By Kostas Onisenko
“All the high priests of the Patriarchate of Moschow, without exception, had relations with the KGB. There was no high priest who had nothing to do with the KGB, because the system itself was such that there was no other way of governing the Church. In order to appoint a bishop, you had to agree with the KGB” Filaret, “Honorary Patriarch of the Ukrainian Church” (interview on the Ukrainian channel TSN – 20.01.2019)
Much has been written about the relationship between the Russian Church and the Russian secret services, especially with the KGB, from the time of World War II to this day. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the KGB files, and especially those of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people who worked with the service, providing information or carrying out specific orders, were not made public.
As a result, on the one hand the internal process of cleansing and forgiveness, which was so much needed by wounded post-Soviet Russia did not happen, and on the other hand, many of the people who poisoned Russian society with their actions remained in place.
Despite the fact that the KGB, which after the dissolution of the USSR was renamed the FSB, “recovered” from the social and economic crisis in Russia, in the first years since the dissolution of the USSR, many executives found work in private companies or left abroad.
Here we recall that the current Russian administration helped to “regroup” the service when it took over as head of the FSB on July 25, 1998. At that time, there were even salary delays due to state difficulties to the executives of the most “sensitive” service of the state. Some of those who left in the 1990s or earlier gave to the public a glimpse of the KGB’s penetration in Soviet society, and particularly in the Church.
The investigation of Church-KGB relations that stopped abruptly
According to the books and articles of its former service members, the Church was under the microscope of the KGB like most key sectors of the country. The KGB was proselytizing academics, intellectuals, athletes, scientists and more. Among them, of course, were priests, and especially hierarchs.
According to an interview of Pavel Protsenko, historian of the Russian Church, with Radio Liberty, who was sentenced to prison by the Soviet regime, a committee was set up in 1992 to investigate the unconstitutional action of the “State Committee on the State of Emergency”.
As for the outcome of this committee’s work, former KGB agent Vladimir Popov in his recent book “Conspiracy of the Evil. Notes of the former KGB lieutenant “((…)” (Popov’s book was published on the page of the well-known Ukrainian journalist Dmitri Gordon), quotes a very revealing excerpt of the conclusion:
The Church as the “prolonged arm” of the USSR
“The Committee drew attention to the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the unconstitutional use of a number of ecclesiastical organs by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the organs of the KGB, for their own purposes, by recruiting and deploying KGB agents. Thus, with the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the agents were travelling abroad (it should be reminded that in the years of the USSR very few people were allowed to travel to other countries) and were carrying out missions of the KGB administration, using the pseudonyms Svyatoslav, Alamant, Topaz, Nesterovich, Kuznetsov, Ognev, Esaulenko and others”.
Unfortunately, the Church leadership has not formally addressed the issue of its own depoliticization so far. The representative of Patriarch Alexy II, Deacon Andrei Kuraev called the publications about the material of the Committee as a persecution of the church and even a “triumph” of the KGB itself (“The News of Moscow” issue 10 – 1992). However, Archbishop Chrysostom of Vilnius, effectively contradicted Deacon Kuraev and recounted his 18-year collaboration with the KGB (“Russian Newspaper” issue 52/388 – 1992).
Agents to this day current hierarchs
In addition to the indirect reports, testimonies and secondary sources, from time to time specific documents have appeared about the relationship between the Church and the KGB. For example, when in 2018 the Latvian authorities decided to declassify the local documents, among the agents of the Soviet secret service was the name of the current Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All of Latvia. According to the documents, the Metropolitan began working with the KGB immediately after his ordination as a priest in 1982 and received the nickname Chitatel (tr. reader).
In addition to the aforementioned hierarchs, and for those that evidence of cooperation with the Russian secret services have been found, and those who – such as the “honorary Patriarch of Ukraine”, admitted this cooperation by themselves, there are speculations about many more senior clergy. We read the views expressed, speaking to the Voice of America, by Konstantin Preobrazhensky, author and former KGB lieutenant colonel living in the United States:
“This is an illusion not only in the West but also in Russia. And it is very harmful. The KGB did not disappear. And unfortunately the USSR did not disappear either, it only got smaller. The current Russian leadership has completely re-established the KGB. (…) How can one talk about the KGB cooperating with the Church in the past, when even today in the church all administrative (senior) positions are occupied by KGB agents? Everywhere you look you see an agent. And the Patriarch and his deputies – all KGB agents “(August 18, 2005).
When Metropolitan Epifaniy was elected as the Head of the newly formed Ukrainian Church, many expressed their doubts due to His young age. Ukraine itself is a fledgling state. Ecclesiastical disputes and processes in Ukraine are in fact much older than the Ukrainian state itself. Metropolitan Epifaniy did not bring all these disagreements with him, he was a young person who, in addition to his lack of experience, also carried the hope of the new Ukrainian nation, as it was formed after 1991.
Apart from these arguments, when considering the election of Metropolitan Epifaniy to this important and historic position, one should not overlook the fact that it was his young age that “protected” him from the toxic and sinful relationship with KGB, to which the older hierarchs were exposed.
Even those who were honest and did what they could to protect their flock and the Word of God. Mistakes due to inexperience are better than possible betrayal and the service of dark interests. And from this point of view I consider that the election of Metropolitan Epifaniy is a wise and justified choice and I hope that time will confirm what I am saying.