Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Russian catechism in final stage

I have been posting on the Russian Church's catechism effort for years. I'm more than a little excited to see it reaching the final hurdle to publication.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Biblical-Theological Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate has released plans for the official catechism of the Russian Orthodox Church. This comes after a long period of development and follows the release of previews.

The plan is the first "modern" attempt to put in a single text the whole of Orthodox doctrine for both clergy and believers. It includes open consultation before a final draft is accepted by everyone.

As laid out in the foreword, the Orthodox Church wants to restore the catechistic wisdom of the ancient Fathers of the Church, but it also wants to harvest the best fruits of Russian tradition.

So far, Russian catechesis has relied on various texts. Historically, at least two of them have represented an authoritative synthesis of the doctrine, and for this reason have been widely used in ecclesial practice.

The first dates back to the early 16th century, the famous Orthodox Confession by Metropolitan of Kiev Peter (Mogila), who tried to mediate with the Latin school and the Protestant tendencies of the time.

Mogila was the first to translate the term of the Creed on the "Catholic" Church with the Russian term sobornaya, "conciliar" and universal, which has had great fortune in the thoughts and confession of faith of Russians.

Based on this and many other proposals from the metropolitan who favoured outreach between East and West, the aim was to propose Russian tradition as a place for dialogue and synthesis without insisting on differences and historical separations.

Peter Mogila’s endeavour was also well appreciated in Rome, who saw in him a possible player in the reunification of Catholics and Orthodox, which almost occurred in the Baroque era.

The other text, which is most used in the pastoral life of the Russian Church, is the Catechism of 1823, by the Metropolitan of Moscow Philaret (Drozdov). In the absence of a patriarch (the Church was governed by a tsar-controlled Synod), Philaret remained the real head of Russian Orthodoxy for almost fifty years at a time of great artistic and literary creativity during the ‘golden century’ of culture Russian.

This period saw many a debate between "Slavophiles" to "Westernisers", and Drozdov was a point of reference for everyone, with Pushkin and Khomyakov, Turgenev and Belinsky, as he also tried to restore dignity to the official culture of the Church, often despised and marginalised by the intelligentsia.

At the time of the revolution, the Russian Church finally decided to open up fully to society and engage in dialogue with the world of culture. It met in council in August 1917 to find ways to offer itself to the new Russia that was emerging.

The long Bolshevik night interrupted this attempt, which was nevertheless carried out in secret by many martyrs of the faith, like Fr Alexander Men, who was killed in September 1990, at the dawn of the new post-Soviet Russia.

Father Men was a great catechist and preacher, and was able to express a vivid and effective faith and culture, whose fruits can be seen today, even in the official documents of the Patriarchate.

The idea of ​​"catechism" is thus a heritage filled with the wisdom of Russians who died martyrs for the faith last century, and its drafting has been debated since the 1990s.

In the Jubilee Synod of 2000, prompted by then Metropolitan Kirill (Gundyayev), the current patriarch, the Russian Church approved a document on ‘Social Doctrine’, which de facto constitutes the ideological platform for Russia’s social transformations in the past 20 years and for Putin’s policies.

The much-anticipated ‘Catechism’ today meets a need for cultural and spiritual elevation of Russian Christianity, which does not seek to remain confined to its socio-political dimension, which has become increasingly radically conservative and nationalist.

The social conception, which in the new Catechism should play a central part, comes with broader perspectives on morality, liturgy and ecclesiastical discipline, ending with the inter-confessional dimension of relations with the heterodox Christian world, i.e. the world outside the Orthodox Church.

The Patriarchate is doing its utmost to spread the practice of catechesis, which in time past was considered with suspicion by priests and believers as a surrender by the ascetic-spiritual purity of orthodoxy to Catholic and Protestant rationalism.

Today, however, it could become the driver of a new definition of the sobornaya ecclesial communion, one that is truly universal, both Catholic and Orthodox, as in the most genuine tradition of Russia’s religious culture.


  1. I guess I've assumed Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's four-volume "Orthodox Christianity" series was written as part of this effort. It would seem to do exactly what this article is describing, including the fact that it is as much "Russian Orthodox Christianity" as it is "Orthodox Christianity".

    1. I think the idea is to have a condensed version for those not undergoing more in-depth study. Catechisms in the past have had the character of a handbook, a brief statement of a position. What Metropolitan Hilarion has produced is a series of books that constitute a sort of deeper introduction for those starting to dig deeper.