They don’t fear Him, because they know for certain He doesn’t exist. This is the most obvious proof He really doesn’t exist!” the activist shouted to the applause of the crowd.

During breaks between speakers, the rally’s organizers asked protesters to carefully observe those in attendance in order to weed out provocateurs. The event’s moderator explained to ZakS.Ru that anti-clerical rallies have frequently been visited by people wanting to disrupt them. In addition, MP Vitaly Milonov’s public promise to interfere with the picket had forced protesters to be vigilant.

Semyon Borzenko, a member of the city committee of the unregistered United Communist Party’s regional branch, thrilled the crowd when he called for abolishing the federal law on transferring property to the ROC, which has led to the destruction of numerous museums. Borzenko also said atheists should campaign for the adoption of two law bills, drafted by local municipal deputy Irina Komolova during the previous sitting of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. The first would protect the feelings of atheists, while the second would strip the ROC of its “totally unjustified tax breaks.” According to Borzenko, the “indecent luxury” mentioned by Ivan Lokh was a consequence of the fact the ROC did not pay taxes, unlike every other organization.

Nikolai Perov, leader of the regional branch of the Communists of Russia, focused his criticism on the “Zyuganovites,” who had welcomed the possible transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC.

“It’s a crying shame that certain members of the communist movement, who sit in parliament, have retreated from the [Bolshevik] decree and Leninist principles. Shame on Zyuganov! Shame on [CPRF Petersburg Legislative Assembly member] Alexander Rassudov! Shame on [State Duma member and filmmaker] Vladimir Bortko! There’s not a single scientifically minded person left in the CPRF!” stated Perov.

Despite the concerns of organizers, the rally came off without any provocations or crackdowns on the part of law enforcement. Towards the end of the rally, human rights activist Dinar Idrisov (recently denounced by “soldier of Christ” and city parliament speaker Vyacheslav Makarov for insulting the feelings of believers) handed out pamphlets entitled “The Museum Belongs to the City.” Like a week ago, opponents of transferring St. Isaac’s to the ROC had their pictures taken, placards in hand, this time standing next to the monument to Nikolai Chernyshevsky.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of ZakS.Ru

P.S. Thank God for the truly militant godless, Russian society’s only real bulwark against the militant godless masquerading as god-fearing soldiers of Christ for the tax breaks, luxurious lifestyle, and other perks that come from collaborating with the regime to befuddle and disempower ordinary people. The other bulwark against the maskers is the fact, of course, that the vast majority of Russians are de facto godless, whatever they might say about themselves when surveyed by FOM or some other all-seeing blind eye of the de facto atheist pollocracy. TRR

St. Isaac’s Cathedral Belongs to All Petersburgers

Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Winter View of the Bronze Horseman with St. Isaac's Cathedral in the Background. Image courtesy of Artnet
Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Winter View of the Bronze Horseman with St. Isaac’s Cathedral in the Background. Image courtesy of Artnet

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
January 14, 2017

I realize everyone is already sick to death of the topic of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and that today is a weekend day to boot. But I’ve been mulling this text over in my head for three days and struggling with the desire to write it down. I’ve been persuading myself there are lots of smart people aroiund who will write what needs to be written. But I can’t get the arguments out of my head, so I’ve given in to my desire.

***

Folks, especially non-Petersburgers, who note melancholically, “Just give it back to the Church. Can’t you spare it?” really amuse me.

Well, no, we can’t spare it.

1. The ROC [Russian Orthodox Church] is not the Vatican, and all comparisons of St. Isaac’s Cathedral with St. Peter’s Basilica are irrelevant in this context. The ROC not only doesn’t know how to preserve architectural landmarks. It doesn’t want to preserve them. It wants to use them, and it preserves them the same way you maintain your apartment, for example. Imagine you’ve decided to put in parquet floors or throw out old furniture. Who is going to stop you? It’s your own business. You can figure out yourself what’s best for you: the new parquet or the old linoleum. This is basically how many church leaders and believers look at it. They believe an icon, however timeworn and whatever the destructive effects shifts in humidity, vibrations, etc., have on it, it should be in a church, not in a museum. Yes, it is has to be handled carefully and respectfully, yet it can be carried in a outdoor religious procession and venerated by parishioners kissing it. If something has happened to it, it means it was God’s will. A new copy of the icon will have to be ordered. I’m not exaggerating. I’m trying to explain that notions of “humanity’s heritage” and “universal value” are empty phrases for most members of the church community. They don’t understand how church property can be the business of unbelievers. Moreover, from their perspective, the right government should be Orthodox. It should maintain churches the way it maintains hospitals and schools.

The problem is not that we know of numerous cases in which the ROC has treated architectural landmarks and museum communities barbarically. The problem is the Church’s leadership has not publicly condemned any of these incidents. It doesn’t condemn them, because it doesn’t consider them important or it even approves them. So it will happen again and again, and heritage preservation authorities are basically powerless.

This is an answer to the exclamation, “Give back to the Church what was taken from it in 1917!”

Parents are given the right to raise their children. But if they treat them irresponsibly, hit them, don’t get them medical care when they’re ill, don’t feed them, etc., society acknowledges the need to restrict the rights of such parents. A hundred years ago, however, this would not have occurred to anyone. But our notions of violence, the value of human life, and children’s rights have changed. Our notions of culture and its right to protection have also changed. The ROC does not guarantee the safety and security of architectural landmarks in the sense regarded as normal in modern society. We cannot hand architectural landmarks over to the Church, at least not until the Church changes.

2. Why should the ROC be the main user of St. Isaac’s Cathedral? If we leave aside money and “historical justice,” the only reason could be to hold services on a full scale—not in the chapel, but in the central nave, for example, with the museum closed on feast days and so on. But think about it. Since the Patriarch can force [Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko] to give back a church, then of course the Patriarch could also obtain the best conditions for church services. Meaning this is not the issue.

The issue, of course, is money and “status.”

So we have a public museum. We know everything about it: how much money it earns, how much money it spends and what it spends its money on, and how much it pays in taxes. And we have the Church. We don’t know anything about it, and that will go on being the case. No, we do know one thing: it doesn’t pay taxes. So we won’t be able to find out whether the Church has the money for routine repairs and restoration work or not. Going back to my first point, the Church might not think that restoration is necessary. So the city will always have to have the necessary sum of money for repairs on hand. Plus there are the taxes, the taxes the cathedral museum pays now and won’t be paying in the same amount after the cathedral’s transfer to the Church. All this means that the “free” entrance with which the church community has been tempting us, will be free for everyone except Petersburgers. Every Petersburger will pay (via the city’s budget), regardless of whether he or she has visited the cathedral or not.

It would be nifty, beautiful, and right if entry to St. Isaac’s Cathedral were free to everyone. But we can’t afford it. A normal family doesn’t sell its only home to buy a Mercedes to show off to the neighbors, but drives a car it can afford or takes public transport. Similarly, Petersburgers cannot afford, for the time being, We should recognize this and live within our means.

P.S. I’ve come across a reference to Clamoring Stones: The Russian Church and Russian Culture Heritage at the Turn of the Millennium (2006), a book by the archaeologist and art historian Alexander Musin. It is about how restitution of church property has taken place and the consequences this has had for Russia’s cultural heritage. I haven’t read it yet. I haven’t even found where I can buy it. But I think it’s a must read. (Here’s a review.)

Translated by the Russian Reader

__________

Hundreds Protest Giving St. Isaac Cathedral To Russian Orthodox Church
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
January 14, 2017

Several hundred people rallied outside a St. Petersburg landmark cathedral on January 13 to protest plans to give it to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The local governor this week announced the city was transferring the iconic St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Orthodox Church, sparking a rash of protests in the former imperial city.

Protesters flocked to Isaakiyevskaya Square near St. Isaac’s to protest the move on the evening of January 13. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been an important museum since Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. More than 3.5 million tourists visit it every year.

“The Church should know its place!” one placard read.

Police confiscated one poster but did not otherwise block the protest.

TASS reported that activists have gathered as many as 160,000 signatures on a petition to revoke the local government’s decision to give away the cathedral.

The signatures include people from Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and Krasnodar as well as St. Petersburg, TASS said.

The church takeover of the landmark is part of a growing trend toward social conservatism in Russia. President Vladimir Putin has appealed to traditional values and urged citizens to eschew Western liberalism.