Clericalism Truly Does Exist
Russian Baptist President Sipko comments on a national debate
M o s c o w – “It is an irrefutable fact, that clericalism is present in our political and social life.” This statement by Pastor Yuri Sipko (Moscow), President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), agrees with a major claim made in an open letter signed by 10 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The radical, Orthodox movement “National Assembly” had answered this open letter from 23 July by pressing charges against one of its signers, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Vitaly Ginsburg, for “fostering religious discord”. Patriarch Alexei II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy (ROC), detected an “echo of past atheistic propaganda” in the letter. Vladimir Vigilyanski, director of the Moscow Patriarchy`s press office, accused the Academy members of fulfilling a political order, calling them „rowdies and swindlers“. Yet support arrived in the form of Vyacheslav Glasychev, a member of Russia`s Public Chamber. In a lecture he decried “hefty church interference in state affairs”.
In a conversation with colleagues at Moscow church headquarters in early August, President Sipko pointed to an incident in the West Siberian city of Omsk as an indication of increasing clericalism. During a visit there, German Gref, the Russian Minister for Economic Development, had criticised the lack of progress on airport, metro and road construction. The regional governor responded with the assurance that “we will throw all of our efforts into the economic tasks before us as soon as the ROC’s next church is completed”. In the region of Moscow alone 200 new Orthodox churches have been built in the last seven years.
Not only Sipko is convinced that ROC demands to be present at the oath-taking of soldiers and the visits of state officials to outlying areas conflict with the legal principle of state neutrality in religious affairs. This is also true regarding the frequent expectation that the holding of Protestant music festivals or meetings on topics of health require the prior sanction of a local Orthodox priest.
In this conversation Yuri Sipko also pointed to the ROC’s weakness, noting that it has not mustered sufficient internal strength to rid itself of the obsolete Julian calendar. The ROC must therefore fall back on administrative, government means to guarantee its preferred status vis a vis its adversaries. The Baptist President is therefore concerned about the long-term consequences for Orthodoxy. He concluded that “rudeness” on the part of the Academy members was only a reaction to prior church rudeness. “We also reap that which we sow.”
Particularly contentious is the ROC’s attempt to make Orthodox religious instruction a required subject in public schools in this multinational country with 23 million Muslims. This has already occurred in four Western provinces. Sipko regards the course book for Orthodox religious instruction entitled “Foundations of Orthodox Culture” (OPK) as indoctrination. It does more than report on culture and basic church history – a section on “extremism” calls for resistance to all “sects”. The Baptist President does not believe the ROC has the best interests of children in mind in its struggle for school access. This confrontation is instead part of an “unprincipled and dirty struggle for power. And all means are acceptable if they lead to the proper end.” He forecast: “The seed will find its way back to us when the souls of today`s children display tomorrow the fruits of this deceit and selfishness. How can one increase morality with immoral means?”
The 10 academics as well as the Baptists believe increased clericalism will split society. Sipko called the attempt “playing with fire”. Both therefore demand respect for existing Russian legislation supporting freedom of conscience and equal footing for all religious communities. In this instance Sipko quoted President Vladimir Putin: “Only the dictatorship of the law has a right to exist within the Russian Federation.” The Baptist Pastor nevertheless accuses him of displaying too much patience regarding the keeping of this demand.
Rather than expecting the presence of an Orthodox priest, Yuri Sipko called on Russia`s government officials and its President to swear an oath of loyalty to the national constitution and already-passed legislation. Representatives of the State Prosecutor’s office in particular should be required to take tests proving that they have knowledge of major legislation. The Baptist President concluded that “ignorance (on the part of state officials) is not to be overcome with ignorance”.
Yet major portions of the scientists’ open letter deal with Orthodox interference in the natural sciences. In this case Yuri Sipko is again on the side of the ROC. He, just as they do, “wishes with all of his heart that schools would teach the option of creation along with the theory of evolution”.
The entire interview with President Sipko is available in Russian on the RUECB’s website: „www.baptist.ru.org“.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 13 August 2007
A press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-25, 780 words.