country which had lost all the component parts of its empire. His own country of Estonia won its independence and the church under his jurisdiction was now scattered over fourteen newly independent countries.
Patriarch Aleksii's innate conservatism ensured that under his administration the Moscow patriarchate became arguably the most 'Soviet' of all institutions that remained after the collapse of the Soviet system. He turned his back on the ecumenism which had formed such a prominent part of his earlier life.34 He encouraged new legislation (passed in 1997), which gave the Russian Orthodox Church pride of place among Christian denominations (Islam, Buddhism and Judaism were also designated 'traditional' - and therefore favoured - religions in Russia), to the detriment of Catholicism, Protestantism and all other Christian minorities.
As the Orthodox Church began to experience full - and indeed privileged -freedom in Russian society, it undertook a vigorous programme of rebuilding and restoring churches and monasteries which had been destroyed or allowed to fall into ruin, thus transforming the look of ancient town centres everywhere. New dioceses were created, and seminaries founded in all areas for the training of future priests. There was a new publishing programme to start to make good the gap of seventy years. There was notable new social activity -work in hospitals, old-people's homes and prisons, and military chaplains. In every single one of these areas of enterprise, the conservatism which had helped the church to survive the years of persecution was evident and new episcopal appointments did not seem likely to start breaking the mould. Sociological surveys in Russia indicate that the majority of Russians claim allegiance to the traditional faith, but churchgoing as such has failed to keep pace with the expansion of the church's activities. Nevertheless, after the collapse of the communist system and at the beginning of the third millennium, Russia presented the image to the world of being an Orthodox country.
The same could be said of Bulgaria and Romania, though their situations are as different from each other as they are from Russia's. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is riven by a schism which has its origins in communist times. It is believed that some 85 per cent of Bulgarians still claim allegiance to the Orthodox Church, so the persistence of this schism is a national scandal, but
34 For a study of ecumenism in Russia, seeJohn WitteJr. and Michael Bourdeaux, Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia: the new war for souls (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999).
Was this article helpful?