Russian archpastors and pastors talk about the meaning of the trials and paradoxes of our history, the revelations about Russia, and its mission.
The Russian people abandoned their mission
Archbishop Alexei (Frolov) of Kostroma and Galich (†2013):
Archbishop Alexei (Frolov) of Kostroma and Galich 1917 saw the greatest tragedy in our history: The Russian people abandoned their mission and ceased to be a God-bearing nation at that time. In 1918, the power of darkness came’—the demonic power that began to destroy our churches and kill clergy, and now we know what fruits this godless life brought us. We still can’t get our lives back on track. We are entrusted with the destiny of our Fatherland. St. Nikolai (Velimirovic) of Zica, a saint of the Serbian Church, said:
“When your Fatherland is destroyed, do not say that this is the end of everything. The fatherland is given to us so there would be something to die instead of the people.”
What frightful yet fateful words these are! The fatherland is given to a nation so there would be something to die instead of the people. Or perhaps the mission of a God-bearing nation remains with the Russian people so we can keep our faith not intellectually, but in practice? After all, Christ did not come to teach people to think differently—He taught people to live differently.
As long as the borders of the Church corresponded to those of the State, Russia was Holy. Every household lived according to Church tradition. On the eve of Great Lent, every member of every household would kneel before each other, asking each other’s forgiveness. Can you imagine what life it was in our Fatherland! Demons had nowhere to go and they left people alone. And now that people are impertinent, pompous, deceitful and self-interested, of course, demons are free to remain in whoever they like. The biggest trick of the devil is to convince us that he does not exist and that we supposedly do everything ourselves. And listen what terrible words we hear: Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Mt. 24:12). But Divine love is at the heart of the universe. You must try with all your might to preserve it—this love, this Divine gift—for this gift comes only from God Himself. He is the Giver of love. Without God people do not know what love is. Without God people lose love, although the Lord pours it out abundantly on His people.
It is time for us to come to our senses
Bishop Melety (Pavlyuchenkov) of Roslavl and Desnogorsk:
Russia has preserved its roots despite all the vicissitudes of the controversial twentieth century and all the trials that befell us. The Church has preserved them, and the gates of hell have not prevailed against it (cf. Mt. 16:18). And we have been assigned with the task of cultivating faith, taking care of each other, and struggling. Ye shall know them by their fruits (Mt. 7:16), the Lord says. What fruits will we bear? What Russia is and will be depends on each one of us.
There is a law in medicine: Rehabilitation should take as much time as did the illness. Our people have not yet come to their senses after the Soviet yoke. Can we really say: “Yes, the rehabilitation of society after the Soviet era has finished”? No. The time has not yet come.
Undoubtedly, Russia has lost a lot. The godless authorities tried to exterminate the Church hierarchy, clergy and the faithful in the cruelest way. There was a time when only four bishops remained in their sees. The Church was deprived of its rights. Our great power was dying, losing millions of its best people. The woman was taken out of the family for the “public good”. If earlier eight to ten children would be born in every family, then after the Revolution—only one or two. The government did its best to prevent children and youth from integrating into Church life, making them spiritually defenseless. And how many of them died from alcoholism, drug addiction, and so on!
But tradition is still alive. Although we are connected with it by very thin threads, they are all the more valuable. They are especially kept in priests’ families, where service at the altar was passed down from generation to generation despite the persecution. The continuity in the Church has not stopped.
Now our Church has gone through a renaissance. It was the Orthodox Church that once formed Russian statehood and the Russian nation, and this great task is still relevant. Time gives us ever more new challenges. We must not relax. As His Holiness Patriarch Kirill often repeats: “We do not know how much time we have left.”
On a paradox
The 1917 Revolution happened because the people had lapsed from the faith. But still we didn’t walk away completely. Otherwise we simply wouldn’t have survived. God’s Providence taught us, who had gone astray, by allowing that tragedy. When the Revolution swept the country, our “civilizational code” turned out to be very strong, condensing a huge spiritual potential. Our ancestors—great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers—maintained very high morals in society. Thus the nation was able to quickly mobilize colossal strength when an external threat required it. Some individuals withstood a monstrous weight and were not broken—they kept their inner core.
In the Soviet era our grandparents accomplished very much thanks to the powerful spiritual and moral charge they inherited. But their spirituality could not be adequately expressed outwardly. Everything that the authorities tried to cram down people’s throats was external. The essence of life remained Orthodox—it could not be so in form, but in content it did not betray itself. Thus people stood firm in faith without being ruined internally.
When it comes to “Holy Russia” or “Holy Byzantium”, we should understand that society has never been homogeneously Orthodox. There have always been both faithful followers and betrayers of Christ. The Lord told His disciples: Fear not, little flock (Lk. 12:32); Ye are the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13); Narrow is the way…, and few there be that find it (Mt. 7:14). Both in the Savior’s lifetime and in all subsequent times, true followers of the Lord are few. But it is they who illumine and sanctify the entire society and keep it from decay.
There were more atheists in Russia in 1870 than in 1970. Isn’t this paradoxical? Do you remember the Life of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)? He was a high-ranking officer. All officers were obliged to receive Communion once a year during Great Lent. When he decided to do it more often, an investigation was launched to find out whether he was insane. It was the same story with the philosopher Alexei Khomyakov. Once he wanted to take Communion more often, his circles started opposing him. On Pascha 1916, ninety-six percent of the Russian troops took Communion, and on Pascha 1917—fewer than ten percent, because it was no longer obligatory. Before the Revolution there were many with superficial faith, but few were devoted to God with all their hearts. By contrast, in the late twentieth century churches were in ruins, but very many people, having gone through the mill, firmly believed in God and held on to Christ.
God forbid that we should wish for such trials to befall us again because our faith is weak! However, in many ways persecution served to ensure that true believers made their final choice in favor of the Kingdom of God, and those who nominally belonged to the Church fell away. But those who remained faithful to God were strengthened and grew in faith, and even multiplied it in their descendants. In the families of those who went through this Golgotha, life is valued: they do not have abortions and have many children.
A society in which the “little flock” is relatively large can be called Orthodox. In my view, today we are approaching a similar ideal. As a result of the dramatic twentieth century Russia turned out to be (in spite of all the enemy machinations) no less, and perhaps even more, Orthodox. And this is the most important thing.
Russia is kept alive by monks
Hieromonk Nil (Grigoriev), the Holy Dormition Pskov-Caves Monastery:
Once after the Liturgy in the altar of the Dormition Cathedral, having consumed the Holy Gifts, we were unvesting. I was being tormented by various worries, and I asked Father John (Krestiankin):
“Batiushka, what is happening? What awaits us? The imes are getting ever darker… People are becoming ever more embittered. I’m afraid to go out the monastery gate… Here, in the monastery, you feel at home; but what’s out there beyond the walls? Veritable hell!”
He then looked at me so closely with his piercing and already half-blind eyes (as if he could see right through you) and said:
“Remember! Remember, father, once and for all: Humanity is nearing its end! Mankind lives only thanks to the fact that Russia still exists! Holy Orthodox Rus’—even if it’s desecrated, spat upon and persecuted—it’s still Holy Russia! When Holy Russia leaves the stage of humanity’s history, there will be the end of humanity, and the Last Judgment will come. Remember! Everything is declining.”
I always recall what a focused, serious look he had—as if the Lord had revealed everything to him.
And I heard from him more than once:
“Do not be tempted! Humanity is coming to an end. There is and will be no progress—only regress. Pray that there will be no nuclear war.”
And I remember that he also said in the altar after the service:
“Russia exists as long as monks struggle in it. As long as at least one monk remains on its territory, it will live.”