The Shadow of the Gloomy East/Chapter 18

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Black Ravens


SUCH was the name given to the Orthodox clergy by the Russian playwright, Protopopov, in one of his plays.

Black habits and black souls! …

It was the least intelligent class of the people which supplied the recruits for the future spiritual shepherds of the nation. The candidates for priestly positions acquired their knowledge in seminaries established by the Holy Synod, the most idiotic and demoralising institutions, which educated rather for police work than ecclesiastical service. They regarded their profession simply as the means of securing an easy and comfortable life, which allowed them to save a little money, to indulge openly in drink, and secretly in prostitution. The parsons were always at the service of the Government, the police, the Holy Synod. They were indifferent or hostile to their parishioners, exploiting them without acknowledging the bonds that united them with the people, from whom they had sprung, and to whom they themselves belonged by origin and culture. Thus had the Synod alienated the souls of the peasant-pastors from those of the peasant-tillers o the soil

Among the popes and monks there were men of profound knowledge, but even they were enmeshed in the toils of the Government, which knew how to use them skilfully. Such ecclesiastics worked among the educated radicals, among the aristocratic opposition and liberal bureaucracy. They, too, were the agents of the Government. And if one of them dared to propagate not the official, but the genuine mysticism of the Christian Church, then he soon felt the heavy and ruthless hand of the Holy Synod and the provincial Governor; he had either to leave his post for ever or to submit The official Russian Church, directed by the Synod or the Ministry of the Orthodox Church employed the popes and monks to fight socialism, anarchism, liberalism, the progress of true learning; to combat Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Mahommedanism, Buddhism, and Sectarianism; the hand of the Church was in the struggle against Tolstoy and other writers, opposing parliamentary institutions; often the clergy were employed for various political purposes, as the mouthpiece of popular expressions of devotion and loyalty to the dynasty, or as instrument for the organisation of pogroms of the Jews, Poles, and Tartars, and for political provocation.

The figures of the popes, Vostorgov, Gapon, Bishop Makar, and others, will for ever cast their terrible shadow upon the realities of Russian life.

Vostorgov, an inspired speaker and demagogue, travelled from one end of the country to the other agitating for the extermination of all who showed the slightest sympathy with revolution. Here and there he succeeded in creating disturbances during which much blood was shed, and In which perished the progressive youth of the universities, professors, and publicists.

Under the Influence of Vostorgov families were destroyed whose son or brother was a student That was in 1905. But even to this day lives the terrible phrase which was used in Moscow by the outlawed fiends stirred up by Vostorgov: "Beat him—his brother is a student"

Vostorgov incited the Petersburg and Moscow butchers who wrought pogroms of students in 1899 and 1905.

Makar, the Bishop of Tomsk, who subsequently became Metropolitan of Moscow, met the mob which, led by gendarmes, marched towards the theatre where a political meeting was being held. Makar delivered speeches attacking the educated classes and "blessing the deeds about to be done." They were accomplished in less than an hour afterwards, when the mangled bodies of a score of eminent politicians amongst them the well-known engineer Klonowski lay tinder the burning ruins of the Tomsk theatre.

The pope Fomin In the province of Perm, a drunken profligate who devoted his life to the exploitation of the peasants, persuaded his parishioners, during an epidemic of cholera, that "the disease was cast into the river" by the local doctor (who was a Socialist), teacher, and veterinary surgeon, in order to destroy the village population. He did this because these men protested against the demoralising conduct of the pope, who usually celebrated Mass in a state of complete intoxication, and preached impossible sermons. A crowd of raving peasants dragged them out from their homes and literally tore them to pieces.

Not much better were the Metropolitans of Petersburg and Kiev, and the higher Court clergy, if for their personal comfort and earthly honours they felt happy in the presence of the "sacred" scoundrel, Rasputin, or agreed humbly with the opinions of the sinister Pobedonoscev, and the charlatan Prince Putiatin, when these two worthies invented new saints, arranged miracles on their graves, and intended even to consecrate as a saint during her lifetime the widow of the Grand Duke Sergius—the Empress's sister Elisabeth—who became the prioress of a Moscow convent.

After the Bolshevik revolution, Elisabeth, together with other nuns, was murdered, and her corpse disappeared. Some years afterwards, in 1921, when I was in Japan, I learned that a monk had concealed the coffin containing her body, transported it secretly across Russia and Siberia to Japan, from here to Jerusalem, where, it is alleged, the coffin was to be buried.

The most honourable and remunerative work of the clergy was by common assent that of the missions among the Mongolian natives of the Russian borderlands, and among the Sectarians.

Bishop Makar, whom I mentioned before, especially distinguished himself as the head of the Altay missions in the Siberian province of Tomsk. In this immense mountainous country the Orthodox faith was spread among Tartars, who were partly Mahommedans, partly Shamanists, and it was done so successfully that the Governor of the province, the German Tobizen, was obliged to draw the attention of the Petersburg Government to the "inadmissible methods" of religious propaganda, which consisted in alcoholic intoxication of the natives, who were being baptised in a state of complete ebriety. The Governor pointed out in his reports that the autochthonous population was being pauperised and decimated under the influence of this "Christian spirit."

The missionaries used to convert with money, clothes, boots, or rifles the Tartars on the Volga, the Cheremis and Votyaks on the Kama, and the Kalmucks in the Caspian steppes, boasting of the great numbers of converts, without being in the least concerned when these "new Christians" put the crosses alongside the old gods, made of wood or clay, and said their prayers simultaneously to both the God of the Christians and the pagan idols with equal and ignorant zeal.

In the north-east of Siberia the Orthodox missionaries also used spirits for their propaganda, and when they had driven all the natives into the pale they left. But propaganda by alcohol continued to spread, and a few years after large encampments of nomads could be met with, whose sites were marked by the remains, half devoured by wolves and dingos, of Orthodox believers, who, having drunk themselves into oblivion, were frozen to death in the boreal darkness of the polar night.

Another branch of the missionaries was active among the Sectarians, particularly among the adepts of the old, unreformed Orthodoxy, or the so-called "old believers." The bishops and the theologians of the "old faith" are well-read men, capable of holding their own in a philosophical discussion, and only the ablest and most eloquent missionaries were entrusted with propaganda amongst them. The rhetorical combats, carried on usually with great passion, were of long duration, and the official monks and pastors had usually the worst of them. The learned of the "old faith" invariably gained a moral victory. But the missionaries had their remedies ready. They selected some corrupt members of the "old believers'" community, with whose help they organised illegal meetings, conferences, speeches, when the most dangerous and irreconcilable opponents could be arrested and deported, either to the north of European Russia or to Siberia.