01/06/2004, 00.00
Russia - Vatican
Send to a friend

Christmas 2004: triumph of Aleksij and Orthodox policy

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Following the ancient Julian calendar, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas tomorrow, Jan. 7. In recent days, the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksij II, delivered his Christmas message to all Orthodox faithful, saying that Orthodoxy is "undergoing a joyous period of revival."

Christmas is the primary element of this "revival". Having changed from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7, the celebration of Orthodox Christmas enjoys a series of positive effects. In reality, the change has occurred only recently. The revolution had imposed alignment with the despised "western" calendar, yet impeded celebration of Christian feast days according to their rightful solemnity: until 1991 Christmas in January  was a mere ordinary work day. Only Easter, falling on Sunday, managed to remain firm in believers' memory and devotion, despite the thousands of limitations set by communist authorities. There wasn't, therefore, the true "Christmas tradition" of Jan. 7. 

Since the fall of the Wall, the tradition is growing steadily each year. At the same time it is exalting consumer euphoria and the splendor of self-denial. Jan. 7 has moved the emphasis on dinner parties and gifts to the days preceding Christ's birth. In Russia, the consumer holiday par excellence is New Year's. It is that day that children await Santa Klaus (renamed by Soviets "Grandpa Frost"), who arrives together with "Baba Yaga", or the "Grandma Witch" to hand out gifts and gather families around the national dish (vodka). Christianity's outpouring of remorseless consumerism begins already on Dec. 25, called like in English, "Kristmes", but without any association with Christianity (as is all else with 90% of "corrupt" westerners). The consumerist Christmas allows for capitalist companies to unload their very "December"  merchandise on the large Russian market, in the name of neo-global ecumenicalism.

The true benefit for Orthodoxy is found on the spiritual side: Jan. 7 gives way to a series of ecclesiastical holidays, extending to the celebration of Christ's baptism on the 19th. Added to the scene set upon the clergy and the grandeur of the liturgy and ancient popular folklore  is the period of happy masquerade parties, the  "santerelli" celebrated masterfully by Lev Tolstoj  in "War and Peace", with groups of young people in costume chasing one another in sleighs at polar temperatures (these very days are the coldest of the year).

The feast of Christ's baptism ends with the solemn blessing of the waters. Following this, at lakes and ponds, there is the breaking of ice to provide holes large enough to take good-luck dips in the icy water: a form of asceticism that Americans rightly call  "extreme Orthodoxy"; meanwhile throngs of faithful line up to fill up their flasks and bottles with holy water to ward off evil spirits throughout the year.

Religious and political triumphs

On the occasion of Christmas 2004, the Orthodox Patriarch, Aleksij II, has many reasons to be "joyous". Above all, he can thank God for his renewed health, permitting him to keep criticism of others at bay and maintain his ambitions for a little longer. Secondly, he is on way to celebrate his 75th birthday (born Feb. 23 1929) in pomp and circumstance, which will culminate with a June 10 party to celebrate his enthronement on the patriarchal seat. The patriarchal jubilee will be further honoured by the commemoration of 250 years since the birth of St. Seraphim of Sarov, Russia's most beloved saint whose canonization just celebrated its 100th anniversary. Moreover, the jubilee is honoured by the 1000th anniversary of the construction of St Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, the mother church to all Russians. Naturally, Russian Orthodoxy hopes that this celebration will not be too ruined by Greek-rite Catholics, who want to establish in Kiev their own "Uniate" patriarchate   

Last Dec. 23 Aleksij was able to preside over the traditional meeting of Muscovite clergy in full form, personally reading the interminable budget report on the entire Russian Orthodox Church. He presented triumphant figures: 132 dioceses were opened in which 154 bishops now work, a total of 847 monasteries and hermitages, 16,350 parishes with 15,605 priests and 3405 deacons, not to mention the  681 churches and chapels now in Moscow (in 1990 there were less than 40), 5 theological academies, 2 Orthodox universities, 1 Advanced Theological Study Center for lay people, 33 major seminaries and 44 minor ones, in addition to schools of catechesis, liturgical song and iconography.   

Another reason to be satisfied is the now imminent reunification with the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, which has been a thorn in the side of the Moscow patriarchate. It, in fact, represents "pure" Orthodoxy, having preferred exile to accepting compromises with an atheist power. After having finally proclaimed a timid mea culpa, for giving into the communist government (15 years after the fall of the regime!), Aleksij is now eager to receive America's Metropolitan Lavr, representative of this czarist and ultraconservative Church (in one his synods he stated that ecumenicalism was "a heresy") which, at the same time, is more modern and savvy in terms of organization (having duly taken advantage of pagan capitalism). The circle of re-found Russian Orthodoxy is thus closed, being the bearer of the True Faith, immune to Catholic-Protestant contamination, invested by God with a universal mission and ready for a final battle with Antichrist reigning in the rest of the world.        

Strengthened by these "triumphs", last Dec. 30 the patriarch was able to reassert for the umpteenth time his "categorical refusal" to meet the Roman Catholic pope, who above and beyond his words does not make "real steps to improve relations with the Orthodox Church", but instead continues to give "missionary orders" to "re-baptize children throughout Russia" and to sustain "Uniate expansion" (grievances strongly restated in an end of the year interview published by the RIA-Novosti press agency).

Finally, the Russian Orthodox Church can now count on a renewed, highly faithful Parliament, to such a degree that Russian newspapers speak of a "the political triumph of Orthodoxy" (NGReligij, 17.12). As patriarchate spokesman, Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, stated: "Many Orthodox politicians have gained seats in the Duma and will take good care to ensure the Church's revival". And they will do it by completely abolishing taxes on Church institutions or by introducing privileges and forms of public financing for the "State" Church. In order to exist other denominations, however, will have to justify their own activities search for private and foreign financing.   
Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
John Paul II's icon arrives in Kazan, but dialogue with Catholics remains difficult
Pope writes Aleksij II who still says no to Ravenna
Positive relations with Catholics, but proselytism remains a problem, says Aleksij II
Poroshenko: only Patriarch Bartholomew can help unite the Ukrainian Church
30/07/2016 17:54
Pan-Orthodox Synod continues its proceedings
24/06/2016 17:54


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”