Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stump the Priest: Raising Hands at the Liturgy

Question: "Is it proper for laymen to raise their hands in prayer during the consecration of the Eucharist and the Lord's Prayer?"


Raising hands in prayer is a very ancient practice, and following this practice in private prayer is certainly acceptable. However, even among the clergy, only the presiding clergyman raises his hands at various points in the Liturgy.* The other priests do not. The deacons raise only one hand at these points, but never both.

Why is this? I don't recall ever reading an explanation, but I would give one answer I am certain of, and another that I think is probably true:
1. This is not the practice we have received.
2. The liturgical logic at work seems to me to be that the person who is leading the people in prayer raises his hands on behalf of all the people, and so the people, deferring to that priest or bishop, do not attempt to usurp his role, but allow him to do this alone. On the other hand, in private prayers, you are the one presiding, so to speak, and so in this case you can raise your own hands in prayer.
There is an Old Rite practice of people raising both hands when they are censed during the services, but this is a different practice. This is not done at the times when the presiding priest or bishop raises his hands.

It is important that we conduct ourselves in the services in a way that does not draw attention to ourselves, and so adhering to the practice we have received is very important. It helps everyone focus on God in prayer. The services are where we serve God in prayer and worship -- not where we are served, and get to do whatever pleases us.

St. Paul admonished the Corinthians by saying: "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40), Commenting on this verse, St. John Chrysostom says:
"Nothing builds up as much as good order, peace and love, just as nothing is more destructive than their opposites. It is not only in spiritual affairs but in everything that one may observe this" (Homily 37:4 on 1 Corinthians).
*In my experience at least, the presiding priest or bishop doesn't raise his hands during the Our Father either.

For more information, See: 

Sermon: Let All Things be Done Decently and in Order

Does God care how we worship?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Answers to Objections to the Statement Against Racism

I recently took part in the posting of a statement against racism that has sparked quite a reaction. The reaction has largely been positive, but not entirely, and so I will address the most common criticisms I have seen so far. Of course not everyone who objected to parts of the statement, objected to its main point, which was that racism was wrong; and so I want it to be clear up front that many of the objections come from people of good will, who simply didn't like the way some things were stated. On the other hand, the reaction from a number of real racists has, in my opinion, only served to substantiate the concerns expressed in the statement.

1. Was such a Statement Necessary?

One certainly could exaggerate the problem of racism in the Orthodox Church, and I think many have done that. However, I am not sure exactly how many vocal advocates of racism there have to be out there, who claim to be Orthodox, before we can say a response is necessary. However, I think when you have someone like Matthew Raphael Johnson, who claims to be an Orthodox Priest, and who has a small fan base of ostensibly Orthodox people, and who has a podcast on Radio Aryan (an overtly Neo-Nazi website, which celebrates, for example, the heroes of the Waffen SS), and who engages in public demonstrations with Neo-Nazis and Klansmen, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Matthew Raphael Johnson, in the helmet with the shield with the green cross on it. Note the Klansman standing in front of him, with the KKK cross on his shirt. This was at a "White Lives Matter" rally, in October of 2017.

On the one hand, I don't think we should go on a witch hunt, in search of people we suspect of being racists, without any substantial evidence, but on the other hand, when you have Orthodox people showing up at Neo-Nazi rallies, singing Nazi songs, and using Nazi imagery and rhetoric, there is a problem (aside from the fact that they can't carry a tune in bucket).

I personally have had quite a few discussions with these people on various forums, and we are not just talking about one or two kooks here. I wish we were, but Matthew Raphael Johnson has actively been recruiting white nationalists to join the Orthodox Church. Now if they joined the Orthodox after repenting of their racism, that would be great, but that is not what is happening, and so we can deal with this problem now, while it is still relatively small, or we can let it grow and fester, and have a much bigger problem on our hands.

2. Is Race an Artificial Construct?

When we say that something is an artificial construct, this does not mean that it has no connection with observable reality, or that the observable reality that it addresses is not real. It means that the construct is something that we impose on what we observe as a means of understanding what we see.

There are some distinctions that we make that are very clearly called for by the facts in nature. For example, when we say that water has three forms: gas, liquid, and solid, these are distinctions that arise directly from what we observe, and you can't make much of a case that you could choose to look at water differently, and ignore these distinctions. Also sex is not an artificial construct. Men and women are physically distinct, and these differences are essential distinctions to human reproduction. You cannot naturally produce a child without one man and one woman making that happen, and so there is nothing artificial about these differences.

On the other hand, take the question of color. We cannot deny that there are varieties of color. But exactly how we view color is somewhat of an artificial construct. There really are countless variations in color, but in traditional Chinese culture, for example, they speak of there being five colors: green and blue are seen as the same general color, then you have red, yellow, white, and black -- which correspond to the 5 basic elements of traditional Chinese culture: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Chinese people see the same colors everyone else see, but in our culture, we have never sorted out color in precisely that same way.

Another example is tropical cyclones. No one would deny that they are real, least of all anyone who lives along the gulf coast, but we sort them out with an artificial construct. We speak of tropical depressions, tropical storms, and then we have hurricanes, which we further divide into 5 categories. There is nothing in nature itself that says that when the average wind speed of such a storm goes from 73 miles per hour to 74 miles per hour, that some greatly significant line has been crossed, but at 73 mph, you have a tropical storm, and at 74 mph, you have a hurricane. Now this artificial construct is certainly useful. If I hear on the news that a category 5 hurricane is headed my way, I am a lot more concerned about it than I am if I hear a tropical storm is heading my way, but depending on the storm, tropical storms can do a lot more damage than some hurricane might -- Tropical Storm Allison, being a case in point.

No one would deny that when they see a white person and a black person, they are seeing skin colors that reflect genes from different regional gene pools. But how we choose to view the various genetic traits we see in people is nevertheless an artificial construct, which we culturally impose on real observable differences. If you take, for example, the traditional racial classifications used in the United States, we usually speak of Caucasians/Whites. African Americans/blacks, American Indians/Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and "Other". Now, we could choose to say that Asians and Pacific Islanders should be grouped with American Indians, because they are all classified as "Mongoloid" peoples. But we could also choose to make many further distinctions, because as a matter of fact, there are a lot of obvious differences in appearance between the average Chinese person, and the average Navajo. But there is nothing in nature that says you should stop there, because even in China, there are many regional differences in appearance that Chinese people notice. Even I can usually see the difference between Chinese people, Koreans, and Japanese... though obviously, because these groups have not been entirely isolated from one another, it is not always easy to tell, and many times you would guess wrong about their country of origin. Also, many Chinese people are relatively light skinned, and many people from further south in Asia are fairly dark skinned. And the fact that racial distinctions are artificial is even clearer, when we consider that a person who has 25% African DNA and 75% European DNA is spoken of as being "Black". There is nothing in science or nature that demands such a conclusion, but this is often how our culture chooses to look at it. But we could choose to look at such a person as white, or we could put them into another racial category altogether. Science does not dictate how we view such a person -- our cultural choices do. In the light of DNA, scientist generally agree that race is an an artificial construct (see Megan Gannon, Race Is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue, Scientific American, February 5, 2016). And while using this construct to provide quick descriptions of people may be useful at times -- for example, when you are trying to clarify who you are referring to, it may be convenient to say that you are speaking about "that old Asian man wearing a blue sweater." However, racial distinctions are not useful constructs in Church. You will not find a single canon of the Church that employs the construct of race. And so, as Christians, while we do make some use of racial distinctions in our speech, we should understand that these are not essential distinctions, and that we should not allow those distinctions to divide us, especially when it comes to our brothers and sisters in the Church..

See Also:

On the Non-Existence of Race, by Fr. Cassian Sibley

3. St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. John of Shanghai

The statement began with this citation:
"The Holy Apostle Paul, in his speech on the Areopagus in Athens, unequivocally asserted that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26)."
Some have tried to suggest that what follows this citation negates the point we were making: "...and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." And so the suggestion here is that St. Paul was actually affirming racial separation here. The problem is that you will not find any Church Father that reads the text that way. In context, we have St. Paul, who lived most of his life as Jew living among non-Jews. He is in this text addressing non-Jews with the message that in the past they did not know the true God, but that God was now calling them too to repent and embrace Christ. In that context, is it likely that St. Paul was trying to affirm the separation of the races? If that was his point, he contradicted himself, because in Galatians 2, he speaks of how he rebuked St. Peter to his face for separating himself from the gentile believers out of fear of Jewish Christians advocating a strict observance of the Mosaic ceremonial law:
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision" (Galatians 2:11-12).
This would be a rather strange stand for St. Paul to take, if he believed that God had established a bound for the Jewish nation, and they were not to mix with non-Jews. Jews understood eating with someone to be very important communal act, and so would not eat with pagans, and believed that they were defiled if they did eat with them. And so when St. Paul drew attention to St. Peter's change of practice with regard to eating with gentile Christians, this was not a small matter, or an incidental detail.

Matthew Raphael Johnson cited St. Augustine's interpretation of Galatians 3:28, as if to suggest that St. Augustine was advocating for racial separatism, because he says that although in Christ there is "neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female," this distinctions remain in this life. However, not only does St. Augustine not address the question of separating people based on ethnicity (he only states that ethnic distinctions remain in this life), St. Augustine is a case of ethnic mixing himself. St. Augustine was a North African from what is now Algeria, and his mother, St. Monica was almost certainly of Berber heritage, because her name is, as a matter of fact, a Berber name.

On the views of St. John of Shanghai, see: The Colors of the Russian Church.

4. What about racism against white people?

The statement condemns all forms of racism. No where does the statement suggest that only white people can be racist, or that they are never the objects of racism. It did, however, specifically cite one example of contemporary racism:
"The adoption of fascistic imagery, rhetoric, and tactics by groups that claim to represent “white nationalism” in the United States is a case in point, and constitutes a clear step in the direction of the extremes of which the Russian Church warns us."
Are white people sometimes the object of racism? Yes. It was not the intention of the statement to get into who is the biggest victim group of the day. However, the fact that there is a small group of racists who use fascistic imagery, rhetoric, and tactics who have publicly identified themselves and thus their cause with the Orthodox Church was the reason why this specific example was mentioned. I suppose we could have also mentioned Hutu violence against the Tutsis, but I don't think this was an example very relevant to the people who will likely ever read the statement in question.

Matthew Raphael Johnson's podcast cited crime statistics that indicate black people commit crimes against white people at a higher rate than white people commit crimes against black people. Obviously, in the past, violence was more often directed in the opposite direction. Certainly, where there are black people advocating violence or hatred against white people, this should be condemned just as vigorously as when white people advocate violence or hatred against black people. It doesn't matter who is engaging in racism... it is wrong 100% of the time.

However, even if black people were rounding up white people and putting them into gas chambers, or if white people were rounding up black people for the same purpose, this would not be a justification for hating even those guilty of the actual crimes. As Christians we are told that we are to love our enemies and even those that abuse us:
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:43-45).
If this is true even of those who we know hate us, and from whom we have personally received actual abuse, it is all the more true of people who are not guilty of such things, but just happen to look like those who are. This does not mean that we cannot speak out against incidents of injustice where they actually occur... in fact, we should, regardless of who is doing it, or who they are doing it against.

I would recommend the reading of an old essay by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations (found in the book "From Under the Rubble," beginning at page 105, and available online). When there is a history of ethnic animosity, the only way forward is repentance and reconciliation.

See Also: Hate and Racism.

5. Systemic and Institutional Racism

Some responses took exception to the reference to "systemic and institutional injustice" in the following statement:
"All of this obviously precludes any personal hatred, prejudice, or resentment of others on account of their “race” or nationality, and it must also lead Orthodox Christians to reject and oppose systemic or institutional injustice against racial or national minorities."
Some people claimed that this language was Marxist in origin. This document was a collaborative effort of four clergymen, and while I was not the one who suggested that particular phrase, I asked myself if there was such a thing as systemic or institutional injustice, and when you consider the Jim Crow system that once prevailed in much of the US, I couldn't deny that this is a fair description of that system. Today, in the United States, that kind of discrimination is illegal, but while I would agree that such injustices are far rarer than they once were in our country, I am not so sure that there are not some remnants that black people still encounter, but since they are illegal, they would also be harder to prove, because those engaging in such behavior would obviously have reasons to camouflage their behavior. But there are clearly instances of systemic and institutional injustice at play elsewhere in the world -- just consider the treatment of Christians in the most of the Middle East, for example. The statement said nothing about how pervasive such things are, or where they were to be found, only that we should reject such things, and it seems to me that this is something we should agree upon, though I can understand being concerned about how freely the charge of racism is thrown around these days. But if we want to be taken seriously when we object to the abuse of the charge, we need to clearly stand against those who are actually guilty of the real thing.

6. Antisemitism

I have been asked why specific mention was made of antisemitism. It was my idea to make that reference, and I suggested it because some don't think of it as racism, when in fact it is. It is also a form of racism that Orthodox Christians are, unfortunately, not entirely unfamiliar with. St. Paul tells us that one day we will see those Jews who have not already embraced Christ come to faith in Him. I want to hasten that day, rather than make it harder for Jews to come to faith in Christ because they experience hostility from people who claim to be Christians.

How would I define antisemitism? I would define it as the vilification of Jews, simply because they are Jews, and the promotion of hostility towards them as a group, based on who they are, rather than what they as individuals actually believe or have done. So for example, George Soros is seen as proof of Jewish conspiracy theories, because he has lots of money, supports evil things, and has a Jewish background -- though he is an atheist. Jeff Bezos is just a powerful liberal, with lots of money, who supports evil things, but isn't lumped in with Soros only because he doesn't have a Jewish background. I would prefer to just focus on criticizing the evil that people promote, regardless of whether they have Jewish ancestry or not. Criticizing Judaism is not antisemitic.Criticizing the policies of the state of Israel is not antisemitic. Criticizing the evil that some Jews do is not antisemitic.Lumping all Jews together, when criticizing the evils that some Jews do is antisemitic. Questioning the intentions of someone who is Jewish, because maybe they are part of the grand Jewish conspiracy, simply because they are Jewish, is antisemitic.

Some have tried to dismiss the idea that antisemitism is a sin by citing St. John Chrysostom's homilies "Against the Jews". But for one thing, the proper title of these homilies is not “Against the Jews." The translation by Paul Harkin states the following:
“Traditionally these homilies have been called Kata Ioudaion, which in Latin becomes Adversus Iudaeos, i.e., Against the Jews. This title misrepresents the contents of the Discourses, which clearly show that Chrysostom’s primary targets were members of his own congregation who continued to observe Jewish feasts and fasts. Since the Discourses were delivered in a Christian church to a Christian congregation with few, if any, Jews actually present, I have not hesitated to add “Christians” to the title. That Chrysostom’s polemics are aimed at Judaizers is borne out also in titles found in earlier editions and in the manuscripts. All these points will be discussed in their proper place in the introduction” (The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, Discources Against Judaizing Christians, trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1979), p. x).
In footnote 47, on page xxxi, Harkin states:
“This [Adversus Iudaeos] is the Latin translation of the title given to the homilies in PG 48.843. The Benedictine editor, Montfaucon, gives a footnote (reprinted ibid.) which states that six MSS and [Henry] Savile [in his edition (1612) of Chrysostom] have at the head of this homily: “A discourse against the Jews; but it was delivered against those who were Judaizing and keeping the fasts with them [i.e., the Jews].” This note is not altogether accurate because Savile, for Hom. 27 of Vol. 6 (which is Disc. I among the Adversus Iudaeos in PG and in this translation), gives (p. 366) the title: “Chrysostom’s Discourse Against Those Who Are Judaizing and Observing Their Fasts.” In Vol. 8 (col. 798) Savile states that he has emended Hoeschel’s edition of this homily with the help of two Oxford MSS, one from the Corpus Christi College and the other from the New College; he must have gotten his title from any or all of these sources. Savile gives all eight of the homilies Adverus Iudaeos (Vol. 6.312-88) but in the order IV-VIII (wich are entitled Kata Ioudaion, i.e. Adversus Iudaeos), I (with the title given above), III and II (with the title affixed to them in our translation). Because of the titles in both some MSS and editions and because of the arguments which will be set forth in this introduction, we feel justified in calling this work Against Judaizing Christians rather than giving it the less irenic and somewhat misleading traditional title Against the Jews.
In the book “John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late 4th Century, by Robert L. Wilken (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1983), a very compelling case is made that applying the modern label of antisemitism onto St. John Chrysostom is anachronistic. He particularly focuses on the rhetorical genre that St. John employed, and points out that St. John was using the genre of psogos (or invective):
“The psogos was supposed to present unrelieved denigration of the subject. As one ancient teacher of rhetoric put it, the psogos is “only condemnation” and sets forth only the “bad things about someone” (Aphthonius Rhet. Graeci 2.40)…. In psogos, the rhetor used omission to hide the subject’s good traits or amplification to exaggerate his worsts features, and the cardinal rule was never to say anything positive about the subject. Even “when good things are done they are proclaimed in the worst light” (Aristides Rhet. Graeci 2.506). In an encomium, one passes over a man’s faults in order to praise him, and in a psogos, one passed over his virtues to defame him. Such principles are explicit in the handbooks of the rhetors, but an interesting passage from the church historian Socrates, writing in the mid fifth century, shows that the rules for invective were simply taken for granted by men and women of the late Roman world. In discussing Libanius’s [St. John’s Pagan instructor in Rhetoric] orations in praise of  the emperor Julian [the Apostate], Socrates explains that Libanius magnifies and exaggerates Julians virtues because he is an “outstanding sophist” (Hist. eccl. 3.23). The point is that one should not expect a fair presentation in a psagos, for that is not its purpose. The psogos is designed to attack someone, says Socrates, and is taught by the sophist in the schools as one of the rudiments of their skills…. Echoing the same rhetorical background, Augustine said that, in preparing an encomium on the emperor, he intended “that it should include a great many lies,” and that the audience would know “how far from the truth they were” (Conf. 6.6).” (p. 112).
Another important point of context that Wilkens highlights is the reign of Julian the Apostate, and the way he used the Jews (and was used by them) to undercut Christianity. Julian had even planned to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, primarily because he believed it would refute Christ’s prophesies about the destruction of the Temple. This happened when St. John was a young man, and so Christians at this time had no reason to believe that they had a firm position in society that could not be overturned in a short period of time. Thus polemics against the Jews were not the polemics of a group with a firm grip on power, but the polemics of a group that had good reasons to fear what the future might bring.
“The Roman Empire in the fourth century was not the world of Byzantium or medieval Europe. The institutions of traditional Hellenic culture and society were still very much alive in John Chrysostom’s day. The Jews were a vital and visible presence in Antioch and elsewhere in the Roman Empire, and they continued to be a formidable rival to the Christians. Judaizing Christians were widespread. Christianity was still in the process of establishing its place within the society and was undermined by internal strife and apathetic adherents. Without an appreciation of this setting, we cannot understand why John preached the homilies and why he responds to the Judaizers with such passion and fervor. The medieval image of the Jew should not be imposed on antiquity. Every act of historical understanding is an act of empathy. When I began to study John Chrysostom’s writings on the Jews, I was inclined to judge what he said in light of the unhappy history of Jewish-Christian relations and the sad events in Jewish history in modern times. As much as I feel a deep sense of moral responsibility for the attitudes and actions of Christians toward the Jews, I am no longer ready to project these later attitudes unto the events of the fourth century. No matter how outraged Christians feel over the Christian record of dealing with the Jews, we have no license to judge the distant past on the basis of our present perceptions of events of more recent times’ (pp. 162-163).
Wilken’s book is a key text to properly understanding these homilies. It should also be pointed out that St. John Chrysostom was also dealing with Jews who were extremely anti-Christian, and who blasphemed Christ. Consider the following:

In the Shemoneh Esrei, we find the following prayer:
“And for the Slanderers let there be no hope; and may all the heretics perish in an instant; and may all the enemies of Your people be cut down speedily. May you speedily uproot, smash and cast down the wanton sinners, destroy them, lower them, humble them, speedily in our days. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.” (Hebrew text on page 112, English on page 113, of The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Nusach Sefard), trans. By Rabbi Nosson Sherman, published by Mesorah Publications, Ltd., Brooklyn, New York, 1985).
This same translation provides a commentary on the word “slanderer”, which reads:
“Chronologically, this is the nineteenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei; it was instituted in Yavneh, during the tenure of Rbban Gamliel II as Nassi of Israel, some time after the destruction of the Second emple. The blessing was composed in response to the threats of such heretical Jewish sects as the Sadducees, Boethusians, Essenes, and the early Christians. They tried to lead Jews astray through example and persuasion, and they used their political power to oppress observant Jews and to slander them to the anti-Semitic Roman Government. In this atmosphere, Rabban Gamliel felt the need to compose a prayer against heretics and slanderers, and to incorporate it in the Shemoneh Esri so the populace would be aware of the danger” (Artscroll Siddur, pp. 112-113).
Now, lest you dismiss this as the opinions of an isolated source, let’s look at another text on this same prayer:
“From time to time, as we all know, the survival of the Jewish people is threatened. Threats may arise from hostile forces without or from traitors within. Such threats are sometimes aimed to destroy us physically, and sometimes to undermine us spiritually. In one place the Talmud indicates that this blessing, which was directed against heretical groups, was fixed at Yavneh under the leadership of Rabbi Gamliel the Elder during the second century c.e. (Berakhot 28b) and constituted the nineteenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei. Eliezer levy, however, argues from sources elsewhere in the Talmud (Yer. Berakhot 2:4) that this blessing was one of the original eighteen prescribed by Ezra. The opening words of the blessing were then Al Haminim (“For the heretics, let there be no hope”), and it was directed against the hostile Samaritan sect. Later, when the Samaritan threat declined, the blessing fell into disuse. When a new threat of religious heresy arose with the Sadducees (Tzedukim), the blessing was revived with a new opening that mentioned the Sadducees: “For the Sadducees, let there be no hope” With the growth of new heretic sects (among them Jews who adopted Christian beliefs) who informed on fellow Jews to Roman authorities, this blessing assumed new urgency and needed to be restated, this time at Yavneh, as the Talmud indeed relates” (Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, “To Pray as a Jew” (Basic Books, 1980) p. 92f).
And for an example of non-Christian Jewish blasphemies against Christ, see the text Toldot Yeshu. When you read that text, you can better understand what would motivate St. John to preach such sermons to denounce the anti-christian views of such people. But obviously not all Jews hold such views, particularly in our time and culture. Also, St. John was waging a war of ideas and theology. He never advocated violence against non-Christian Jews, or anyone else he disagreed with, and certainly had no desire to keep Jews from becoming Christians, because he thought they had some racial or genetic flaws that made them unfit to become Christians. St. John Chrysostom's criticisms were religious -- not racial, and not ethnic.

But unfortunately, I have heard antisemitic comments made about Jews who were even Orthodox Christians. No one familiar with St. John Chrysostom's homilies would suggest that St. John would wink at such treatment of those who are fellow believers. And if you look at St. John Chrysostom's 19th Homily on Romans, he speaks about those Jews who are believers, and those who will one day become believers. and these are obviously not at all the target of his homilies against Judaizing Christians.

And while St. John Chrysostom spoke at a time when Jewish persecution of Christians was still a living memory, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) spoke at a time when Christian persecution of Jews was an ongoing problem in Russia, and he spoke against it in terms no less vociferous than St. John Chrysostom. Hear the conclusion of his sermon Against the Pogroms:
"O Christians, fear to offend the sacred, even though rejected, tribe. God's recompense will fall upon those evil people who have shed blood which is of the same race as the Theanthropos, his most pure mother, apostles and prophets. Do not suppose that this blood was sacred only in the past, but understand that even in the future reconciliation to the divine nature awaits them (2 Peter 1:4), as Christ's chosen vessel further testifies, "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written. There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Romans 11:25-27).
Let the savage know that they have slain future Christians who were yet in the loins of the present day Jews; let them know that they have shown themselves to be bankrupt opponents of God's providence, persecutors of a people beloved by God, even after its rejection (Romans 11:28).
How sinful is enmity against Jews, based on an ignorance of God's law, and how shall it be forgiven when it arises from abominable and disgraceful impulses. The robbers of the Jews did not do so as revenge for opposition to Christianity, rather they lusted for the property and possessions of others. Under the thin guise of zeal for the faith, they served the demon of covetousness. They resembled Judas who betrayed Christ with a kiss while blinded with the sickness of greed, but these murderers, hiding themselves behind Christ's name, killed His kinsmen according to the flesh in order to rob them.
When have we beheld such fanaticism? In Western Europe during the middle ages, heretics and Jews were shamefully executed, but not by mobs intent on robbing them.*
How can one begin to teach people who stifle their own conscience and mercy, who snuff out all fear of God and, departing from the holy temple even on the bright day of Christ's Resurrection, a day dedicated to forgiveness and love, but which they i rededicate to robbery and murder?
O believers in God and His Christ! Fear the Lord's judgment in behalf of His people. Fear to offend the inheritors of the promise, even though they have been renounced. We are not empowered to judge them for their unbelief; the Lord and not we will judge. We, looking upon their zeal even though it is "not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2) would do better to contemplate their fathers: the righteous Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, David and Samuel and Elijah, who rose to heaven still in the flesh. Look upon Isaiah who accepted voluntary death for the faith, Daniel who stopped the mouths of beasts in a lions' den, and the Maccabee martyrs who died with joy for the hope of resurrections. Let us not beat, slay and rob people, but soften their hardness toward Christ and Christians by means of our own fulfillment of the law of God. Let us multiply our prayer, love, fasting and alms and our concern for those who are suffering, let us be zealous about the true essence of the faith; let our light so shine before people that they may glorify our heavenly father and Christ. Let us overcome unbelief and impiousness among Christians first, and then concern ourselves with the Jews, "And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:20-21)."
One other curious fact about antisemitism and racism, is that many who have criticized the idea that race is an artificial social construct, also show a distinct antipathy against Jews. When I have pointed out that if there are three primary races, the Jews would obviously have to be classified as Caucasians, because they are obviously neither Negroids or Mongoloids, the response I have gotten has been "But they don't identify as White." So I guess they do see race as an artificial construct, at least when it comes to the Jews.

See Also:

Was St. John Chrysostom Anti-Semite?, by Presbytera Eugenia Constantinou

Sermon: Hate and Racism

Sermon: The Church of Smyrna and the Synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:8-11)

7. Border Security

Several critics of the statement suggested that it somehow argued that we should have no borders, however the statement did not address that issue. There is no official Orthodox position on how much border security a country ought to have, and so different people are free to form their own opinions. Personally, I am very much in favor of having tight controls on our borders, and more reasonable limits on immigration than we currently have, but this is a question of what is the wisest course for our country, not a matter of theological or moral principle.

8. Confusing race and nation

Some suggested that arguments that race is not an objectively definable reality promotes one world government and the erasure of all cultural distinctions. One has to read things into the statement that it does not say, and ignore what it actually does say to come to that conclusion. Nations and ethnicities are concepts found in Scripture... but nations and ethnicities are not race. I know a lot of very Asian looking people who are culturally Russian, speak the Russian language, are Russian Orthodox, and consider themselves to be Russian. The American nation is certainly not a race, though we share a language (English) and we share an American culture (although this has been fragmenting in recent decades).

I don't support the erasure of cultural or linguistic differences, nor do I support a one world government, and in fact we affirmed that there was nothing wrong with a desire to preserve ones culture or to defend one's nation.

9. Cultural Marxism

The claim that this statement reflected Cultural Marxism is perhaps one of the more comical criticisms, because Cultural Marxism is pretty much the opposite of what we were arguing for. Cultural Marxists want to promote racial division as a means of empowering the oppressed and bringing down their oppressors. We are arguing that we should look past racial divisions and see in each other the common image of God we all have as human beings. We don't want people judged by the group that they are identified with racially, but rather we want to see each other as individuals that either are our brothers and sisters in Christ, or if not, as people that we want to make our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As to the more blunt accusation that I have received that I am a communist, I only last month preached an entire sermon specifically against communism, and have spoken and written against it with regularity. I hate communism with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. Racism, however, is just a more primitive form of collectivism, and both communism and racism are evil, and so it is possible to be opposed to both communism and racism without any contradiction whatsoever.

The only more ridiculous accusation that I have seen is the claim that I hate white people. I will only respond by saying that some of my best friend are white people.

See also: Cultural Marxism and Public Orthodoxy

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

On the Non-Existence of Race

A guest post by Fr. Cassian Sibley:

One of the elements of our statement concerning the sin of racism that has caused the most irritation and created the most resistance is our comment that "race" doesn't exist.  This is a counterintuitive claim for those who simply regard the word "race" as a "fill in" for “whatever quality it is” that enables most of us to tell, with some degree of accuracy, what continent people originated from.  That people can, in fact, do this, we are not at all intending to deny. But that is not what “race" means. When we speak of a Caucasoid, Negroid, or Mongoloid race, as an actual classification for human beings that purports to tell us something factual about the world - then we are in very different territory intellectually indeed. The word “race” has no meaning except as a cultural construct.

To begin at the level of empirical observation, it is a simple matter of fact that a person may carry 25% or more of his or her genetic material from African sources and “pass” as white.  Another person may have the same percentage of genetic material from African sources and be “identified” as an African-American based on color.  There is a phenotypical difference between them, and if the individuals in question are being raised in America, it is highly likely that they will probably belong to different cultural and ethnic subgroups than one another; nonetheless, apart from the mere appearance of difference itself, the relevant biological difference between them is phenotypical—not racial.

One common objection to this argument is that “anything can be a cultural construct.” A table, for instance, is a cultural construct, as a surface for serving meals. But the object that is a table is not "only" a cultural construct. It also exists as an actual thing in the world, one that one may use in ignorance of or violation of the construct - as a doorstop, for instance, or as a shield.  The object is there, but its meaningful character is underdetermined apart from the cultural construct that situates it in a social context.

"Race"—unlike the table—does not exist as an independent physical object. It is purely a matter of appearance.  Some genetic markers are nominally associated with skin color but are rarely found in any kind of lock-step with any other genetic markers; there is no such thing as genetic “Causcasianism,” “Jewish blood,” or “Mongoloid inheritance.” Race terms such as these, when used as definitional descriptions, are not associating various human beings with another based on blood or genetics at all but are merely based on appearance.

Some attempt to save appearances by associating “race” with one simple and obvious trait such as skin tone, but that will not work.  Bantu tribesmen, Dravidians from the Indian subcontinent, and Australian Aborigines share a similar skin tone. Hottentots and many Mexicans do, too. And Japanese and Europeans share a very similar tonal array, even though Europeans share far more genetic markers with Africans than they do with the historic populations of Japan and China.  The genetic differences between Africans are far greater than the average genetic difference between Europeans and Africans.  Thus, those committed to defending “race” as an empirical fact would have to look to other phenotypical descriptors to recreate their prescribed "race groupings," for instance: light skin but no almond-shaped eyes; dark skin with prominent lips and curly hair; brown skin, but taller than five feet on average; and so forth.  Unconsciously, humans have done this for centuries, but to do it consciously is to arbitrarily construct an image of the “race” once believed to be an objectively existing thing out of a subjective selection of phenotypical characteristics. Phenotypical characteristics are not race; they are a collection of appearance markers used to create a cultural association based on appearance alone, in isolation from cultural and ethnic factors, and nothing more.  Therefore, we affirm that race does not exist.  Genes exist. Genetic markers for specific physical traits exist. Light skin exists. Blue eyes exist. Red hair exists.  But a “Caucasian” or “white” race does not exist. A “black” race does not exist. These enculturated groupings are mere congeries of visible physical features that are not necessarily associated with one another, and that sit very lightly upon actual genetic facts.

Indeed, biologically speaking, every time the distribution of a trait possessing a survival value greater under some circumstances than under others is plotted, it has a distinct pattern of geographical variation, such that none of these patterns ever truly coincide. Nose form, tooth size, relative arm and leg length, eye color, skin tone - and every other such trait - is distributed in accordance with its own particular controlling selective force. The distribution gradient of each of these is called a cline and these clines are completely independent of one another. This is why the little mantra, "There are no races, there are only clines" is so familiar to those engaged in biological and genetic studies of human populations. There are recognizable general similarities in the appearances of people originating from a given area of the world, especially if they were a relatively isolated population group, but all that is really being seen is a pattern of features derived from common ancestry in that area, in a manner very similar to the recognizable likeness within a given family that derives from a common ancestry. The association of these recognizable characteristics with one another in a population are largely unrelated to survival value. The distribution of clines does not follow geographical or geopolitical boundaries.

So, while it is perfectly reasonable to use geographic labels to designate people for descriptive purposes, specific race terms such as "Negroid," "Caucasoid," and "Mongoloid" cause far more confusion than clarity. Race terms reflect a mix of narrow regional, specifically ethnic, and descriptive physical components with an assumption that such separate dimensions have some sort of underlying causal basis that they - in a biologically demonstrable way - do not.

Here is a specific example: A friend of mine has a black grandmother. This friend looks absolutely "Caucasian." No one would have turned away a man looking like him at the door of a "Whites Only" club.  But another man with a "black" grandmother – perhaps the same black grandmother - would have been forbidden to use a public restroom during segregation, purely based on his appearance. The fact that this could happen was why those enforcing American race-segregation laws had to maintain race records to avoid accidental miscegenation.  Factually, though, even these records adverted to no genetic facts, but simply tracked a person's ancestry back to someone who had dark skin.  Ultimately there is nothing other than appearance upon which race terms can be established.

There is nothing “Marxist” (whether cultural or otherwise) about acknowledging any of this.  It is just the way it is.  The cultural construct of race in the form that it has come down to us in America is a late Anglo-American creation, initially grounded in a North American context in which peoples originating from three very different and distant parts of the world were thrown together, and in a situation in which clear assumptions about the relative value and intelligence of each of these groups already existed culturally and were readily imposed upon certain clear physical distinctions, the most obvious of which was skin color. Once exported to Europe and to the colonial world, this construct was used as justification to make a great many dubious decisions, some of them genuinely horrific, on the mistaken notion that the categories in question were objective and biological in nature. We now know better.

One last objection has been raised: What about the places in the Orthodox Fathers, or in Orthodox hymnody where the term “race” is used? Are we not ignoring their witness?  No, we are not. It is important to not become confused by the (largely 19th century) translations of ancient texts into believing that the ancients themselves, especially the Christian fathers, believed in "race" as a biological category. Most ancient languages lack a separate term to distinguish what is called “race” apart from ethnicity, language, culture, and locale, that is not either a simple color term or a description of a specific physical feature.  For instance, the word most often translated as "race" in the 19th century from Greek is teleological and has to do with people involved in a common quest or seeking a common goal. Other terms clearly indicate nationality or a common language. In other words, when one sees the word "race" in an English language translation of a passage from St. Athanasius or St. Basil, one has a bit more linguistic work to do in unpacking what is being said, and once one does unpack it, it will become evident that it was unnecessary for the word to be translated as "race" at all.

To conclude, when I say "race" does not exist and is a merely a social construct, I am not being "politically correct." I am trying to describe the world accurately in an Aristotelian sense, using words that divide it at the points at which the actual joints of the world exist, rather than using words that have “meanings” grounded in nothing apart from appearance.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Colors of the Russian Church

St. John of Shanghai with Fr. Elia Wen

The schismatic priest Matthew Raphael Johnson has posted a podcast (on Radio Aryan, an overtly Neo-Nazi website), which has taken issue with the recent "Statement Concerning the Sin of Racism." I will address his criticism in more detail (along with those of others) in another post, but one thing he asserted is so grossly out of context that I want to deal with it separately. MRJ quoted from "About the Spiritual and Moral Significance of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia," by St. John John (Maximovitch), and suggested that somehow St. John was affirming the need for races and ethnic groups to remain separate. The translation he quoted from differs somewhat from the translation available online, most significantly, he quoted St. John as speaking of the Russian Church bringing its "color" to decorate the Church, whereas the text online says (quoting the first half of the text in order to provide the context, with the pertinent text highlighted):
"All the parts of the universal Church have one common goal -- the preaching of the word of God, the preparation of people that they might become capable of being members of the Body of Christ and having become such, more and more, more sincerely and strongly would become one with the divine salvific life of the Body of Christ, for in that is the salvation of people.
In the achievement of this common goal every local Church has its significance.
To every people, through God's providence, unique gifts are given.
Every Church fulfills its mission, in keeping with these gifts. For this reason every people, or combination of related peoples, has its own Church, and such a division of ecclesiastical authority furthers the activity of preaching.
For this reason the Orthodox Church allows the establishment of new local Churches and so, new centers of preaching. In this manner arose both the Russian and Slavic Churches.
Thus, every people has its own unique characteristics of the spirit, and this is the basis for the formation of local national Churches.
All of them together comprise One Universal Church and they all bring into it these unique characteristics and gifts, just as good servants bring the fruits of those talents that God has given them. In this manner is formed the pleasing to God amalgamation of spiritual sounds and colors with which the Church that unites all peoples to the glory of God, is decorated.
This beauty the earth brings to heaven as a sweet-smelling censer.
Into this beauty the Russian Church, as well, brings its colors and it sounds: let us compare the severe at times strictness of the righteous ones of the East with the compunctionate spirit of Russian saints.
Being scattered around the whole world, we preserve the expressions of our spirit, which are given to us by God. This calls us to preserve unity with the Church, to which God appointed activity among us, our spiritual nourishment and development, the support of our spiritual zeal, the development of our talents. For this reason, scattered across the entire world, we established our Russian churches and all together we comprise one Russian Church Outside of Russia.
The spiritual manifestations of the Church are the same in all people, but their appearances -- colors and sounds -- are different. The differentiation of ways to serve and spiritual gifts was pleasing to the Creator of all -- God the Savior. We know and sense spiritual benefits and feel joy when we see how different people of different characters and gifts give glory to the one God. For this reason, for example, being led by true ecclesiastical understanding and feeling, the Serbian Church with joy took in the Russian Church, thus giving witness to the spiritual benefits of its existence in its midst."
First off, no one denies that the Orthodox Church consists of local regional Churches, that often correspond to national boundaries -- though this is not always the case. What we do deny is that the Church is divided along strictly ethnic lines. In Russia, you have many ethnicities, but only one Russian Church. Even though there is a Serbian Orthodox Church, when St. John (Maximovitch)'s Serbian ancestors moved to Russia to flee Turkish domination, they did not establish a separate Serbian parallel Jurisdiction in Russia.  Likewise Russians who live in Greece attend the Greek Church there. They have not established a parallel Russian Orthodox Church in Greece.

But more to the point, this is a great example of why Orthodoxy cannot be learned only by reading books. If all that we had of St. John was his writings, one might debate what exactly he meant here, but we can still talk with those who knew St. John, were members of his flock, and know what he thought about these things. I never met St. John myself, but I have had the pleasure of knowing quite a few people who did know him extremely well, and none of these people got the impression that St. John promoted ethnic separation. Let me tell you about some of these people.

Anastasia Titov, in 2004

The first such person I met, back in 1992, was Anastasia Titov, who was a Russian from China and had served on St. John's clerical staff in Shanghai. I was a new convert when I met her, as was my wife. We had left an English speaking parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in Oklahoma City, and found ourselves in a mostly Russian speaking parish here in Houston. It was a difficult adjustment. For the first few months, my wife was in the parish alone while I was staying in upstate New York. She was a stranger in a strange place… not only was she a new convert, but she was from China too (like Anastasia), but was ethnically Chinese (unlike Anastasia), and so felt out of place at first. Anastasia took her under her wing, made her feel at home, and often spoke of the two of them as being Chinese compatriots. Her husband Paul, though also Russian, spoke Chinese very fluently.

Tamara Zaharek with St. John and her children

The next person I met was Tamara Zaharek, who was one of St. John's orphans that he brought to the United States. I believe her father was Chinese and her mother was Russian. For whatever reason (I don't remember the details) she and her sister ended up as orphans, and St. John was not only her spiritual father, but was very much of a father figure. She wrote a very touching children's book about what it was like to grow up with St. John, entitled Saint John and Goolya. The orphanage had Russian children, Chinese Children, and Children who were both, like Tamara. All of these children were raised together. St. John did not merely tolerate the presence of Chinese children in his orphanage, he brought them into the orphanage himself, if he saw that they had no home. I later went with my wife, and my older daughter (who was 5 months at the time) to attend the glorification of St. John in San Francisco, and got to see the Cathedral and visit with Tamara's extended family. In that cathedral, you see many people who are Chinese or of mixed ancestry. At that time the most senior priest there was Fr. Elia Wen, who was ordained by St. John, and was a revered member of the community there.

Tamara giving a talk about St. John, unfortunately, the sound quality is not very good.

My bishop also knew St. John very well. Among other things, he tells a story about what happened when an American kid in a gym class picked a fight with a Russian boy that was also a member of the Cathedral in San Francisco. To the great confusion of the Americans (especially the coaches), suddenly a bunch of Chinese boys (who were from St. John's orphanage) began shouting in Russian "Ours are being attacked!" and rushed to his defense, and a general melee broke out (See Ancient Faith Radio, Remembrances of St. John of Shanghai, January 2012, beginning at about the 56:30 minute mark). But note what these boys said... "Ours are being attacked!" They were not treated as foreigners, and they thought of their fellow Russian Orthodox friend as being their people.

I asked Vladika Peter if he ever had any sense that St. John did not approve of Russians marrying Chinese people, and he said emphatically, "No" and that it was not an uncommon occurrence. And then told me a story about St. John's successor as Archbishop of San Francisco, Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev). There was a Russian girl who wanted to marry a black man, and her family wanted Archbishop Anthony to forbid it. His only response was, "If he embraces the Orthodox Faith, there is nothing I can do."

I would also note that in Russia, not only do you have many ethnic groups that are all Orthodox and all part of the same Church, but you see such people in Churches all over Russia, and in Russian Churches around the world as well. They are quite at home, and I have never seen any Russian who had a problem with that. Because of geography, you are more likely to see Asian faces in Russian Churches than you are Africans, but you do see them too. In fact, the greatest Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, had an African great-grandfather, and it showed:

So the colors of the Russian Church are varied, and it is the Faith as expressed in the Russian Orthodox Tradition that unites them into one local Church... not similarity in skin tone.

See Also:

A Statement Concerning the Sin of Racism

Interracial Marriage

Converts and Culture