Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia

Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia

Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia

Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia


Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent is the first book to fully explore the expansive and ill-understood role that Russia's ancient Christian faith has played in the fall of Soviet Communism and in the rise of Russian nationalism today. John and Carol Garrard tell the story of how the Orthodox Church's moral weight helped defeat the 1991 coup against Gorbachev launched by Communist Party hardliners. The Soviet Union disintegrated, leaving Russians searching for a usable past. The Garrards reveal how Patriarch Aleksy II--a former KGB officer and the man behind the church's successful defeat of the coup--is reconstituting a new national idea in the church's own image.

In the new Russia, the former KGB who run the country--Vladimir Putin among them--proclaim the cross, not the hammer and sickle. Meanwhile, a majority of Russians now embrace the Orthodox faith with unprecedented fervor. The Garrards trace how Aleksy orchestrated this transformation, positioning his church to inherit power once held by the Communist Party and to become the dominant ethos of the military and government. They show how the revived church under Aleksy prevented mass violence during the post-Soviet turmoil, and how Aleksy astutely linked the church with the army and melded Russian patriotism and faith.

Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent argues that the West must come to grips with this complex and contradictory resurgence of the Orthodox faith, because it is the hidden force behind Russia's domestic and foreign policies today.


The official dissolution of the USSR on December 25, 1991, occasioned self-congratulation among some in the West but provoked an agony of conscience and recrimination within Russia itself. With huge sections of the country poisoned by chemicals, fresh evidence mounting of the contempt with which the Soviet government treated its own citizens, and the list of those who died in the Gulag growing by millions, Russians faced a period of disorienting turmoil as they saw their truncated country plummet from superpower status. The almost instantaneous disintegration of the Soviet system and the Communist Party that ran it left a vacuum once occupied by the official ideology of “scientific atheism.”

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is filling this vacuum and reconstituting a national belief system in its own image. Believers are replacing party members. The story of the Russians’ recovery of their sense of themselves as a great nation (derzhava) is still in progress; its events are being recorded in newspaper headlines and television bulletins. Whatever the outcome, the key role played by the ROC has already recast the country we once thought we knew into a power whose motivations we understand very little. Orthodox believers now constitute the largest volunteer movement inside the Russian Federation during the “zero years”—the Russians’ own term for the period since 2000. Two powerful trends are converging: one emanates up from the grass roots, and the other is directed down from the Moscow Patriarchate. In an important switch from the situation obtaining in the late tsarist period, those attracted to the church include not only the stereotypical kerchiefed little old ladies (babushki, “grandmothers”) but also the Russian military and the political, scientific, cultural, and financial elites.

We backed into this critically important topic while editing World War 2 and the Soviet People (1993) and researching and writing The Bones of Berdichev: The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman (1996). In 1992 we landed at Sheremetievo Airport laden with more than twenty crates of medical aid assembled by the congregation of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Tucson, Arizona, and the donations of many other ecumenical groups. We intended to distribute this aid both to those Jews who wished to leave Russia and to an ROC congregation and school that we had learned about from the librarian at our daughters’ elementary school. Our two girls had also led a drive to collect toys, school supplies, and other items for the church children. Thanks to American Airlines and Lufthansa, we flew to Moscow without . . .

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