Commemorations of Revolution and Reconciliation
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… Over the course of the next three days our Diocese will be commemorating a number of events. I’ll provide the details of these events when we get to our announcements, but for now, I would like to observe the Decree of our Archbishop asking all parish rectors to speak today about the spiritual significance of these events.
What events are we speaking of?... First, is the 100 year anniversary since the Boshevik Revolution which attempted to destroy Christianity in Russia; and second, is the 10th anniversary of the reconciliation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia with the Russian Orthodox Church Within Russia.
Let us begin by facing what may be an initial reaction… Why should I, as an American, care about any of this? This all seems political and not spiritual and what does this have to do with me? These are legitimate questions and I would like to address them.
The experience of what happened in Russia and to the Orthodox Church there is not unique to Russia. We have many Romanians in this parish who can speak to a very similar period of great suffering and persecution of the Church at the hands of the Communists in their land. While the focus of the commemorations occurring this week are on the experience of the Russian Orthodox Church, these experiences have been shared by other Christians in other lands and the lessons to be learned are applicable to each and every Orthodox Christian.
In every land there has been, there is, and there will be tension between the utopian dreams of the Kingdom of Man and the humble path of the Kingdom of God.
For many centuries Russia stood as an Orthodox culture. Of course there were social injustices and the usual imperfections which mark all societies in this fallen world. But that does not negate that there was a foundation there of Christian culture, of love for God and country. So how did this erode to such a point that the seeds of revolution began to grow and reached such a demonic level to allow the anointed king to be killed, churches to be destroyed, and countless bishops, priests, and other pious Christian souls to be martyred?
The forewarnings of this change had been proclaimed by numerous saints and prophets within Russia. The Elders of Optina, St John of Kronstadt, and many others saw the signs of a weakening of the faith of the people and the growing immorality and depravation of mind that accompanies such apostasy.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… let us not forget the old adage: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ The cry of the martyrs of the 20th century from Russia, from Romania, from all parts of the globe where godlessness attempted to destroy the Christian faith – this cry must reach our ears. We do well to learn and understand what happened in these lands and to learn and admire the valiant struggles of those who defended their faith and gave their lives for it.
And make no mistake… many of the patterns of thought and social action that led to the persecution of the Christian Church in the former Communist lands are happening right under our noses here in America and in Europe.
How will we, as American Orthodox Christians, react to the increasing tension between our faith and the changing culture of the world around us? How will we preserve the faith in our children when all around them they are being taught values that are contrary to their faith? How will we survive the increasing intolerance and demands for conformity of those who pretend to be friends of tolerance and diversity? These are serious questions... and, lest we think that such thoughts are overreactive, we should study the cultural atmosphere that led up to the Russian Revolution.
As Holy Russia fell under the weight and persecution of the new Soviet Union, the reigning Patriarch Tikhon, anticipated troubled times ahead. He sent out a Decree which directed those dioceses of the Russian Church outside the borders of Russia to develop an independent administration until normal relations and communication with the church within Russia could be restored. This was the beginning of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia or ROCOR. The ROCOR church existed independently for over eighty years… always praying for the ‘suffering Russian Church’, that she would be preserved from ‘the godless authorities’, and that one day there would be freedom within Russia again and that church unity would be restored.
I would like to tell you about the Church of Christ the Savior as a metaphor of what happened in Russia. On a central hill within Moscow, there existed a magnificent cathedral dedicated to ‘Christ the Savior’. This cathedral could be seen from all parts of the city and its bells rang out calling the people to prayer and in praise of Christ our Lord.
As the Soviets ceased power in the early part of the 20th century, one of their first targets to demonstrate their power and opposition to all that was holy, was the Christ the Savior cathedral. Using dynamite, they blew it to bits.
In its place, they intended to erect a massive skyscraper dedicated to the Soviet Utopia: the ‘Palace of the Soviets’. Interestingly, all attempts to build on that site were unsuccessful. The foundations would flood with water from the nearby river and they finally gave up and installed a huge public swimming pool instead.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and as the church within Russia began to resurrect with new freedom – a cry went out to rebuild the Christ the Savior cathedral. Plans were drawn up to rebuild it to the exact same specifications as the original. Within the lifetimes of most of those involved, they knew that the foundations would not support such a building. But the project was blessed and proceeded… and now, for the past 20 years or more, the cathedral of Christ the Savior stands proudly in the midst of Moscow. The church bells ring loudly once again proclaiming the praise of Jesus Christ our Savior. The destruction, desecration, and eventual resurrection of this great cathedral are symbolic of all that transpired in Russia and to Holy Orthodoxy in the 20th century.
And so, 10 years ago… after much prayer, many investigative trips and conversations, after much suffering and fear and hope – the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia reunited with the now free Orthodox Church within Russia. It was a miraculous thing, which many of us would never dream to see within our lifetime.
Let us wisely remember and learn from the experience of the Orthodox Church in the 20th century. The path of a society which does not honor and treasure, and therefore does not practice, its faith – is a path which leads that society toward indifference and laziness in regard to holy things. Into this vacuum of weakened faith comes marching the siren call of worldly temptations, immorality, and utopian visions which try to build distorted paradises without God.
Through the prayers of the holy martyrs, through the prayers of the united Russian Church… may we take the lesson of history to recognize the signs of a society which is falling away from God; and may we be courageous and remain faithful to our holy Orthodox faith.