Thursday, March 17, 2022

Sister Vassa and Public Orthodoxy on Ukraine, Part 2


A wall in Cathedral of the Schismatic Church in Ukraine, which has been recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In it you see St. George slaying the Russian Double-Headed Eagle, people literally draped in the Ukrainian flag, and you also see the Neo-Nazi Right Sector Flag in the background.

The people at Public Orthodoxy have issued a declaration against the Russian Church in which they accuse the Russian Church of heresy -- which they assert is the idea of "Русский мир" or "The Russian World." They included accusations against the Russian Church for failing to condemn one of the three major parties in the war in Ukraine (which includes Russia, the post-coup Ukrainian government, and the United States). They also allude to the controversy over the Ecumenical Patriarchate's recognition of the schismatics in Ukraine. I won't repeat what I have said about the complexities of the war, in part 1. And I have written fairly extensively on the Ukrainian schism -- which you can read in full here, but if you only want to read one article, see "An American Perspective on the Ukraine Crisis." In this article, I will focus specifically on the merits of the claim that there is a heresy called "The Russian World."

What Public Orthodoxy has Not Felt a Need to Condemn

Before getting into the merits of their claims in this declaration, I think it is interesting to consider that while Public Orthodoxy has posted numerous articles condemning the Russian Church and its position on the Ukrainian schism, as well as numerous articles condemning Russia for the war in Ukraine (which has been going on for 8 years, and began with a coup sponsored by the United States), but they have not felt any need to condemn the United States' regime change war in Syria which has raged for 10 years. Far more people have been killed in that war (the current estimates range between 500,000 and 610,000), and this war represents an existential threat to the Orthodox Christians in Syria (which was about 10% of the Syrian population before the war). If the United States had succeeded in installing an Islamic jihadist government in Syria, this would have meant the end of Christianity in Syria, for all practical purposes, and likely the same fate would have befallen Lebanon. Russian military intervention has thus far prevented that from happening, but the United States continues to occupy 10% of Syria, denying Syria access to its own oil resources, and it has imposed crippling sanctions on Syria that are causing immeasurable suffering among the people of Syria -- both Christian and Moslem. So this is an issue that Orthodox Christians ought to be concerned about -- and yet not only has Public Orthodoxy not issued a statement condemning the actions of the American government in Syria, it has hardly said anything about it at all. Perhaps some big money might dry up, if they chose to take such a stand, but one would think anyone who was a believer, and had an ounce of courage would take the right stand regardless. Why the silence? 

See "The Immoral Policy of the United States Government in Syria," for more information, though the article is from 2016, it nevertheless lays out the reasons why US policy in Syria is undeniably evil.

Public Orthodoxy not only fails to condemn those who oppose Christian morality -- they are one of the chief purveyors of these heretical teachings. So Public Orthodoxy is hardly a reliable guide on the subject of what is, or is not heretical.

"Ethno-Phyletism" for Me, but Not for Thee

One telling fact of this declaration is that it does not include a single quote of a specific statement that it might have cited as an example of the errors they claim the Russian Church is teaching. They also do not reference any document in which one might look to find this heresy espoused. 

In a search of the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate, I found an article in which Patriarch Kirill summarized what he understands the concept of "The Russian World" to refer to: "Святейший Патриарх Кирилл: Русский мир — особая цивилизация, которую необходимо сберечь," which in English means "His Holiness Patriarch Kirill: The Russian world is a special civilization that must be preserved."

Patriarch Kirill notes that the Orthodox Culture of the Kievan Rus', which is the common heritage of the Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Carpatho-Russians, is not defined by political boundaries, and he has does not see it as promoting the building or rebuilding of any empire. He does see it has something worth preserving, which if lost, would be a loss to humanity. He does not see this as ethnic or racial, but cultural. He also does not assert that this culture is superior to all others, only that it is their culture, and it is worth preserving.

In the official conciliar documents of the Russian Church, the question of the Church's relationship to culture has been addressed in detail. "The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church," which was approved in 2000, includes in section II, a statement entitled "Church and Nation." I would defy anyone to point to anything in this statement, and to lay out a reasoned and supported argument for why it is heretical.

It is especially curious to hear this charge from an organization which is headed by two members of the Greek Archdiocese, because one hears a very similar concept to "The Russian World" fairly frequently, only it is called "Hellenism." A Google search of the official website of the Greek Archdiocese for the word "Hellenism" turns up "About 13,900" hits. One of the first articles to come up is entitled "New Program to Promote Hellenism in the United States." And the subtitle of that article is, interestingly enough "The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Foundation for the Hellenic World Announce New Program to Promote Hellenism in the United States" [emphasis added]. In that article, you will see that Archbishop Elpidophoros himself was involved in the promotion of this new program. It certainly seems like Archbishop Elpidophoros thinks that there is a Greek Orthodox culture that is not limited by political boundaries, which is the heritage of all Greek people, and is worth preserving.

So is there a heresy of "The Hellenic World"? If not, it seems like members of a Church that considers the promotion of Hellenism to be a key part of their mission, might want to lay out exactly how this concept is not heretical, before they accuse the Russian Church of heresy for essentially having the same idea with regard to their own culture.

As a non-Russian who has been in the Russian Orthodox Church for close to 32 years now, I can tell you that I never felt pressured to become a Russian, nor have I been made to feel like I was a second class member of the Russian Church because I was not a Russian. For more on that, see "Converts and Culture," and "The Colors of the Russian Church."

In short, this declaration consists of a series of assertions that the Russian Church teaches things that they provide no evidence of anyone actually teaching, and they should perhaps examine their own views of Orthodoxy and culture, before they attack those of others.