I appeal to the witness of millions of holy Orthodox Christians who found sanctity and salvation in the 1:1 policy that some people now despise.... the holy monks and nuns and laity of Russia and Greece and Serbia, the monks of the Holy Mountain.
I m sure your figures are right. Yet, I cannot overlook the following two factoids that come from one of the highest leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church to which you belong.
"In this talk I propose to outline the history of atheism in Russia during the last hundred years. I will start by considering the kind of atheism present in Russia before the Revolution. Then I will say something about the development of atheism during the Soviet period. And finally I will conclude with some observations concerning the nature of Russian post-Soviet atheism.
I should like to begin with the following questions. How did it happen that the country known as 'Holy Russia', with such a long history of Orthodox Christianity, was in a very short period of time turned by the Bolsheviks into 'the first atheist state in the world'? How was it possible that the very same people who were taught religion in secondary schools in the 1910s with their own hands destroyed churches and burned holy icons in the 1920s? What is the explanation of the fact that the Orthodox Church, which was so powerful in the Russian Empire, was almost reduced to zero by its former members?
But on the eve of the revolution it became more and more clear that atheism had also invaded the mass of ordinary people. Berdyaev wrote at that time that the simple Russian baba, who was supposed to be religious, was no longer a reality but a myth: she had become a nihilist and an atheist. I would like to quote some more from what this great Russian philosopher wrote in 1917, several months before the October revolution:
"The Russian nation always considered itself to be Christian. Many Russian thinkers and artists were even inclined to regard it as a nation which is Christian par excellence. The Slavophils thought that Russian people live by the Orthodox faith, which is the only true faith containing the entire truth... Dostoevsky preached that. the Russian nation is a bearer of God... But, it was here that revolution broke out, and it...revealed a spiritual emptiness in Russian people. This emptiness is a result of a slavery that lasted too long of a process of egeneration of the old regime that went too far, of a paralysis of the Russian Church and moral degradation of the ecclesiastical authorities that lasted too long. Since long ago the sacred has been exterminated from the people's soul both from the left side and the right, which prepared this cynical attitude towards the sacred that is now being revealed in all its disgust."
Berdyaev blames the Tsarist regime and the Orthodox Church for what happened in 1917. Leaving aside the former, let us look at the role of the Church in the pre-revolutionary period. On the one hand, it was still the
State Church, extremely powerful and influential, penetrating all levels of the life of society. There were still living saints within it, like John of Kronstadt, and spiritual life still flourished in at least some monasteries. On the other hand, the Church was governed by the civil authorities, or even by such odd figures as Rasputin, and it is true that it was paralyzed to a considerable extent.
I remember reading a book by Father Georgy Shavelsky, the Protopresbyter of the Russian Army and Navy under Nicholas II. Himself one of the senior members of the Holy Synod, he testified that the Synod was in fact very far from the life of people, that it did very little (if anything) to prevent atheist propaganda from spreading among ordinary people. To show how little remained of the people's traditional devotion to God, Shavelsky cites the following example: when attendance at the Liturgy became, by a special imperial decree, no longer obligatory for Russian soldiers, only ten per cent of them continued to go to church.
Another testimony of the same kind is that of Metropolitan Veniamin (Fedchenkov), who became the Bishop of the White Army after the revolution. He writes that none of the students of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, where he had studied, ever went to see Father John of Kronstadt, and that some of the students were atheists. He describes the atmosphere of spiritual coolness inside the Orthodox Church, the lack of prophetic spirit. He claims that it was not by mere chance that there arose people like Rasputin:
against the common background of indifference towards religion he appeared as a charismatic figure and was at first accepted as such by the ecclesiastical authorities, who then directed his steps to the imperial palace.
The third testimony which I would like to draw on here is of a more personal kind: it is that of Father Sergei Bulgakov. Himself the son of an Orthodox priest, after studying at a theological seminary, he became an atheist, following the steps of Chernyshevsky and Dobroliubov. In his autobiographical notes he asks himself how this happened, and answers: "It happened, somehow, almost at once and in an imperceptible manner, as something taken for granted, when the poetry of my childhood was replaced by the prose of the theological seminary... When I began to doubt, my critical thoughts were not satisfied with traditional apologetics, but rather found them scandalous... My revolt was strengthened by the compulsory devotion: these long services with akathists (and ritual devotion in general) did not give me satisfaction." Fr Bulgakov gave up his religion easily, without a fight, and neither his clerical origins nor his theological education helped him to resist the temptation, of atheism and nihilism.
The picture which one gains when reading the memoirs of those living during the pre-revolutionary period is that of a deep decline in religious belief. Though Orthodox Christianity was still maintained as the official religion of the Russian, monarchy, both society and the Church were fatally contaminated by unbelief, nihilism and atheism. Even the seminarists, future priests, balanced on the edge between religion and atheism. Many ordinary Christians, if not the majority, had no faith at all, and it was they who turned against the Church as soon as membership in it stopped being encouraged. The Church at once lost the great majority of its members and remained a small flock of those prepared to die for Christ. "http://en.hilarion.orthodoxia.org/6_8
Wonder if once a year communion or the 1:1 regime so beloved of some had something to do with this tragedy? Let's go on to another essay:
"On the basis of the above, the following conclusions can be drawn:
1. The renaissance of Russian theological scholarship is possible, but it will take place only when theologians of a new level appear in Russia, with the education that our own theological academies and seminaries cannot yet provide; when specialists in biblical studies, patristics, Church history, other theological disciplines as well as ancient and modern languages appear, then and then only will the new school of Orthodox theologians be born, one that can take over from the “Paris school” and formulate a theological vision for the twenty-first century. Such a school could take shape within Russia or beyond its borders. One would wish it to appear in Russia, where all the necessary conditions are already in place.
3. The renaissance will take place when a process of radical changes on several levels of Church life begins, a process initiated by the Local Council of 1917-1918.
6. The renaissance will take place when worship becomes accessible to the people.
7. The renaissance will take place when the heritage of Russian theological scholarship and the experience of the “Paris school” have been assimilated and implemented by Russian theologians.
8. The renaissance will take place when Russian theology frees itself from its “Western captivity,” when it returns its own roots in ancient Christian and Byzantine tradition. This return also requires fresh theological forces and a new, creative approach adopted by all main theological disciplines.
9. The renaissance will take place when Russian theological scholarship leaves the “ghetto” where it has already spent eighty years, when it reaches the level of modern Western research."http://en.hilarion.orthodoxia.org/6_3
It seems that to this eminent Russian Orthodox leader and theologian, the then current (1999) theology and practice of ROC could improve. OK, how about the fact that the same ROC leader has publicly acknowledged that the attendance rate at the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole is about 5%? Still convinced of the efficacy of the 1:1? OK, let's forget about attendance rates and all those pesky facts; why can't we discuss this on its merits?