Tag Archives: John Burgess

Pandemic and the Holy in Russia

by John P. Burgess | ελληνικά | Română | ру́сский


Like churches in other parts of the world, the Orthodox Church in Russia has struggled to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The question became particularly intense at the end of the Great Fast. Even though Church and state authorities had called on people to remain home, many devout believers, even some who recognized the dangers of the virus, openly or quietly resisted. Tragically, Passion Week led to the widespread infection of priests and monastics. The Church now faces a theological crisis. How is it to respond to traditional notions, sometimes promoted by hierarchs themselves, that holy things and places protect and even heal believers from disease?

When we lived in Russia several years ago, my wife called Orthodox worship a “contact sport.” She meant not only that Orthodox fully engage their bodies as they venerate holy things and receive the eucharist, but also that parishes in large cities can be so crowded on a Sunday or feast day that one literally has to push one’s way inside. Often she or I had no room to cross ourselves or bow without hitting the person in front of us. But inevitably a determined babushka would elbow her way between us to reach an icon and light a candle to the one and only saint who could reliably answer her prayers.

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A Time for U.S.-Russian Repentance?

by John P. Burgess


Tens of thousands of people gathered in Orthodox churches throughout Russia on Sunday, February 26th. In the church that I attended, the priest spoke of a God who invites humans to confess their sins and make a new start. As dozens of flickering candles cast gentle shadows into the darkened room, he bowed his head and in a hushed voice spoke of his own shortcomings. “I don’t always give you the attention that you need. I’m not always patient with you. The priesthood is a high calling, and I’m not always worthy of it. I ask you please to forgive me.” I held my breath, but his parishioners responded, quietly but firmly, “God forgives.” And then they came forward one by one to ask him to forgive them.

This ritual takes place in Orthodox churches throughout the world on Forgiveness Sunday, the beginning of the seven weeks of fasting and prayer that mark the Great Lent. But this year the words, “God forgives,” had a special poignancy to me. Continue Reading…

“Re-Christianizing” Russia

by John P. Burgess

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Orthodox Church has aspired to nothing less than “a second Christianization” of the Russian nation—a term that appears in its Missionary Concept of 2007. The Church has striven to revive Russia’s historic Orthodox identity by becoming, with state assistance, a comprehensive presence in society. Critics often note the price that the Church pays for close cooperation with the Putin government, but after a decade of tracking these developments on the ground, I see another, less well-known side to the story. “Re-Christianization,” whatever its political deficiencies, is also contributing much good to Russia. Continue Reading…