CHURCH, STATE AND SOCIETY IN RUSSIA IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
INTRODUCTION: THE TRAGEDY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Although the twentieth century was a deeply tragic century for the whole world, it was especially so for Russia. The second decade of the century was marked by a conflict between rival imperialist systems in Europe, which led for the first time to a World War. Western monarchies fell and the sun began to set on the Empires of European nations, but no country suffered like Russia. It not only lost millions in the first years of that war, but it then fell under the spell of the Western philosophy of Communism. This led to 1917, the humiliation of defeat and occupation, Civil War, starvation under a totalitarian State, an unheard of persecution of the Church and the Gulag - the worst genocide in world history.
The fourth decade of the twentieth century was marked by a Second War, which also became global. This war involved totalitarian States in Europe, with both Fascist and Communist ideologies. Many peoples suffered from Fascism, but no people suffered as the Russian people did. The incompetence of the Communist leadership which had purged the Army of its leaders, their refusal to prepare for war when Nazi troops were massing on Russian frontiers, and then the bestial Nazi treatment of Slavs as 'Untermenschen', sub-humans, led to a death-toll of some 25 million.
However, the Golgotha of the Russian people was not yet finished. Although totalitarian Fascism was ended in Germany, totalitarian Communism continued in Russia right up until recent times. The Russian Crucifixion has lasted from 1914 until now, when many ordinary citizens still live in appalling conditions.
Why? Two basic beliefs of Orthodox Theology, rejected by Communist ideology, sum up the errors which led to the above disaster.
THE THEOLOGY OF THE HOLY TRINITY
Firstly, Orthodox Theology is Trinitarian. As we believe in the Tripersonal God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so too all human life is composed of three elements. Whether, we consider political, social or economic life, whether we consider issues concerning nations, families or individuals, three elements must be taken into account:
Firstly, any State must take care of the physical well-being of its people, providing access to food, drink, hygiene and physical security.
Secondly, it must cultivate mental well-being, providing access to education, so that its citizens can develop their intellectual potential.
Thirdly, any State must also look to developing the spiritual potential of its people, looking to their moral welfare. Without this possibility of spiritual development, societies lose all moral values. These are the values which give them a vision beyond the here and now and the desire to seek the spiritual well-being of their children and following generations.
Communist materialism, imported from the West, utterly failed in the above. Although it provided the possibility of physical well-being through healthcare and intellectual development through education, in so doing it destroyed the lives of tens of millions of its citizens. And as a result of its ferocious assaults on the Orthodox Church, the only institution which provided for the spiritual and moral welfare of Russian society, family life collapsed, orphans abounded, abortion and broken marriages became the norm, epidemics of alcoholism, drug addiction and AIDS took a heavy toll. A despiritualised, de-ecclesified mass was formed, deprived of basic concepts of moral responsibility. It is this that led to ecological disasters such as Chernobyl, the social epidemic of divorce and Mafia-led economic injustice.
And here we come to the second fundamental point of Orthodox theology.
THE THEOLOGY OF THE INCARNATION
The Orthodox Church believes that Her Founder, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, is not only God but also man. God became man, He became incarnate. Although One Person, He possesses two natures. He is the God-Man, possessing both a divine nature and a human nature.
In practical terms, this signifies that the Church recognises that human societies must be run by States which look after our outer needs. But the activities of the State must be balanced by the Incarnation of the Church in the activities of the State. If the spiritual and moral development of citizens is neglected, then they bathe in a despiritualised stew of immorality.
During the Communist period the influence of an ever more powerful, centralised State was not counterbalanced by that of the Church. Indeed the State attempted to annihilate the Church, creating millions of New Martyrs and Confessors. The State took over personal and family life, claiming to meet the spiritual needs of its citizens through 'Communist morality'. The spiritual and moral bankruptcy of this period led to personal and ecological suicide. If the State is not ecclesified, if the Church is not incarnate in it, then society loses its spiritual and moral bearings. Without the Church, the State is simply a tyranny. Without the Church, society is simply an amoral and spiritually dehumanised mass. Man without God is meaningless, for he no longer has any eternal or immortal significance.
CONCLUSION: CAN THE WEST LEARN FROM RUSSIA?
The unique experience of Russia, caused by the imposition of materialism, can be especially instructive to the West.
In the twenty-first century the world seems to be divided between McDonaldisation and Jihad. Obviously, the Orthodox Faith does not preach Jihad; no war can be holy. However, the hegemonic McDonaldisation of the world is no less dehumanising. The recent Western military intervention in Iraq is the clearest example of this. The Russian experience can teach the West that:
A society which does not provide for the physical, intellectual and spiritual needs of it citizens is one which is doomed to failure, for it is unbalanced. Contemporary ethnocentric Western States, with their cult of the human intellect, ungraced by the Holy Spirit, are introducing ever more Satanic innovations, whether in the field of chemical and biological weapons (Western, not Iraqi inventions), embryo experimentation or genetically modified foodstuffs. Western society, with its cult of consumerist materialism, is leading to a society of the obese, whose egocentric fascination with food, drink and sex leads it to ignore the fate of two thirds of the world, condemned to grinding poverty, starvation and early death.
Materialistic societies, controlled by ever more unified States like the USA and the EU, with their secular principles, are not counterbalanced by the spiritual principles of the Orthodox Church. Therefore they are doomed to failure, for they hasten towards despiritualisation and immorality. The Capitalist West, with its closed and empty churches and widespread ignorance of spiritual principles, is a society hurtling towards an abyss of self-destruction. Two questions face it:
Can the West learn from the tragic rejection of Orthodoxy by materialist Communism, mistakenly imported into Russia from the West?
Can the West learn from the collapse of that same ideology through the sacrifices of the Church's millions of New Martyrs and Confessors?
Some twenty-five years ago, the ever-memorable Fr Seraphim Rose warned: 'Today in Russia, tomorrow in the West'. If the West cannot learn from the West, then we may now be about to declare: 'Yesterday in Russia, today in the West'.