Essays















On the Russkii Mir
and a recent Declaration by the Orthdox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University

The Declaration sets out to discuss the ‘heresy’ of the Russian World (Russkii Mir) ideology. There is something dubious about this ideology, it is true. The Declaration moves on to a general condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This movement from a consideration of Russkii Mir to the consideration of the Ukraine crisis is a subterfuge. The Declaration is not about the Russian World ideology. It is about the Russian Orthodox church in general, during this time of conflict and trouble.

It would be as well, if the deeper intention of the Declaration were made clear. But it cannot be clear, because the Declaration is confused by its very nature. The authors and signatories are deeply troubled by war itself. How often is it said, or heard today, that people can’t believe, that war is happening in the Twenty-First Century? People are confused and emotional, and this Declaration expresses confusion and emotion; no doubt, it appears to be the expression of clever men, but that is just an appearance. They are confused and emotional.

So when they aim specifically at the Russian World ideology, which is dubious, they then proceed to make a wholesale condemnation of Russian foreign policy as a whole – using the Russian World ideology as the entry point. As if, by agreeing that Russian World ideology is not Orthodox, then we will also agree that the conflict in Ukraine is also something to condemn. But the conflict in Ukraine and whether that is dubious is an entirely other matter. As we find in the final part of the Declaration (section 6), the authors accept that Ukraine can fight, but deny that Russia can fight; how else to comment on this, other than by saying that they have ‘taken sides’?

When Patriarch Kiril, Patriarch of Mosow and all the Russias, espouses Russian World ideology (I cannot claim to have heard him do so; evidence of this is also missing from the Declaration text), we can think that the Patriarch has made a mistake. He can be condemned, perhaps, in theological terms. But when Russian soldiers are doing their work in Ukraine, then we are dealing with a much deeper issue, an issue which is beyond the power of theologians to understand: war, conflict, disagreement, peace, the state and church and their relationship - I find myself seeing, that such work is not so easy to condemn in theological terms. It is not a simple error of judgment: it is a catastrophe endemic in human existence.

I consider the Declaration to be dishonest or at best confused by conflating these two problems. And, because the major problem of war and peace, state and church, has not properly been addressed, the Declaration is merely an expression of taking sides against Russia. The reasons for this taking sides are not expressed. This makes the declaration a political declaration. It is effectively a contribution to the war effort, the war against Russia. While it begins as a theological declaration, it ends as a political one. So, while on the outside, this looks like the work of theologians, it is really a political statement. The signatories have already made up their minds: Russia is an aggressor, and should be condemned.

In effect, anyone who signs this document is just putting their shoulder to the wheel to the effort to militarily repel the Russians. Or, in other words, the document expresses the views of people who want to engage in war with Russia, and no doubt approve of the resistance.

As a political position, this is acceptable. But it is not a matter of theology.

My suspicion is, that because the Declaration is so emotionally attached to one side in this argument, the argument between Ukraine and Russia, and has alrady taken sides, then the discussions about war, state, church, peace, Christians, and so on, are weak. Those who drafted the declaration assume that you will agree, without question, for example, that Christians are pacifist.

In summary, the declaration concerns a real world event, where the signatories are taking a specific side in a conflict. Their document is therefore theologically weak. My position would be, that they rethink the theological argumentation, as I will show in brief below. And, when the theology has been shown to be weak, to reconsider their emotional attachment to the military defence of Ukraine; to put aside emotion, and consider things in the light of reason, facts, and the general character of life and Orthodox understanding of our responsibilities as Christians.

Peace and the will of God might actually be found in a different political approach; namely, to force the Ukrainian government to accede to the Russian political demands. And to acknowledge, that God is on the side both of the Ukrainians, and the side of the Russians, in this conflict. Finally, theologians should take the position of being on neither side. None of the authors or signatories are soldiers. They don’t need to fight; they can be philosophical about this matter, and ought to be so.

In the briefest form, these are the problems I find, with the theology, and the politics of the Declaration.

Russkii Mir Russian World ideology is obviously not a matter of theology or strict Orthodoxy. The problems of the Russian Federation are today political, not religious. They are rather serious problems. Russia finds itself, since Putin took office in the first years of the century, having to assert itself. It was inevitable that a conflict between Russia and its old enemies was going to come about. It would be possible to imagine that Russia became a large client state of the USA, just as all of Western Europe is. But Russian politicians and people could not accept this. And so conflict was inevitable. These are political matters.

The resolution of political disagreements between states can become impossible. Discussion sometimes comes to an end, and conflict comes about. Why should Russia not become a client of the USA? Why will Russia not become a western style state, with all assets in private hands? These questions could also be posed like this: Why should the USA not become a client of Russia? Why should the USA not submit to a national church alongside a totalitarian nationalist regime? These questions have no answer; they are the business of statesmen, who should aim to let them go unanswered, peacefully.

The Russkii Mir ideology is not so much a ‘heresy’ as it is a sign of complicity between state and church in Russia; it is one of those problems of culture which arises in Russia, and not in the USA. There could never be a linkage between church and state in the USA, because there is no established church in that country. But there are traditions of these linkages in Russia. There are signs of it in many other places. For instance, in any British infantry battalion, there is a commissioned officer who has taken holy orders, known as the Padre. A padre does not belong on a battlefield; nonetheless, the Church of England is alongside the soldiers in the form of the Padre, should the Church be needed. Similarly, a religious ideology expressing the approval of the church for Russian foreign policy is not really required, but, the Church is there, alongside the President and the army of Russia.

So much for Patriarch Kiril’s formal statements about the Russian World. They are nice to have, but not essential. Everyone knows this.

Now, to move on to what the Declaration is really about: condemnation of Russia, and by extension, condemnation of those in the Russian Church who are not condemning the invasion of Ukraine. The Declaration is a statement that all theologians should condemn the invasion; and it is surreptitiously demanding that all the Orthodox Church inside Russia also condemn the invasion of Ukraine. This is the point of the Declaration.

Setting out to persuade all Christians, including Russian Christians, to condemn the invasion, there are six quotations from the Gospels, followed by an affirmation or declaration of belief on the basis of each. So, let us see the six principles. As was said, and will be seen, the Declaration is calling for Russian surrender, and calling for the Orthodox Church to condemn the politics of the Russian state.

1. Citing John’s Gospel, where Christ says: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36), the authors then say that the purpose of history it to accomplish a kingdom outside this world. They therefore condemn any empires of this world, or any Prelate who wishes well or prays for a this-world empire. A Christian is a citizen of heaven.

I should remind people that, Christians should not think that they are building the heavenly kingdom here on earth. The kingdom Christ speaks of is in the other world. In this world, Christ is born under Roman rule; he is born to a specific race, with a history of struggle and kingship; the peace of the Roman empire, which eventually became a Christian empire, is central to the way that the Holy Spirit guided the people and the statesmen of the world. An empire of this world is required, to defend the people; to protect them from persecution; to provide order and peace. Constantine, and his mother Helen, are remembered precisely for this reason in Orthodoxy. Where there is no more sin, when the human race is sinless, there, in that place and time, we might profitably do away with temporal empires and power. But Orthodoxy has never been so brazen, as to think we can deny and neglect the political and military empires which defend the people and the church.

The Declaration then goes on to state, rather baldly, that all Christians are homeless, stateless, where ‘every land is a foreign land’. Christ, I would remind people, also admonished people to give up their families. ‘Who is my mother, who are my brothers and sisters?’ These are the harsh hyperbolic instructions of Christ to those who would be saints. For the rest of us, and for all time, the state is a necessary evil.

What is surprising is, that the statement about giving up all home, land, country, family, in the Declaration, should be put about by these theologians, when I am supposing that most of the authors and the signatories, subsist by state protection, payments, and every amenity of the peace and generosity of their respective nation states. I do not expect to find any saints among these people; the CVs of the two men, Revd. Dr. Brandon Gallaher and Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis are not the CVs of hermits and saints. While treating their Declaration with the respect I have, I also find myself dismissing their reference to living in ‘the other world’ with cynical contempt; they are mere hypocrites when they cite Christ’s stern demand as an example of what they themselves have or aim to achieve. That is to say, these men live for the most part in ‘this world’, where the rules of Constantine’s empire are embraced, gladly, by men who are too weak to live without that protection and order.

I do not deny, that in prayer, and in communal service, we can aim to overcome sin for a moment, and commune directly with God. This is the highest we can do in life. But, to also claim that ‘we are all stateless, foreigners, etc.’ is merely a strategy used here to force Russia to surrender its political conflicts with other states.

2. The Declaration cites the bedrock statement, made by Christ, of the division between state and church: ‘Render unto Caesar, etc.’ (Matthew 22:21). They ask for freedom of the church from the state, and deny that any ‘Caesar’ or ‘President’ can be in charge of the Church. (It is assumed that the Orthodox Church in Russia treats President Putin like a dictator).

3. They insist, rightly, that there must be no sexual or racial bias in the Church. (It is assumed that Russikii Mir is racist).

4. They insist that a church leader must not get involved in racial or group politics.

5. The Declaration states that, a Church should always encourage the state to submit in any conflict, and make peace.

We have already seen that the Church requires the protection of the State; and I have said that the Church is also separate from the state; and, that gratitude and upkeep, and promotion of the state by the church, is essential, in a symbiotic way. Points 2 through 5 are not debatable, and constitute padding for the Declaration. Because the Declaration has only one point to make, which we find in point 6, below.

6. ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ (John 8:31-32).

They say:

‘We affirm that Jesus calls his disciples not only to know the truth but to speak the truth. […] A full-scale invasion of a neighbouring country by the world’s second largest military power is not just a “special military operation”, “events” or “conflict” or any other euphemism chosen to deny the reality of the situation. It is, rather, in fact a full-scale military invasion that has already resulted in numerous civilian and military deaths […].’

Now, here the Declaration becomes exactly what it was all along: a matter of political debate. Effectively, they are using the Gospel as a means of calling attention to the fact, that Russian clerics are not condemning the invasion of Ukraine.

The debate is: does the Russian state have the right to invade Ukraine, and to call this invasion by the name which to Russian politicians, seems right? The answer is not theological. The answer will involve analysis of finance, armaments, political interventions and elections, coups, negotiations and so on, actual events which have been going on since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Declaration and those who sign it know that this is a difficult problem. But their loyalties are not with Russia.

Now, the proper alignment of a Christian would be, not to sign this Declaration, which is an anti-Russian political document. Rather, like Patriarch Kiril, the Christian should, where the state is struggling for its existence, to let the statesmen do their work. Who knows for sure the will of God? Let the statesmen work, and let the Church look to God and serve. This is how it has always been in Orthodoxy. This is what it means, to say: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’.

Sometimes, it seems to me, that the international community of scholars and ‘ecumenical’ priests, and the like, who drafted and who are still signing this document, believe that the world is already as good as it gets for people outside Russia, and the world would be better as a whole without Russia in it. They believe that, for total perfection of political and theological matters, it can be assumed, that progress toward the heavenly kingdom is being attained year on year, as nations such as Russia, are brought into the heavenly kingdom. Pressure is applied, consensus is attained, Declarations are written, and professional people are forced to get on board. This is how they do it; how they attain world peace and the kingdom of heaven.This Declaration is the expression of such a-religious ‘kingdom of this world’ fervour; the outrage expressed in the Declaration is not Christian. It is inspired by a sense that, the human race shall eradicate all sin, if only a suitably educated elite were able to get international consensus. The six points made, in the Declaration, are as little about Christ and God, and as much about winning a political and ideological conflict, as Russkii Mir / Russian World ideology is.

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It is my suggestion, that if the signatories to the Declaration want peace, then they should be able to get it by pushing Ukraine to accept defeat. Peace would be almost instantaneous. This is a political calculation which would result in an outcome favourable to all sides. What this Declaration is actually doing is, insinuating that the kingdom of heaven will be found by political pressure, and ecumnenism, and widespread belief in one alternative and anti-Russian political consensus, and that we should hope for the defeat of Russia in this conflict.

To me, it does not seem to be a way to end the war. As I’ve said, to me the ideology of Russkii Mir is as little or as much a theological error as the one in which the Declaration is involved, when it thinks to bring about the aims of salvation and closeness to God, by the application of ecumenical consensus and communal expressions of outrage.



Design Jason Powell, 2020.

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