31 March 2022

The Moscow Times reports truth

I don't know how long this will remain posted, but The Moscow Times carries a report worth reading: Orthodox Christian Unity Broken by 'Russian World' Heresy, with this subtitle: "Orthodox clergy, lay people and scholars condemn Moscow Patriarch Kirill." Thus far, the Putin administration has not shut the newspaper, despite it using words such as invasion now prohibited by law. The Times here reports on the important statement on which I wrote earlier, A Declaration on the “Russian World” (Русский мир) Teaching. An excerpt:

On Sunday scholars and clergy at the orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University and the Volos Academy for Theological Studies published a scathing “Declaration on the ‘Russian World’ Teaching.” This ideology is, they write, “a false teaching which is attracting many in the Orthodox Church and has even been taken up by the Far Right and Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists.”

The “Russian World” ideology has been cited by both Vladimir Putin and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill over the past two decades. It asserts, the theologians write, that “there is a transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world.”

The ideology asserts that Moscow is the political center and Kyiv — the “mother of all the Rus” — is the spiritual center. Russian is the common language and the Russian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate is the common religion. In this 'world,' they write, the Patriarch “works in 'symphony' with a common president/national leader (Putin) to govern this Russian world, as well as upholding a common distinctive spirituality, morality, and culture.” 

This spiritual center stands against what its adherents consider “the corrupt West, led by the United States and Western European nations, which has capitulated to ‘liberalism,’ ‘globalization.’ ‘Christianophobia,’ ‘homosexual rights’ promoted in gay parades, and ‘militant secularism’.”

The scholars accuse the Russian Orthodox Church of “ethno-phyletism” or “religious nationalism”— a practice outlawed by an Orthodox  church council in 1872 as ecclesial heresy. The council ruled that the Orthodox Church must not be connected with the fate of a single nation or race.

“Therefore,” they write, “we reject the “Russian world” heresy and the shameful actions of the Government of Russia in unleashing war against Ukraine which flows from this vile and indefensible teaching with the connivance of the Russian Orthodox Church, as profoundly un-Orthodox, un-Christian and against humanity, which is called to be “justified… illumined… and washed in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (Baptismal Rite). Just as Russia has invaded Ukraine, so too the Moscow Patriarchate of Patriarch Kirill has invaded the Orthodox Church, for example in Africa, causing division and strife, with untold casualties not just to the body but to the soul, endangering the salvation of the faithful.”

The letter was signed by more than fifty prominent theologians from all over the world.

The Times has also published this provocative opinion piece: An Orthodox Christian Standing With Ukraine, by the Rev. John Chryssavgis. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Few, if any, would go so far as to claim that Patriarch Kirill, as head of the Orthodox Church in Russia (or “the Russias,” as he likes to say), could be charged with crimes against humanity or war crimes for not preventing unwarranted and unjustifiable military aggression that has cost innocent lives in just the last few days. At the same time, many, if not most, would concur that President Putin should be charged with such atrocities.

Even with his egregious violations of conventional law, however, Putin could never destroy the international order by himself without the loyal support and moral endorsement—whether silent or explicit—of a complicit partner-in-crime. Both state and church there dream of a larger world, a universal Russia, a “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir). But when the punching gloves and the bling vestments are removed, each is using the other for its own interests for imperialism or irredentism; and both are promoting division in an increasingly bi-polar world.

The 1993 Russian Constitution claims to protect freedom of speech in Chapter 2, Article 29:

1. Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech.

2. The propaganda or agitation instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred and strife shall not be allowed. The propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic supremacy shall be banned.

3. No one may be forced to express his views and convictions or to reject them.

4. Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way. The list of data comprising state secrets shall be determined by a federal law.

5. The freedom of mass communication shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be banned.

Sad to say, these provisions have not succeeded in preventing Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin from persecuting opponents and censoring the press. One suspects that The Moscow Times' server is located outside of Russia. Whether Putin will be able to crack down on its independent reporting remains to be seen. In the meantime, kudos to the Times. Its independent reporting needs its citizens' support if Russian civil society is to survive and flourish.

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