Moscow (AsiaNews) – Sergey Chapnin, the executive editor of the "Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate", the official publication of the Russian Orthodox Church, was fired, ostensibly because of his positions openly critical of the current situation of the Russian Orthodox Church (see interview with AsiaNews).
The Church must try to "become an authoritative institution in civil society" and in its relations with the temporal power, it must "at least keep some distance, not identify with it, not take too much money, not serve its [the state’s] ideological demands".
Chapnin slams also the Church’s tendency "to associate war and Orthodox heroes," a trend promoted by some media as well as Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.
He warns against the emergence of “a new hybrid religion", in which Church and political leaders give words like "holy" and "saint" a temporal twist, "completely forgetting their reference to God."
"I call it the post-Soviet civil religion, which incorporates both Orthodox traditions, nostalgia for the Soviet past and the dream for a strong empire."
The journalist ends his paper turning to hooliganism by groups of Orthodox zealots, something that is never publicly condemned by the Patriarchate – people like Dmitry Enteo, whose group, ‘God’s Will’, recently carried out attacks against museums and cultural events deemed “offensive to the religious sentiment”.
For Chapnin, the Church has relied too much on divine justification to explain the violence by young people. "Through this kind of hooliganism, Enteo and his acolytes have exposed a serious problem within the Russian Church, clearly showing that the Church is divided into two camps" in which one accepts "the use of violence in the name of political and economic goals."
In fact, "For a substantial number of clergymen and lay people, violence qualifies as acceptable for Christians.” Indeed, “Within religious circles, such Orthodox activists are not condemned but are treated as heroes.”
“Whether the justification of violence becomes a feature of modern Orthodoxy or not is still an open question;” yet, “the temptation is great”.
Chapnin - who is also editor of the Patriarchate publications - has already started a small revolution, launching a monthly magazine The Temple of Russia in XXI Century which for the first time addresses the issue of the architecture of modern Orthodox churches. "It is a project I started in early 2014 based on the fact that many churches are being built, but of poor quality and taste", he says in a conversation with AsiaNews, in his office a few steps away from the Novodevichy Monastery in Moscow. The explanation , according to the journalist, is theological: "Until we understand what the liturgy means for us today, we will never understand what kind of churches we need". (Perhaps what he meant to say is, 'Until we better understand the unchanging nature of the Divine Liturgy and discern how to best translate that understanding into contemporary language and practice, we will never understand what kind of churches we need to build.' Two words to our Russian brethren: go slow! Go very, very slowly before making any changes.)
It is quite a big issue, but what and who would it actually involve?
We have been discussing it for over a year and a half, even Church leaders are involved and we are preparing an official document on it. It is not just a question of structures that meet the needs of the parishioners (free parking, a cloakroom for coats in cold regions ...), but also to the shape of the altar: should the iconostasis cover it completely or leave it open to allow a better understanding of the liturgy? The issue of whether the altar is open or closed, depends very much on the perception of the role of the faithful in the liturgy and in the future I think we will increasingly see churches with open altars. (Altar railings were stripped from Catholic churches because of thinking such as the following from what appears to be a Protestant site: "Communion rails can divide the worship space into two areas. A strong separation of the nave from the chancel is a questionable practice. A single space encourages congregational unity, stating that all Christians belong to the priesthood of believers." Compare that thinking to the following expressed in an article at the National Catholic Register: Altar (Communion) rails are returning for all the right reasons. Said Father Markey: “First, the Holy Father (Pope Benedict) is requiring holy Communion from him be received on the knees. Second, it's part of our tradition as Catholics for centuries to receive holy Communion on the knees. Third, it’s a beautiful form of devotion to our blessed Lord.” James Hitchcock, professor and author of Recovery of the Sacred (Ignatius Press, 1995), thinks the rail resurgence is a good idea. The main reason is reverence, he said. “Kneeling’s purpose is to facilitate adoration,” he explained. When Stroik proposed altar rails for the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “Cardinal [Raymond] Burke liked the idea and thought that was something that would give added reverence to the Eucharist and sanctuary.” [link/source]) The liturgy today is incomprehensible to the majority of the faithful, not only for the fact that it uses the old ecclesiastical language, but also because people do not understand what is going on. What is lacking is a serious work of catechesis. (In all seriousness for a moment, perhaps the Russians might consider adopting a modern vernacular or hieratic English as some eastern churches in North America have done (e.g., the OCA/liturgics; read also: Why we need an all English Liturgy by Robert Arakai.). Parishes of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have, for example, liturgies that are in both Ukrainian and English.)
But is that only becoming a problem now?
It is a huge problem that started about 25 years ago, when the Church was free again, and suddenly out of fashion: a lot of people were baptized but there were not enough catechists and so those people learned little of the Christian faith beyond the formality of religious life. No one knew the spiritual significance of the liturgical gestures, or was aware of the change that they would have to make to their daily life. (How about a reform of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom à la Bugnini? Just kidding.) The fact that there has never really been any internal change, a secularized conception of the Church and religious life has become imbedded in Russia, as a space in which to reconnect to the past, but without detaching from Soviet consciousness. This has resulted in phenomenon such as the 'Orthodox communists', 'Orthodox Stalinists' and so on. [source/link] (The sexual revolution and anti-authoritarian movements of the 1960s shook the Catholic Church and tore at the liturgical moorings which have anchored the faith and witness of Catholics for centuries. The Stalinist revolution tried to destroy the religious spirit of man and when the Berlin Wall fell, the absence of even a false religion like communism left Russians psychologically adrift and in doubt of what might come next. It is no surprise, in the wake of what is really a massive spiritual upheaval, that the Russian Orthodox Church has cozied up to an older model of church-state relationship for some semblance of stability. I.e., that of caesaropapism.)