Detecting hypocrisy, among other faults, in the conduct of another is a perilous enterprise, as Christ reminds us in the allegory of the mote and the beam. It’s a bit like reprimanding somebody for bad manners, which is worse manners. And, not dissimilarly, finding impiety in a minister of the Gospel is, more often than not, just that – impious.
Unlike the Western churches, however, which through various accidents of history have been separated from temporal power, the Russian Orthodox Church, since its 1943 relaunch by Stalin after a quarter-century of Bolshevik decimation, has been a faithful handmaiden of the totalitarian state – or at least its hierarchs have been – and so rational skepticism with regard to it is, if a transgression, venial. Not only are our Patriarchs, unlike the Popes of Rome, not infallible, they frequently moonlight as secret policemen.
A case in point is our supreme pontiff Cyril, Patriarch of Moscow and All the Russias, whose address last month, under the good auspices of some gobbledegook front called the XVIII Universal Russian Popular Assembly, a thoughtful friend has forwarded to me. Appended to the text of the patriarch’s speech was a statistical analysis of his locutions, which in its own way I found as revealing as the middle name of the British parliamentary grandee, Lynne “Choona” Featherstone, in last week’s post.
The words “nation” or “national” occur in the address a total of 28 times, “Russian” is used 31 times – in addition to 16 times for “Russia” and “the Russian state,” apart from another 8 for just plain old “state” – while “unity” or “united” is slipped into the discourse on 15 occasions. “Church” is mentioned twice. God is not mentioned at all. Christ is never mentioned. Nor, for that matter, is sin, repentance, or salvation.
The word “Christian” does get in, but only as part of a cumbersome simile adducing “the ideals that, like the guiding star leading the Magi, illuminated the sharp turns of our nation’s path through history.” Likewise, “saints” get one mention, in a sentence about “the saints and heroes of our nation’s history,” which rather reduces, say, St. Andrei Bogolyubsky, the God-loving warrior prince of Vladimir murdered by his fellow boyars, to the level of Pavlik Morozov, the schoolboy hero of 1930’s Soviet iconography who informed the secret police that his father had been hoarding grain and was consequently knifed by the villagers.
Finally, the word “faith” – at least that could have gotten in, you might suppose, for surely even speeches at corporate AGMs are rarely made without such oblique invocation of the Almighty in the guise of fiscal prudence – though used, is used but once and in the following rhetorical sequence: “faith – justice – solidarity – dignity – statehood.” The sequence is there to highlight “the social imperatives of solidarity and collective striving that defined Russian society throughout most of the twentieth century.”
Orthodox believers are now in their first week of fasting before Christmas, and I know skeptical – to say nothing of vengeful – thoughts should be furthest from my mind, but at moments like these I envy the Catholics. Whatever Pope they have, and no matter on what subject he speaks Urbi et Orbi (“Sancti Apostoli Petrus et Paulus, de quorum potestate et auctoritate confidimus, ipsi intercedant pro nobis ad Dominum…”), at least you can be sure he’s a Christian.