MP has not confronted its KGB past
MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE HAS YET TO CONFRONT ITS KGB PAST
by Geraldine Fagan
Keston News Service
30 October 2000
Nearly a decade after the collapse of the Soviet system, Russia has yet to undergo a process of lustration on anything like the scale of that embarked upon elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Many positions in social institutions are thus still occupied by those directly or indirectly responsible for the brutal crushing of dissent in the socialist period - and the Church is no exception. In 'National Protestantism and the Ecumenical Movement: Church Activities During the Cold War', published in late 1999, renowned German church historian Professor Gerhard Besier maintains that 'the Moscow Patriarchate does not seem to be interested in a genuine attempt at Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung (coming to terms with the past).' This conclusion would seem to be borne out by the Moscow Patriarchate's reaction to the book. In January their representative to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva Mikhail Gundyayev rejected as 'impossible to imagine' the work's assertion that Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Rostov collaborated with the KGB. Gundyayev countered that Nikodim had in fact undertaken 'great work to preserve the Church from the influence of the atheist regime.'
Using WCC archival material, Besier documented how Nikodim suddenly replaced Metropolitan Nikolai in July 1960 as head of the Department for External Church Relations (DECR) following the latter's forced resignation in the wake of a speech delivered by Patriarch Aleksi I in defence of the persecuted Church in the Soviet Union. On his appointment, Nikodim instituted an abrupt departure from the Church's policy towards the WCC which Metropolitan Nikolai had set in 1948: that of refusal to join a body 'not in accord with the aims of the Church of Christ as they are understood by the Orthodox Church.'
Nikodim's November 1960 announcement to then general secretary of the WCC Willem Visser 'T Hooft that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) was willing to begin negotiations for membership, the book reveals, came just three weeks after general secretary of the Soviet Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church (CAROC, which was later merged into the Council for Religious Affairs CRA), Vladimir Kuroyedov, had given an explanation of this U-turn in church policy to his Eastern European counterparts at a Berlin conference. It was necessary for the ROC to enter the WCC, Kuroyedov declared, in order 'to further the influence on believers abroad, to step up the fight against the Vatican, to weaken the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate' and as 'a blow against the church of the white emigres ("Our ROCA").'
In considering Nikodim's sudden ecumenical overtures, according to strictly confidential minutes of a February 1961 closed session of the WCC executive committee, there was 'distrust of the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church as KGB puppets.' Once the Church was in the WCC, according to the book, 'all interpreters who accompanied delegations of the ROC to ecumenical conferences were selected for this purpose in advance by the KGB and were answerable to them. Their written reports of each conference day, of which they had to submit five copies every evening, were given to Metropolitan Nikodim as delegation leader. He passed these on to the CRA at the ministerial council of the USSR, keeping one copy for himself.'
Speaking to Keston on 11 February, Fr Gleb Yakunin told Keston that 'the whole stance of being tolerant towards people of other confessions and ecumenism was an order from the KGB so as to gain information about them.' (Fr Yakunin was one of those who in 1991 had the opportunity to examine material in the KGB archives relating to KGB control of religion before the archives were again closed at the request of the Patriarch.) In an interview with Keston on 18 February, however, DECR press secretary Fr Vsevolod Chaplin maintained that the aims of the Soviet state were not a decisive factor in the Church's entry into the WCC, 'although Khrushchev was trying to be more open internationally at that time.' Fr Chaplin stressed that even after the ROC entered the WCC there were many hierarchs who thought that there was no need for ecumenism. 'There were really two different positions within the Church - each held sway at a different time and they were both right for their time.'
As the book co-authored by Besier is so far available only in German, Fr Chaplin had heard about it but was not familiar with its contents. When Keston asked whether Metropolitan Nikodim worked as an agent intentionally, unwillingly or unknowingly, he commented that 'no one has seen any clear evidence' and pointed out that Metropolitan Nikodim 'was very open to a lot of his western colleagues as well.' In his view, it was not true that hierarchs such as Metropolitan Nikodim had acted more in the interests of the state than the Church; 'the Church came first. They were obliged to inform the authorities about their activities.' Fr Chaplin maintained that the majority of those that reported to the CRA did not do so in order to harm the church or each other: 'you cannot evaluate those hierarchs who were more or less active [in the service of the Soviet security services] positively: but there were rules: they had to give information to the CRA, who obviously passed it on to the KGB. But it was largely a purely formal relationship.'
The so-called Furov report of 1981, a leaked document from the records of the Council for Religious Affairs to members of the Communist Party Central Committee, suggests otherwise. It notes that many years of observation 'reaffirm the loyalty of the episcopate towards the Soviet state' and draws up three categories of Russian Orthodox hierarch: those who 'prove their loyalty: are fully aware of the state policy on not expanding religion .. and are thus not very anxious to expand the influence of Orthodoxy among the population' (including then Bishop Aleksi of Tallinn and Estonia), those who are loyal to the state 'but strive to promote activity for an advanced influence of the church in personal, family and social life' (including Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Novgorod) and those who 'are attempting to by-pass the laws, some of them being conservatives in their religious attitude.'
Besier does not cite any document identifying Nikodim as a particular agent. His statement that 'it has been known from the KGB archives since 1992 that Nikodim was a KGB agent' is referenced by a January 1992 Izvestiya article by Vyacheslav Polosin entitled 'Eternal Slave of the Cheka', but this makes no mention of Nikodim. On 11 February Fr Gleb Yakunin explained to Keston how it was possible to identify agents in the ROC by comparing now inaccessible KGB reports containing their codenames with accounts of church activities in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate (JMP). This technique was famously used by Ogonyok journalist Aleksandr Nezhny in the 1992 article in which he identified Metropolitan Pitirim of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Patriarchate's publishing department, as agent 'Abbat', Metropolitan Yuvenali of Krutitsy, a former chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, as agent 'Adamant' and Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev and Galicia, at that time Exarch of Ukraine, as agent 'Antonov'. In the case of the latter, KGB reports cited how various agents were sent to the Christian Peace Conference in Hungary in 1985 'with the task of orchestrating preparations: along lines acceptable to us', and to Italy for discussions with the Pope John Paul II in 1989. Metropolitan Filaret's was the only name common to reports of these two events published by the Moscow Patriarchate (JMP No 8 1985, Info Bulletin Nos 8-9 1989).
With reference to this method of identification, Yakunin doubted the claim in Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin's 1999 book 'The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West', currently available only in English, that Metropolitan Nikodim had the codename 'Adamant'. A 1987 report that Adamant - 'a member of the hierarchy of the ROC' - took part for the first time in a general session of UNESCO as a member of the Soviet delegation, he said, may be cross referenced with JMP reports which identify him as Metropolitan Yuvenali of Krutitsy and Kolomna. Metropolitan Yuvenali succeeded Nikodim, his cousin, as head of the DECR in 1975.
Andrew's book is largely based on research into the personal archive built up by Mitrokhin, a former KGB officer who spent 12 years smuggling out copies of material from the KGB archives, and in whose estimation the files on church collaboration contained 'a whirlpool of filth.' In identifying Adamant as Metropolitan Nikodim, it refers to a report from August 1969, which states that 'agents Altar, Svyatoslav, Adamant, Magister, Roshchin and Zemnogorsky went to England to take part in the work of the WCC central committee.' The endnote to this extract - of which Fr Gleb had previously been unaware - states that 'Mitrokhin did not see the file on the 1961 WCC Central Committee meeting. Another file noted by him, however, identifies Adamant as Nikodim.' In Andrew's view, the fact that Yuvenali can be identified as Adamant indicates that the codename was passed on to him at some point after his death 'it was not unusual for KGB codenames to be recycled.'
Keston believes 'Svyatoslav' to be a further possibility for Metropolitan Nikodim's codename. The JMP reported that Metropolitan Nikodim and then Archimandrite Kirill (Gundyayev) attended a session of the honorary committee of the WCC in Auckland, New Zealand from 8-12 February 1972, corresponding with a KGB report that agents 'Svyatoslav' and 'Mikhailov' were sent to a session of the WCC in New Zealand in February 1972. A 1973 KGB report states that agents 'Magistr' and 'Mikhailov' were sent to Thailand and India in January to participate in the work of the WCC, while JMP reports that Archbishop Antoni of Minsk and Belarus and Archimandrite Kirill (Gundyayev) took part in the WCC's World Mission Conference in Bangkok from 29 December 1972 to 8 January 1973. If 'Mikhailov' can thus be identified as now Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, 'Svyatoslav' would appear to be Metropolitan Nikodim.
When Keston related to Fr Yakunin on 11 February that the ROC representative in Geneva had rejected as inconceivable the allegations concerning Metropolitan Nikodim, he remarked: 'Why are they so surprised? The whole structure of the DECR was infiltrated by the KGB. It was impossible for the top brass not to be collaborators.' According to Yakunin, the relevant KGB archives were closed at the request of the Patriarch himself: 'As soon as he found out that I was looking in them he went to [chairman of the Supreme Soviet] Ruslan Khasbulatov and demanded that we be stopped.' In his view, Patriarch Aleksi and others had not admitted collaboration because 'if they admitted it they would have to repent, examine and step down. But they have defended what they did and said they somehow saved the Church.' In Yakunin's view, lustration had not taken place in Russia because 'no genuine democratisation occurred under Yeltsin - this would have been necessary in order to purge all social institutions.'
Asked by Keston on 18 February why he thought there had been no examination of the past in Russia in the vein of the Gauck Authority in Germany or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Fr Chaplin explained that there had been no demand for examination on the part of society: 'I think the majority of people closely involved in building socialism thought that they were doing the right thing. With the years the number of people demanding lustration decreased - it was small to start off with.' One reason that there was no demand for the truth of what happened, he thought, was that 'there is disappointment in the system which replaced socialism - what they moved into was a wreckage of chaos, mafia, corruption. ' Although Soviet citizens had resented not being able to marry, divorce or travel abroad without the agreement of the authorities, he said, 'that did not lead them to condemn the whole system.'
Neither is outright condemnation the position of the church, according to Fr Chaplin: 'The aims of the church and state were not always diametrically opposed in Soviet times. Of course, in the case of atheist work they were, but there were areas where they were not, such as concern for the role of the Church in the world and the greatness of the country - and these remain common concerns.' Fr Chaplin was not aware of the 15 February public appeal by Romanian Patriarch Teoctist for forgiveness for concessions made by the church to the socialist state: 'I personally ask for forgiveness and I am doing it now because I didn't have enough courage before: in my heart I am sad: because I made a great number of the faithful suffer.' Agreeing that there was a difference between the stance of the Moscow Patriarchate and that of the Romanian patriarch - 'we don't consider that everything which was done in that [the Soviet] period was incorrect' - he commented that the Romanian position had arisen 'from political pressure which tries to insist that everything in the past was bad while the present is progress.'
Fr Chaplin pointed out to Keston that Patriarch Aleksi II had made a number of public statements of repentance during the past decade and added that although Archbishop Khrizostom of Vilnius and Lithuania had admitted collaboration, 'I don't think he maintained that it was completely incorrect.' (For an examination of the evidence of Patriarch Aleksi's identity as 'Drozdov', see KNS 21 September 2000, 'The Patriarch and the KGB '). When Patriarch Aleksi was challenged over the Furov report's description of him as one of the Soviet state's most loyal bishops in an interview in Izvestiya on 10 June 1991, he indeed conceded that he 'was sometimes forced to give way' to the authorities and apologised for 'such concessions, the failure to speak out, the forced passivity and expressions of loyalty of the church leadership.' By contrast, in 1992 Archbishop Khrizostom - who appears in the third, troublesome category of bishops in the Furov report - specifically admitted to deliberate collaboration with the KGB, but claimed to have denounced only 'those very KGB agents who had been infiltrated into the Church.' (The example he gave, Metropolitan Mefodi, whom he described as 'a KGB officer, an atheist, a vicious man foisted upon us by the KGB', is still metropolitan of Voronezh.) In Chaplin's view, however, public apologies are not required: 'I don't think that you have to repent necessarily if you gave information to the state - although Yakunin might think so.'
According to Fr Yakunin, the Commission for Investigation into the Activities of the Security Services within the Russian Orthodox Church, which was set up in 1992 and headed by Bishop Aleksandr of Kostroma was 'not doing anything'. Fr Chaplin confirmed that the commission had not been active 'in recent years', having already completed its inquiry. A report containing the results of the investigation, he told Keston, had not been published. On asking for further details about publication and its contents, Keston was referred to Bishop Aleksandr. On several occasions Keston was told by staff at Kostroma diocesan administration that Bishop Aleksandr was not currently in the diocese, and diocesan secretary Fr Oleg Novikov stressed that only the bishop would be able to respond to Keston's enquiry about the commission. On asking to speak to the bishop once he had returned on 7 March, a staff member asked what questions Keston wished to pose, took Keston's telephone number and said that a diocesan representative would call back with the bishop's answers. To date Keston has not received any answer.
In 1992 Archbishop Khrizostom said that at that year's April synod he had called for 'some kind of statement about the need to purify ourselves from all of this. I suggested that those who had acted unworthily take the necessary measures: the more access we have to information and documents,the more deeply and fully we should deal with these questions.' On 28 February 2000 Professor Gerhard Besier explained to Keston that one reason why this had not taken place was because the Russian Orthodox Church has always had a close relationship with the state and allowed itself to be led by the principle of a symphony between church and state: 'It always saw itself as the church of the people and served successive popular governments even when these rejected or persecuted the people.' As a result, he maintained, collaboration with the state secret services was never viewed as discreditable as from the western perspective.
Aleksandr Nezhny, however, certainly considers the idea of church hierarchs cooperating with a specifically antireligious totalitarian state as discreditable. On 21 October he commented to Keston that Metropolitan Nikodim was among those bishops 'of the Sergian mould, that is, those who have learnt to combine religion with the most inveterate servility. In the main they thought of the Church as a completely earthly institution, thereby casting aside its Founder.' Keston then put it to him that Fr Chaplin had argued that the aims of the Church and Soviet state were not always incompatible. 'You would have to be an utter cynic to speak, like Fr Chaplin, about some sort of common values of the Soviet militant atheist state and the Church,' he replied. 'Comrade Zyuganov may talk like that - and it is repulsive, but understandable. When an official representative of the Church comes out with such statements, then it only reminds us once again that Russian Orthodoxy is suffering from a serious illness.' With Archbishop Khrizostom's calls still unheeded, it certainly looks as if the Russian Orthodox Church has decided to leave to heal over the wounds inflicted upon it by the Soviet secret police without attempting to clean out any infection.
Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.
Source: Keston Institute