Tuesday 15 August 2017

What is 'Sergianism'?

The cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Communist regime is known as ‘Sergianism’ after its founder Metropolitan Sergius (1867-1944). Sergianism did not simply pledge obedience to the civil authority, but complete oneness of mind with the atheistic regime which was, at the same time, imprisoning and executing thousands of Orthodox Christians. Although the Russian Church under the Soviets retained an outward liturgical conservatism, Sergianism involved substantial theological modernisation, particularly in the area of the relationship between the Church and the state. 

In his declaration of July 20th 1927, Metropolitan Sergius stated: ‘We want to be Orthodox, and at the same time to see the Soviet Union as our civil Fatherland, whose joys and successes are also our joys and successes, whose failures are our failures.’ He also praised Joseph Stalin as a ‘great, God given leader of the Russian people.’[1] For his loyalty to the USSR, Metropolitan Sergius was appointed as Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1943 by Joseph Stalin. Later Patriarchs were similarly rewarded: Patriarch Alexis II (agent DROZDOV) was awarded an honorary citation by the USSR KGB chairman for services to state security.[2]

Undoubtedly, these were difficult times, and many bishops and priests cooperated unwillingly with the Soviet regime. Some, placing themselves in great danger, outwardly cooperated, but were secretly spreading the truth about the oppression of Christians under Communism. Father Vladimir Rusak, imprisoned in the USSR for spreading religious literature, explained the terrible dilemma that many faced: ‘I love my Church, I grieve for its fate and I want to serve it, but of course, not at the price of subservience, that terrible price which our Church leadership is paying and which it proposes that I also should pay’.[3]

In the USSR, the Christians who had separated themselves from the Sergianist Church were known as the Catacomb Church and worshipped in secret. Many were betrayed by bishops and priests of the official Church and ended their lives as martyrs. However, the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate consistently proclaimed, without a trace of irony, that there was no religious persecution in the USSR. According to Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev and Galicia, (later to become ‘Patriarch’ of the Ukrainian Church): ‘no one is persecuted for religious convictions in the Soviet Union...The attitude of the Soviet State to the needs of the Church is considerate and understanding’.[4]

Solovki Monastery. Turned into a Gulag (concentration camp) by the Soviets. Many members of the Catacomb Church were imprisoned here.
Sergianism was not simply a Russian phenomenon, but was adopted by all Orthodox Churches within the territories controlled by the Soviets. It is also possible to see the influence of Sergianism in the ‘official’ Orthodox Churches today – an outwardly correct ‘canonical’ Orthodoxy is maintained, but many of the bishops fight against Orthodox Tradition. Christians that oppose these innovations are punished by their own church, and in some countries the ‘official Churches’ are also able to call upon the state to carry out judicial and extra-judicial punishments.

Sergianism teaches complete obedience to the hierarchy –  even  when this hierarchy is betraying Orthodoxy. This false obedience has penetrated into the minds of many Orthodox Christians who believe that obedience to their bishop, rather than to the Orthodox Faith, is the only requirement for Orthodoxy. On the contrary, faithful Orthodox Christians should not, in any circumstances, consent to a betrayal of Orthodoxy but should separate themselves from these wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Matt. 7:15).

[1] M. Spinka, The Church in Soviet Russia (New York: OUP, 1956) p. 86.

[2] C. Andrew, V. Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive (London: Allen Lane, 1999) p. 650.

[3] Orthodox Life, Vol. 38, No. 1 (1988) p. 20.

[4] J. Ellis, The Russian Orthodox Church (London: Croom Helm, 1986) p. 209.

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