“Liberal secular humanist” holds riveting speech on Orthodox turf

M o s c o w – On 25 May, the Russian Orthodox Church caused a  sensation when it invited one of its long-time critics, a “liberal, secular  humanist”, to speak at the “World  Russian People’s Council”’s annual session in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Describing himself as an atheist of Jewish ancestry, the politician  Leonid Gozman came out sounding very evangelical. Addressing Patriarch Kirill at  the outset of his speech, he stated: The mere fact that you have asked someone  such as I to speak, “is convincing evidence of your desire to unify our nation  irregardless of ethnicity or one’s relationship to religion”.

Citing ethnic conflicts and the mutilation of army recruits, Gozman  launched into an appeal for Orthodoxy to side with the oppressed in their  struggle against the “cruelty and injustice of the government machine”. Those  struggling to survive should know for certain “that the entire church, from the  local priest all the way up to the Patriarch, is for them – and not against  them.” He asked the Patriarch point-blank: “How does the church view the  innumerable palaces and yachts of top-level officials?”

The politician lofted the dream of a selfless church fighting not for  itself, but for the freedom of all. Instead of struggling to defend its own  historical, canonical territory, the church should be defending freedom of  conscience. He desires that the church ”stop distinguishing between traditional  and non-traditional religions, but rather support all persons en route to God  irrespective of the temple door at which that search will  end.

Orthodoxy enjoys major authority among Russians and Gozman believes  it can afford to remain far removed from all appearances of self-serving  servility to the government. If the church authorities “really believed in God  instead of just representing the faith, then they would not thank government  officials for all the restored churches returned to them”. They would instead  “denounce corruption and luxury, hypocrisy and untruth”.

Only if Orthodoxy is free from the state, can an individual’s choice  for or against a belief be truly voluntary and meaningful. He stressed his  abhorrence of government religion and government-sponsored ideology. He  nevertheless stressed “evangelical principles” – a highly unusual term in  Russian society – as a longtime “moral foundation for both believers and  unbelievers”.

Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the  “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” was present at this top-level  event. He was delighted by Gozman’s speech: “It was by far the most impressive  speech given”. Though this opposition politician’s expectations may be utopian,  it is nevertheless “an  encouraging sign of pluralism that the ROC allows such a person to speak at one  of its major events”.

Leonid Gozman (born 1950) may himself be endangered by the lure of  power and wealth. His middle-class, pro-capitalist party, the 2009-founded  “Right Cause”, may soon be joined by the billionaire industrialist Mikhail  Prokhorov.

Though not mentioned by name, Russian Protestants play a part in the  government scenario as portrayed by Gozman. The politician lashed out against  government measures being taken against green environmentalists protesting the  destruction of Khimki Forest just to the north of Moscow. As we reported last  August, that forest is being leveled for the construction of a toll road by the  firm of the Evangelical-Christian and ex-Baptist Alexander Semchenko.  Semchenko’s own security personnel have along with government forces been  engaged in low-scale warfare with the environmentalists.

The “World  Russian People’s Council” was founded in 1993 and regards itself as a platform  for top-level exchange regarding the state and future of Russian society.  Gozman’s speech is featured on its Russian-language  website:  “vrns.ru”.

William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Berlin, 30 May 2011


A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the  Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in  character and does not express a sole, official position of  RUECB-leadership.


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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