After a number of media, mostly tabloid, picked up a story that President Putin supposedly equated communism with Christianity and Lenin’s embalmed but nevertheless decomposing remains with holy Christian relics, I was hoping to see an article somewhere discussing this sanely in either Russian or in English. That I found nothing substantial in Russian is not a surprise, and why it is not surprising will hopefully become clear further along in this article. In looking for something on this subject in English, I saw only a slew of more articles with headlines such as, “Putin: Communist ideology similar to Christianity, Lenin’s body like saintly relics”, and “'Communism like Christianity and Lenin is a SAINT' claims Putin in shocking interview”, or “Putin: Lenin's 'relics'. Communism and its Christian origins”.
This strange situation has a direct affect in the press on how Orthodox Christianity in general is represented, as Vladimir Putin is an Orthodox Christian, as are the majority of his constituents.
Things became even more perplexing when the Moscow Times published an article entitled: “Russian Orthodox Bishop Warns Faithful Not to Vote for ‘Dark’ Putin”. They were talking about Bishop Yevtikhy (Kurochkin), and a post on his VKontake (Russian social network) page. The article reads, “A Russian Orthodox clergyman has spoken for the first time against voting for Vladimir Putin’s re-election this spring over recent comments the president made which he described as ‘blasphemous’.” “Shall I go against Christ and vote for darkness, or advise others to do so?! No, no, no!” is what the Moscow Times pulled from the Vkontake page in question. This is also an unsubtle reminder that election time in Russia is fast approaching, and there may be some way for the media to get some of Russia’s large Orthodox Christian population to vote against the current president, who will be running for re-election; if not to turn against a president that has been demonstratively supportive of the Church in his country, then at least sow the seeds of doubt in their minds, and get people not to vote at all—“out of principle”.
The Moscow Times article also rather cunningly drops at the end of this short article: “By contrast, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s ally since his return to the presidency in 2012, has called on believers to vote in the coming elections scheduled for March 18.” Could the Moscow Times be ever so slightly implying that the Patriarch is calling upon the Orthodox Russian citizens to vote for… you know who?
Here is the full text of Bishop Yevtikhy’s post:
Only recently I publicly expressed my regrets that barriers have arisen in my desire to vote for Putin. The barrier consists in the fact that Vladimir Vladimirovich made a rather snide remark in reference to Peter Arkadievich Stolypin: “We know, we know—there are ‘Stolypin’ railway cars and ‘Stolypin’ neckties.” This was a cheeky, deceitful revival of the Bolshevik cliché, invented by Masons, which was anti-sovereign and transparently false. I was shocked, and expressed my hope that I would hear from the lips of the President some apology for those irresponsible words. But instead of that I read these blasphemous words: “Well, look, Lenin was placed in a mausoleum. How does this differ from relics for the Orthodox, or simply for Christians? When they tell me that no, there is no such tradition in Christianity, well, of course there is—just go to Mt. Athos and see that there are relics there, and we also have holy relics here.” “If what you consider is light is darkness, then what is your darkness?!” Those are Christ’s words. And I should go against Christ and vote for darkness or advise someone else to do that?! No, no, and no!
Then the ROCOR reunited with the MP, and what was to come of those dissident clergy ordained by them in Russia? There have been different cases, but Bishop Yevtikhy remained with his Church. He was reassigned in 2007 as part of the Act of Restoration of Canonical Unity as a vicar bishop of Domodedovo (a city just south of Moscow). Due to poor health, he was retired in 2012 and returned to the cathedral he had restored in Siberia when part of the ROCOR, where he is once again the rector.
This is not a criticism of Bishop Yevtikhy. However, the juxtaposition of personages in an article written obliquely about the upcoming elections and how Orthodox Christians should view the candidates (or rather, the main candidate, since no competitor to Putin comes anywhere close to him in popularity ratings) seems very odd, to say the least. The thoughts of a retired bishop with an anti-establishment history on his social media page (and mind you, his complete thought was not published by the Moscow Times, only the more shock-value part of it) are given first place over a more official statement by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Furthermore, the Patriarch’s statement was neutral. Basically it boils down to: Just go and vote after weighing the pros and cons of all the available candidates. Whoever the winner will be, you have at least done your duty as a citizen and voted.
Note also that Bishop Yevtikhy expressed his primary political leanings: “Only recently I publicly expressed my regrets that barriers have arisen in my desire to vote for Putin.” So, he did have a desire to vote for Putin. That is not shocking—after all, Putin’s presidency has seen many positive things in the life of the Orthodox Church. Let’s name just a few:
The restoration of canonical unity between the ROCOR and the MP, in which Putin played an active role. The ROCOR was not deprived of its independent governance, and the Moscow Patriarchate took no parishes away from it, at least outside of Russia.
Thousands of churches and monasteries have been returned to the Church and restored, often with the legal and at times financial support of the government, usually on the local level.
Pro-family legislature has been passed, such as the law against homosexual propaganda to minors, and financial aid to multi-child families. The number of abortions in Russia, while still very high, has nevertheless seen a significant decrease. The wife of a priest, Anna Kuznetsova, was appointed by the president as children’s ombudsman for the Russian Federation. Kuznetsova is vocally ant-abortion, and brings a strong Christian ethic into this sphere of government.
This is not a political plug—I am simply pointing out a few possible reasons why Bishop Yevtikhy originally desired to vote for Putin.
In case you are wondering what the bishop is referring to when he mentioned Stolypin… well, so are we. After scouring around, we couldn’t find that statement supposedly made by Putin, “We know, we know—there are ‘Stolypin’ railway cars and ‘Stolypin’ neckties.” We can only explain what Stolypin railway cars and Stolypin neckties are.
Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin was the third Prime Minister of Russia, and Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Empire from 1906 to 1911. He is known for his economic reforms, which, had they not been interrupted by his assassination, would have made Russia an industrial and agricultural giant, almost completely self-sufficient. He had nearly arrived at this goal when a revolutionary shot him in Kiev. That wasn’t even the first attempt on his life—an earlier assassination attempt by bombing destroyed his home and took the life of his child. There were ten assassination attempts against him before the fatal shooting. Do ten assassination attempts against one public official alone, not to mention everything else that was happening in Russian at the beginning of the twentieth century, warrant the arrest of revolutionaries? Yes they do, and yes, they were arrested. The railway cars used to take the criminals to Siberia were branded “Stolypin’s cars” by the Bolsheviks after the revolution, but in fact the original cars in question were used to transport peasants re-locating to Siberia, where they were given land for free, to boost the Russian economy and spread out the very rapidly growing population. They were re-purposed by the communists to send their prisoners to Siberia. As for the neckties—that is what the Bolsheviks called the nooses that were used to execute revolutionary assassins.
But as I said, I didn’t find that quote by Putin. I did, however, find an elegy on Stolypin at a conference dedicated to him, in which Putin praises the reformer sky high:
And today we give the profoundest tribute to his contribution towards the strengthening of the nation and the development of its society, his lofty civil responsibility and sincere zealous care for the fate of the Fatherland. The experiment worked out by Stolypin of reforms and transformations are needed where the problems are decided of modernization of economy, the development of social life, and the raising of the standard of living.
I am sure that this conference will be truly interesting and informative, and will serve to popularize the unique political, ideological, and creative legacy of P. A. Stolypin.
So, if Stolypin is a maker or breaker for anyone going to the polling station, I at the least didn’t find anything that would put Putin on the wrong side of this history.
But let’s get back to the main beef against Putin: what he said about communism and Lenin’s tomb. It was part of a documentary on Valaam Monastery. Putin was invited to be interviewed in the documentary is because he is the president, but also because he is originally from St. Petersburg, which is just across Lake Ladoga from Valaam. He really likes Valaam, and as a native Petersburger, he has given Valaam Monastery considerable support. So, he was featured in this documentary. Here is the full text of that interview from Vesti.ru, translated into English, with the sensational quote in bold:
Valaam: Vladimir Putin on Orthodoxy, communism, and faith
Reporter: Vladimir Vladimirovich, they say that Valaam is the mirror of Russia.
Putin: We have many such mirrors. Valaam is one of them. It has a very interesting and at times dramatic history. Valaam is bound up, essentially, with the formation of national Russian sovereignty.
The Patriarch just talked about how when the Soviet troops were ready to enter the island,1 the archipelago, for some reason they remained on the shore and summoned a priest to come from the monastery. One of them went. Then suddenly the Soviet army officer says to him, “How much time do you need to gather everything and leave?” They reckoned it all, asked for a few days, gathered up what was most precious, all the holy shrines. And then they left, taking it all with them. You know what I think about this? Of course during those onerous days of civil war and the later war against God, when all those seeds of schism were being sown in Russian society, the seeds of unity always remained with us. This is first of all thanks to the Russian Orthodox Church. And that the officers then allowed the monks to leave and take all the holy shrines with them is the best testimony to those seeds of unity, the unity that never left us.
Reporter: Vladimir Vladimirovich, the precious items that were saved and taken out of the territory of Valaam—we have seen them. Perhaps negotiations should begin with Finland to return these valuables to Valaam?
Putin: Finland is our good neighbor. And if it weren’t for Finland, Valaam Monastery might have completely ceased to exist, because we know how the Soviet authorities regarded religious valuables.2 These things were taken to Finland and saved there. And for this we probably have only to say thank you to the Finns and our compatriots who departed to Finland and saved there the New Valaam Monastery and the holy shrines of Valaam. These shrines, which are dear to both the Finns and us, the Finns are preserving, the Finns provide free access to all who want to come to these holy shrines… on the territory of Finland… It seems to me that these holy shrines should be a certain something that unites us, including in the spiritual sphere.
First of all, this faith has always accompanied us. It strengthened when it was particularly hard for our country, for our people. There were completely severe theomachic years, when they killed priests, destroyed churches. But at the same time, after all a new religion was created. Communist ideology is in fact very close to Christianity. Freedom, brotherhood, equality, fairness. This was all set forth in the Holy Scriptures, it’s all there. And what was the codex for the builders of communism? It was a sublimation, it was simply a primitive citation of the Bible, they hadn’t thought up anything new. Just look, they put Lenin in the mausoleum. But how does this differ from holy relics? For the Orthodox, or simply for Christians? When they say to me, “No, there is no such tradition in the Christian world”—How is there not? If you go to Mt. Athos there are holy relics there. And here there are also holy relics, Sts. Sergius and Herman [of Valaam.—Trans.] Essentially, the regime of those days did not think up anything new. It simply fit what mankind had invented a long time ago into its own ideology.
In 1979 a museum/national park was created, and in 1989 the revival of monastic life began [in Valaam]. At that time there were six monks, and now there are over two hundred. It is enough to look at the photographs and pictures of that time. There were total ruins here, simply total absolute ruins. Now you see something that not only the Church but also the country as a whole can be proud of. The churches, monasteries, and chapels on the islands have been reborn.
This has always been in the soul, in the heart of the Russian, it still is, and I am sure that it always will be. Just as in the soul of any of our citizens who confess our other traditional religions: Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism. In the world religions there is much in common, and the foundation of it is mercy, fairness, honesty, and love. We have a multi-confessional nation. But these moral foundations of a multi-national Russian people are common to all of us, and they unite us.
Now we’ll explain why there is not much commentary on those words we have bolded in Russian media. Any Russian who grew up with communism knows exactly what Putin is talking about. Everyone knows that communism would not have had a chance in Orthodox Russia without masquerading as some new, simplified form of Christianity, with vague ideas of good wishes for one’s fellow man. The most religious people were the peasants, and they weren’t necessarily equipped to discern the details in any comparison/contrast between Orthodox doctrine and communist doctrine, although surely many must have felt the difference in their bones. The Russian people had been Orthodox through and through for centuries, and even many of those who bought into communism still had some deep remains of Christianity in the fiber of their being. Many times I have heard people in Russia say, with the characteristic Russian ironic sarcasm (of which Putin certainly has his share), that communism became the new religion then. “There was the slogan, ‘Lenin was, is, and ever shall be’—how is he not God? And they even put his ‘relics’ in the heart of Russia, the Moscow Kremlin.” Believe it or not, there really was such a popular slogan, whether or not people actually believed it. The whole thing is of course utterly blasphemous, but this was said to me as an indictment of that blasphemy, and not as a believing repetition of it. It seems rather clear to me that in this interview, Putin’s remark was made in the same vein. The point is that Russians were so deeply Orthodox that communism had, initially, to mimic Christianity in order to gain any support at all. Communism with its code of ethics and Lenin’s tomb was an ersatz Christianity, a primitive and blasphemous replacement for Russia’s religion.
This irony in Putin’s words, which Russians would take for granted, was either lost on the journalists who reported on them in English or intentionally misplaced by them so that unenlightened readers wouldn’t find it on their own.
Anyone is free to read the rest of the interview and make their own judgment as to whether President Putin believes that communism is the same as Christianity and that Lenin’s corpse is the same as holy Christian relics. President Putin is a layman with nothing even close to a theological education, but I don’t see anything to indicate that his understanding of religion is really on such a low level as to seriously equate communism with Christianity, and allow the thought that Lenin in any way resembles a saint.
Bear in mind also that Vladimir Putin really is the president of an enormous country with many nationalities and more than one religion before shouting “ecumenism” after reading the last paragraph.
If I were pressed to explain why I wrote this piece it would be that I am basically sickened by what things have come to in the media, and want to talk about it. One never knows just how badly journalists can obfuscate and jerk around facts to get their results unless one has experience and firsthand knowledge of what is being presented. Obviously, I’m not trying to influence elections. Only Russian citizens can vote for their own president. But as Orthodox Christians, we are supposed to use our own God-given brains to find the truth, and then use our own God-given free will to decide what we are going to do with that truth. Conscientious media is supposed to provide all the information needed to draw an intelligent conclusion. Alas…