11/26/2021, 09.29
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Fr. Georgij Edelštein: the Russian Church needs courage

by Vladimir Rozanskij

For the patriarch of anti-Soviet dissent, the Orthodox Church is built on Bolshevik principles. Under Kirill there is an army of voiceless priests. Orthodoxy used for political reasons. What is needed instead is "sobornost", the real communion of man with God.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Russian Church needs courage. These are the words of Father Georgij Edelštein, the oldest member of the "Helsinki Group", which brought together anti-Soviet dissidents in the 1970s entrusted to Novaja Gazeta. The group led to the creation of the association "Memorial", now at risk of being closed by the General Prosecutor's Office in Moscow.

The patriarch of dissent is almost 90 years old: born in Kiev in 1932 to a family of Polish Jews, he managed to be ordained a priest in 1979 after a long wait. He later joined other Orthodox priests (Gleb Jakunin, Nikolaj Ešliman, and Aleksandr Men being the best known) in criticizing the regime and appealing to the ecclesiastical hierarchy to free itself from submission to the atheistic Soviet government.

Fr. Edelštein has always served the Church in remote villages. He is the author of books circulated in the Soviet era in the underground circuit, and then in the 1990s, such as the "Diaries of a Country Priest" and "The Right to Truth." He granted a long interview to the magazine greatly disliked by the Putin regime and directed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitrij Muratov.

In recounting his vocation, Fr. Edelštein notes that "certainly there was a spirit of rebellion against religious persecution, but I think it is God who chooses people for his Church; my motivations are secondary in this area. The faith was passed on to me by my mother, and much has been influenced by great Russian literature, even painting, from icons to 19th century paintings."

In the interview, Fr. Georgij traces the periods of Soviet oppression on the Church, from Stalin to Khruščev ("I never believed in the 'thaw,' there was always harsh persecution") to our own day, when deep traces of the Soviet system remain. "As one of our historians, Fr. Georgij Mitrofanov, recalled, in the 1990s garbage had accumulated in the Church, and soon it would be swept away," Edelštein explains. To him, however, it seems that "it is still all there, the Moscow Patriarchate is the last remnant of the Brezhnev stagnation."

The problem of the Russian Church, according to Father Georgij, is "the absence of 'sobornost', of real communion. Our Church is built according to Bolshevik principles, which at the time referred to democratic centralism." He points out that there was the secretary of the Party, and around him the Politburo: "Today we have the patriarch with the 'Metropolitburo', and below an army of voiceless priests; whoever tries to open his mouth is fired, or even reduced to the lay state.

Patriarchal servility to Soviet power was called "sergianstvo," from "Stalin's patriarch" Sergij (Stragorodskij) who in 1927 had signed a declaration of "loyalty to the Soviet people and government." According to Fr. Edelštein, "Patriarch Kirill today reiterates the same position as Sergij, but the Church depends neither on the people nor on the state, the sobornost is the communion of man with God... the patriarchal Church is still today an institution created by Iosif Vissarionovič [Stalin]."

Asked why he never abandoned a Church he criticizes so radically, as other dissident priests had done, Father Georgij replied "I wouldn't know where else to go: my model is Metropolitan Kirill (Smirnov) of Kazan, shot in 1937 for refusing to sign the Sergij declaration. The Church is one, and the Lord has promised us that the gates of Hades would never destroy it."

Fr. Edelštein concludes by reiterating that "the Church is always free, it is men who are not free, especially priests... even today we are the lackeys of the new regime, some more than others. Even the schism with Bartholomew of Constantinople was an order from above, as in Stalin's time, when the Church was used for the purposes of Soviet foreign policy".

To the final question if one can ask the powerful to repent, the great dissident observes: "I do not think that our Lord asked Herod to repent, this is something that concerns only Christians. The task of the Church is not so much to build the kingdom of God on earth, Jesus takes care of that, we must at least avoid the gates of Hades, from the time of Herod to the time of Putin: we need the courage of faith".

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