Stalin, Russianness and Orthodoxy

AsiaNews, the Roman Catholic news service, looks at how some elements in Russian society are working to rehabilitate Stalin’s reputation and sees the Russian Orthodox Church “co-opted” into this process.


The makeover of Stalin’s image and the Soviet Era go together with an attempt by Russian rulers to restore the country’s cultural identity, an impossible mission without the cooptation of Russian Orthodoxy. The Moscow Patriarchate, in spite of itself, is much involved in this issue, and has often been accused of playing right into the Kremlin’s hands in order to gain cultural supremacy in Russian society.

Aleksandr Cipko, a philosopher and editorial writer, from the pages of Nezavisimaja Gazeta on 15 September slammed the operation to revive the myth of Russia’s supremacy over the West. For him, there is a danger that Stalin will be seen as the embodiment of the original Russian project rather than Communism. The philosopher is angered by self-styled “true patriots” who “not only associate, but identify Russianness, orthodoxy and Stalinism as one, and exclude freedom, dignity, personhood, material well-being, from so-called ‘fundamental Russian values’.”

Apparently, whoever wrote this story (which did not carry a byline) had not seen Archbishop Hilarion’s statement that Stalin was a “monster.”


  1. Kudos to Abp. Hilarion, the only Russian hierarch on record (at least in English translation that I’ve read) who has decried neostalinism in today’s Russia. Has that Cassandra role been delegated solely to the head of the MP’s Foreign affairs?

    By analogy, I witness the complicit silence of the entire Muslim world as regards militant Islam and its jihadists. If the MP and other Orthodox churches do not clearly and definitively strive for progress of Orthodox societies out of the swamp of corrupt, brutal autocracy, we will ourselves as Orthodox clergy and laity be subject to similar criticism. Already, many Western agencies have us ‘pegged’ as insensitive to humanist issues in Eastern Europe. Witness the Mkalavishvili affair a few years ago in Georgia: the thuggery of a defrocked schismatic against sectarians there resulted in his arrest by civil authorities, but the language of the response of the Patriarchate to the crimes of Mkalavishvili and his followers was inadequate to convince the press that the Georgian church did not at least agree in part with his goals, if not his methods. While the GP may truly have been very upset by the schismatic’s actions, it did not appear to be all that concerned with the affair.

    We Orthodox can persist in hypocritically telling ourselves that the world hates Christ, and by extension us and our message and therefore secular powers and presses will always depict the Church in a bad light. But our pariah status in pressrooms does not excuse the Orthodox churches from the responsibility to lead people – including heads of state – to Christ. Can such a man as Vlad Putin actually participate in the life of the Church? When a leader is actively directing a program of re-stalinization of his country, not shying away from the serial murder of critics among the press corps, among other heinous crimes, must the heads of the church pat him on the head and call him a good Orthodox boy? It worries me that among all of us, only Abp. Hilarion is decrying renascent authoritarianism in today’s Russia. We need to do better than leave it up to one hirearch to be able to call a spade a spade.

  2. No, there has been others. Some priest was defrocked and condemned for canonizing Stalin.

    Lumping Stalin with Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible, “Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II has spoken out against the canonizations in unusually strong terms over the past year, stressing it would be impossible to canonize Ivan the Terrible, who ordered the deaths of several clergymen who were later sainted, and Rasputin, whose debauchery and dubious healing practices compromised the last imperial family of Tsar Nicholas II.

    “This is madness!” the patriarch said in his first statement on the subject in December 2001. “What believer would want to stay in a church that equally venerates murderers and martyrs, lechers and saints?” ”,18584.msg272894/topicseen.html#msg272894

  3. cynthia curran :

    Well, Stalin studied for the priesthood as a young man but became an atheist. Actually, Stalin with his pact with Hitler cause millions of Russians to suffer by the nazi invasion, since the Russians were caught off guard. There are even some secular historians that compared Stalin and Justinian the first. There is no comparsion, the Nika Revolt which might have resulted in the death of 20,000 to 30,000 might have been avoided if the mob would have taken Justinian pardon during the early apart of it,Justinian himself try to convince the mob to give up their revolt by himself swearing on the bible, alas, the mob ignored this, and many of them were killed. Stalin on the other hand far more ruthless than Justinian would have had them killed with out trying to offer them a pardon. Stalin has far less a reason to be considered a saint like Justinian was.

  4. George Michalopulos :

    Fr John, we Orthodox have terrible press. But part of that press is unwilling to report on the good. Specifically the Alexei’s comments regarding Stalin, Rasputin, and Ivan IV, or more recently +Hilarion’s appropriately harsh language re Stalin.

    I honestly don’t know how we could cultivate a better press. Our old world nationalisms guarantee for the foreseeable future that Orthodoxy will always equal Ruritania/Slobovia/Bulbania. Here in the states it’s not any better. If we’d had a united American Church we might have had a chance. But now I fear that with the new episcopal assembly, we’ll have the worst of all possible worlds: a not American Holy Synod but a congerie of Old World exarchates each with their veto power but outwardly pretending like they really are Americans.


  5. When I read Fr. John’s response I immediately thought of our Orthodox politicians here in the US (Olympia Snow, etc.) who on the one hand wholeheartedly support the holocaust of the unborn with their political power/leadership, and on the other hand receive rewards from the visiting EP on the other.

    I also think of the OCA (which Fr. John is a priest) where only one bishop out of 12 (if I recall the number right) thought that “Thou shalt not steal” was something to be taken seriously (something I left the OCA over – I suppose multi jurisdiction has it’s upside as well).

    Not that Fr. John’s concern is not valid, but Orthodoxy in America has it’s own planks in it’s eye to deal with first IMO. For them

    Shoot, why not call upon the Orthodox Peace Fellowship over these issues – they seem to have the ability to rouse celebrity Orthodox bishops and speakers as well as almost the entire staff of SVS when they put their mind to it (by evidence of those who signed “the plea“)…;)


  1. […] Russia’s relationship with the past, especially Stalin. It seems to me, from a somewhat casual view … so I’m not really going to defend it […]

  2. […] Russia’s relationship with the past, especially Stalin. It seems to me, from a somewhat casual view … so I’m not really going to defend it […]

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