Paradox of the aggressive secularism: exclusion of religion from public life politicizes the Church


In spite of the reviving interest in religion among Europeans, the materialistic ideology still dominates our media. Church dwells on the margins of society.

The lack of due attention to the religious sphere drives conflicts, which otherwise could have been prevented. This has become especially clear with the influx of refugees from the turbulent Middle East and North Africa.

Paradox of the aggressive secularism: exclusion of religion from public life politicizes the Church[/tweetthis]

Religion is an integral part of our life and is specific to human nature. Despite gloomy scientific forecasts of the last century, the Church did not die, even in our secular world. Consequently, we need to learn how to live and interact with religious organizations.

Previously, reference has been made to the Ipsos Mori research, which indicated that faith is a more significant source of tension in Britain than race.

Desacralization of our traditional religious culture, like wine bars and night clubs utilising church buildings and furnishings or having references to the Bible in their names, curtails our ability to respect beliefs and sacred objects of other religions as well.

Formally exercised separation of Church and State, which was originally designed as a response to both clericalism and political dictate in the religious area, leaves churches to sink or swim. However, there is still a persistent need for dialog between secular and ecclesiastical authorities.

Disestablishing of religion drives people to satisfy their craving for sacred values with substitutes provided by the mass culture. At the same time, churches, whose holy mission is to organize and direct people's spiritual life, are forced to live from hand to mouth or engage in more and more profane projects.

Numerous historical examples clearly show how these trends may lead to negative consequences. Pressure from the government and indifference of the international community have more than once forced religious organizations to go against their own dogmas or instigated them to collaborate with violently atheistic regimes and even foreign special services.

For instance, the Orthodox Christian Patriarchate of Constantinople (commonly referred to as the Ecumenical Patriarchate, EP) found itself in a very difficult environment after the Kemalists came to power in Turkey. In some regard, the status of the Orthodox Christian clergy and of the Greek minority as a whole became even lower than it was under the Ottoman rule. As a result, in 1924, having abandoned hope of getting support from the UK, the Patriarchal office in the Fener (Phanar) district (Istanbul) started seeking favor with the atheistic Soviet government.

At that time the Bolsheviks followed the "divide et impera" ("divide and rule") principle in their religious policy. In 1922, with the support of special services, they established a Supreme Church Administration and the so-called “Living Church”. The latter was a "Renovationist" quasi-church entity controlled by the Soviets. It was meant to counter the conservative and royalist Russian Orthodox Church by encouraging dissent among Orthodox believers and compromising the orthodoxy "from the inside".

At the same time, the Renovationists were meant to become a politically secure option for steadfast believers. It was designed to be like the traditional Church but without any spiritual “burden”, which contradicted the Communist ideology.

For example, the First Renovationist Council decided to establish a married episcopate and to allow second marriages for the secular clergy (in violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Orthodox Christian teachings). Soon the Living Church ganged up on the monkhood, the liturgical reform was on the agenda as well.

The more complicated the EP’s plight was, the more “collaborative” with the Renovationists (and with the Soviet state via them) their work became. Back in 1923, the Patriarch of Constantinople Meletios (Metaxis) voiced support for Russian Patriarch Tikhon, who was arrested by the Bolsheviks and defrocked by the Renovationists. This support was quite in line with the British anti-Communist policy. However, as late as 1924, the EP's Holy Synod under the presidency of Patriarch Gregory VII took the side of the dissenters.

The Renovationists sought to get into communion with the Orthodox World and thus in 1923 they asked the Soviet government to return the building of the EP's Mission in Moscow to the Phanariots. According to the Renovationist Synod's resolution dated April 18, 1924, schismatics even discussed with the Communist authorities the issue of exiled Patriarch Gregory VII getting a permanent residence in the USSR.

Having received a positive signal from Moscow, His Holiness Gregory VII made several propositions concerning the Russian church during his speech to the EP's Holy Synod on May 6, 1924. He appointed a special "peacekeeping" commission and called Patriarch Tikhon to willingly step down and retire from the church administration. On the same day, the Holy Synod of Constantinople took the relevant decision. The 1st paragraph of the resolution said: “The commission will definitely fall back on ecclesiastical movements loyal to the Government of the USSR".

The Bolsheviks planned to receive the delegation and brief its members on their needs. However, the Archbishop Davidson of Canterbury expressed his disapproval of the EP's pro-Renovationist (and thus pro-Soviet) activity, and the phanariots’ visit to Russia was canceled.

Nevertheless, the same year, the EP's representative in the USSR Archimandrite Vasilios (Dimopoulos) was among the honorary members of the Renovationist's Synod. More than that, he concelebrated with the Living Church clergy on numerous occasions and even re-consecrated temples seized from the Patriarch Tikhon's supporters (the Renovationists absorbed pro-Tikhon parishes by making the reluctant ROC clergy hold special services).

As a result, several other Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs followed the Phanar's example and recognized the pro-Bolshevik dissenters. For instance, Primate of the Jerusalem Patriarchate His Holiness Damian I was among them.

Afterwards, the Renovationists repeatedly thanked the Patriarch of Constantinople for his support and gave generous gifts to Archimandrite Vasilios (Dimopoulos). For instance, in 1925, they rewarded him with a brilliant cross to wear on his klobouk – this, in a hunger-stricken post-Revolutionary Russia!

At the same time, the Kremlin was in no haste to quarrel with the Kemalists about the EP's status. However, on their part, the Living Church leaders actively supported the Phanar's reformist aspirations and its plans to organize a Pan-Orthodox Council in Jerusalem in 1925.

As early as June 1924, the Renovationists held a "Great Pre-Counciliar Meeting" in Moscow. Patriarch Gregory VII was elected as an Honorary Chair and represented by Archimandrite Vasilios (Dimopoulos). According to the report by the head of the anti-religious arm of the Soviet OGPU Yevgeny Tuchkov, "156 priests, 83 bishops and 84 laics" attended the event. The same document said that there were as many as 126 undercover OGPU agents assigned to the meeting – i.e. as clerics too.

It’s horrible to remember, how many Orthodox Christian believers and clergy were arrested and executed by the Bolsheviks during 1924-1935, while the Constantinople hierarches, cornered by the Kemalists, turned their backs on their brothers and sisters in Christ and were sweet-talking OGPU officers!

Archimandrite Vasilios (Dimopoulos) died on September 4, 1934, and was buried at the Vagankovo cemetery. Supposedly, his tomb was lost. No successor has been appointed to replace him at the position of the Phanar's representative in Moscow.

After the meeting with three ROC Metropolitans in September 1943, Stalin decided that the Living Church was no longer needed and, subsequently, there was no reason for the Eastern Patriarchs to deal with the "also-ran" Renovationists anymore, so they restored communion with the Patriarchate of Moscow as if nothing had happened.

It does seem like this is what awaits all political projects under the guise of the church, as well as all those politically minded hierarchs who violate the Canons and fuel the schism.

Unfortunately, similar situations, fraught with negative consequences for both the Church and the world, are still happening. Take the Clinton staff's attempts to pressure Catholic clergy and use them for political purposes, or Patriarch Bartholomew's meetings with the hierarches of the unrecognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate.

If secularism is not able to deter anti-religious politicians from offending beliefs, and only prompts churches to collaborate with special services or engage in political projects, then what good is such secularism?

As experience has shown, the freedom of religion NGOs are unable to cope with all the issues arising in this area globally. Even the USCIRF documents sometimes end up one-sided and incomplete. Christians are persecuted not only in the Middle East and Africa, and some branches of Islam face restrictions in their practice not only in the post-Soviet space. They are oppressed in Europe too. Discrimination against Christians in Europe and America, the plight of the EP in Turkey – all this seems to be of mild concern for monitoring reports, and gets largely ignored.

This is why it is public authorities who should mind the well-being of religious organizations, and provide the necessary conditions for their work to continue unimpaired.

Finally, the separation of Church and State, as the Sacred and the Profane, should be accomplished primarily in the minds of officials and clerics. This in turn demands for the very idea of the Sacred to be visibly represented in our public discourse, not obliterated from it. 


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