Cross and Kremlin: A brief history of the
Orthodox Church in Russia
Church Times Bookshop £16.20 (Use code
THE German scholar Thomas Bremer makes a brave attempt in one
short volume to cover the history of the Russian Orthodox Church,
from the conversion of Prince Vladimir of Kiev in 988 to (almost)
the present day. Nothing else with such ambition exists in English,
so this paperback of 178 pages sets out to fill a need. Bremer is a
writer of sound judgement and skill in simplifying a complicated
story - but, oh dear! something has gone badly wrong.
If you are going to present a work in translation, then the
prerequisite is to find a person or a team totally fluent in two
languages. Here the English text is so clumsy that I found myself
constantly glancing ahead to spy the next disaster.
The basic problem is that the translator, Eric W. Gritsch, who
died before publication of his translation, did not have what
Bremer claims for him in his prefaceto the English edition: "skills
in bringing my German text into fine English". Surely the American
publishers, Eerdmans, a house with a good reputation, should have
used an editor here?
Let me quote one early example to clear the way for writing
about subjects of greater interest. On page 10 one reads: "The
Sophia Church in Kiev is an impressive testimony to the early
building activity. Noteworthy is the development of building
cupolas, which are characteris-tic of Russian churches still
today." Apart from being hopelessly stilted, I count here at least
three errors in two sentences. St Sophia's in Kiev is always called
a "cathedral" in English; there are two redundant definite articles
(to be repeated literally hundreds of times in the later text);
"still" adds no meaning.
This is so sad, because the original German must have been worth
reading. Bremer's method is unusual. Instead of a consecutive
history, he chooses themes, and follows each through the centuries.
Therefore, after two general chapters on the history (which do
contain elements of repetition), there are chapters on structure,
Church and State, theology, monasticism, spirituality, relations
with the West, and dissidence. This is interesting and
enlightening, especially as Bremer's judgements are sound,and in
My main quibble would be that the account of the horrors of the
20th century fails to state the extent of the devastation. For
example, the story of the accession of the Russian Orthodox Church
to membershipof the World Council of Churches in 1961 mentions the
influential Metropolitan Nikodim, but it omits any reference to his
predecessor, Metropolitan Nikolai, who prepared the Church for
this, but was then removed by the KGB and probably murdered.
The book relies heavily on German sources, which is not a
criticism; but the modest updatingof a text that was originally
published in 2007 fails to include a consideration of the
administration of Patriarch Kirill, who has now been in office for
five years - a subject on which the reader would certainly like to
know the author's opinion.
Canon Michael Bourdeaux is the President of Keston Institute