At the height of the Cold War, political scientists questioned whether the Orthodox Church had become incompatible with the modern state. Although history textbooks highlight how patriarch and emperor were integral offices to the Byzantine Empire, the West has always had a far more tangible division between pope and prince. In Russia in particular, church and state have been in elaborate entanglement for centuries, the result of which has paradoxically been widespread abandonment of the practice of the faith. And contrary to those inclined to see a triumphant tale of Christianity emerging from communism, today’s Church remains plagued by the same ills it has borne for centuries.
Today, the Cold War is history and the Russian Orthodox Church again enjoys religious freedom, yet it has little influence on public discourse, especially when compared with the impact of the Catholic Church, which weighs in on arguments even in countries where Catholics do not even comprise a majority (consider, for example, the recent successes prelates have had in setting the terms of the American contraception mandate and British gay marriage debates). Some Russians (and a fair number of Westerners) imagine this is simply the impact of Soviet atheism on the Russian people, but the reality is more complicated.