Monday, May 14, 2007

Reuters: Russia Embraces Exiled Church to Heal Soviet Past

Russia Embraces Exiled Church to Heal Soviet Past.

A branch of the Russian Orthodox church whose members fled over 80 years ago to escape Bolshevik rule will rejoin the church in Moscow.


A branch of the Russian Orthodox church whose members fled over 80 years ago to escape Bolshevik rule will rejoin the church in Moscow this week in a milestone on Russia's journey to heal the wounds of its Soviet past.

The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was formed by exiled supporters of the last Tsar Nicholas II, murdered in the Russian revolution, who split from the church in Moscow because it had fallen under the sway of Russia's Communist rulers.

In a ceremony on Thursday, the church abroad will end its decades of estrangement by signing a document restoring its severed link with the church in Moscow.

Even for the majority of Russians who know little about religious affairs, the symbolism of their country re-connecting with its pre-revolutionary past has a powerful appeal.

"This is a truly epoch-making event in the life of the church and in the life of our society as well," Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month.

It also chimes in with Putin's drive to embrace traditional Russian values -- a campaign welcomed by most voters but which his critics say smacks of nationalism.

Putin supported the reconciliation between the two churches and is widely expected to attend the ceremony, along with members of the Romanov family, Russia's former ruling dynasty.

"One of the most grave consequences of the 1917 revolution, the civil war and the Cold War is being overcome," said Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy chairman of the Moscow's church's department for external church relations.

"All of the heritage that was preserved by the church abroad ... is being returned to Russia."

"That is a heritage of serving the fatherland, a heritage of a self-sufficient identity in the world, a self-sufficient policy in world affairs, and keeping faith with those historic traditions which developed in Russia up to 1917."


On Thursday, Alexiy II, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, will join Metropolitan Laurus, the New York-based leader of the church abroad, in signing an "act of restoration of canonical relations".

In the Christ the Saviour Cathedral -- blown up by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and rebuilt on the same site after the collapse of Communism -- clergymen from both churches will then jointly serve a mass for the first time in decades.

On Saturday, Alexiy II and Laurus will jointly consecrate a new church in southern Moscow built on the site where the Soviet secret police executed thousands of priests and monarchists.

Russia has already taken important symbolic steps to reconcile itself with its Communist past.

The Orthodox church granted the sainthood to Tsar Nicholas II and his family and what scientists believe were their remains were reburied in 1998 in the imperial crypt in St Petersburg.

Last year, the remains of the last Tsar's mother, Empress Maria Fyodorovna, who died in exile in Denmark, were reburied in St Petersburg.

The church abroad represents about one third of the Russian Orthodox diaspora outside Russia. But it is the part that most closely identified itself with traditional, monarchist values and was for years implacably opposed to Soviet rule.

Some of its adherents say they will leave the church in protest at the re-unification. They argue the church leadership in Moscow is tarnished by its Soviet past and its ties to Putin, a former Soviet intelligence officer.

Staying in the church after re-unification will be "tantamount to living in a Soviet Union scenario," Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a dissident follower of the church in the United States, told the religious news Internet site.

But the church in Moscow has dismissed the rebels as a tiny splinter group. Most followers of the church abroad are ready to return to the fold, said Fr. Nikolai Balashov, an official in the Moscow patriarchate.

"They have understood that the church was not the church they had fought against all those years and accused of departing from Orthodox values."