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The "mystery of iniquity" has indeed enveloped the whole world. The enemies of Christ, including those who call themselves "Christians", with increased frequency define our era as "post-Christian". And the 20-th century Russia has become the most polarized country in its apostasy and its devoutness. When reflecting on the Revolution of 1917 with its unprecedented crimes and horrors, on millions of confessors and martyrs for Christ, one invariably thinks of the Apocalypse. How could this "dress rehearsal" of the coming of Antichrist have taken place in the once holy country? And one cannot help but blame malevolent seducers, those who were methodically destroying the soul of the people.

Only by trying to understand certain features of Russia's historical past is it possible to conceive the tragic consequences of spiritual and moral deterioration of the educated Russian elite which brought about the collapse of the one thousand year old Orthodox world. A sincere and intellectual effort is needed to try and overcome hostile prejudice and ingrained alien clichés (such as "Russians have always been slaves") and free oneself of the concept of Russia being "backward and stagnant", a concept imposed by secular world which has long since "buried" God in its soul. This may help to understand why Russia of old has become the object of animosity and the focal point of the struggle between good and evil.

Not wishing in the least to belittle the piety of our Orthodox brothers in Christ, particularly Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, a.o., one nevertheless must emphasize the purely Russian features of piety. First of all, we have in mind the Muscovite period, when the everyday life of Russian people warranted Russia to be called Holy [73].

Spiritual exploits and praying practiced by our ancestors which were unimaginable not only in the Latin West but also in the Orthodox East, is discussed in the book by Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo, who in 1654-1656 accompanied Patriarch Macarios of Antioch in his travels in Russia: "These people are truly Christian and extremely pious ... [74] Who would believe this? They have surpassed the desert hermits !" [75].

The duration of services, strictness of fasts and strenuous daily exertion of piety of the Russians aroused not only amazement and admiration of the visiting Antiochian monks but also their real laments: "Just imagine, they stand motionless throughout the service, like rocks, they make countless prostrations and all together, as if in one voice sing the prayers; and, most amazingly, small children participate in all this. Their zeal in faith made us marvel. O God, o God! their prayers, singing and Liturgy drag on and on !" [76].

The way of life of the Russian people was ascetic in character. According to Archdeacon Paul "by the extent of their praying the Muscovites probably surpass the saints themselves, and this applies not only to simple and poor folk, peasants, women, young girls and small children, but also to high officials, dignitaries and their wives" [77].

Indeed, both lay people and monastics practiced asceticism regardless of social class. Thus, the great ascetics -- Saints Joseph of Volotsk and Nilus of Sora, were boyars. And they were not an exception: many distinguished people sought their salvation in monasteries; among them were many princes. A monastic, angelic image has always been an ideal for a Russian worthy of imitation. Lay people were distinguished from monastics only in that they did not make a vow of celibacy, and lived outside a monastery. And if the circumstances of their life, or their family obligations prevented them from becoming monks during their lifetime, then facing death many of them, both young and old, would usually bequeath all or a significant part of their possessions to the Church, and take the monastic vows. And many Great Princes, like Saint Alexander Nevsky (Alexy in schema) became monks.

Monastic rules extended to the secular life as well. Paul of Aleppo noted that quite often even in secular environment, they "felt like being in a monastery" [78]. Russia was radiant in its piety: "We marveled at their church customs... There is no difference between the monastic ritual and that of a parish church -- they are the same" [79].

All aspects of the old Russian way of life -- like organization of time, daily routine, rules of conduct, social and family relations, food, clothing, etc. -- was inspired by church customs. The ideal of Holy Russia was the people's aspiration for sanctity, and their striving towards Christ. Orthodox faith determined all manifestations of life of the people and formed its basis. A heartfelt faith in Christ and love for Him engendered also love for one's neighbors, which along with compassion and hospitality has been the most distinctive feature of the Russian people.

History tells us that Great Princes often were the models of charity. Great Prince Ioann, was popularly nicknamed "Kalita" (Tatar: "bag") because he would always carry a bagful of money for distribution of alms. Well-to-do people were building old people's homes, hospitals and orphanages, and the homes of boyars and merchants provided shelter and food for a large number of wanderers and destitutes.

Devotion to the Church in Holy Russia was remarkable. Besides the general concern for building and adorning churches and monasteries, the religious decor was favored in Russian homes as well, both in princely palaces and huts of ordinary folk. "Everyone's home displays numerous icons embellished in gold, silver and precious stones, and not only inside, but also outdoors...; this is the case not just with the boyars, but also with peasants in villages, because their love for icons and their faith are rather remarkable" [80].

The external piety was the result of the inward spiritual labor. Following the monastery rules our ancestors prayed not only at church services, but at home as well. Lay people tried to be steadfast in carrying out the prayer rules as instructed in service books, despite the difficulty of combining them with their daily work. There was nothing unusual about a Russian Orthodox person completing the reading, or listening to, the entire Psalter in a week; many of them would make up to 1200 prostrations with the Jesus prayer. The Lord's Prayer, Prayer to the Mother of God and the Creed were read several times a day. As well as that, they would pray at any time while working, so as not to be distracted by vain and sinful thoughts [81].

Great Princes and Tsars who were spiritually nourished by their religious mentors, often set astonishing examples of piety. Such were, among many others, St. Andrei Bogolyubsky whose name already speaks of his love for God ("Bogolyubsky" is a Russian word for "God-loving"); St. Daniel, Prince of Moscow, known for his piety and mildness, who received schema shortly before his death (in 1303); righteous Tsar Fedor Ioannovich (listed as a miracle-worker of Moscow in the Russian Church calendar; and Tsar Alexei Mikhallovich [82]. The latter was a great authority on the Typicon (Rules for Church services), and would sometimes remind monks of Eirmos and Troparion to be read and their tones. (He is known to have corrected even Paul of Aleppo when the latter made a small mistake occasionally.) The Tsar would attend services which sometimes lasted six to seven hours, and spend an entire night in prayers [83]. Besides, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich observed strict fasting. During the entire Lent, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he would abstain from food altogether, and partake of one simple meal on the other days. "His ceremonial festive dinners, as a rule, were by no means feasts, but rather monastic meals, when not even the Tsar was offered any meat in the presence of clergy, and which were accompanied by the reading of the Lives of Saints of the given day, as is the custom in monasteries" [84].

When observing such confession of faith in everyday life, "unheard of in any other country" [85] Paul of Aleppo exclaimed... "Isn't this a blessed country? Undoubtedly, Christian faith is observed here in all its purity... O, how fortunate they are!" [86]

In citing the above examples we are nevertheless far from trying to idealize the moral life of our ancestors, nor do we consider them to be irreproachable. After all, human nature, which is damaged by sin, is the cause of falls and prevents the full realization of holy ideals. "The soul of a Russian is very generous, and, along with the exploits of great sanctity Russian life abounded in many vices and manifestations of grave sins... But though our ancestors were capable of committing grave sins, they were also capable of profound repentance." [87] Along with the heart-felt repentance as a means of spiritual purification, the centuries-long steadfast abiding in the Orthodox faith helped the Russian people to avoid pernicious godlessness which enveloped the humanistic West. There still exists a gulf between the beliefs of repenting and praying Russia and of the "progressive" West. While ignoring the spiritual substance of Russia its antagonists "declare that this concern for preserving the religious integrity in piety and the fear of God, which they are unable to understand, to be backward barbarity; they regard these people as slaves only because in their foremost care for the experience of religious reality they turn out to be alien to political ambitions... The West, on the contrary, persistently instills in Russian minds that which it calls progress and which has always caused harm to the integrity of the Russian soul and to its spiritual aspiration" [88].

Prayer, fast and charity -- the entire life of man in Holy Russia was built in accordance with Christ's commandments, with the teaching of Holy Fathers and the character of Church life. The aim of an everyday life was to prepare one for life eternal: "Ye that have trod the narrow way of sorrow; all ye that in life have taken up the cross as a yoke, and have followed Me in faith, come, enjoy the honors and heavenly crowns which I have prepared for you." (From the Burial service of the Office for the Dead).

Can people of the West -- whose ancestors placed the material principle before that of the spirit, who preferred aesthetics to ethics, hedonism to asceticism, and whose favorite reading was not the Lives of Saints, but belles-lettres, such as the "Decameron"?! -- can they understand this way of life and this frame of mind?!

It is hardly surprising that Russia was stigmatized and that its glorious and great period of history was branded as "the worst period in Russian history, the most stifling..." [89] Countless are all those who, having an "eye for evil", threw stones at Holy Russia. Among them were not only the heterodox ill-wishers of the Orthodox country who did not spare "dark hues in describing various immoral vices and disorders in Russian society" [90], such as the Holstein ambassador Adam Olearius, or ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire, baron Augustine Meierberg, who observed Russia in the 30-ies -- 60-ies of the 17th century, but also a number of our own homegrown historians as well as all those whose ideal was the "enlightened", secularized West. Contradictions between the well wishing testimonies of Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo and the hostile descriptions of the Muscovite Russia by its foreign contemporaries who depicted only the shady aspects which can be found in any country on earth, are of course merely apparent contradictions. Being an Orthodox cleric and companion of an important visitor -- Patriarch of Antioch -- Paul of Aleppo had an opportunity to observe life in Orthodox Russia in the place of concentration of all that was holy, good, and pious in the Russian society, namely in the Church. The foreign envoys, however, did not even have a right to attend Russian church services, and therefore they observed life in Russia "from another vantage point -- from streets, squares, pubs, markets, places of business transactions, foreign shops, etc." Therefore their testimonies are not only non-contradictory, but even supplement each other. "Apart from this, one should certainly keep in mind that Paul, our brother in faith, looked at Russia with the eyes of friendship and sympathy, while the Western writers treated the people and the country, which offered them hospitality, with contempt and even hostility" [91].

Worthy of attention is also the fact that the ill-wishing pro-Western researchers of Russia's history more often than not used the yardsticks which distorted its holy past. They were inclined to attach primary significance to such historical and literary works which served as an outlet for the feelings of discontent and protest, usually manifested in people with an acute awareness of their personality. "It is precisely the personality and its manifestations that received the greatest significance in the eyes of our researchers. Meanwhile, the spiritual formation of the Muscovite Russia rested upon a completely different disposition filled with an awareness of such a lofty and selfless service that very little space was left for anything "personal". It is precisely in this service that the spiritual quality of the Moscow society, of all its classes, manifested itself. This spiritual quality alone allowed the Muscovite Russia to accomplish its great task, that of building an Orthodox Kingdom, which indeed met the requirements of the ideology of the "Third Rome" (i.e. the mission of preserving Orthodoxy in the world -- L.P.), which was perceived not as a conceited smartening of the country's earthly national structure, but as an all-determining task of the life of the Russian people as a whole, from the Tsar down to the last serf who was devoted to God" [92].

One often hears that the ideal of sanctity was the main and the only merit of Holy Russia. Even if it were only that, one could feel happy about such a state of mind of the people. But, as we have seen, along with the ideal of sanctity Russia had a way of life in which this sanctity was, in fact, realized, inasmuch as "the faith without works is dead" (James 2, 20 and 26). Precisely this fact "irritated the powers of evil", and they have turned Russia into their own domain: "My motherland, you are sorrowful and mute, my motherland, you have lost your mind" [93].

During the Soviet regime two peoples lived side by side in one country: the Soviet people and the Russian people. The first and the more numerous one has been living without God even until now when the USSR no longer exists, and sinning gravely in its rush to perdition: "and all around, as if on a parade, the whole country is marching in wide strides towards hell" [94]. But the Russian Orthodox people, although small in numbers and exhausted by an unequal and almost a century-old struggle, shines with its God-fearing life, self-sacrifice and the power of prayers, just like its pious ancestors. Is, then, this people the immortal heir of Holy Russia, this pinch of spiritual salt, the last spiritual hope of the world which has become impoverished in virtue?

[73] In this short chapter we cannot deal with the wide topic of Russian piety and sanctity in detail.

[74] "Puteshestvie Antiokhiiskago Patriarkha Makariia v Rossiiu v polovine XVII veka, opisannoe ego synom, arkhidiakonom Pavlom Aleppskim" (The Journey of Patriarch Macarios of Antioch in Russia in the middle of the 17th c., described by his son, Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo), tr. by G. Murkos, Moscow, publ. by the Imperial Society of Russian History and Antiquities at the Moscow University, in 5 issues. 1896-1900. Issue II, p. 170.

[75] Ibid., Issue III, p. 44.

[76] Ibid., Issue II, p. 2.

[77] Ibid., p. 94.

[78] Ibid., p. 27.

[79] Ibid., p. 160.

[80] Ibid., Issue III, pp. 31-32.

[81] See "Istoricheskii ocherk russkago propovednichestva" (Historical Essay on Russian Missionary Activity), St. Petersburg, 1879, p. 27.

[82] While examining mainly the period of Muscovite Russia, we wish nevertheless to note the fact of great significance for historical Russia that its last Emperor (before the catastrophe of 1917), Tsar-Martyr Nicholas Aleksandrovich with His Most August Family was canonized (by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1981) not only for His martyrdom, but also for His profoundly Christian way of life.
In this connection we would like to remind the reader of one instant in the life of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, which testifies to His personal, purely old-Russian piety. He was perfectly aware of the fatal mistakes of Peter I, who was "blinded by the material achievements of the West"; one of these mistakes was the abolition of Patriarchy (1721) in Russia, Tsar Nicholas Aleksandrovich with all the power of his heart tried to return Russia on to the saving original path of Holy Russia, to resurrect its ideals, to reestablish its monolithic structure, to recreate and consolidate the unity which in the past existed between the Church, the Tsar and the people and which formed the basis of its strength " (E. E. Alfer'ev, "Emperor Nicholas II, as a Man of Strong Will. Materials for the Compilation of Life of the Pious Tsar-Martyr Nicholas", Jordanville, 1983, p. 87). After deep reflections and in agreement with the Empress Aleksandra Fedorovna, he was prepared to leave the Emperor's Throne to his son Prince Alexy Nikolaevich (under the regency of the Empress and Grand Duke Michael, the Emperor's brother), to receive tonsure, join the priestly rank and then to lay upon himself the heavy burden of patriarchal service. In March of 1905 Emperor Nicholas II informed members of the Synod both about his wish to restore Patriarchy in Russia and his courageous decision in this respect. One may only bitterly regret that this suggestion of the Emperor did not find a timely and worthy response from the Synod. (See ibid., pp. 88-89).
As for the list of Russian princes who have been canonized, it could be greatly lengthened. However, this would be a rather difficult task, bearing in mind the fact that in the Russian Church calendar, as V.S. Soloviev remarked, half the saints are princes: "... All the saints of our Russian Church belong to two classes only: they are either monks occupying various Church offices, or princes, i.e. according to tradition they are of the military class, and we have no other saints, I mean the male saints. Either a monk or a soldier". As far as fools for Christ's sake were concerned a character in Soloviev's "Three Conversations" says that they are "irregular monks of sorts. What Cossacks are to the army, the fools for Christ's sake are to monasticism". (Vladimir Sergeevich Soloviev "Three Conversations". Vol. 10, St. Petersburg, 1897-1900, p. 96)

[83] Puteshestvie..., Issue III, p. 94.

[84] Archpriest Lev Lebedev, "Moskva Patriarshaia" (Patriarchal Moscow), publ. Stolitsa, Veche, Moscow, 1995, p. 223.

[85] Puteshestvie..., Issue III, pp. 11125-126.

[86] Ibid., Issue II, p. 109-110.

[87] Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev), "Russkaia ideologiia" (Russian Ideology), St. Job of Pochaev Printing Press, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, N.Y., 1987, p. 29.

[88] Archdeacon Germain Ivanoff-Trinadtzaty, "Tretii Rim" (The Third Rome), publ. by Acorly, Lyon, 1997, p. 28.

[89] Nicholas Berdyaev, "Russkaia ideia" (The Russian Idea), Paris, 1971, p. 7.

[90] Archpriest Lev Lebedev, "Moskva...", p. 227.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Archimandrite Konstantin (Zaitsev), "Lektsii po istorii Russkoi slovesnosti, chitannyia v Sv.Troitskoi seminarii" (Lectures in Russian Literature given in the Holy Trinity Seminary), Part One, St. Job of Pochaev's Printing Press, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, N.Y., 1967, p. 62.

[93] See the words of the songs "Russia" and "My Motherland" by a well known Orthodox poet Igor Tal'kov, who in 1991 was killed in the bright daylight by Russia's enemies.

[94] Ibid.