We Cannot Understand Russia, Unless We Understand the Russian Orthodox Church

Remember that the Fatherland of the earth with its Church is the forerunner of the Fatherland of heaven, so love it fervently and be ready to lay down your life for it... God entrusted to us, the Russians, the great talent saving of the Orthodox faith... Rise up, Russian man! Stop your madness! Enough! Enough of drinking the bitter cup full of poison, both for you and for Russia.

-The Holy Righteous Father John of Kronstadt-

THE PEOPLE... Because of the frequent and unconscientious use of this word, it has become so worn and faded that it is now almost impossible to recognize its true meaning. But fortunately the people, the degraded and deceived, the robbed and reviled, the Russian people, are still alive.

But do we remember what it means to be Russian? What is necessary for this? Is it enough to have the appropriate entry in the passport, or something else is required? If so, what is required? To answer these questions means to find a foothold in the restoration of national-religious self-consciousness, to come to terms after decades of atheistic cosmopolitan oblivion, to realize ourselves, our way, our duty, our goal. For this it is necessary, above all, to return to the people its historical memory. Only by remembering "where did the Russian land come from", in what soil strengthened the fertile roots that nourished the people's life for ten centuries, can we correctly answer the questions, without answering which we will not live any longer and will decay. On this path we cannot do without the Orthodox Church, the oldest depository of living faith and moral purity. Without her loving, fatherly nurturing, we will get lost, drown in the abyss of contradictory aspirations, ambitious desires, and deceitful advice.

"Whence all that is best in our Fatherland, what is now more dear to us in justice, what is pleasant for us to think about, what is comforting and consoling to see around us? From the Orthodox faith, which was brought to us by our Prince Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles. We cannot but rejoice in the almost immense greatness of our native land. Who is first responsible? The Holy Orthodox Faith. She brought together disparate tribes of the Slavs, destroyed their tribal differences, which prevented them from communicating, and formed one large, strong and united Russian people. Who has kept and preserved our nationality for so many centuries, after so many coups, in the midst of so many enemies encroaching on it? The Holy Orthodox Faith. It purified, sanctified, and strengthened in us the love of the Fatherland, giving it the highest meaning in the love of faith and of the Church. She inspired the heroes of Don and Neva, Abraham and Hermogenes, Minins and Pozharsky. She breathed and breathes into our soldiers unshakeable courage in battles and sanctifies the very battle for the Fatherland as a holy exploit for the faith of Christ...". These inspired words belong to His Eminence Demetrius, Archbishop of Kherson. Long ago they were said, but how can it not echo now in the heart of Russian man! How can it not hurt to see the dirt trampled shrines, loyalty to which dozens of generations have proven their lives, to protect which they have spilled so much blood?

But today people are again trying to impose a worldview in which there is no place for sacred things. The heart of man, the throne of God, they are trying to take with ugly ungrateful idols of material prosperity: Success, Wealth, Comfort, Glory. That is why destructive passions, anger and lust, power and vanity, deceit and hypocrisy, are rampant in society. But know this: the naked material interest, no matter how dressed up as being well-meaning it may be, cannot be the basis of people's life. Business breeds companions, faith breeds champions of truth and goodness.

"Do we love our language as harmonious and strong as a Slav's breast, as rich and varied as the country it inhabits? It was formed for us by the holy faith of the Orthodox. It has brought us with itself the first letters to communicate our thoughts, to expand the range of our concepts, to communicate to us light and luminous concepts about God and His infinite love for people, about man and his high destination in eternity ... We have almost lost everything from our former life in Russia, but we have preserved the holy temples, in which our ancestors prayed; we have preserved the sanctuary bequeathed to us by our forefathers, and with it, we inherited their blessing... We must admit that if our ancient ancestors arose from their graves now, they would hardly recognize us as descendants: We have changed so much in all things.

But they will recognize us in the holy temples of God, they will not deny us before their cherished sanctity ... Can we not wish from our hearts that the Orthodox faith, this kindred, living union of our ancestors, would be preserved by us and passed on to our descendants as our most precious heritage, as a cherished treasure, in all its pristine purity and holiness, so that future remote posterity would also have a kindred Christian sympathy for us ...". These words of the Archbishop of Kherson now sound like a rebuke to us, cowardly and unfaithful, lost in petty worldly concerns and almost unbelieving, having almost lost touch with the great and glorious past of our own people. I admit that the poison of religious indifferentism and indifference to the sanctities of faith (which replaced the outright theomachy of past years) has temporarily deafened a considerable part of society and poisoned the Russian heart, but I do not believe that there will be a Russian person (whether religious or not) who will remain indifferent to the above words of His Eminence Dimitry about the inseparable connection between the earthly greatness of Russia and her spiritual power and health, with the strength and vitality of her faith. And if he is, he is not Russian: those who sell Christ are always international.

Why, the reader might ask, when talking about the unique national identity of a nation, did we start with the Church? Are there not many other national traits, national characteristics that have been lost over time, or forcibly eradicated by the builders of the "bright future"? Isn't there some artificial exaggeration here, especially since church evangelism, as we know, knows no national boundaries? There is no exaggeration. The Orthodox Church is the collective conscience of the people. Like a caring mother, she has nurtured its best traits. She sternly rebuked its sinfulness and gave strength to restore what was lost. "Whoever thirsts, come to Me and drink," the Church proclaimed in the words of Scripture, and gave generously to those who came and believed the living water of Gospel truth. Whether you are a believer or not, read the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus Christ our Lord, who lifted on His shoulders the weight of all our sins, wrongs, and wickedness, who atoned for them by humiliation and mockery, by spitting and whipping, and by a terrible, shameful death on the Cross, read these evidences of God's infinite mercy (Gospel of Matthew, chap. 5, 6, 7), and tell us honestly: Have you ever encountered a doctrine more sublime, more pure, and more full of love...?

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," the Church testified to the Russian people. "Blessed are those who are driven out for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven... So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:6,10,16). And is it not being obliged to this testimony that the Russian people have created the greatest state in the world, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, they did not humiliate any of the nations they encountered on their way, even the smallest, but all were received as brothers; conquering hearts not fortresses. The Church put the teaching of the Gospel into the soul of the people as the most perfect model, according to which everyone, to the best of his ability, must build his personal life, and all together the public and state life. It was the Church that became the center of the saintly patristic statehood, not raping the people, not creating slavery, but watching over the spiritual growth and moral self-improvement of everyone. The Church's idea of service lay at the basis of Russia's class structure, based on the division of common duties, not on the hierarchy of rights, as it was in the West. It is here that the whole way of Russian life originated, however much its forms may have changed over time. Orthodoxy is an indispensable quality of all Russia in its historical development. The concepts of "Russian" and "Orthodox" merged together. So it was until Russia was forcibly separated with premeditation, malice and calculation. They knew, to kill Russia, you must begin with the desecration of the soul...

Vasily Klyuchevsky, the famous historian, noted an interesting feature of Russian history. "The dominant ideas and feelings of the time, with which everyone has become accustomed," he said, "and which have become the cornerstone of consciousness and mood, are usually molded into walking, stereotypical expressions, repeated on every occasion. In XI-XII centuries such a stereotype was the Russian land, which is so often talked about by princes and chroniclers ... Everywhere the Russian land, and nowhere, not in any monument do you see the expression Russian people.” Trying to understand what it means "to be Russian", we can not pass by this fact. Is it an accident? No, because Russian history, which began as a factor of global (and even cosmic) importance since the baptism of Russia, in the first two centuries of its course presents us with a picture of the formation and spiritual formation of the national community, which in its final form was called "the people of Svyatorussky" - this favorite expression of storytellers.

The concept of "people" in relation to the national community is a higher concept, not material, but spiritual, and it alone is not enough to form a collective spiritual organism, so strong and resilient that no troubles and misfortunes (and how many of them were for ten centuries of our history) could destroy and destroy it. Initially, the unity of blood and common origin of the Slavic tribes, for all their importance, could not give this gathering the necessary vitality and strength. Only when the soul of the people, the Church, gathered the Russian people around itself, when Russia overcame the lack of state unity, which caused plagues and rifts in the national body, when, after throwing off the heterodox Tatar-Mongol yoke, Russia was united under the scepter of the Russian Orthodox monarch, then in all its mighty growth rose on the historical scene the Russian people. The people in the Church and the sovereign became open to all and they realized the purpose and meaning of existence. From this moment the meaning of Russian life finally and forever focused on Divine service in the highest and purest meaning of the word, serving God as a medium of Goodness and Truth, Beauty and Harmony, Mercy and Love. The purpose of people's life was finally defined as the task of preserving in intact the fullness of the Faith, this meaningfulness of personal and social existence, testifying about it to the world, protecting it from encroachments and distortions. And the Church blessed the people for this high service. This blessing took the form of a prophecy of the future great fate of Russia, of Moscow as the Third and Final Rome, the last stronghold of the true Orthodox faith in the terrible times of universal apostasy and world-wide confusion.

The two Romans fell in heresies and vain temptations of this world, not being able to preserve the reverent purity of faith, the pure and bright outlook of apostolic Orthodoxy. The first, the heir to the world empire of pagan Rome, having fallen into the hubris of Catholicism. The second, Byzantium, having compromised the purity of the Church for the sake of short-term political gains, given by God to the trampling of non-believers, the followers of Mohammed. The third Rome, Moscow, the state of the Russian people, and to it the Almighty Providence of God is from now on and up to eternity given to preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith, confirming the ultimate triumph of divine justice and love. So by the XVI century the service of the Russian people was determined, so they understood and accepted it. So the key to understanding Russian life is in the religious field, in the Church, and without mastering it, we do not understand ourselves, our people and our history.

It was the Church that gave our people the quality of unity, an invaluable quality that we are desperately squandering in our pursuit of the devil's mirages of an alleged "society of universal abundance". Russian collegiality is a consciousness of spiritual community of people, rooted in a common service, a common duty. The meaning of this community is in service to eternal truth, the Truth, which proclaimed itself in the words of the Gospel: "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). This is the meaningfulness of life as a service and self-sacrifice with the specific goal of drawing closer to God and embodying the moral ideal of Orthodoxy.

Inextricably linked to the collectivity of the people is its second precious quality, sovereignty. The embodiment of the moral ideal requires an appropriate social organization. Such an organization is inconceivable without the state consciousness that forms in a person a sense of duty, responsibility and patriotism. "Love your enemies, crush the enemies of the Fatherland, despise the enemies of God," is the sovereign voice of the people, expressed in the chiseled words of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, one of the greatest Russian saints of the last century. Sovereignty is the awareness of everyone's responsibility for everyone, the responsibility of the individual for the moral health of society and the strength of the state. Not a coercive responsibility "for fear", but a voluntary religious service "

Both of these folk qualities inevitably manifested themselves in the third, the openness, the "all-encompassing humanity" of the Russian character. This openness is the denial of false national conceit, the denial of the self-value of national belonging. It is a willingness to unselfishly join with everyone who accepts the sanctity and moral foundations of people's life.

Remembering all of this, let us ponder: isn't it time today to take a closer look at ourselves? Look at each other. To look around soberly. And maybe find the strength to say honestly that we, today, have almost no such Russianness left in us.

I say this with bitterness and sorrow, in the hope that the Lord will not leave us in His mercy, and we will still ask ourselves the main question, without an answer to which the continued existence of our people is unthinkable: how to restore to ourselves the clearly understood meaning of existence?

How can we restore to ourselves the traits of a God-bearing people, which with demonic persistence have been eradicated by the God-fighting authorities? How can we protect ourselves from the spiritual contagion of consumerism, this truly global plague that has corrupted and destroyed many peoples who were once Christian? All these and many other problems facing us today are one and the same question: how to go on living?

I think from what has been said above much is already clear. First of all, we must return to the Church. It is necessary to clean the sacred place, the human soul, from rags and trinkets, from the false values imposed on it and restore the violated and spit upon the meaning of human life. Life as a service to God, who calls us to Himself: "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). We must respond to this Father's call, come with repentance, not hiding our present wretchedness and shame, come with prayer and faith, and then God will be able to cleanse our hearts and restore peace and meaningful existence in them.

Having restored true values within ourselves, we must restore them outwardly as well. The life of society and the state requires meaningfulness, just as the life of an individual. Material well-being cannot be the goal of all aspirations. A well-fed belly does not mean a clean conscience. The criterion of the state system should be its God-pleasingness and correlation with the millennial old sacred places of faith. It is necessary to make full use of the rich experience of Russian statehood. We must throw out the arrogant lies about the "evil empire," "Russia as the prison of the peoples," "rotten Czarism," and tell the truth about the seventy years of captivity of the Orthodox Church and the Russian people. We must realize that Orthodox Russia has enemies who hate our people for their commitment to the Truth, for their faithfulness to their religious service, their Christian roots and origins. Realize that if we want to survive, we must learn to defend ourselves, our faith, our sanctities...

So, brothers and sisters, fellow countrymen, people of Russia! I beg you fervently, cordially, obeying my arch-pastoral duty and the voice of my conscience, cheer up, come to our senses, come to our senses at last! The Lord is merciful and impartial: every sincerely converted soul is welcomed with joy and love, washed clean of sins and iniquities by His grace, and comforted by elevated, spiritual comfort, of which the world of vanity has not even a rough idea. As soon as we begin to do so with impartiality, strength, and skill, a holy, heart-burning zeal will appear. "Let it be the common concern of all, that when we begin, we should not lose heart and should not be discouraged in our labors, nor should we say, 'How long have we been in the work? But rather, as if starting each day, let us increase our zeal.” Sixteen centuries ago Anthony the Great said these words as a consolation and admonition to all those who are discouraged and doubtful about their ability for spiritual rebirth. To us, to us today, they are addressed. Let us heed them, for God's promises are unrepentant, and the great destiny of Russia now depends on our will. We, and no one else, can and must rebuild the Holy Russian state. So be it! Amen.

Source: Derzava (Russian)