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Russia’s Communist Party Turns to Orthodox Church

Russia’s Communist Party Turns to Orthodox Church

Less than a hundred years ago, Vladimir Lenin, one of the foremost members of the Russian Communist Party, wrote in a letter, “We must pursue the removal of church property by any means necessary,” and that “The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy… that we succeed in shooting on this occasion, the better.” However, recently, the Communist Party has turned to the Russian Orthodox church for support, as party members age and die. The average age of a party member is now 56, and there are only about 155,000 members, compared to 19.5 million in 1989, although it is still the second largest political party in the country. Many see the move of the Communist Party to join forces with the Church as a populist measure. Two thirds of the Russian population are part of the Orthodox Church, although not all are devout practitioners. “It is a holy duty of Communists and the Orthodox Church to unite,” Gennady Zyuganov, current chairman of the Communist Party, wrote in 2012, citing “common goals and enemies.” The goals included censorship of “debauchery and violence” in mass media, eradication of Western liberalism and “its conception of human rights,” and limiting sexual education in schools.

Overall, the Church has responded to the party’s overtures politely and positively. “All political forces should be together when it comes to the values of faith, morals, culture and our nation’s unity,” Russian Patriarch Kirill was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying in 2014. At that time, he awarded Zyuganov the Medal of Honor and Glory, the highest award in the Orthodox Church.

The Communist Party has historically been extremely anti-religion (Marx famously called it the “opiate of the masses”). Under the reign of the party, priests were jailed and killed, and sacred sites and texts desecrated or destroyed. Priests were recruited to be KGB informants against other church members. In 1990, now-patriarch Kirill was accused of being one such informant; the priest responsible for the report was excommunicated and later mysteriously beaten. Nonetheless, as the Communist Party has sought to capitalize on the wave of nostalgia that is sweeping Russia, they have, out of necessity, changed their position on the church. Seeking to appeal to Russian nationalism and imperialism, the party has had to unite with the Church that is synonymous with these things in the perception of many.



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Jan Adams

Thanks to Marshall Scott for your elaboration. I delight in your reference to the Serbian congregation full of African American converts. My long deceased Serbian Orthodox uncle would have been gob-smacked at such an American development.

Jan Adams

Anyone want to take on this from Religion Dispatches? “American Orthodoxy has also managed to become the go-to religion of the alt-right, courtesy of being sufficiently medieval without being Roman Catholic.” []

I do not know enough to evaluate that statement, but the author is at least superficially persuasive.

Marshall Scott

I think my concern with the report is the difficulty of describing “American Orthodoxy.” There is no single body to represent “American Orthodoxy,” and so many of the various bodies are no more interested in Moscow than we are in Rome: yes, something to think about but not compelling.

I live in an area particularly interesting in that light. In the Kansas City area there are Greek, Antiochian, and Serbian congregations, as well as congregations representing two different groups in the Russian tradition (Orthodox Church in America [OCA] and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia[ROCOR]). These groups show mutual respect but don’t talk as much as we might think. We also have Oriental Orthodox congregations (two Coptic and one Ethiopian), and a number of congregations of those small groups that, as described, left the Episcopal and other churches as too progressive and sought (sometimes dubious) Orthodox orders. Each is much more attentive within its own circumstances than any seems to be to Moscow, even among those who claim to be Russian. Indeed, one of our most interesting congregations is a Serbian congregation made up largely of African American converts.

With all that, I appreciate the author’s call to repudiate Russian bigotry. I just don’t think we’ll see any time soon a coherent “American Orthodoxy” to provide a single response.

Marshall Scott

This is not really as new a thing as it might seem. The churches in communion with Constantinople, including Russia, have never entirely lost the history of being imperial churches, with extensive (and assumed) collaboration between church and state. In Russia that was certainly true under the czars. It was argued that it was true under the Soviets (argued especially by no fewer than three different Western groups with Russian orders who disagreed about who was the most recent authentic Patriarch); and was quickly re-embraced in the recent Russian Republic. Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims in some areas, and other religious groups have felt the consequences of that. So, this isn’t such a change, even if it seems a major turn for the Communist Party.

JC Fisher

“It is a holy [sic] duty of Communists and the Orthodox Church to unite,” Gennady Zyuganov, current chairman of the Communist Party, wrote in 2012, citing “common goals and enemies.” The goals included censorship of “debauchery and violence” in mass media, eradication of Western liberalism and “its conception of human rights,” and limiting sexual education in schools.”


11Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked [Jesus]. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.
12That day Herod and Pilate became friends–before this they had been enemies.

David Allen

The 1st quote has Church & State teaming up.

The 2nd quote has two lackeys of the state teaming up.

Which of these is not like the other?

JC Fisher

That’s Luke 23, v. 11-12.

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