In August 1994, Russia removed its last remaining occupying troops and tanks from Estonia. What apparently Russia didn’t remove were the KGB archives. And a KGB file that has just been made public allegedly reveals that the present head of the Russian Orthodox Church, 70-year-old, white-bearded Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow and of all Russia, was a “long-serving KGB agent and was even awarded the agency’s ‘Certificate of Honor.’ ”
The report comes from the Keston Institute, an Anglican religious rights organization, located in Oxford, England, and was published in the Irish Times on Sept. 23. One reason why the report appeared in an Irish daily is that Patriarch Alexiy II has adamantly opposed any visits by Pope John Paul II to the Russian Federation, a position supported by Russian President Putin. No reigning pope has visited Moscow since the Great Schism of 1054 split the eastern and western branches of Christianity.
The KGB papers describe the alleged activities of Patriarch Alexiy’s actions against orthodox clergy and believers. His KGB code-name was “Agent Drozdov,” Russian for the bird thrush. According to the archives, he was recruited by the Estonian branch of the KGB on Feb. 28, 1958, when he was known as Father Alexiy Ridiger. Although born in then independent Estonia before World War II, Patriarch Alexiy is an ethnic Russian. He served as an orthodox priest until he was seconded to Moscow during the Gorbachev era.
Patriarch Alexiy has been a strong supporter of President Vladimir Putin, himself a KGB agent for 15 years. The churchman has publicly defended Mr. Putin’s conduct of the war in Chechnya and his much criticized behavior in the aftermath of the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk.
Despite earlier denials by a church spokesman, Father Vsevold Chaplin, the Keston Institute, which presses for religious freedom in the former communist bloc, said it had “reviewed all the available documentary evidence from the various archives of the KGB.” Its conclusion: “Drozdov” and Patriarch Alexiy were the same individual since the personal details given in the archive match those of no other priest of the Estonian diocese.
There is nothing new in the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the czarist and Bolshevik regimes. Richard Pipes, the Harvard historian, has written that “since the time of Peter the Great, the Russian Orthodox Church was to an extreme degree dependent on the state... The clergy were duty-bound to report to the police any information of conspiracies against the emperor or the government, including that obtained during confession. They also had to denounce the appearance of suspicious strangers in their parishes.”
Although the church had been persecuted under V.I. Lenin and Josef Stalin, World War II forced a reconciliation. Stalin met with high church officials Sept. 4, 1943, and a deal was made. High clergy were placed on the same footing as high state and party officials. Churchmen were among the first to receive decorations after the war.
According to the historians Mikhail Heller and Alexander Nekrich, the church became “an active ally of the Soviet government” in July 1926 following the arrest of Metropolitan Sergii as the Patriarch. On his release in March 1927, he published a declaration of submission to the Bolshevik regime.
Control over the church took the form of control over the clergy, from the patriarch to the humblest lay brother. Admission to the three seminaries and church academies were strictly controlled. Each candidate was selected by local committees of the KGB. Seminaries had to listen to lectures such as “Lenin’s Teachings on Communist Morality and the Fundamental Principles of Moral Education.”
The documents about Patriarch Alexiy in the Estonian State Archive are signed by the KGB chairman, Col. I.P. Karpov. In one memorandum, he describes “Agent Drozdov” as providing “valuable material for the case underway against the priest Povedsky.” He added:
“After consolidating the agent’s experience in practical work with the organs of state security in the cultivation of agents, we intend also to use him in our interests by sending him to capitalist states as a member of church delegations.”
KGB papers in the Moscow archive show “Drozdov” was sent to England in 1969 as part of a church delegation, that he and another agent were involved in “educational work” with monks in Psko in Western Russia in March 1983 and that he was sent on a mission to Portugal in 1985.