Orthodoxy and terrorism
First Things, August Issue, 2015
I had no doubt that many would question whether it is appropriate to use as provocative an expression as “Orthodox terrorism.” Nevertheless, to save Orthodoxy itself, it is worth talking about the danger of transforming Orthodoxy into an aggressive political-religious project. In this spirit, I would like to make two points.
First, I consider my critics’ indignation to be understandable. “Orthodox terrorism,” as it is seen in the Russian-Ukrainian war, should be distinguished from the canonical Russian Orthodox tradition.
Second, my decision to speak of “Orthodox terrorism” originated not so much from my personal biography, as from a systematic analysis of numerous instances of religiously motivated violence against “uniates, schismatics, and sectarians” and any pro-Ukrainian or pro-western civilians in the occupied territories. One would think that the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Ukraine Orthodox Church–Moscow Patriarchate (UOC–MP) would hide their involvement and support for Russian aggression and the criminal activities of the separatist republics. Instead, at the military parade on the ninth of May (the seventieth anniversary of victory in the World War II”), the bishops of the UOC–MP celebrated behind the separatist leaders. Meanwhile, in the Ukrainian Parliament, Metropolitan Onuphrius of the UOC–MP refused to stand up and observe a minute of silence in remembrance of the fallen Ukrainian soldiers in Donbass. These facts indicate that “Orthodox terrorism” as well as the political involvement of Moscow Orthodoxy is all but an “open secret.” It is neither my daring theory, nor a victim complex. It is a mere summary of already known facts.
Both points underline the existence of “Orthodox terrorism” and the pertinence of the concept. In other words, I am not trying to claim that all Russian Orthodox are terrorists. My point is different: The fact of “Orthodox terrorism”—occasions of Orthodox support and blessing of terrorism aimed at “westerners” and “heterodoxy”—requires a definite response from the Orthodox Church. To put it differently, the Orthodox Church needs to investigate and decisively dissociate itself from this phenomenon.
In the lead up to the Ukrainian-Russian war, the Western world should have been more aware of the current condition of global and local Orthodoxy. World Orthodoxy is heterogeneous, and the Moscow is not the mainstream. Local Orthodoxy is also divided. Originally and historically “Russian Orthodoxy” was “of Kyiv” and had a Kyiv-centric character. Nowadays, the ROC does not represent the entirety of the Orthodox traditions, even in Russia, still less in Ukraine. There are reasons to believe that the Russian Patriarchate is primarily a product of Stalin’s design (the Patriarchate appeared in 1943 as a foreign policy project, to be precise), and it is not a successor to any of the ancient Orthodox traditions. Therefore, the question is, what exactly do we mean by the generic term, “Orthodoxy,” who represents it, and who has the right to speak on its behalf?
With the term “Orthodox terrorism” I was aiming at the degenerate, false, aggressive forms and was warning against a degeneration of Orthodoxy that is dangerous to everyone.
The question naturally arises, then, why doesn’t the Russian Patriarchate itself try to separate itself from these false forms and from terrorists by excommunicating those priests who blessed the icons of Stalin and Putin, and who support separatists forces and Russian troops in the war against Ukraine?
Apologists within the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) have eagerly talked about the interconnectedness of religion, politics, and violence in Islam and Protestant fundamentalism, and have ceaselessly rebuked U.S. civil religion and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the speakers of the ROC would rather talk about Islamic jihad; as for Orthodox jihad, there is a conspiracy of silence.
The political project of Eurasian integration has been seen as the rightful act of reunion of the “Holy Rus.” For the interests the “Russian World” it is suggested that all ancient sacred objects and places and canonical territories should be returned to Russia. It looks for all the world like an Orthodox crusade.
Unfortunately, in their close cooperation with the Kremlin, the ROC has not been able to offer a “new outreach of Eurasia” (analogous with Catholic ideas concerning Europe); instead it has given its blessing to the new imperial project of the “Russian World.”
This global project disregards usual state borders, cultures, and nations. By going beyond Russia, the “Russian World” and Russian Orthodoxy become aggressive and dangerous.
I do not try to highlight “Orthodox terrorism” for the sake of denigrating the ROC. I would like to encourage authentic Orthodoxy, free of terrorism, evangelical in its spirit, universal in its scope, not isolated from other denominations, capable of self-criticism and inner reformation, open towards the West and friendly with its neighbors. What should “Evangelical Orthodox” believers or “simple Orthodox” believers do in the ROC in the midst of political and aggressive Orthodoxy? Their goal should be to become “the church in the Church” and reveal to the world new images of Orthodoxy in the light of which “Orthodox terrorism” will look like a marginal and shameful thing.
Those who love Orthodoxy and are concerned about its future should not focus too much on the author of articles on “Orthodox terrorism.” They should focus on the hierarchs and theologians of the ROC who have the power to put an end to the religious animosity, stop the degeneration of their own church, and the degeneration of Orthodoxy as a whole.