Head Start or Crisis?
The Russian Longing for the Christian State
M o s c o w – Russia is„ even now the best part of Europe and we offer it the most positive future”. The well-known Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Chairman of the Orthodox “Synod Office for Mutual Relations between Church and Society”, stated this in early April on television network “Rossiya I”’s programme “Duell”. Chaplin is convinced that the West, including the USA, no longer qualifies as Christian. The West indeed represents the most godless system of all. Both commujnsm and Bolshevism were brought down by their godlessness; “capitalism will fare no better”. Only Russia can become that which the West once was.
At a Moscow conference on the „Christian Responsibility for the Earthly Fatherland” on 8 April, Chaplin added that the Christian nation of Russia is obtaining a “unique moral mission” which reveals itself in a “call to national modesty, self-restraint and the rejection of consumption”. Russia already has a head start on the Western nations: Already a third of the Russian populace are “practicing (Orthodox) Christians”; the majority is driven by lofty and supernatural ideals. Fruits of the new Christian upbringing are already manifest: A significant majority “reject money and selfish interests” as their personal goals.
Chaplin is convinced that the past vision of a Christian Russia is returning: “It is obvious today that the nation and church are one.” “The Russian people will again become a Christian nation, a Holy (Kievan) Rus, even if this does not please everybody.” Another speaker at this Moscow conference spoke of the possibility of a “theocentric” society.
This „theocentric“ orientation can also be sensed in socially-open Protestant circles (Charismatics and some Baptists for ex.), who see in the struggle for “traditional Christian values” a common cause for cooperation with the Orthodox. The Orthodox and these Protestants also sympathise with something akin to “civil religion” – the cooperation of Christians, Jews and Muslims in the defense of proven moral values.
Yet the views of Protestants and conservative Orthodox on the interpretation of the Russian past and present are far apart. In a lecture at a Moscow gymnasium on 11 April, Yuri Sipko, ex-President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, spoke, not of a moral superiority, but instead of a deep crisis in Russian society.
The Soviet past has not been sufficiently processed, Sipko stated. “We therefore have no clear understanding of who we really are.” In contrast to Chaplin, this Baptist described Russian society as “immature”. The country’s ethnic groupings have “no sense of consolidation, no mutual values and objectives”. The ethnic nations have “no common understanding – we are economically and socially stratified.”
He also described the role of the country’s majority church as highly problematic: “Christianity’s tragedy is evident in the fact that it has permitted untruth to reign in our society.” This results in the general impression “that we are only playing Christianity and church”. This leads to mistrust and cynicism among our children. Yet a renewal can only occur “once we admit to ourselves that we are sick”.
Alexander Negrov, Rector of the Protestant “St. Petersburg Christian University”, responded to Chaplin’s statements: “I of course agree that without real faith in Christ there is no hope of a bright future either for the individual or the nation.” But he rejected Chaplin’s projection that Moscow might again become the “Third Rome” (after Rome and Constantinople). “I do not share Father Chaplin’s optimism about Russian becoming the best part of Europe – one can only claim that for reasons of propaganda.”
The conference on 8 April was also attended by three Christian-Democratic politicians from the Netherlands. Orthodox, as well as some Charismatic forces and the Evangelical-Christian Bishop Alexander Semchenko, seek contact with Christian-Democratic circles in Western Europe. The Moscow barrister Katya Smyslova, one of this conference’s primary organisers, transferred her membership from the Baptist to the Orthodox church in early 2010.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Berlin, 18 April 2011
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance