Fragments of an Analysis

Leaving Moscow

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Moscow

“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe — and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” —Blaise Pascal

Lights and Shadows

And so it comes to the time of leaving, and of summing up.

Who can sum up Russia? (Photo: St. Basil’s Cathedral at the end of Red Square two nights ago.)

I can only offer glimpses, blurry photographs, impressions, fragments of conversations. And yet, these too have their significance.

And from them, one can try to draw conclusions, without pretending that the conclusions are entirely valid, but only that they are possible.

My first thought is: confusion. Not just in Russia, but everywhere.

Russia is not Russia. Or at least, not the Russia I imagined. I imagined “Holy Russia,” filled with silent, holy monks and splendid, divine liturgies.
(Photo: A mid-November sun above the Kremlin of Kazan, the capital of Tartarstan; the photo is taken in front of the sanctuary where the holy icon of Our Lady of Kazan is currently kept. For more on the icon, see yesterday’s report.)

But it is a very human and very secularized Russia, especially in Moscow, its streets crowded with cars, its churches often empty, its clubs crowded with pleasure-seekers, its leaders intent, for the most part, I am told, on lining their own pockets and vacationing in the Crimea, or Switzerland, or Miami, or Italy, or Egypt, or the Maldives — any place warm — and the nation be damned.

But then, America is no longer America, and Italy no longer Italy. We have all been changed by the industrial, scientific, information and communications revolutions — changed utterly.

The news on CNN on the television as I leave my room in the Danilovsky Hotel is that the Catholic Church in Washington D.C. is protesting a likely ruling of the Washington D.C. city council that will require the Catholic Church’s social agencies to place orphaned children with homosexual couples. Obviously, America is no longer the simple America of “Mom and apple pie.”

And in Italy, once Catholic, the European Union has ordered that crucifixes no longer be displayed in public places. And so the Constantinian revolution is reversed after 1,700 years.

In the modern West, virtues once honored are honored no longer, and vices, like greed, once denounced as harmful to the person and his or her eternal soul, are now defended as “rights” and even praised as new virtues.

“You are right about the confusion, Bob,” Leonid Sevastianov, 31, the executive director of the Russian Orthodox St. Gregory of Nazianzus Charitable Foundation tells me. (The St. Gregory Foundation was established a few weeks ago with the blessing of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.)

“All Russians know that our country is not what it should be,” he continues. “This is why we are working as we are, and why we want your help, the help of Catholics, and of Western Europeans and Americans.

“We are grateful that Communism ended, but clearly we have not yet found our way to a true democracy. There is corruption everywhere — in our government, in our legal system, and, as our faith teaches us, in ourselves. None of us is innocent.

(Photo: A young Fidel Castro with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev on the wall of the Che Guevara cafe in Moscow, which is decorated in a whimsical “Soviet style.”)

“But the bottom line is, we are getting tired of the way things are. We don’t want to live like this anymore. We are afraid of the consequences if we do not change course. It could be the end of Russia.

“And this is precisely the reason that Patriarch Kirill has called for the moral renewal of Russia, through a return to the deep values of the Christian faith. And at his state of the nation address five days ago, Mr. Medvedev also urged Russia to develop, or rather, to return to, traditional values. So what we in the Church are proposing seems to have support also at the presidential level, as a national project.

“This is why I am working on the new foundation of St. Gregory, which will work inside Russia, but also with you Catholics in the West. Why? Because in one hundred years, it will not be important how much money I made, or what great secular initiatives I undertook, but what I did for God and the Church.

“We want a revolution in values. No more celebrity idols whose private lives are scandalous. Our ‘idols’ should be the mother who is raising five children, the father who is working hard to support and educate his children. This is our vision.”

Quo vadis, Russia? (“Where are you going, Russia?”)

I was surprised by the pessimism I found in Russia these past few days. One leading Russian economist, once a prominent liberal, told me that the country is under the control of a new elite which occupies 77% of all the leading positions on Russian society, in politics, the media, finance and the legal profession.

His depiction of Russia as almost a “gangster state” without any semblance of the “rule of law” was a drak and gloomy one. And in the media these past few days was the story of a policeman paid by powerful authorities to arrest a man he knew was innocent and fabricate evidence against him.

And so those who are critical of Russia today are not without reason.

But there is another side to the picture.

It is a side with more hope. And even the secular world recognizes the existence of this side.

It is the side of moral renewal, the side of the return to traditional values, the side, at least notionally, represented by Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev and Bishop Anastasi of Kazan and the Russian Orthodox Church in general.

Even Forbes magazine this week named Kirill as one of the most powerful leaders in Russia today.

“They placed him at #7,” Leonid tells me, then adds, “but that is silly, he is actually #1, no one is more respected in Russia than he is, the editors at Forbes simply don’t know Russia.”

And so the question of Russia’s future becomes, once again, the question of the Orthodox Church.

And here as well there are lights and shadows. (Photo, Red Square by night.)

There are vestiges of the Soviet system which still remain, and dangers from a too-rapid embrace of modern Western Christian ideas.

There are temptations toward a “politicization,” toward making the Church simply an arm of what is still in some ways a “bandit state,” rather than a “loyal opposition” which seeks to reform the ethical and social life of the entire nation.

I believe the Orthodox Church is slowly, gropingly, developing a strategy which is not fascist, not nationalist — though the Church does seek the preservation of the Russian nation and people — but Christian. And the efforts to reach out to Catholics are, for me, the proof of this.

For me, if the “siloviki,” the heirs of the Soviet secret services who still have enormous power in Russia 18 years after Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union, often hidden from public view, win this cultural and moral battle, and the Orthodox Church fails, Russia’s “oligarchs” could consume themselves, and their country.

In this context, I think of Kazan, and of that lonely chapel where “the protection of Russia,” the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, is preserved, after having been lost to Russia from 1918 until 2004, for 86 years.

Recently, the city of Kazan was awarded the World University Games, a type of Youth Olympic Games.

Could not this opportunity be seized upon by the city of Kazan, the government of Tartarstan, the government of Russia, and the Orthodox Church, given the internal situation in Russia, and the nation’s demographic crisis, and the lost youth of this generation, who do not imagine getting married and having children and raising them together, to promote the culture of life and traditional family values?

Svetlana Medvedev, the wife of Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev, is an ardent Orthodox believer. (Photo of the Medvedev couple, left; both are 44 years old.)

She has asked that the present year be declared the “Year of the Family” in Russia.

Perhaps she could be persuaded to make the health of children and of families one of the central concerns framing the 2013 athletic games in Kazan, when athletes from around the world will converge on that city.

I have to leave Russia now.

May God bless Russia, and may she be consecrated to Mary, who has watched over and protected Russia so often in the past. She continues to protect Russia — even from herself — and to call upon all Russians to choose a path which leads to life.

“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” —Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and writer, 1623-1662)

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