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RUSSIAN ORTHODOXY

The third support for Dugin's spiritual/political élite - Orthodoxy - is, at least apparently, much more substantial and of course much more 'Russian'. It has the great advantage that it already exists as a collective phenomenon. But from what I would think was Dugin's point of view it has at least one major disadvantage. It already has an élite of its own and that élite does not at all resemble the natural ruler Dugin has in mind.

This élite should not be confused with the hierarchy of the Church (maybe Patriarch Kirill and his supporters would be closer to Dugin's ideal). The élite is made up of the Saints, who may or may not be priests and bishops but who, as an anthropological type are almost the polar opposite of Dugin's idea of what an élite should be. I want to illustrate this with a story you may feel is frivolous but I think it illustrates what is truly great in the Russian Orthodox - and therefore the Russian - tradition, indeed what ultimately will stand against the dehumanisation which is what we really have in mind when we criticise 'liberalism'.

The story comes from a book called Everyday Saints by Archimandrite (now Bishop) Tikhon (Shevkunov - widely rumoured to be Vladimir Putin's confessor) concerning life in the Pskov Caves monastery. This was the only monastery in Russia that was never closed throughout the whole Soviet period. It is on the border with Estonia and was actually in Estonia and therefore out of the Soviet grasp until 1940, but it also managed to resist the persecution unleashed in the 1960s when Khrushchev boasted that he would live to see the last priest recant his profession on TV.

Everyday Saints is a very popular book in modern Russia. This particular story concerns a Bishop, Vladimir Rodzianko, son of Michael Rodzianko who was President of the State Duma at the time of the February 1917 Revolution.  As such Michael Rodzianko features prominently - and rather unkindly - in Solzhenitsyn's great account of the Revolution - March 1917. His son Vladimir was brought up in exile, first in Yugoslavia (as was) then in the US. He became a priest and then, after his wife died, he was persuaded to become a monk, and a Bishop. In the Orthodox Church a married man can become a priest but a priest cannot marry. Priests are either single - monks - or married. Only monks can become Bishops.

The 'Anthony of Sourozh; referred to in this story was a very well known figure in Orthodoxy in London. I had the privilege of hearing him preach towards the end of his life in the 1990s and of attending his funeral.

'However, right before taking the monastic vows, the future monk asked his spiritual father, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, an unexpected yet heartfelt question. “Well, Your Grace, I will now receive the monastic vows from you. I will undertake for the Lord God and His Holy Church the great monastic vows gladly. As for the vow of chastity, I totally understand what it means. I fully accept the vow of poverty as well. All the vows related to prayer are also perfectly clear and acceptable to me. But as for the vow of obedience—here I can’t understand anything!” “What are you talking about?” Metropolitan Anthony was very surprised. “Well, I mean,” Father Vladimir reasoned, “instead of starting me out as a simple monk, you’re immediately making me a bishop. In other words, instead of being a novice and obeying the commands of others, my job will mean that I’m the one who will have to command and make decisions. How then do I fulfil the vow of obedience? To whom will I be a novice? Whom will I obey?” Metropolitan Anthony grew thoughtful for a moment, and then said: “You will be in obedience to everyone and anyone whom you meet on your journey through life. As long as that person’s request will be within your power to grant it, and not in contradiction with the Scriptures.”

'Father Vladimir was very pleased by this commandment. But later it turned out that people who made the acquaintance of the bishop did not have an easy time of it all in dealing with his constant willingness to carry out his decisive and unequivocal fulfilment of this monastic vow. Partly I’m referring to myself. Sometimes, the bishop’s understanding of his holy vow of obedience would prove to be quite a trial for me. For example, we might be walking together through the streets of Moscow—on a miserable day, through the pouring rain. And we are in a hurry to get somewhere. And suddenly an old babushka with an old string shopping bag called an avoska (“perhaps bag” [Soviet citizens used to carry a bag with them in case something unexpected, a pair of shoes or something like that, appeared in a shop window - PB]) stops us. “Father!” She quavers in the voice of an old woman, not realising of course that she’s speaking not just to a simple priest, but to a bishop, no less—and what’s more, a bishop from America! “Father! Please can’t you help me? Please, bless my room! This is the third year that I’ve been asking our Father Ivan, and he still hasn’t come. Maybe you’ll take pity on me? Will you come?” I hadn’t even managed to open my mouth, and the bishop was already expressing his most passionate willingness to carry out her request, as if his whole life long he had only been waiting for the chance to bless Grandmother’s little room somewhere. “But your Grace,” I say desperately. “You don’t even have the slightest idea where this room of hers might be. Grandma, where are we going?” “Oh, not far at all. Just the other side of town—in Orekhovo-Borisovo. It’s only forty minutes by bus from the last stop on the Metro. Really—it’s not that far,” she warbles joyfully. And the bishop, cancelling all our important plans (since it was impossible to contradict him in such situations), would first traipse headlong all the way to the other end of Moscow, the largest city in Europe, to a church where a friend of his gave him the necessary vestments and utensils needed for a house blessing. (Of course, I tagged along with him.) All the while Grandma, beside herself with joy (Lord only knows where she got her strength) and unable to contain her happiness, ceaselessly told the bishop all about her children and grandchildren who never visit her anymore . . . Then, after the expedition to the church, off we went in the other direction, jam-packed like sardines in the crowded Moscow Metro at rush hour, standing all the way and with several long walks to change train lines through the jam-packed corridors, and then standing that way as we rode all the way to the end of the line, on the very outskirts of Moscow. From there, just as Grandma had promised, it was a forty-minute bone-rattling ride in a dusty old bus, also crammed full to overflowing. But finally the bishop blessed and consecrated Grandma’s little room, all eight meters square, on the ninth floor walk-up of some hideous Communist project housing. And he did it with sincerest prayer, majestically, and triumphantly, just the way he always performs any divine services. Then he sat down with the ecstatic Grandma (actually, both of them were ecstatic about each other) and praised to the skies her humble offerings—little Russian pretzels called sushki, and tea over-sugared with sickly-sweet cherry jam, full of pits . . . Then, with immense gratitude, he accepted as an honour and did not refuse the crumpled one rouble note that she stealthily handed to her “Father” as she said goodbye. “May the Lord save you!” she called out to the bishop! “Now it will be sweet for me to die in this little room!”'


Bishop Vladimir (Rodzianko)

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