Continuing my review of this piece about Saint Serafim Sarovsky. Where we left off, we were talking about the fact that Serafim never discussed, nor gave a fig about, any of the public events that were happening during his life time. Not even the Napoleonic invasion! Author Konstantin Kudryashov speculates that this indifference may have stood in the way of Serafim’s canonization. Because indeed, the Russian Orthodox Church is built into the very apparatus of Russian statehood, and has been, ever since the Russian people were forcibly converted to Christianity. I am not religious myself, so I cannot fully understand how this mindset works, but it is my understanding that Orthodox Believers are supposed to take an interest in society and their community; and most definitely in the well-being of the Russian state. Although, as in any religion, provisions are made for those who simply want to escape from society altogether; as in join a monastery.
And the Russian people, the “Deep People”, as I reckon you could call them, have always shown a respect and reverence for such men and women as choose to become hermits.
As a child I remember learning to sing the famous Russian folk song “The Legend of the 12 Robbers” your typical Russian forest bandit gang whose criminal mastermind was a rogue named Ataman Kudiar. The song ends with the news that Kudiar eventually found Christ, abandoned the other thieves, and went to live out the rest of his days in a monastery. The version I linked above, which I picked because it has an English translation, alters the final stanza as I knew it, in which we learn the twist: That the holy Monk Pitirim in his Solovki Monastery, who is telling the story is, himself, Ataman Kudiar: Так в Соловках нам рассказывал сам Кудияр Питирим. But much reformed, it goeth without saying.
Even as a child, when singing this song with my sister (I attempted the base line of the harmony, with a certain quantum of success therein), I remember thinking heretical thoughts: “Well, it’s great that Kudiar stopped killing people and robbing people and raping that poor girl from Kiev; but, in truth, should he not have spent the rest of his life behind bars for those offenses?” And should he not have turned in his erstwhile comrades, rather than leaving them free to continue their predatory forest ways? A danger to honest Christian travelers and the like?
But no… Apparently the Russian Deep People believe, that it’s enough to just repent and escape to a monastery, and then you don’t have to account for your bloody deeds the way a normal criminal would. And trust me, monastery life, although not exactly luxurious, would be Camp Cupcake compared to the Russian penal system of that time. Had Kudiar actually turned himself into the police.
But leaving Ataman Kudiar behind and returning to Serafim, who never killed nor robbed nor raped anyone (that we know of): Recall that Serafim Sarovsky died in 1833. Fifty years later, some people started the process of trying to canonize him into a saint. But the Most Holy Synod hemmed and hawed and procrastinated. They didn’t want to do it, but they also didn’t want to just come out and say so. The Ober-Procurator of the Synod, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, was personally dead set against Serafim’s canonization. According to his wiki page, Pobedonostsev was a “reactionary éminence grise” of the Russian Deep State, who served under three Tsars and made tons of important decisions for the nation, behind the scenes. Which is what an éminence grise does, by trade. It was during the reign of Tsar Alexander III that Pobedonostsev got the job of Ober-Procurator, which is a secular position of a government official who supervises the Church.
Pobedonostsev (whose name in Russian, by the way, means, literally “Bringer of Victory”, although it didn’t help Russia much in the War against Japan) was opposed to liberal reforms, and he did not care at all for the hippy-dippy intellectuals of his time. His political agenda included a harmonious balance of Church and State. Although the fact that this position of Ober-Procurator actually existed in Russia, might speak to the fact, that the State did not always trust the Church to do the right thing (?)
Considered one of the most educated European jurists of the 19th century, and a significant contributor to Russian civil law of the time, Pobedonostsev is better remembered as the guy who ordered the excommunication of one of Russia’s greatest writers, Leo Tolstoy. (Which begs the question: If he was a civilian, then how did obtain excommunication powers?) Repin’s portrait of him, seen here, shows Pobedonostsev to be the re-incarnation of Nosferatu the Vampire dressed in a colorful suit. He was not a beloved man. An anarchist name of Nikolai Lagovski tried to assassinate him in 1901, but proved to be a bad shot. (Or because you can’t shoot a vampire, you have to stake him.) All of this explains why Pobedonostsev disliked Serafim Saratovsky and tried to nix his Sainthood. Or does it?
Author Kudryashov explains Pobedo’s contempt for Father Serafim: The Russian people do not need a Saint who is completely indifferent to Russia. What kind of example could he give? What could one possibly learn from a hermit who lives with a bear? A man who deliberately exiles himself from the life of his country?
And thus we enter into an intriguing battle of wills: The Deep State vs The Deep People.
[to be continued]