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1634Bishop Hilarion: Can the Russian Orthodox Church Be Accused of Nationalism?

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Sep 1, 2004
      Europaica 47

      Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria: Can the Russian Orthodox Church Be
      Accused of Nationalism?

      Reaction to the paper by Archbishop Makarios of Kenya and Irinoupolis
      'Ethnic Identity, National Identity and the Search for Unity', delivered in
      his absence at the meting of the Plenary Commission on 'Faith and Order',
      Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), 2 August 2004

      My comments relate to the following statements made by His Eminence
      Archbishop Makarios of Kenya and Irinoupolis in his paper:

      Unfortunately the Church itself is often guilty of promoting nationalism at
      the expense of its 'catholicism'. We therefore speak, for example, of the
      Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Russian Orthodox Church etc.
      Often the Church has involved itself in national wars, in the blessing of
      weapons before battle, and what is even worse encouraging war and
      nationalism in the Name of Jesus Christ.

      I am disappointed that Archbishop Makarios in his otherwise well-informed
      paper cites the Russian Orthodox Church alongside with the Church of
      England and the Church of Scotland as examples of churches that 'promote
      nationalism', apparently implying that it is these churches that are
      involved in national wars, in the blessing of weapons before battle etc. I
      regret that Archbishop Makarios is not present here to clarify what was his
      intention in naming these specific churches and what particularly he had in
      mind when referring to the Russian Orthodox Church.

      When the Nazi army invaded Russia in June 1941, the whole nation - men and
      women, believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians, Russians
      and non-Russians, soldiers and civilians - stood in defence. More than
      twenty million people, mostly men, were lost during the war, and the
      demographic consequences of this loss are noticeable even today.

      The Russian Orthodox Church by the beginning of the war had been devastated
      by the severest persecutions of the 1920s and 1930s, when ninety-five per
      cent of its clergy and monastics had been executed, imprisoned or exiled,
      all monasteries and theological schools closed, and thousands of churches
      blown up or transformed into secular buildings.

      In spite of being almost completely annihilated, the Russian Orthodox
      Church - or rather what remained of it - from the very first day of the war
      joined the nation in its struggle for liberation. Indeed, priests blessed
      the troops and weapons before battles, gave absolution to the dying
      soldiers, and were involved - alongside with thousands of ordinary
      believers - in the patriotic activity in many other ways.

      But can one responsibly claim that these actions were sinful? When a nation
      defends itself against foreign invasion, should the Church stay aside and
      let its children die without absolution? Or should the soldiers be deprived
      of the Church's blessing before the battle?

      In the year 2000 the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church
      adopted a lengthy document entitled 'The Basic Social Concept', where
      separate chapters are dedicated to war and peace, nationalism and
      patriotism. The document, in particular, condemns nationalism, when stating:

      Â…National sentiments can cause such sinful phenomena as aggressive
      nationalism, xenophobia, national exclusiveness and inter-ethnic enmity. At
      their extremes, these phenomena often lead to the restriction of the rights
      of individuals and nations, wars and other manifestations of violence. It
      is contrary to Orthodox ethics to divide nations into the best and the
      worst and to belittle any ethnic or civic nation. Even more contrary to
      Orthodoxy are those teachings which put the nation in the place of God or
      reduce faith to one of the aspects of national self-awareness (II.4).

      While strongly condemning aggressive nationalism, the document mentions
      various ways in which a true Christian patriotism could be displayed:

      The patriotism of the Orthodox Christian should be active. It is manifested
      when he defends his motherland against an enemy, works for the good of the
      motherland, cares for the good order of people's lives through, among other
      things, participation in the affairs of government. The Christian is called
      to preserve and develop national culture and people's self-awareness (II.3).

      In examining the problem of war and peace, the Russian Orthodox Church
      states in its 'Basic Social Concept' that any war is a result of human sin.
      However, it makes an important distinction between defensive and aggressive
      war. The Church does not call its faithful to refuse military service and
      participation in a military action of defensive character. In other words,
      it does not proclaim pacifism as a fundamental principle:

      While recognizing war as an evil, the Church does not forbid its members
      from participating in military action if they are aimed at defending one's
      neighbors or restoring justice that has been violated. In such cases war,
      though undesirable, is considered a forced means of action (VIII.2).

      It is to be hoped that Archbishop Makarios becomes more acquainted with the
      tragic experience of the Russian Orthodox Church in the past and with its
      contemporary official statements on nationalism and patriotism in order
      perhaps to be more sensitive and less judgmental in his interpretation of