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[The Creation of the Chicken]

An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Holy Russia Rising?

Much ado is being made about Russia establishing Orthodoxy as an "official" religion...and to some degree persecuting other Christian groups. I don't pretend to fully understand the details of what is going on in Russia, I do know, however that liberal mainstream news media generally do not appreciate political leaders having much of any public religious life - let alone one that is arguably the oldest and most religiously conservative on the planet.

I'm a big proponent of religious freedom, I think I've made that clear enough here. And so I do not and will not support any governmental action to persecute any group or individual for their religious conscience. However...I DO understand Russian Orthodox Christian's concern about the flood of protestant (and even Mormon and JW's) flowing into their country. A few things to consider:

1. The Orthodox Church underwent 8 or so decades of brutal persecution from atheistic communists bent on wiping her out. In that time millions were martyred...MILLIONS! We cannot fathom it. It's effects on the Church were felt worldwide and we still see it today in the jurisdictional problem we have here in the US. In this time, where were the Baptists? Where were the Presbyterians? Where were the Assembly of God missionaries? The Orthodox Church went through this baptism of blood alone. Yes, I know there were a few religious minorities there at the time and sure, the Communist government would not let American Christian's in very easily....but none-the-less...no one can deny this was Orthodoxy's holocaust. And so when the walls were finally knocked down and the Orthodox Church was able to come up mostly out of hiding and be free, you might imagine their disdain for wealth ridden western protestants pouring in desperate to save Russians from the Orthodox Church. I can still recall Paul Crouch of TBN standing by his big TV antenna in Belarus blabbing about how "at LAST" the gospel was going to be preached in Russia! Such ignorance I might just consider allowing for legal action against.

2. Something we American's have a difficult time understanding is the extent to which Orthodoxy is rooted in Russian culture. This is a blessing and a curse for obvious reasons...but none-the-less there is precious little that we can compare this too here in America where diversity is so great and we uphold so few mutual traditions. A completely insufficient analogy might be to compare Protestant missionaries in Russia, to illegal immigrants in America bent on changing the official language here to Spanish. My guess is this would earn the ire of just about everyone, not the least of which being the most conservative people in this country. As I prefaced though, this is not quite the same thing...but then we American's affinity for protestantism isn't comparable to the Russian's affinity for Orthodoxy. We've no concept, generally, of a national religious identity and that too is a blessing and a curse.

3. Another thing to consider is that it is likely that the only thing Russians see with regard to the west is from our Nightly News and Hollywood. So conservative/religious Russians look at Europe and see massive secularism (remember they've had not too good a time with leftist atheism over the last 80 years) and then Gay Pride parades and general moral relativism and the filth served up from our various media sources. "These things are the products of a society built up from western religious beliefs and values?" They may ask.

Now, I'm not saying that they are correct or fair in this assessment, I'm just saying I can understand how one might see things in this way - what do they really know of the similarly conservative-religious types in our country? George Bush? Rather unhelpful to the perception I would think. Is it surprising then that there should grow a certain degree of political expediency in limiting the influence or presence of western sects? And besides, the New York Times article - while trying to sound dramatic and ominous - seems to be trying too hard. The REAL story of religious persecution and intolerance is right under their noses...and geographically right under Russia.

4. Codified into law and (more importantly I think) arising from religious dogma itself is the lack of religious freedom to be found throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia. Russia may have protests and its citizen's are thus able to shut down a gay pride parade in Moscow, but in Iran (for example) they simply hang you for being gay. Baptists in Russia may have trouble from time to time getting rental permits, but how exactly are the Baptist missionaries faring in Saudi Arabia? How are the Christians in Indonesia doing these days? I wonder: is it a crime punishable by death to convert from Orthodoxy to Mormonism in Russia? Is it legal to discuss the glories of Seventh Day Adventism on the streets of St. Petersburg?

I can understand the concerns about religious freedom in Russia and as I said I am totally against a state-church marriage and Russia should put the brakes on it. But really, if the New York Times wants to sniff out graduate level religious intolerance...well, ahem...there's a raging pachyderm in the room folks.

In a similar vein, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev had some wise words for the EU recently.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:50 AM [+]


Whether the Times has a plank in its own eye or not, the article points to a very disturbing trend. The Rus government is using kid gloves now, but how far will it go when it meets the rightful resistance of these Christians?

They have my prayers.

By Blogger Munkee, at 1:55 PM  


I agree...however, it's not a plank in their eye...it's blinders...worn for a reason I suspect.

Where's the headlines for those Christians who have for ages already seen it go too far elsewhere? So far in fact that no one speaks, no one resists...they just go on living on their knife edge hoping they don't get too uppity and shift the balance. Where's the NYT story for them?

Save that written which lays the blame for it on the US in Iraq - that's obligatory, but always misses the real history.

Russia ought to halt the trend, no argument.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 2:07 PM  


Watch, before I count to ten...someone will comment and say in some manner that they cannot believe I support Putin's policy, even though I said 3 or so times that I do not.

Consider my little post a footnote on the NYT's article...to give a little background for why it might be happening and some suggestions for further reading.

Now: 1,2,3....

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 2:18 PM  



1) As you pointed out, the complete disregard Protestant missionaries had for Orthodoxy immediately after the fall of Communism. It was as if they were encountering a land that had never known the Gospel.
2) The Russian Orthodox Church really needs to get its act together. It's time to start teaching Orthodoxy and not just rules of piety and "russian-ness." It's a tall order.

BTW, James, Archbishop Ioann (shown in the photo of the NYT article) is a friend of Eugenie. We've discussed the possibility of him visiting our humble mission. It's a potentially complicated prospect, but, we'll see...

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:00 PM  


My friend told me once he got really upset when he saw some Baptists standing outside an Orthodox Church handing out tracts as the parishioners left - pretty low I think. I also heard of a Baptist Church was built somewhere in Russia and included onion domes.

#2 is a very very good point Father. I once saw what I believe was a baptist training manual for how to evangelize Orthodox Russians. It was quite pathetic and every single person who's ever partaken of the Sacrament should have been able to laugh it off and refute it with ease...point by point.

Of course another tactic would be for the Russian Church to return the favor and actively send missionaries to the western world. ;) Like maybe go door to door in Salt Lake City? Or stand outside all the Lutheran churches in Minnesota and hand out tracts.

Maybe build a few Orthodox mega-churches with Latte stands and stadium seating?

Indeed He is Risen!

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 9:59 PM  


A friend (who was an Evangelical missionary in Russia teaching English for a time) and I discussed this article:

Gabriel Sanchez has a quickie review of it here:


I would come at it all, broadly, from two angles.

One, after 80 years of militant atheism, allowing well-funded, foreign missionaries from any faith or movement to bombard the country is not playing on a level field with those peoples just emerging from Communism and slaughter. Russian society was simply unable to cope, so curbs were understandable, if not necessary, e.g., returning to the status quo of 1917 and approval only for the 'historic' faiths of the nation seems appropriate (Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism). Others are allowed to believe and practice either faith or faithlessness, just not to build and proselytize in a way unfairly benefited by foreign funds. I'm sure (?) this will all change once Russia's wealth is better shared and exploited and after the traditional faiths have regained some footing after suffering for so long. Gabriel hits it right when he notes that what is really being offended is liberal, Western sensibilities regarding what freedom of religion needs must look like to be 'freedom of religion'.

The other angle is that while the Orthodox Church does have a historic place in Russian history and culture that should be acknowledged, understood and taught (I was introduced to Orthodoxy through Tolstoy and Chekhov), the Church should not get too close. Pace Justinian, symphonia never worked and the Church should be wary: Peter the Great and his Holy Synod, and the Bolsheviks were all pieces of a cloth attempting to force religiosity or areligiosity of a certain kind by force. If the Church needs state support, then this is a tacit admission that God either "can't" help or can't help in the "right way" (cf. The Grand Inquisitor; likely its more that we want to build the Church in a particular way, according to our own designs); that religion must be forcibly exterminated - rather than being rationally, dialectically and scientifically proven away - was an implicit admission that militant atheism is wrong and unproveable, and more of a revolution against One Who Is than a rational position of a-theism or agnosticism such as one finds in the neo- and evolutionary atheists like Dawkins and Wilson. Force, to me, undermines the legitimacy of the position requiring us to gerrymander the situation to achieve the result we assume is "obvious" and "correct".

[My friend wrote:]

"Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia: The New War for Souls" was a great book I read regarding this issue while living and studying in Russia. Though it is probably dated, a brief scan of the essays included in the volume paint a picture that matches what the Times was reporting yesterday/today. As always, historical and cultural context makes a big difference. Familiarity with the concept of symphonia, the root of and use of the term 'sect,' and the relation of Russian Orthodoxy to Protestants through the WCC during communism all shed light on the issue. Talking to Orthodox priests and laity (the educated ones, at least) while I lived in Russia there was a understanding that all members of the WCC had agreed to the accords that called for religious denominations to refrain from proselytism. That the first act by Protestants once the wall came down was not to help the Orthodox Church but rather to proselytize its members set a bad precedent that continues almost 20 years later. What the Orthodox of Russia were ignorant of was that the missionaries to Russian were mostly non-denominational Evangelicals who came from organizations that were not WCC members. Russians newly exposed to the West could not make that distinction and so viewed proselytizing missionaries as Christians brothers violating the WCC agreement and taking advantage of their weakened state. For the uneducated, those unfamiliar with trans-national and trans-denominational organizations like the WCC, the influx of missionaries and their "foreign faith" simply looked like an invading army preaching the ideology of the West. For these, that the ideology was religious was a secondary aspect to the fact that the ideology was from the West.

In all this, the people I feel sorry for are the Russians who have become protestant. While my experience with missions in Russia was, all around, horrible (especially in comparison to my experience in Ethiopia, another historically Orthodox and recently Communist country) I met a number of Russian who, for a variety of reasons, found their pursuit of God more fulfilling in a Protestant denomination. These Russian Protestants were not simply converts to the New American Evangelicalism. Many were member of the centuries old Russian Baptism Church. These are the people who have gotten squeezed between American-philia and American-phobia. Like Greeks in Southern Italy or Catholic in the Balkan or Protestants in France, or numerous other examples, these Russian Protestants are being "persecuted" and discriminated by their own people for no other reason their the varieties of their similar faiths.

A follow up comment to a Protestant dissenter was:

"Again, I think most of the panic arose in the early days after the wall when Russians were trying to understand who they were, their own past, etc. at the same time as well-funded missionaries from legitimate and not so legitimate religious groups were flooding the country. I don't think that is the case today but the fearmongering is based on the initial way that Protestantism and various cults (e.g., Moonies, Hare Krishnas) introduced themselves to the country. Tie this together with a valid examination of the role that Orthodoxy has played in the development of Russia together with Russia's 'difference' from and attraction to the West and it is no wonder that many would view foregin missionaries as attractive and/or as dangerous.

Your comment regarding salt is apropos, too. Terry Mattingly wrote a piece discussing the state of the Orthodox Church in 1991:

"Two weeks after the 1991 upheaval that ended the Soviet era, I visited Moscow and talked privately with several veteran priests.

It’s impossible to understand the modern Russian church, one said, without grasping that it has four different kinds of leaders. A few Soviet-era bishops are not even Christian believers. Some are flawed believers who were lured into compromise by the KGB, but have never publicly confessed this. Some are believers who cooperated with the KGB, but have repented to groups of priests or believers. Finally, some never had to compromise.

“We have all four kinds,” this priest said. “That is our reality. We must live with it until God heals our church.”"

So, yes, there is, of course, need for some stinging salt, but likely not in the way you mean."

By Blogger Christopher, at 12:38 AM  


That is very insightful...thank you Christopher.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:19 AM  


Interesting comments, all. Thanks.


By Anonymous Mike, at 11:42 AM  


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