Posts tagged with: orthodox

Vladimir Berezansky, Jr., a U.S. lawyer with experience in Russia and former Soviet republics, recalls an interview with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II in 1991. Like many Russians at the time, the Patriarch was coping with a “disorienting change” following the fall of the Soviet Emprie, Berezansky writes.

At the time, he seemed overcome by the changes taking place around him, and he did not know where to begin.

“For our entire lives, we [clerics] were pariahs, and now we are being called on to do everything: chaplains for the military, ministries to hospitals, orphanages, prisons,” he said.

He even voiced regret about taking the time to travel to the United States. But he had gambled — correctly, as it turned out — that he could do more for his flock by seeking foreign assistance than by staying home to manage the Russian Orthodox Church’s destitution. His plate was full and overflowing, and he seemed keenly aware of the ironies of his situation. The Russian state was returning desecrated, gutted, largely useless ecclesiastical structures to the Orthodox church — a gesture at once desperate, empty and to some degree remorseful.

Berezansky then points to the Patriarch’s rapid rise through the Church hierarchy:

During and after the chaos of World War II, he probably could have emigrated and been numbered among the millions of so-called “Second Wave” exiles from Soviet Russia. But he chose to remain and to serve his church and people in circumstances that could not fail to compromise his own reputation.

“Our choices were cooperation or annihilation,” he told me in 1991.

And like so many other religious and cultural leaders of his generation, he repeatedly expressed regret and remorse for having accepted that Faustian bargain. Even today we continue to learn of the choices of conscience made by the famous names of that generation, including Nobel-winning German writer Günter Grass and Czech novelist Milan Kundera.

Patriarch Alexy’s legacy will undoubtedly include two elements that have been assessed negatively, and one major — indeed, overarching — achievement. In inter-church relations, his refusal to meet Pope John Paul II or his successor, Benedict XVI, was seen as churlish. Whether welcome or not, the patriarch’s position was that specific issues of contention between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches needed to be ameliorated before any “photo op” could take place. But he consistently referred to Roman Catholicism as a “sister” church.

Read “A Transitional Patriarch” on the Moscow Times site.

Cross-posted from The Observer.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Patriarch Alexy II

The Moscow Times reports on the funeral of Russian Patriarch Alexy II:

Candles flickered and white-robed elders chanted prayers as the country bade farewell Tuesday to Patriarch Alexy II, who guided the country’s dominant Russian Orthodox Church through its remarkable recovery after decades of Communist-era repression.

Nuns, believers and government officials looked on as prayers filled the soaring Christ the Savior Cathedral at a six-hour funeral service for Alexy, who died Friday at age 79. He was buried later Tuesday at the Epiphany Cathedral across town in a ceremony closed to the public and media, the church said …

“We are burying a great man, a great son of our nation, a beautiful holy fruit grown by our Russian church,” Reverend Dmitry Smirnov, a Moscow archpriest, said in an address at the funeral, which was broadcast live on state-run television. “Our whole nation has been orphaned.”

The BBC has a clip from the very moving funeral service here.

I published an Acton commentary today on the Russian Church:

With the death last week of Patriarch Alexy II, Russian Orthodox Christians lost their first “post-Soviet” leader. The patriarch presided over the resurrection of the world’s largest Orthodox Church, a faith community that had been targeted for annihilation by communist regimes that would brook no rival to their own promises of salvation through “world revolution.”

While Alexy led the Church out of the rubble of the Soviet Union, his own history has been clouded with allegations that he worked with the secret police — was even decorated by them. In this, his career reflects the recent history of the Church, which after the first vicious period of persecution was openly criticized by many Russians for being too pliable, too accommodationist with its old adversaries in the Kremlin. In some cases, critics said, the Church had even assisted the authorities in the suppression of believers and their communities.

When its Holy Synod meets next month to choose a new patriarch, the Russian Church will have an opportunity to come to grips with this past, and with other questions: nationalism, the status of minority ethnic and religious groups, secularization and consumerist materialism. Will the new patriarch lead the Church into a future of growth and spiritual renewal, or will he strike another “Faustian bargain” with autocratic leaders?

Read “The Church and the Terror State.”

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, March 28, 2008

Russian emigre philosopher Georgy Fedotov (1888-1951) proposed two basic principles for all of the freedoms by which modern democracy lives. First, and most valuable, there are the freedoms of “conviction” — in speech, in print, and in organized social activity. These freedoms, Fedotov asserted, developed out of the freedom of faith. The other principle of freedom “defends the individual from the arbitrary will of the state (which is independent of questions of conscience and thought) — freedom from arbitrary arrest and punishment, from insult, plundering and coercion on the part of the organs of power … ”

In an ideal world, all of these freedoms would be present. But Fedotov also cautioned that “freedom is the late, refined flower of culture.”

For the flower to bloom, the roots need to be watered. A free society, from the ground up, requires a respect for the rule of law, a judiciary and police force that aren’t easily bought, a political culture that knows how to rid itself of corruption, and a vigorous free press to keep the pols and bureaucrats honest. I would also add a liberal measure of economic freedom and property rights that secure wealth from the “arbitrary” plunder of the government.

All of which gets us back to Russia. In an interview this week in the Financial Times, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev pledged to root out the “legal nihilism” that plagues his country. Excerpt:

[Medvedev’s] starting point is his legal background – he is, he says, “perhaps too much of a lawyer”. Meticulous and precise, he sees almost every issue through the prism of legal thinking. But behind the occasionally laboured language lies a deeper goal. Mr Medvedev says he wants to do what no Russian leader has done before: embed the rule of law in Russian society.

“It is a monumental task,” he agrees, switching momentarily to English. “Russia is a country where people don’t like to observe the law. It is, as they say, a country of legal nihilism.”

The pledge to overcome “legal nihilism” became a central part of Mr Medvedev’s low-key election campaign. It seems a restatement of Mr Putin’s own promise eight years ago to establish a “dictatorship of laws”, although critics say Mr Putin delivered too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Even today, Russians quote the 19th-century satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s aphorism that “the severity of Russian laws is alleviated by the lack of obligation to fulfill them”. The result is a society plagued by endemic corruption, arbitrary use of the law by the state against individuals or companies – and by companies against each other – and a judiciary that has never known genuine independence.

To paraphrase, all democracy is local. One of the strengths of the American democratic tradition is its intensely local nature. Most Americans’ experience with democracy happens when they vote for a judge, attend a school board meeting, or run afoul of the local traffic cop. If democracy doesn’t work at this level, it doesn’t work at all. As Medvedev pointed out to his interviewers: “When a citizen gives a bribe to the traffic police, it probably does not enter his head that he is committing a crime … People should think about this.”

But bribing a cop is a moral issue, just as much as it is, if not exactly a political crime, then a seemingly simple act of convenience. Morality cannot be legislated, but it can be taught and for this we need the Church and the family and those other neighborhood groups, charities, and small businesses, that act as civic training grounds and make up a healthy community. Edmund Burke called these “the little platoons” of society. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Vladimir Solovyov

Towards the end of his life, the 19th century Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov published his “On the Justification of the Good: An Essay on Moral Philosophy” (1897). In this book, wrote historian Paul Valliere, Solovyov abandonded his vision of a “worldwide theocratic order” in favor of the more concrete demands of building a just society. With “Justification of the Good,” Solovyov (1853-1900) presented a general theory of economic and social welfare based on the idea that all human beings have “a right to a dignified existence.”

The following excerpt is from the chapter, “The Economic Question from the Moral Point of View” in Solovyov’s “On the Justification of the Good.” Translated by Nathalie A. Duddington; annotated and edited by Boris Jakim; foreword by David Bentley Hart. Wm. B. Eerdmans (2005). Cross posted from The Observer.

For the true solution of the so-called ‘social question’ it must in the first place be recognized that economic relations contain no special norm of their own, but are subject to the universal moral norm as a special realm in which they find their application. The triple moral principle which determines our due relation towards God, men, and the material nature is wholly and entirely applicable in the domain of economics. The peculiar character of economic relations gives a special importance to the last member of the moral trinity, namely, the relation to the material nature or earth (in the wide sense of the term). This third relation can have a moral character only if it is not isolated from the first two but is conditioned by them in the normal position.


AGAIN Magazine has published my “Conflicted Hearts: Orthodox Christians and Social Justice in an Age of Globalization.” The magazine is produced by Conciliar Press Ministries, Inc., a department of the self-ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church of North America.


Just as there is no real understanding of many bioethical issues without a general grasp of underlying medical technology, there is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else—poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance. In the environmental area, for example, the current debate on global warming is just as much focused on how to finance the means of slowing the rising temperatures of the earth as it is on root causes. And the question always is: Who will pay?

What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against “social justice” would be tantamount to opposing “fairness.” Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a “social justice movement” that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a “living wage,” universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the “social justice” agenda and its government-based solutions.

Read the entire article here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, February 15, 2008

Bartholomew I

My commentary this week looked at “Encountering the Mystery,” the new book from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Orthodox Church.

In 1971, the Turkish government shut down Halki, the partriarchal seminary on Heybeliada Island in the Sea of Marmara. And it has progressively confiscated Orthodox Church properties, including the expropriation of the Bûyûkada Orphanage for Boys on the Prince’s Islands (and properties belonging to an Armenian Orthodox hospital foundation). These expropriations happen as religious minorities report problems associated with opening, maintaining, and operating houses of worship. Many services are held in secret. Indeed, Turkey is a place where proselytizing for Christian and even Muslim minority sects can still get a person hauled into court on charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness.” This law has also been used against journalists and writers, including novelist Orhan Pamuk for mentioning the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In a 2005 report on the Halki Seminary controversy, the Turkish think tank TESEV examined what it called the “the illogical legal grounds” behind the closing and how it violates the terms of the 1923 peace treaty of Lausanne signed by Turkey and Europe’s great powers. TESEV concluded that “the contemporary level of civil society and global democratic principles established by the state, are in further contradiction with the goal to become an EU member.” And, because of its inability to train Turkish candidates for the priesthood, TESEV warned: “It is highly probable that the Patriarchate will not be able to find Patriarch candidates within 30-40 years and thus, will naturally fade away.”

The Turkish Daily Hürriyet is reporting today on a proposed government revision of the “insulting Turkishness” law.

The European Union has been calling Turkey to amend the article 301, which has been the basis for charges against past cases against Turkish intellectuals such as Hrant Dink, Elif Safak, and Orhan Pamuk.

[Justice Minister Mehmet Ali] Sahin, also said the deputy parliament leaders of AKP will decide when to send the proposal of the amendment to the parliament.

According to Sahin’s statement, the article’s new status would be as follows:

Article 301: The insulting of the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, as well as the institutions and organs of the state

1-A person insulting the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, the State, the Turkish Parliament, the government of the Turkish Republic, the justice organs of the state, as well as the military or policing organizations of the state, will receive anywhere between 6 months to 2 years prison sentence.

2-Statements explaining thoughts which are expressed with the purpose of criticism are not to constitute a crime.

3-Any prosecution based on article 301 is to be tied to specific permission from the office of the President of the Turkish Republic.

Read “A Patriarch in Dire Straits” here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Over at the blog, editor Chris Banescu had an entertaining exchange in the comment boxes with a writer who asserted that “capitalism can be just as infected with materialism and the concomitant need to tyrannize as communism.”

Here is Chris’ response:

Capitalism is really not an ideology. It simply describes reality, like mathematics and economics describe reality. It’s a word that explains how free human beings interact voluntarily with one another to exchange value and how they invest the excess of the fruits of their labors to produce more or gain more value. It is value and morally neutral.

You are positing your argument from the Marxist and leftist ideological point of view that made up this bogeyman they called “capitalism” as if it was some alien force dreamed up by rich to oppress the poor. That is a lie. You should know better than that.

On the other hand you are right that materialism is a moral failure, but that is the fault of the moral choice of individuals and groups, not the fault of capitalism. That’s like saying that it’s the fault of mathematics when someone does a wrong addition or multiplication, or the fault of accounting when someone embezzles money from their employer and writes down the incorrect cash register total.

When man deposits his money in a bank and requires interest payments, he is practicing capitalism!

When he buys food, clothing, furniture, medicine, etc.. from someone who produced it, he is practicing capitalism!

When he expects to be paid a fair salary for the work that he’s doing, he is practicing capitalism!

When he is the beneficiary of any retirement or pension fund, he is practicing capitalism!

When he buys property and hopes value will increase, he is practicing capitalism!

When he lends money to someone else and wants interest in return, he is practicing capitalism!

When he invents something new and unique and wants to sell it to someone else for a profit, he is practicing capitalism!

When he is the beneficiary of any government program providing social assistance, he directly benefits from others who practiced capitalism and created the profits the gov’t can now use and distribute to those in need!

When Churches and Synagogues get donations from people who first had to work and earn it, they are the beneficiaries of capitalism.

Even communists and socialists rely on capitalism to actually produce anything of value and generate the value and returns that fund and fuel their governments.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, January 21, 2008

St. Maximos the Confessor

Today the Orthodox Church remembers St. Maximos the Confessor, the great saint who — virtually alone — stood against the Monothelite heresy and its powerful allies in the Church and in the Byzantine Empire. The importance of St. Maximos (580-662) also is built on his work in the Philokalia, the collection of texts written between the fourth and the fifteenth centuries by spiritual masters of the Eastern Christian tradition.

Here is St. Maximos on truth (Third Century, 32):

Because it transcends all things, truth admits of no plurality, and reveals itself as single and unique. It embraces the spiritual potentialities of all that is intellective and intelligible, since it transcends both intellective and intelligible beings; and by an infinite power it encompasses both the ultimate origin and the ultimate consummation of created beings and draws the entire activity of each to itself. On some it bestows lucid spiritual knowledge of the grace they have lost, and to other it grants, through an indescribable mode of perception and by means of participation, clear understanding of the goodness for which they long.

On “divine power” (Third Century, 12):

Providence has implanted a divine standard or law in created beings, and in accordance with this law when we are ungrateful for spiritual blessings we are schooled in gratitude by adversity, and brought to recognize through the working of divine power. This is to prevent us from becoming irrepressibly conceited, and from thinking in our arrogance that we possess virtue and spiritual knowledge by virtue and not by grace.

The editors of the Philokalia note that when St. Maximos “opposed Monothelitism, this was not because of some technicality, but because such a view subverted the understanding of the full reality of man’s salvation and deification in Christ. The Monotheletes wished to reconcile the supporters of the Council of Chalcedon (451), who ascribed two natures to the incarnate Christ, with the Monophysites, who believed that He has only one nature; and so they proposed as a compromise the theory that Christ has two natures, the one divine and the other human, and but only a single will. Against this St. Maximos maintained that human nature without a human will is an unreal abstraction: if Christ does not have a human will as well as a divine will, He is not truly man; and if He is not truly man, the Christian message of salvation is rendered void.”

Father Alexander Mileant describes the saint’s courageous stand against this heresy:

The heretics often went from urging and appealing Maximos, to threatening, abusing and beating him. Venerable Maximos was sent into exile several times and called back to Constantinople each time. On one occasion, St. Maximos was called back, and the imperial grandees, Troilus and Sergius, subjected him yet again to interrogation. They began to accuse St. Maximos of pride for esteeming himself as the only Orthodox who would be saved and for considering all others to be heretics who would perish. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, August 10, 2007

People light candles below a wooden cross at a site south of Moscow where at the height of Josef Stalin’s political purges 70 years ago firing squads executed thousands of people perceived as enemies of communism. (AP)

“Martyrdom means a great deal to Orthodox people,” writes historian James Billington in “The Orthodox Frontier of Faith,” an essay collected in “Orthodoxy and Western Culture,” a volume of essays published in honor of Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005).

The 20th Century’s first genocide, the Armenian genocide, began with terror and massacres in the late 19th century and culminated in the great destruction of Christian minorities at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915-1918. Some 1.5 million Armenian Christians perished, according to Armenian sources. With the Russian Revolution and the rise of totalitarian communism, the martrydom of Christians took on unprecedented proportions in the gulags, killing fields and the famines that resulted from forced collectivization of farming.

Billington, the Librarian of Congress and a historian who has written several books on Russian culture, cites figures showing that “something like 70 percent of all Christian martyrs were created in the twentieth century, and the largest number of those were in Russia. Religious persecution was quite ecumenical; all religions suffered. However, since Orthodoxy was the main religion of the USSR, it suffered specially. The same Russian expanses that saw amazing frontier missionary activity in the early modern period suffered enormous devastation in the twentieth century when millions of people disappeared in the frozen wastes of the North and the East. The concentration camps were spread across almost exactly the same places – often using the monasteries for prisons.”

The world will never know all of the names of the millions of New Martyrs, as they are known to the Church, who perished under Communism, an oppression that lasted for most of the 20th Century. But their martyria, their witness, will be forever known to God.

In Russia this week, according to AP, “Russian Orthodox priests consecrated a wooden cross Wednesday at a site south of Moscow where firing squads executed thousands of people 70 years ago at the height of Josef Stalin’s political purges. Created at a monastery that housed one of the first Soviet labor camps and brought by barge to Moscow along a canal built on the bones of gulag inmates, the 40-foot cross has been embraced as memorial to the mass suffering under Stalin.”

Noticeably absent, the article said, were representatives of President Vladimir Putin’s government. “This is in keeping with efforts by … Putin, a former KGB officer, to restore Russians’ pride in their Soviet-era history by softening the public perception of Stalin’s rule,” wrote reporter Bagila Bukharbayeva. Nostalgia for the Soviet era? Read remarks on the subject by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his recent Der Spiegel interview.

The site consecrated to the Russian martyrs this week marked the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were labeled “enemies of the state” and executed without trial or sent to labor camps. The Butovo range was used for executions in the 1930s and until after Stalin’s death in 1953. Some 20,000 people, including priests and artists, were killed there in 1937-38 alone. “We have been ordered to be proud of our past,” said Yan Rachinsky from Memorial, a non-governmental group dedicated to investigating Stalin’s repression. “I know no other example in history when 700,000 people were killed within 1 1/2 years only for political reasons.”

Follow the link below to read the entire report on the memorial to victims of Stalin’s Purge. (more…)

Mt. Tabor

In much of the Christian world today, the great feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is commemorated (Matt. 17:1-9). In the Eastern Church, as Fr. Seraphim Rose observed, it is customary to “offer fruits to be blessed at this feast; and this offering of thanksgiving to God contains a spiritual sign, too. Just as fruits ripen and are transformed under the action of the summer sun, so is man called to a spiritual transfiguration through the light of God’s word by means of the Sacraments. Some saints, (for example – Saint Seraphim of Sarov), under the action of this life-giving grace, have shone bodily before men even in life with this same uncreated Light of God’s glory; and that is another sign to us of the heights to which we, as Christians, are called and the state that awaits us – to be transformed in the image of Him Who was transfigured on Mount Tabor.”

Fr. Lev Gillet saw a three-fold meaning in the Transfiguration:

The Jesus that the disciples knew well and whose looks, in ordinary life, did not differ radically from those of other people, suddenly appears to them in a new and glorious form. In our inner life, a similar experience can happen in three ways.

Sometimes our inward image of Jesus becomes (to the eyes of the soul) so luminous, so resplendent, that we seem truly to see the glory of God in this face: somehow the divine beauty of Christ becomes for us an object of our experience.

Or, sometimes, we feel with great intensity that the inner light, that light which is given to all men born into the world as a guide to their thought and action, is identified with the person of Jesus Christ: the power of the moral law becomes fused with the person of the Son, and the attraction of sacrifice makes us glimpse the sacrificed Saviour, and hear his call.

Sometimes, too, we become aware of Jesus’s presence in some man or woman whom God has set in our path, especially when it is given to us to bring compassion to their sufferings: then, in the eyes of faith, the man or woman is transfigured into Jesus Christ. From this last example, one could evolve a precise spiritual method, a method of transfiguration which could apply to everyone, everywhere and always.