THE political and economic crisis here is putting the Russian
Orthodox Church in a difficult position, endangering its revival
after more than 70 years of persecution by Communist authorities.
But despite the threat, church leaders so far have been
restrained in their efforts to defuse the power struggle between
President Boris Yeltsin and his parliamentary opponents.
"Of course the political crisis concerns us," says Alexei
Bouyevsky, executive secretary of the church's External Relations
Department. "But the church doesn't choose the country's political
and state structure. In any situation, the church must care for the
spiritual needs of the population."
Some experts say the reasons for the church's apparent
reluctance to get involved in the political clash - or to offer its
services as a mediator - are rooted in history. Mr. Bouyevsky,
meanwhile, insisted that the church is doing all it can. But one
radical cleric, Father Gleb Yakunin, a leader of the Democratic
Russia movement, says the church is embroiled in a theological
crisis similar to the political struggle, and thus cannot take a
Many church leaders clearly view the political crisis as a
threat to their hopes for a revival of a Great Russia along
pre-revolutionary lines. The Orthodox Church enjoyed a prominent
role in Czarist society.
Bouyevsky says the church is working to revive traditional
Russian spiritual and social values, saying it will take several
generations to eliminate the consequences of Soviet rule. To
achieve its goal, the church needs political stability, he says.
Stability was the major theme of an appeal in late March by
Patriarch Aleksi II, the church's spiritual leader. The televised
appeal has been the church's only official comment on the political
crisis. In the address, the patriarch staked out neutral ground,
warning that civil war could engulf Russia if political "comprise"
was not reached. The patriarch also said Russia needed a system
that "won't permit a return to the past, to dictatorship," and
called for early presidential and parliamentary elections.
In many areas, Bouyevsky says, the church's interests coincide
with President Yeltsin's reform program, particularly in the areas
of human rights and freedom of conscience.
But the church also is apprehensive about several
Western-oriented aspects of Yeltsin's policies. These concerns are
perhaps depriving Yeltsin of the church's full backing.
Domestically, the church wants market reforms to draw more on
traditional Russian values, particularly in agriculture. …