walk, let alone lead a superpower towards solving the economic and political difficulties which were increasingly besetting it. Gorbachev memorably referred to the previous two decades as a period of zastoi (stagnation).
During this time the church had visibly raised its international profile through its active membership of the WCC, which it had joined in 1961. Scarcely an international meeting tookplace without the significant presence of Russian church leaders. There was also a permanent office in the WCC headquarters in Geneva, staffed by a stream of men eager for foreign experience at a time when international travel was still an impossible dream for the vast majority. The authorities expected them to uphold Soviet policies, deny the facts of persecution, and faithfully report back on any useful contacts. It is now widely believed that the brief of the office at Geneva went further: to control the agenda of the WCC on international affairs.27
Meanwhile, at home in the Soviet Union, the KGB rooted out any attempt to build up a local Orthodox community. Such was the fate of the 'Christian Seminar' which Vladimir Poresh and Aleksandr Ogorodnikov founded as students in Moscow in 1973. A group of not more than twenty would meet from time to time in an atmosphere of common enquiry and in a spirit of friendship, bereft of study materials or trained leadership. They founded their own samizdat journal, Obshchina (Community). For this they were sentenced on 1 August 1979 to eight years of imprisonment and exile.28 Fr Gleb Yakunin received an even longer sentence (ten years: 1977-88) for a direct ecumenical initiative, the founding in 1976 of the 'Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers' Rights'. Through their prodigious activity, this group collected no fewer than 423 documents, comprising nearly 3000 pages, and covering the activity and suppression of almost all religious groups in the Soviet Union.29
A stasis prevailed in the general area of church-state relations during the 1970s and early 1980s, which was no less immobile than the stagnation to which Gorbachev would shortly refer. In 1971 Metropolitan Pimen was elected patriarch, on the death of Aleksii I. Pimen was, if anything, more passive in his relations with the state than Aleksii had been, and he remained in office during the whole of this period, up to his death in May 1990, when Aleksii II was elected to follow him.
27 Jane Ellis, The Russian Orthodox Church: a contemporary history (London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1986), 270.
28 For a short account of the activity of the Christian Seminar, see P. Walters and J. Balen-garth, Light through the curtain (Tring: Lion Publishing, 1985), 92-5, 104-8.
29 Michael Bourdeaux, Gorbachev, Glasnost and the Gospel (Sevenoaks: Hodder and Stoughton, 1990), 6-10.
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