We were talking last night at supper about the Patriarch of Moscow’s concerns to keep the Communist period (1917 to 1988) as an integral part of Russian history, something not to be hidden with shame or disdain.
I found myself, a bit surprisingly, defending the Patriarch. By comparison with what happened in Germany in the years after WW2.
Both countries had had regimes (in Russia communist, in Germany national-socialist), which were widely viewed as harmful to mankind. With the collapse of these regimes there was a call for ‘repentance’ and ‘conversion’ to political and social cultures closer to those of the winners (in particular that of the USA).
I would argue that Germany lost a culture in the process, and a good part of its soul, and is poorer for the process. Yes, it quickly recovered a certain sense of purpose (at least in its western part) pouring its energy in the 1950s and 1960s into reconstruction and from the 1970s onwards into business, in which it knocked its former victors into a corner (typified by the rapid falls of both the dollar and the pound sterling against the German mark). But something had gone. I note this in particular in its language and literature: until the 1950s it was a full language, rich, creative, self-sufficent and could convey culturally refined content. Today neither language (often English with German words) or culture convince.
While the relationship between Christianity and nationalism is a fraught one, with ‘national’ churches to easily press-ganged for regime politics, I would argue that any country which wants to maintain some sort of identity will have to find a religious or quasi-religious structure for this. Supporting nationalism many not be seen by the church as its primary role, but if a church wants to exist within a reasonably stable social structure, it will probably have to provide at least minimal support.
National histories are also like personal histories. Even when personal histories seem to go horribly off the rails, there rema ins the original person, whom we have to try and disinter and continue to believe in despite all. And it is the same with cultures. They can go wrong, and get abused, but need to be preserved. Germany’s wasn’t. I rather hope the Russian one will survive. And I rather hope the Russian Church will play its part.
I am far from sure that either Russia or its church always get it right, but I remain grateful for a contrary voice, within the traditional Christian cultural area, that questions the often shallow, unsatisfactory and all-invading culture which Anglo-European economic and political powers-that-be want to impose on us.