Russia, Rus and Holy Rus:
Dedicated to the New Hieromartyr Daniel of Moscow (+ 6/19 November 2009),
Only on account of Orthodoxy will God have mercy on Russia.
St Seraphim of Sarov
Introduction: Russia Demystified
Exactly seventy years ago, in October 1939, the great Anglo-American statesman and writer Winston Churchill described Russia as ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. In reality, he was not talking about Russia, but about his own lack of understanding of Russia, or rather the typical, even stereotypical, lack of understanding of Russia on the part of all Western Non-Orthodox. In other words, Churchill was displaying his ignorance.
The only mystery is that Russia never went through the Middle Ages and therefore never went through its consequences, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the ‘Enlightenment’ and all the rest. Therefore, it is different from the West. Decades before Churchill, the Russian writer and thinker Dostoyevsky explained all the essentials of Russia in a few short words: ‘Without Christ the Russian is trash; with Christ he is great’.
In other words, the West started with paganism, briefly became Orthodox and then went though a whole series of forms of humanism, increasingly less Christian and more pagan, before largely returning to paganism through humanism today. Conversely, Russia has only ever known two cultures. The first was cruel and barbarous paganism with its human sacrifices, and the second was Orthodox Christianity, the Church. In 1917 Russia lapsed back into the old paganism with its human sacrifices on the altar of Bolshevism. Although paganism then called itself by the sophisticated Western name of ‘Dialectical Materialism’, it was in fact merely the same old primitive and heathen barbarism come back again.
Russia at the Crossroads
Since the fall of Communism in 1991, Russia has been living through a mixture of its two historic cultures, paganism and Orthodoxy. Still today in 2009, it is not certain which culture will win the day. Such is the confusion that there are some in Russia today who hold icons of the martyred Orthodox Tsar alongside portraits of Stalin. For them, they are both on the same level. On the one hand, nearly 25,000 churches have been built or restored since 1991 and a hundred million of the masses have been baptised. On the other hand, most of those masses remain unChurched and unpractising. The putrefied remains of the evil genius Lenin remain in Red Square, statues to him are scattered throughout the provinces and towns and whole regions are still called after him, his henchmen and his successors. As for the personality cult of the genocidal monster Stalin, it is still not dead.
Most of the elite, having long ago, well before 1991, abandoned the empty myths of Soviet paganism, are now in thrall to Western paganism. This means consumerism and the myth of democracy. Corruption and its result bribery, pornography and its result abortion rule. The conditions for the majority are harsh – for the disabled pretty appalling. Hence the calls of His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill for spiritual and therefore moral regeneration. He knows, as the Russian State also knows, that without this regeneration the Russian State will fall and the Russian Federation will dissolve. It is clear from today’s news of the martyrdom of the missionary and confessor Fr Daniel Sysoiev in Moscow that more blood will be required from Russia’s clergy before this regeneration can begin.
It will take years for Russian Orthodoxy to be restored even to what it was before 1917. Those who thought it would be restored immediately after 1991 were living in a false dawn. But this is not a reason to play the puritan prig from abroad and say: ‘I will have nothing to do with Russia, until they are all ‘pure’ Orthodox (‘like me’). Church history calls that particular error ‘Donatism’. Common sense calls it the obnoxious pride of the pharisee. What is the position of Russian Orthodox with regard to ‘Russia’?
In order to answer this, we must first define what we mean by Russia. In reality, there are three ‘Russias’. The first is ‘Russia’ and it refers only to what is now called ‘The Russian Federation’. The second, in Russian, is called ‘Rus’. ‘Rus’ refers to the four East Slav peoples. The first of these, historically, are the Carpatho-Russians, then come the Kievan Russians (Little Russians or, in Western-invented terminology, Ukrainians), thirdly, the Belarussians and, finally, the Great Russians. Then there is the third Russia, which history calls ‘Holy Rus’. And this is much greater than both ‘Russia’ and ‘Rus’.
‘Holy Rus’ is not the mere racial grouping of Russians, or even of East Slavs. ‘Holy Rus’ bears in itself the idea of Romanity, in Greek ‘Romaiosini’. This is the universal Christian idea of an Empire of Faith, an idea inherited from the Christian Roman Empire which began with St Constantine the Great. It is no coincidence that the last monarchs of ‘Holy Rus’ were called the ‘Romanovs’, ‘Roma Nova’, New Rome, and that their Empire was called the Third Rome. In other words, ‘Holy Rus’ is not just Russia, or even all East Slavdom, it is the whole Orthodox Empire of Faith.
Spiritually, ‘Holy Rus’ therefore includes not only all East Slavdom, Romania, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Jerusalem, but also all parts of the earth which belong to the Orthodox world. For just as not all Orthodox belonged to the Roman Empire, but some lived outside it, for example, in Ethiopia and Persia and India and Ireland, so today many live outside ‘Holy Rus’. In fact, only three quarters of Orthodox Christians even belong to the Russian Orthodox Church and a third of those who do belong to it were born and live outside the Russian Federation, outside ‘Russia’.
The Pre-Revolutionary Nationalist Danger
Here there is a danger. This danger is not so much that ‘Russia’ will try and take over ‘Rus’, but rather ‘Holy Rus’. This means that the universal spiritual ideal of Orthodox Christianity will be taken over by a mere local nationalism, Russian nationalism.
There is nothing new in this. Already before the Russian Revolution there were those in the then Russian Empire who behaved atrociously to Orthodox national minorities. Much of the bitterness of those who today call themselves ‘Ukrainians’ began then. However, the most notable example is the Georgian Orthodox Church, effectively abolished by Russian nationalism in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the first victims of this Russian nationalism were the Russian faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church. This was decapitated in 1700 by Peter 1, who enslaved it, making it into a Department of State on the Dutch Protestant erastian model. It was then cruelly persecuted by the German Empress Catherine. Thus began the so-called ‘Synodal period’. The Church was run by a State-controlled Synod, not a free Patriarch and episcopate.
There are those who now talk of restoring pre-Revolutionary Russia. For all its positive sides, this would be a grave error. For it was pre-Revolutionary Russia which created Soviet Russia. For example, the mentality of denunciations, servility, bribery and corruption, so prevalent in Soviet Russia and still today, was no invention of 1917. If you read Gogol’s play ‘The Government Inspector’, you will find denunciations, servility, bribery and corruption prevalent in the nineteenth century. The restoration of pre-Revolutionary Russia would only lead to a second Revolution. In many ways, it can even be said that Russian nationalism was responsible for the Russian Revolution. It was certainly responsible for the loss of Holy Rus, the universal spiritual Empire of Orthodox Christianity.
The Soviet Nationalist Danger
Similarly, the Soviet Union degenerated fairly quickly into a former of heavy-handed Russian nationalism, into ‘Great Russian chauvinism’. For example, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 showed exactly the same stupendous nationalist stupidity as the US (and the Blairite-ruled UK) showed in its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan a generation later.
Invading and occupying foreign countries (just as Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Poland because, it said, Poland was going to attack it), murdering tens of thousands, calling its resistance workers ‘insurgents’ (do we call the Second Word War French Resistance workers ‘insurgents’? Only the Nazis called them that), setting up corrupt puppet leaders (the Americans made the very same mistake in South Vietnam in the 1960s and early 70s), who are only chosen because they speak English (or Russian), then running away (calling it an ‘exit strategy’), leaving destruction and chaos, was also the result of Soviet nationalism in Afghanistan. The Soviets called it liberating the Afghans from Western imperialism; the US and the UK call it ‘bringing democracy’. The results were and are the same.
Although the Soviet Union is gone, the Soviet mentality lives on. I remember how, I think in 1994, the Russian Fascist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky visited us in Portugal. On meeting our Russians in Lisbon, he commented, ‘Nashi vezde’ - ‘our people are everywhere’. It was he who dreamed of seeing Russian troops washing their boots in the Indian Ocean, having taken over Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let us try and forget the nationalist fantasies of such clowns, as they glorify the evil of Stalin, Ivan the Terrible and others butchers from Russian history.
Conclusion: Messianic Holy Rus
Today, the Russian Federation is populated by 104 nationalities and speaks at least as many languages. Over fifty nationalities belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, which uses as many languages. Russian Orthodox, multinational and multilingual, are present on every Continent on earth, their bishops with them. It is no good if either part of the Russian Church outside the Russian Federation (the 400 ROCOR parishes or the 200 MP parishes) treats its Non-Russian clergy and laity as second-class citizens, as they so often used to. This will have to stop. One rule for Russians and another rule for Non-Russians is no longer acceptable, even though we have often put up with it for 35 years.
In today’s world of global Orthodoxy, the old nationalist myths will have to be abandoned. In reality, the Russian Church was founded in Kiev by missionaries from the Carpathians, Bulgaria and Constantinople, who had been invited there by Scandinavians. The missionary nature of the Russian Church has been proved again and again by its best representatives, its saints: St Stephen of Perm, St Tryphon of Kola, St Macarius of the Altai, St Innocent of Alaska, St Nicholas of Japan and St John of Shanghai. Thank God, today the Russian Church is led by a Patriarch who is as open as is possible to the Non-Russian world. He has built churches in North Korea and Cuba, given places to Chinese Orthodox in Russian seminaries, ordained the first Thai Orthodox priest and set up Russian Orthodox chapels at the North and South Poles. And the part of the Russian Church which is based outside Russia is led by a Canadian Metropolitan of Ukrainian ancestry, who has spent many years in Australia and founded a large mission in Indonesia.
Some seventy years ago, when the above-quoted Winston Churchill was Prime Minister in England’s dark hour, the Russian singer-poet Alexander Vertinsky wrote his song ‘Before the Face of my Homeland’. In it he sang these words:
O my homeland…
The calling of the Russian Church is to gather together what has been scattered over the last thousand years. Was Vertinsky only a poet, or was he also a prophet? Only the future will tell.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
6/19 November 2009 St Barlaam of Khutyn New Hieromartyr Daniel of Moscow