In some respects, the global coronavirus crisis has brought to light ruptures that in normal times were often dismissed as marginal problems of small groups. Unresolved and underestimated social injustices became obvious and were recognized as threatening more than just the existence of the respective groups. A similar effect of the coronavirus crisis can also be observed for the Churches. Many conflict issues of the past years were dismissed as opinions of small groups or of particularly liberal or conservative individuals. Accordingly, solution processes were postponed. For the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), this is true especially of the question of how to relate to modern society in the 21st century. The Church—despite growing requests—felt secure in its symphonic interaction with the political elite and in its role as moral authority in an increasingly complicated, globalized world. In this respect, the ROC was able to see itself as unquestionably relevant to the system.
In conflicts, the Church’s leadership often reacted incomprehensibly, even irreconcilably and hard-heartedly. This attitude was particularly justified by the alleged and yet so-difficult-to-prove existence of a fundamentalist wing within the ROC. Arch-conservative circles could cause a split within the Church, and the patriarch would only try to keep all currents together and prevent a split. The same happened in view of the spread of Covid-19: the indecision of the Church leaders in Russia and Belarus, but also in other Orthodox countries like Georgia or Serbia, was justified among other things by possible tensions within the Churches.
The wave of political protests sparked by irregularities during the 2018 mayoral election in Moscow led to a number of arrests of activists and protesters. One of them, a student, Yegor Zhukov, was tried and convicted at the beginning of December 2019 and sentenced to three years of probation. This case, among other things, attracted the attention of the public with a powerful speech delivered by the defendant on December 4—the day before the verdict was announced.
I will not reproduce this speech here, it has already been translated into English and is easily accessible. Instead, I’ll pay attention to the theological and religious background of what was said. Yegor Zhukov, explaining the motives of his political activity, began to talk about traditional values, of which Russia claims to be “the last defender.” In addition to the “patriotism” and “the institution of the family” that are constantly mentioned, he named Christian faith and the Christian ethics that follows from this faith as the main traditional value. In Yegor Zhukov’s theology, Christian ethics implies two main values: responsibility (“Christianity is based on the story of a man who has decided to put the suffering of the whole world on his shoulders, the story of a man who has taken responsibility in the greatest possible sense of the word”) and love (“‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. This is the main phrase of the Christian religion”). According to Yegor Zhukov, these two Christian values motivate him in his social and political activities. He then asked the question: “How does the current Russian state, which proudly defends Christian values and hence the values, that were mentioned above, actually protects them?” His conclusion is disappointing: the policy of the Russian state is a policy of “atomization” and “de-humanization.” As Yegor Zhukov said: “We have become a nation that has forgotten how to take responsibility. We have become a nation that has forgotten how to love.”
What is remarkable about this speech from a religious, theological point of view? Continue reading →
The reform of the judicial system, which practically never acquits and is fully subordinate to law enforcement agencies, has long been discussed in Russia. However, only civil activists are involved in the debates. The government keeps evading any participation in the discussion, and the courts continue arbitrarily to pass unreasonably strict verdicts for both civil activists and businessmen. In mid-September, a number of professional societies called for a review of the decisions concerning the cases of participants in unauthorized demonstrations in Moscow from July 2019. An appeal by Orthodox clergy was among the first, followed by public petitions by teachers, doctors, publishers, and philosophers. However, the clergy’s letter was most unexpected and had an unexpectedly profound resonance in Russian society.
The following is a review of Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy, a study of the role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in shaping the nuclear arms program for the Russian Federation written by Dmitry Adamsky and published by Stanford University Press (2019).
I approached this surprisingly accessible book with perhaps a unique perspective. I have no background in the complexities and horrifying potentialities of nuclear weapons and the political policies behind their creation and use. My interest in this book was to explore two quickly diverging paths of Orthodoxy. One path is that of the statist—the Church in a collaborative relationship with government in the “Byzantine model.” The other path is that of the stateless—the Church existing in a polity but in a pre-Constantine relationship with government. In his analysis of the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Russian nuclear defense community, Professor Adamsky chronicles the alarming merger of the missions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Federation and its nuclear armed forces.
Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy analyzes the relationship between the ROC and the Russian armed forces in three evolving periods: the Genesis Decade (1991-2000); the Conversion Decade (2000-2010); and the Operationalization Period (2010-2020). Continue reading →