Written by Vladimir Moss



     What should be the attitude of True Orthodox Christians to the contemporary Russian State? Is it the true successor-state to the pre-revolutionary Russian empire, requiring that its citizens – and especially those citizens who call themselves Orthodox - obey it with zeal and express loyalty to it (even if privately critical of certain of its actions or leaders)? Or is it illegitimate, requiring that its citizens adopt a confessing stance in relation to it, refusing obedience at least in certain spheres (for example, the war in East Ukraine)? To put it more bluntly: is the present-day Russian Federation a true authority established by God (Romans 13.1)? Or is it akin to that apocalyptic beast of which the Holy Spirit says that its power is from the devil (Revelation 13.2)?

     The Russian Orthodox Church was faced with this question shortly after the revolution in relation to the Soviet State, and came up with an unequivocal answer: the Soviet State is cursed by God, and no confessing Orthodox Christian can recognize it. Already on November 11, 1917 the Local Council of the Russian Church meeting in Moscow declared that Soviet power was “descended from the Antichrist and possessed by atheism”: “Open combat is fought against the Christian Faith, in opposition to all that is sacred, arrogantly abasing all that bears the name of God (II Thessalonians 2.4)… But no earthly kingdom founded on ungodliness can ever survive: it will perish from internal strife and party dissension. Thus, because of its frenzy of atheism, the State of Russia will fall… For those who use the sole foundation of their power in the coercion of the whole people by one class, no motherland or holy place exists. They have become traitors to the motherland and instigated an appalling betrayal of Russia and her true allies. But, to our grief, as yet no government has arisen which is sufficiently one with the people to deserve the blessing of the Orthodox Church. And such will not appear on Russian soil until we turn with agonizing prayer and tears of repentance to Him, without Whom we labour in vain to lay foundations…”

     This attitude was confirmed and sealed by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon in his famous anathema against the Bolsheviks on January 18 / February 1, 1918, which was enthusiastically endorsed by the whole Council some days later. The holy patriarch, who was martyred for the Faith in 1925, exhorted the faithful to have “no dealings whatsoever” with “those outcasts of humanity”, the Bolsheviks. Some have argued that this anathema was addressed only to individual Bolsheviks who carried out acts of sacrilege against the Church and believers. However, in 1923 the patriarch confirmed that he had anathematized precisely “the Soviet state”. Moreover, the anathema fell not only on the Bolsheviks, but also on all those who cooperated with them.

     An anathema on a state is unprecedented in Orthodox history. The only possible parallel is the virtual declaration of war on Julian the Apostate by SS. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. The Orthodox Church and the Soviet state were irreconcilable foes…

     Tragically, however, only a minority of the Russian people obeyed the command of the holy patriarch. In the decades that followed, the great majority either openly joined the atheist frenzy, or, while remaining formally Orthodox, fell away into one or other of the many pro-Soviet church schisms, such as the “Living Church” schism of 1922, or the “Sergianist” schism of 1927 (i.e. the present-day Moscow Patriarchate). By the beginning of the Second World War, those who remained obedient to the patriarch’s anathema had either been sent to the Gulag, where most of them perished, or had fled into the catacombs, where they formed the “Catacomb” or “True Orthodox” Church. Outside Russia, the Russian Church Abroad supported the Catacomb Church. But there, too, pro-Soviet schisms undermined and weakened the witness of True Orthodoxy.

     After the Second World War, the Catacomb Church, under enormous pressure from the KGB and the KGB-ruled patriarchate, became smaller and smaller, retreating further and further into the catacombs. In the West, meanwhile, the Russian Church Abroad also became weaker, in spite of the witness of such anti-Soviet giants as St. John Maximovich (+1966), Archbishop Averky of Jordanville (+1976) and St. Philaret of New York (+1985). By the time the Soviet Union fell in 1991, two pressing problems threatened the very existence of the confessing Russian Church.

     The first was the lack of Catacomb bishops. This problem was solved by the Russian Church Abroad ordaining two catacomb clergy to the episcopate – Archbishop Lazarus of Tambov and Odessa, and Bishop Benjamin of the Kuban and Black Sea.  Soon the True Orthodox Christians of Russia had a fully canonical hierarchy again, whose present-day leader is Archbishop Tikhon of Omsk and Siberia...

     The second, more difficult problem was: how to define the status of the new, post-Soviet Russian state, and therefore the Church’s attitude towards it. Here a sharp division emerged between the great majority of the Church’s flock inside Russia, the Catacomb or True Orthodox Church, and the majority of the flock of their brothers outside Russia, the Russian Church Abroad. Inside Russia, the believers did not trust the changes that had taken place; for them, the leopard had not changed its spots (Jeremiah 13.23), the communists had merely assumed the mask of “democrats”, the wolves had simply put on sheep’s clothing while remaining inwardly as ravenous as before (Matthew 7.15). Outside Russia, on the other hand, most believers were displaying signs of “war weariness”; they wanted to believe that the Soviet Union had miraculously changed into a normal State overnight, that the KGB had disappeared, that the communists had repented, etc. When V.V. Putin came to power in 2000, this attitude intensified as nationalist feelings became mixed up with dogmatic and canonical issues; and in 2007 the Russian Church Abroad threw in the towel and was united with the Moscow Patriarchate, acknowledging the legitimacy of the Russian State.



     Now, over twenty-five years since the beginning of perestroika, we are in a better position to judge who were right: those inside or those outside Russia, and to what extent, and how, Russia has really been “reconstructed”.

     One fact is not in dispute: Marxism-Leninism, the official ideology of the Soviet Union, has disappeared into the dustbin of history. There might still be a few “true believers” in the Russian Communist Party (or in the “Donetsk People’s Republic”). But if we are looking for convinced Marxists, we are more likely to find them in North Korea or Nepal or Zimbabwe or Venezuela - or even in Paris, New York or Glasgow - than in “the homeland of the revolution”.

     But how significant is this fact? Not at all if we remember that the essence of communism does not reside in Marxist ideology, but in the demonic spirit that tries to overthrow all God-established authorities. As the holy Elder Aristocles of Moscow and Mount Athos (+1918) said some years before the revolution to the future Abbess Barbara of the St. Mary Magdalene convent in Gethsemane: “An evil will shortly take Russia, and wherever this evil goes, rivers of blood will flow. It is not the Russian soul, but an imposition on the Russian soul. It is not an ideology, nor a philosophy, but a spirit from hell. 

     A spirit from hell… So if we are to determine the question whether the Russia of today has really been liberated from Sovietism, we have to ask: has that hellish spirit been exorcised? Is the demon-possessed body of Soviet Russia now at peace?

     Spiritual diseases require spiritual treatments. So the spiritual sickness of Soviet Russia could only be cured by the spiritual cure of repentance. At the beginning of the 1990s there was a brief moment when the repentance of Russia looked possible, as thousands of people threw in their party cards in response to revelations of the shocking crimes of the Soviet period. But the stubborn spirit of rebellion quickly staged a comeback. In 1992 a “trial” of the Soviet Communist Party came up with the verdict: “Not Guilty”! In the same year, a parliamentary commission unearthed incontrovertible evidence that the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate were KGB agents – but not a single patriarchal bishop repented or resigned! Meanwhile, the KGB itself, after a short-lived scare, recovered its poise and set about planning the next stage in the revolution… If the leaders of Church and State refused to repent, it is not surprising that the people as a whole were also impenitent…

     At the beginning of the new millennium, the KGB, and with it the evil spirit of Sovietism, returned to full power. Ten years before there had been three centres of power – the Party, the Army and the KGB. Now there was only one, the KGB; and its agents quickly filled all the more powerful posts in government.

     As Kerensky had paved the way for Lenin in 1917, so now the first and last democratic president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, passed on power to V.V. Putin, a little-known agent who had started his career by spying on Church dissidents in Leningrad. He promptly declared that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 had been “the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century”- and set about restoring the Union.

     Of course, this regression has been gradual and concealed in various ways; but nearly fifteen years later, the family resemblance to the pre-perestroika Soviet Union is unmistakable. In marked contrast to the Ukraine, where the statues of Lenin have been falling everywhere, in Russia there has been a revival of the cult.[1] The Patriarch of Moscow has even given an award to the head of the Russian Communist Party, Gennady Ziuganov… 

     Before the revolution, St. John of Kronstadt said that Russia without a tsar would be “a stinking corpse”. His prophecy has proved accurate, not only for the Soviet period, but also for the post-Soviet period, which should more precisely be called the neo-Soviet period. St. John’s opinion was echoed by the last true elder of the Russian Church Abroad, Archimandrite Nektary of Eleon (+2000): “For him, all governments in Russia after the overthrow of the Tsar on March 2, 1917 – whether the February-democratic government, the Bolshevik, or another – were enemies of God.”[2] And it was confirmed again by the Holy Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Russia under Archbishop Lazarus (Zhurbenko), which on May 28 / June 10, 2004 called the Russian state “a regime that carries out the dechristianization of the Russian people, waging a campaign of moral corruption and encouraging its physical dying out”. To bless such a regime, the Synod concluded, would be “a grave crime against the Christian conscience”.[3]

     Only a truly Orthodox tsardom can be a legitimate government for Russia – or a Provisional Government that consciously prepares the way for the return of Autocracy and unambiguously condemns the lawlessness of all that has taken place in Russian governmental life since February, 1917.[4]

     So we conclude that the truly Orthodox Church can in no way pray for a state that still remains under the anathema of Patriarch Tikhon of 1918, which sees itself as the heir of the Soviet Union, is working openly for the restoration of that empire, and whose continued existence is the main obstacle to the only cure that will heal the ills of Russia: national repentance. If physical resistance is impossible, then spiritual resistance is both possible and obligatory. For “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4.4).


September 18/ October 1, 2014; revised October 30 / November 12, 2014.

[1] See Igumen Andrei (Erastov), “Po povodu krizisa v Ukraine”, October 17, 2014,

[2] Isaak Gindis, in Archimandrite Nektary (Chernobyl’), Vospominania, Jordanville, 2002, p. 7.


[4] Alexander Nikitin, “Chto zhe trebuietsa ot pravitel’stva dlia priznania ego perekhodnym k zakonnomu?” (“What is required of a government for its recognition as transitional to a lawful one?”) Vozvrashchenie (Return), 2, 1993, pp. 6-8.


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