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‘Self-Loathing Orthodox Christians’ Emerge As Force To Be Reckoned With In Russia – OpEd


For many years, Western sociologists have talked about “self-loathing Jews,” people who by their origins are Jews but base their identity on denying and opposing everything Jewish. Now a St. Petersburg sociologist is suggesting that an analogous group has emerged in Russia, “the self-loathing Orthodox Christians.”

Elena Ryigas, a scholar at the Sociological Institute in the northern capital, says this term refers not to those who call themselves Orthodox but don’t take part in the life of the church but rather to those who are fully “churched” as far as practice is concerned but who dissent from what they see Orthodoxy having become (

Up to now, these people form an insignificant minority, she writes; but because they are middle class and display a high level of social activity, they are worrying the church hierarchy by their constant raising of “inconvenient questions” about church financing, the election of hierarchs or “simply by citing too often the holy word.”

Deacon Andrey Kurayev explains their appearance by the fact that “the Russian Orthodox Church was too rapidly transformed from an oppressed Church into a corporation” which enjoys the full backing of the state and does what it wants regardless of its own rules or the laws of the state.

Many who can be described as self-loathing Orthodox, Ryigas suggests, might seem to be good candidates for shifting to another denomination altogether. But instead, they are standing their ground within the church but forming various groups like Stalinists, Mizulinists and Milonovs especially after the patriarch met Pope Francis in Havana.

According to the sociologist, “the Orthodox church is gradually becoming like one large communal apartment,” in which the original residents are being openly challenged by new ones, some of whom simply assert that they are Christians rather than members of any particular faith, including that of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In many respects, Ryigas says, “the self-loathing Orthodox are really closer to Protestantism and Catholicism” than to the ROC. They are more active in social work than are traditional Orthodox. Indeed, in some ways, they are like many who say “’I don’t need the church; God is in my soul.’”

As the number of churches have grown, there has been observed a trend toward “self-organization of those believers” who are not prepared simply to obey the priest in all things. They use the church as a kind of base, but in fact have “emigrated” into a kind of Kitezh in which they are on their own.

“The relationship between state Orthodoxy and the internal Kitezh city” is complicated. Both say they are for the same things, but the one does one thing and the other something quite different. And that makes the self-loathing Orthodox a new “variety of religious opposition and even dissent.”

Such ideological competition can play “a positive role” in many cases, Ryigas says, but not in this one. The clash between the official church and the self-loathing Orthodox will only grow, she suggests, and last as such religious disputes tend to “no less than 40 years” before one group succeeds in suppressing or displacing the other.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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