Saturday, November 01, 2008

Pray for Oppressed Christians in Russia

On this most holy Feast of All Saints, please pray for oppressed Christians in Russia (including the conservative, confessional, and traditional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia, which has been in Russia since the 1500s and is currently in fellowship with the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) which seem to be enjoying a new round of repression, following a generation of militant Atheism under the Communist state. The evil empire may have fallen in 1991, but the much older Evil Empire, mortally wounded by our Blessed Lord, is making a last ditch grab for the Bride of Christ.

Read all about it here.

You can also read more about the Lutheran Seminary in Novosibirsk, Siberia (where many LCMS professors teach) here. You can also read more about Lutherans in Siberia here (whose bishop, Vsevolod Lytkin, is shown above at his consecration).

We pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ even as we sing:

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,

And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;

The saints triumphant rise in bright array;

The King of glory passes on His way.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

For All The Saints, LSB 677: 2,5,7


Past Elder said...

This grabs me. My first clue to Lutheranism beyond the here and now of my (then) WELS parish was the CELC, and that interest has extended to LCMS partner churches.

Russia's a big country, and Ingria and Siberia are at opposite ends of it. How does this fit to-gether?

Pr. H. R. said...

I'm ignorant here of the history so this is asked in all honesty and without guile:

Where is the Orthodox communion in speaking against this oppression? The state is supposedly cracking down like this in order to favor Orthodoxy. Where does the Orthodox communion in Russia and elsewhere stand? Do they have statements regarding it, pro or con, or do they remain silent?


Christopher D. Hall said...

I'll sound like a dirty-unAmerican, pro-Orthodox slob for saying it, but, you know, who says a country has to guarantee the free exercise of religion? I think sometimes we are so used to religious freedom that we forget that it can be another way.

Now, for groups that do not believe Orthodox Christianity is Christian at all, this would be alarming, at least from the perspective of eternity. But for those who recognize that they have an ancient and authentic Christian faith, I'm not so sure what the deal is.

In other words, if you had a Lutheran nation, where 80% of people identified themselves as Lutheran, and no history of freedom of religion, wouldn't you want to kick out the Baptists and the Orthodox and the Catholics and say, "Stop converting my citizens!"

I probably would. But I'm a tyrant. :)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christopher:

I'm going to play C.S. Lewis's advocate here and ask a theoretical question:

"Who would rather see a country NOT guarantee religious freedom, God or Satan?"

Just because a country has a history of tyranny doesn't mean we should excuse it. For these churches to be outlawed means that there will be some punishment for practicing them. In other words, if the Lutheran churches are "liquidated", that means Lutherans will likely be jailed for the practice of their faith.

How can you defend this? How can you possibly defend the liquidation of a Christian confession? Goodness!

The Roman Empire had a similar policy toward dissident religious groups. Somehow, I just don't see you advocating throwing Christians to the lions.

You're right that we take our religious freedom for granted. Maybe we shouldn't. Maybe we should regularly pray for persecuted Christians - like those in Scandinavia, Sudan, and China - and not make excuses for those governments with a history of repression.

Freedom to believe what you are convinced is true is not a privilege that government may or may not grant. It is a right - and rights come from God.

Ultimately, there is nothing pro-Orthodox about denying religious freedom (and I'm not convinced they are on board with this), as that would be unbelievably stupid - given their own history of oppression by the state. Surely, the Orthodox have longer memories than that?

"When they came for the Jews, I said nothing, because I wasn't a Jew..."

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

I don't know the relationship of the Ingrian Church to the Siberian Church. The little I know about the Ingrians is that they were at one time part of Finland, and those Lutherans have been around since the Reformation.

Hopefully, someone who knows a lot more than I do (which should not be difficult) will chime in.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Heath:

According to this article, the Russian Orthodox Church is part of the problem. I admit that I'm skeptical. I find it hard to believe the Orthodox would be so eager to collaborate with the very government that used to shoot their priests like fish in a barrel.

Either the state respects religion or it does not. States that don't respect religion can make life pretty hard for those who follow Christ.

Christopher D. Hall said...

I'm afraid I confused things with my "tyranny" comment. No, Russia has 1000-year history of Christianity, and no history of guaranteeing the rights of people to worship in other ways. Nor should they be assumed to have one. It is a recent invention to allow citizens to believe whatever they want to believe. And I believe that the government has a duty to ensure the religious peace in his land, as did Luther, et al.

Of course seeing Christians thrown in jail is not good. However, I do think every Governement has every right to limit what religion gets to be promoted in their country. What dissenting religions do about this is a matter of their faith and convictions.

Again, let's try putting the shoe on the other foot: if Russia had 1000 years of Lutheranism and began to limit what other confessions were allowed in their country, would you object?

You wrote, "Freedom to believe what you are convinced is true is not a privilege that government may or may not grant. It is a right - and rights come from God."

I don't think you mean this. We do not have a God-given freedom to believe what we are convinced as true. We have the freedom to believe the Truth as He has revealed it. It is rebellion to follow our our conscience and not the mind of Christ.

But please take all this with a grain of salt. I am politically confused and no doubt theologically confused as well. I never pretended to be a good Lutheran...or American. Or Christian for that matter. Perhaps I'd better keep my flaky, confused thoughts to myself :)


William Tighe said...

The Ingrians (who speak a language closely related to Estonian, and less closely related to Finnish) live to the South and SW of St. Petersburg, while the Karelians (who speak a dialect of Finnish) are to the north and NW of St. Petersburg; and Karelia was a part of Finland from 1919 to 1940. (Ingria, however, has been part of Russia since ca. 1710, after having been ruled by Sweden since 1619, before which time it was ruled by Russia.)

After the fall of the USSR there emerged a Karelian Lutheran Church and an Ingrian Lutheran Church, both of which were strongly confessionalist and both of which strongly rejected Women's Ordination. The Karelian Church, heavily subsidized by the Church of Finland as it is, has certainly muted its opposition to WO in the past decade, if it has not abandoned it altogether. The Ingrian Lutheran Church under Bishop Kaukaapi has maintained its stance with some intrepidity, and has forged strong links with the Lutheran Church of Latvia and the small but extremely conservative Lutheran Church of Belarus.

I don't know how these Siberians fit into the picture. There is a CIS-wide Lutheran Church, with the theologian Georg Kretschmar as its bishop. It purports to ordain women, and strongly protested the action of Archbishop Vanags of Latvia and Bishop Kaukappi of Ingria (together, as I recall, with the late Bishop Kalvanas of the Lithuanian Lutheran Church) in consecrating Jan Zwicki as bishop for the Belorussians. I do not know whether this Siberian group represents a further fragmentation of Russian Lutheranism.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christopher:

Absolutely, I mean that we have a right to freedom of religion. God compels no-one to believe. When our Lord told his hearers they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood, a third of His disciples left Him. Jesus let them go. He did not conspire with the Romans or the Jews to bring charges against them or put them in a concentration camp. He did not send the disciples out with keys to a dungeon or implements of torture. The Word of God is the only "sword" we have, and we catch men in the net of the Gospel, not round them up in concentration camps.

A Christianity that is compelled is no Christianity at all. What kind of "Christians" do you have in places where their "Christianity" is by state compulsion?

I think you're confused. It is *Islam* that is spread at the point of a sword, not Christianity.

And yes, I favor religious freedom even in traditionally Lutheran states. I am completely in favor of the disestablishment of the Lutheran state churches. I am utterly opposed to putting people in jail or seizing their churches just because they don't belong to the majority.

Our faith is rooted in the Gospel, not the Law.

Would you argue that Nazi Germany had a right to put the Jews under proscription? After all, that was the law of the land, the Jews were a minority, and they were not Christians.

It's not often I hear Christian pastors advocate religious oppression. I'd rather my church have no members than surround the building with barbed wire and armed guards and have a captive audience.

What a shameful statement to the world it would be if we believe our faith must be compelled! How horrific a perversion of the Gospel to suggest that it is the *right* of a state, and that it is a good thing, for a country to round up anyone and put them in a gulag based on their religion.

I'm still shaking my head.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dr. Tighe:

Thanks for the helpful overview of Lutheranism in Russia!

Thanks also for your latest care package. Good stuff. Gratias ago tibi!

Past Elder said...

It makes sense, Finland having spent most of the last few centuries either Swedish or Russian, that there would be Lutherans and Orthodox in the area. The state church of Finland is Lutheran, but, as with all members of the Lutheran World Federation, not Lutheran at all.

I imagine our guys are having a tough time of it, externally and internally, in different ways. I'd still be interested in how we got Lutherans, real or otherwise, in Siberia. Probably from Russians or others exiled there as political punishment.

The context of Eastern Europe also makes sense of doctrinally (or at least once so) Lutheran and liturgically Eastern churches. That phenomenon just fascinates me. Most Orthodox I've known consider Lutheranism in particular and Protestantism in general to be a Western solution to a Western problem, both part of the same problem which Orthodoxy does not have.

The "Eastern Lutherans" then fascinate me for two things, one, the concept of not a new but a reformed church East or West, and two, as we see our Eastern brothers retain this identity against larger, often state, churches which "modernise" it may help us not to set ourselves ablaze with such things.

John Hogg said...

I have to say, having lived over in Eastern Europe for a long period of time, I have some sympathy with Russia on this one.

Yes, it's true that the Russian Orthodox Church itself just went through a time of massive persecution, the likes of which have never been seen in Christian history. The numbers of bishops, priests, monks and nuns, and laypeople who died for their faith is truly incredible. I'm working on translating some of their lives into English right now, and it is like reading the lives of the early saints and martyrs.

However, what's going on now is not the same thing as the persecution that went on during the Soviet Union. No one is being shot for being a Baptist or a Lutheran. There are no concentration camps or torture-chambers. Instead, there are legal hurdles for registering certain religious groups and various laws that make it harder for them to operate and proselytize. That doesn't even make it illegal to *be* a Baptist or a Lutheran.

Why are they passing laws like this? As noted earlier, the Church went through massive persecution during the Soviet period, and was almost completely dismantled by the government. During one five year period during Stalin, the Church went from having 184 active bishops to 7 that were left alive. Churches and monasteries were shut down and school children were made to spit at and throw rocks at icons and curse Christ, and had it ingrained in them from Kindergarten on that belief in God was an antiquated superstition, or perhaps even a mental illness.

Now, finally, Communism has fallen and the Church has been given a (likely brief) respite to reach the people with the light of the knowledge of Christ. However, what happened immediately? Did American Christians respond by trying to help the Church rebuild and get back on its feet?

No. All of these various sectarian groups, well funded by American money, came over and started trying to convert people to their ideologies. Most often, they preached and preach the Gospel of American consumerism more so than they preach the Gospel of Christ, using the money that they're given from America to buy converts by providing their converts with a higher standard of living than is the norm for the society, giving them TVs, etc.

Since most of them consider Orthodoxy not to be Christian, they had no problem targeting Orthodox Christians for conversion, and inundated people that were already religiously confused with tons of pamphlets, with different and contradictory doctrines, each trying to draw people to their own sect but leaving the minds and hearts of the people even more confused.

I witnessed a lady at the orphanage where I was living whose son died going through this, as Baptists and Jehovah's witnesses all told her different things about what was happening to her son, and leading her near to despair.

I also witnessed, more than once, groups coming in to offer "humanitarian" aid to orphanages that are severely underfunded, on the condition that the orphanage director and/or the staff start attending services at *their* church. No conversion, no money for the disabled children.

Meanwhile, the Church is trying hard to preach the Gospel. I know many priests over there who work long days, barely making enough to support their families, but who are doing great things to reach the people, and draw them closer to Christ. It's hard, though, because Orthodoxy is still getting back on it's feet after such a long period of oppression.

And so, do I favor physical violence against these groups coming into Russia and Ukraine? Most definitely not! But legal measures to slow them down and make it harder for them to target people and draw them away from Christ? Most certainly.

And if you think this is contrary to the Gospel, I'd point out that Luther himself worked on the basis of the princes of the various German statelets, and depended on their patronage for the spreading of Lutheranism, believing and teaching that they had a right to establish the official confession of faith within their territory.

Also, if you look at the history of Finland, you'll see that the Lutherans did the same thing, and worse, to the Orthodox there, burning down monasteries and killing monks.

Of course we have free will to believe whatever we want. But we must also be willing to suffer the consequences of our beliefs, sometimes justly, and sometimes unjustly, setting our hope on the Kingdom that is to come and on God who alone is judge of all.

Grace and peace,

Father Hollywood said...

Dear John:

It's a very Protestant notion that you can "be" a Lutheran even if your church is outlawed "liquidated."

The reality is that we Lutherans see the faith as a community endeavor focused on Word and Sacrament. Sure, we can huddle behind closed doors or gather in catacombs in small groups, or read the Bible as families and individuals - we Lutherans don't see the faith in such individualistic terms.

Russia is not merely giving the churches a little more paperwork as a bit of a speed bump to take away competition from the Russian Orthodox Church (which is a rather pitiful method of "church growth" that, if you think about it, denies the work of the Holy Spirit). They are talking about outlawing (liquidating) these churches - some of whom date to the 16th century.

If the churches become illicit, what will happen to their buildings? Their seminaries? Their schools? If the illicit Christians must gather in homes for services, will they be running afoul of zoning laws? Operating a church without a license? Will pastors be breaking laws by holding illicit services?

Christians in China have some experience with this.

And if people persist in such illegal activity, there will be consequences. There will be fines, and further resistance will ultimately be met with jail. If there is massive resistance, you can bet there will be massive jails to house them.

That's how government works. It is the way of the law. And how pathetic if this is how Russian Orthodoxy has to survive! And I believe God will judge the Russian Orthodox Church if she cooperates in this atrocity. If any Christian church must persecute other Christians in order to survive, that seems to be (according to our Lutheran confessions anyway) a mark of Antichrist.

Whether or not Lutherans did this in the past is irrelevant. Just because the Church practiced torture and inquisition in the past doesn't excuse it. Lutherans burned anabaptists at the stake, though these groups were (at the time) revolutionary. They were being charged with political, not religious, crimes. Luther was opposed to burning heretics of any kind at the stake. Though it took the loss of thousands upon thousands of lives before the governments of Europe (Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic alike) figured out that religious wars were not the best and most godly use of their resources.

It also violates the Lutheran principle of the two kingdoms. The kingdom of the state is there to protect us from harm, not to pick and choose which expressions of religion will be protected and which ones will be oppressed. That would place our elected officials in the position of being judges of theology. This was done in times past, and it brought us such wonderful things as women's ordination in Sweden. Government bureaucrats are never really good theologians. I'm sure Queen Elizabeth is a nice and pious lady, but that really doesn't qualify her to be the head of the church. And that son of hers who is set to take over has some pretty radical ideas.

Would you like Barack Obama to have that kind of power over your religious belief? I'm sure most Russians aren't too keen on giving Putin that kind of authority either. And how utterly stupid for any church to collaborate with an anti-Christian government to try to get a monopoly at the expense of other religious groups.

Anyone should be able to see where this is headed.

But feel free to pray for the Russian government in their noble and honorable quest to liquidate Lutheran Churches. I won't be joining you on that one.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Mr. Hall,
You make both political and spiritual errors in your thinking on this. Politically, it seems you would defend despotism and bigotry for the sake of going back to a system of Cuius regio, eius religio, a compromise system which hasn’t been in vogue for centuries. The Ottoman Turk in the sixteenth century granted Lutheran dioceses more religious peace and freedom (just as an eighth century Caliph granted John of Damascus more religious peace and freedom) that you would grant the Lutheran Church in Russia.

But your position is not merely troubling politically, it is also troublesome theologically. Against the Lutheran Church’s right to exist in Russia, you write, “We do not have a God-given freedom to believe what we are convinced as true. We have the freedom to believe the Truth as He has revealed it. It is rebellion to follow our conscience and not the mind of Christ.” It seems you are saying that the Lutheran Church does not teach the Truth as He has revealed it. I find this offensive.

When you say, “I do think every Government has every right to limit what religion gets to be promoted in their country,” you are claiming more than Orthodoxy’s Christianity rights, you are actually by these words saying that Orthodoxy and Lutheranism are two religions, and that the preferable one in Russia is Orthodoxy. If Lutheran and Russian Orthodox jurisdictions cannot live peacefully together, then it speaks volumes about the latter’s view of the una sancta as it pertains to two churches that both confess the ancient Creeds.

wmc said...

The Orthodox show their true colors in this one. Bishop Vsevelod Lytkin of the Siberian Lutheran Church, whom I know personally, bears witness to the Orthodox oppression and suppression of Lutherans and other Christian groups by their continued legal harassment and intimidation. Deep irony indeed that the Orthodox should turn to the government that once tried to wipe them out.

Having taught in Novosibirsk, I have seen first-hand the wonderful work that is going on in the Siberian Lutheran Church.

Thank you for posting these links.

wmc said...

"And if you think this is contrary to the Gospel, I'd point out that Luther himself worked on the basis of the princes of the various German statelets, and depended on their patronage for the spreading of Lutheranism, believing and teaching that they had a right to establish the official confession of faith within their territory."

Luther was sadly mistaken on this point. The admixture of the right and left hand kingdoms and the collusion of spiritual authority with political power never serves the Gospel in the long run.

Christopher D. Hall said...

I thought I had made it clear I was confused. Thank you to those who confirmed it for me.

Larry, thanks for bringing in Godwin's Law (i.e., the Nazi card). Apparently I am more confused than I thought, since I am now Hitler.

Latif: you wrote, "You make both political and spiritual errors in your thinking on this."

Yes. I admit it.

However, be careful about dismissing something because it "hasn't been in vogue for centuries." That's the historical fallacy. Just because it's not popular doesn't mean it's not legitimate.

I apologize for provoking you all to anger. It was not my intent. I will learn to keep my foolish politics to myself.


Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

I am not angry. How could I be angry with a man of your literary tastes? (I looked at your blogger profile)

The present subject involves much more than "politics," it involves matters of profoundest and most vital theological ramifications, and there is no need to keep it to yourself. We are grown men, who are capable of reasoned disputation.

Regarding my criticism of cuius regio, eius religio being out of vogue for centuries, my point is not that something dated is bad. (I am a self described "traditionalist" after all) The fact is that long before, as well as during, as well as long since, the "Peace of Augsburg," the world has known situations of religious freedom, even withing committed religious states, as my two examples from Islamic history show (many more examples could be given as well).

There was strife within the Church even in the first centuries, but it tended to be between those who were heretic and those who were catholic. That is not the dichotomy at work between the Lutherans & the Orthodox in Russia.

Past Elder said...

Maybe a good deal of the problem is that we here have no history of a state church and barely two centuries of history as a nation at all.

So it may be hard for us to understand experientially that something we take for granted is an historical anomaly -- establishment of religion, which has nothing to do with Christmas lights on the county courthouse or the Ten Commandments in a courtroom. Or that the idea that it is not part of the state's duty to protect and defend true religion is relatively recent to church and state alike.

I think we don't really realise that it isn't at all, in the Europe of Luther's day and still in some places, like it is here, with a different church on every block getting or not getting along, but what is going to go on in the one church tax funded by the state and whether other churches will be allowed at all.

In that context, the Orthodox movement in Russia isn't surprising at all. They simply seek under the Republic the position they had under the Tsars.

God bless our Siberian Lutherans!

Past Elder said...

That second paragraph is a mess. That there be no established state religion and that it is not part of the state's role to guard and defend true religion is the historical anomaly.

Tha hazards of working without a graduate assistant!

Christopher D. Hall said...

Thanks for the kind words, Latif.

Ultimately, though, what you wrote touches on an issue that we Lutherans have not always come to terms with: Heresy v. heterodoxy. While we insist that we preach the truth, and where others disagree it is falsehood, at the same time we are loathe to say that we are the one true church, and others are heretics.

However, as good and gracious as the Orthodox are, my understanding is that they do not quite have this qualm. They are the Church, others are not...perhaps even Catholics (depending on who you talk to). Ejecting Baptists and Lutherans is not ejecting fellow Christians, but heretics (more or less) who are enticing their people away from the true faith--at least this is my understanding of them.

But we're in a tough spot, really. We believe we are right, and others are wrong, but not necessarily in an evil way. At least as we Americans express it at times. I am not convinced such an attitude serves us well. It makes it difficult to evangelism without appealing to style or making the crazy claim, "Yes, but we're better, more accurate. Don't you want to be righter?"

Since you are gracious, I risk foolishness by trying to reiterate my other point: Christ does not give us freedom of religious expression. The American Constitution does that. Christ bids us to hear and do His Word, to take up our cross and follow Him, to believe in Him. He does not kill us if we don't, but we do suffer hell if we choose ourselves or anything other than Him. Again, Christ doesn't kill those who depart from Him, but He doesn't honor them or say, "Gee, they sure do have the freedom to do that." No, when people depart from Christ, they are following their passions and the evil one. This is slavery, not freedom.

PS Isn't Jude terrific?

William Tighe said...

Well, I suppose that I wouldn't be too much off-topic if I were to throw in here a question that has long puzzled and bemused me.

The Missouri Synod has been in an "Altar and Pulpit Fellowship" relationship with the Ingrian, Latvian and Lithianian Lutheran churches, as well as that of Belarus. I believe that it was in 2002 (I copuld be wrong) that the Missouri Synod voted to approve such fellowship with the Latvians and the Lithuanians at the same convention.

I was struck at the time how there were votes against the proposal for such fellowship with the Latvians, on the grounds that Archbishop Vanags, who discontinued WO among the Latvian Lutherans (it had been introduced by one archbishop in 1975, discontinued by that archbishop's successor in 1986, and reintroduced by the next archbishop, Vanags' predecessor, when he was elected in 1989) nevertheless allowed those ca. 10 or 12 "female pastors" who had been ordained in Latvia to continue to exercise a pastoral ministry, but that there were few votes indeed against the proposal for fellowship with the Lithuanians -- and this despite the fact that the Lithuanian Lutheran Church was (and is) a full member of the unionistic "Porvoo Communion" which in 1995 brought the Anglican chuirches of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland into full communion with the Lutheran churches of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania, all of which bodies (save the Lithuanian Lutherans) ordain women. (The Latvians refused to join at the last minute, out od concern at the orthodoxy of their putative partners, while the Danes declined to do so, for the typically Danish reason that the Danish bishops declared that they did not have the authority to commit their church to such an agreement, while the Danish Parliament, which did have the authority, refused to legislate on the matter.)

The late Prtesident Barry of the LC-MS in 1997 issued a strong and compelling denunciation of the "Porvoo Agreement" as unionistic and syncretistic -- and yet a few years later Missouri swallowed a fellowship agreement with the Lithuanians without any considerable opposition. Wondering why, I spoke about the matter with the late Prof. Marquart, who told me that "we got that agreement through" on the basis that the Lithuanian Lutheran church would soon leave the Porvoo Communion and strengthen its Confessional committment. However, in April 2003 Bishop Kalvanas of Lithuania died, and when a bishops was finally elected there after a years' delay, they chose a young pastor who favored both continued membership in the "Porvoo Communion" and WO to boot (but indicated that he would not press the latter issue in order not to alienate conservatives at home and Missourians abroad). Alas, I cannot follow up the question with Prof. Marquart, but I do wonder why Missouri continues to be in such full fellowship with the Lithuanian Lutherans.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christopher:

Obviously, the "Nazi card" is used inappropriately all the time. But I hardly think using a historic example of government reserving the right to outlaw specific religions as part of a discussion concerning the implications of government reserving the right to outlaw specific religions is an example of "Godwin's Law."

And I never called you or anyone else "Hitler."

John Hogg said...

"It's a very Protestant notion that you can "be" a Lutheran even if your church is outlawed "liquidated." "

No, it's not. The Orthodox Church was outlawed and liquidated multiple times during Communism in various countries and also under Lutheranism more than once, and yet there were very many Orthodox Christians in those countries and those times. The Church was also outlawed during the Roman persecutions, but that doesn't mean that Christians stopped existing or stopped practicing their faith. In cases of extreme persecution, the Church goes to the catacombs. It doesn't disappear.

And please, don't rely so heavily on biased and inflammatory language from the media. Liquidated? What, were camps set up? Were they starved to death in prison cells, shot by the thousands...? No. Legal restrictions were put in place to make it harder for their groups to have official recognition from the government, to buy property, and to get visas to bring over foreign missionaries.

"And if people persist in such illegal activity, there will be consequences. There will be fines, and further resistance will ultimately be met with jail. If there is massive resistance, you can bet there will be massive jails to house them."

You're speculating and extrapolating and going way beyond the actual information and the actual data. Massive jails? Is such exaggeration really likely to help make your point?

"And I believe God will judge the Russian Orthodox Church if she cooperates in this atrocity. If any Christian church must persecute other Christians in order to survive, that seems to be (according to our Lutheran confessions anyway) a mark of Antichrist."

Well, if that's how you see things, that would make the Lutheran Church the Antichrist because it has done those things, and worse. Don’t you think that’s a bit of an overstatement?

It’s not a level playing field. These groups are using the funding that they get from America to try to preach their Gospel of consumerism. I *personally saw* these groups using their money to try to get the director and staff of an orphanage for disabled children to convert to their sect in order to get the aid that they need on a daily basis to save the lives of the children given into their care. Unlike the massive prison camps that don’t exist, this is real. The Russian government is trying to prevent that. It’s not fair or equitable and there’s no reason that the Russian government should be forced to allow it.

“Whether or not Lutherans did this in the past is irrelevant.”

On the contrary. It’s relevant because, to Orthodox eyes, it shows the hypocrisy inherent in much of the west.

Lutheranism was originally kept safe and able to grow because of the protection of sympathetic princes, a system that Luther approved of, praised, and made the most possible use of.

When Lutherans took over Orthodox territory, they made it illegal for priests to come to the people, outlawed teaching the Orthodox faith in the language of the people, burned down monasteries and executed monks.

When the Orthodox make it hard for Lutherans to get government recognition in historically Orthodox lands, but do not imprison or kill anyone, Lutherans call *that* an “atrocity “and say that it makes the Orthodox Church “the antichrist.”

When America bought Alaska from Russia, the United States Government paid to send protestant missionaries up to Alaska to convert the Native population, who had already been *peacefully* converted to Orthodoxy. The made it illegal for priests to go visit the people, they did what they could to hinder the ordaining of Native clergy, and they forcibly removed children from their parents and sent them to be educated in protestant residential schools, where they were forbidden to speak their native languages or practice their Orthodox faith.

A hundred years later, during the Cold War, the American government again made it difficult for priests to visit the people or for the Church to train native priests, actively trying to convert them away from their “foreign” faith, out of fear of Russianness. No one said anything.

When Orthodox make legal obstacles to make it difficult for American missionaries to spread their various sects and ideologies, suddenly everyone from the American President to the Secretary of State denounces Russia for “refusing to allow freedom of religion” and implies strongly that Russia is or is becoming a totalitarian state.

This is hypocrisy and it shows how the West acts when it is in power and how strong it’s ideals really are.

“Lutherans burned anabaptists at the stake, though these groups were (at the time) revolutionary. They were being charged with political, not religious, crimes.”

They were revolutionary because the government had an official creed that they didn’t follow.

“But feel free to pray for the Russian government in their noble and honorable quest to liquidate Lutheran Churches. I won't be joining you on that one.”

Who is liquidating Lutheran Churches? The article even notes the leader of the Baptists saying that many religious groups have become defunct and that this might just be removing them from the roles. Regardless, the talk of “atrocities,” “massive jails,” etc are purely your own invention.

There is, however, definitely a place for a reasoned theological discussion about the place of the government in the life of the Church and what the proper Christian response should be to unjust governmental laws, a discussion that takes into account the Scriptures and Christian history. Exaggeration isn't likely to help is such a discussion, however.

Grace and peace,

Christopher D. Hall said...

Oh, Fr. Larry, I of course was overstating it in a foolish way.

FWIW, here's Godwin's Law according to Wikipedia:

"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

Godwin's Law is often cited in online discussions as a deterrent against the use of arguments in the reductio ad Hitlerum form.

The rule does not make any statement whether any particular reference or comparison to Hitler or the Nazis might be appropriate, but only asserts that one arising is increasingly probable. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued[4] that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact. Although in one of its early forms Godwin's Law referred specifically to Usenet newsgroup discussions,[5] the law is now applied to any threaded online discussion: electronic mailing lists, message boards, chat rooms, and more recently blog comment threads and wiki talk pages."

It's funny stuff.


Father Hollywood said...

Dear John:

Let me make my points simple:

1) It is wrong and indefensible to use government force to prescribe or proscribe religion - be it by Lutherans, the Orthodox, Muslims, or Atheists. Jesus never told us to appeal to the state or to imprison those who do not believe. When did our Blessed Lord ever tell the church to go and make disciples by being bullies and thugs?

2) Human history (indeed Russian history!) is laden with the unintended consequences of the very good intentions of saving people (either from themselves, capitalism, or false religion) by force.

3) Antichrist is found in every Christian denomination - in popes who burn Lutherans at the stake and repress the Gospel, in Lutherans who commit atrocities against the Orthodox and parade lesbian bishops and homosexual pornography about their cathedrals, and in Orthodox who collaborate with antichristian governments to harass and intimidate other Christians. In fact, it seems that these collaborating Orthodox lack belief that the Holy Spirit is sufficient to bring Christianity to the people and keep them in the faith.

4) You are free to disagree. As of now, we still have religious freedom and the right to express opinions.

I find the inconsistency interesting. If the Muslims do it, it's evil. If the Communists do it, it's reprehensible. Of the Lutherans do it, it's an atrocity. If the Orthodox do it, it's holy.

Just about every martyr we venerate today was up against the law - from the days of the Roman Empire, through Communism, right up to today. Some people, it seems, would vilify the holy martyrs as lawbreakers and instead make heroes of the regimes that shed their blood in the name of preserving the religious status quo.

In Russia, of all places, Christians ought to stick together - even stick together with all religions who are likewise being intimidated by government - and defend what is today seen as the bare minimum of human decency: the freedom of conscience.

Mark my words: if the Orthodox Church cooperates with the Russian government to oppress other Christians and religious groups, you will see a repeat of what happened to the Orthodox under Communism in your lifetime. And I say those Orthodox priests and laypeople who died at the hands of the Soviets as martyrs are blessed heroes - notwithstanding their defiance against the state that probably began their assault on them by requiring extra paperwork of them.

Again, I appeal to all Christians to pray for these oppressed Russian Christians, and call upon all civilized people everywhere to denounce fascism - whether committed by Atheists, Muslims, Christians, or anyone else.

Rev. Shane R. Cota, SSP said...

I think that maybe we could all agree with Luther on the treatment of heretics (or the heterodox) when he says:

"Still it is not right, and I truly grieve, that these miserable folk should be so lamentably murdered, burned, and tormented to death. We should allow anyone to believe what he wills. If his faith be false, he will be sufficiently punished in eternal hell-fire. Why then should we martyr these people also in this world, if their error be in faith alone and they are not guilty of rebellion or opposition to the government? Dear God, how quickly a person can become confused and fall into the trap of the devil! By the Scriptures and the Word of God, we ought to guard against and withstand him. By fire we accomplish little."

From "Concerning Rebaptism" by Luther.

orrologion said...

Nicea and the other ECs were also effects of government intervention and support of religion. Of course, Arianism, monoenergism and iconoclasm, were also effects of this marriage, this symphonia between the secular and religious. I'm sure other specifically Lutheran examples of good and bad examples could be multiplied. Such is fallen human nature. Let us fight for the truth and pay the consequences, while not pointing fingers and throwing stones (glass houses and all) - at least from anyone with any understanding at all of the history of Christianity and its spread.

Needless to say, Russia is a damaged nation that has seen itself under threat in various ways by the West both before and since the fall of Communism. Religion is also intimately tied up with culture and ethnicity in Russia - and not just Russians, but also the various Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, etc. ethnicities native to the region. It is my understanding that the laws are meant to protect 'ancient' traditional religious groups while limiting the free for all 'grab' for proselytes by external groups. Because of the interplay of religion and ethnicity and culture, this is seen not only as evangelism but as cultural imperialism - rightly or wrongly. In some ways, what the laws are trying to do is to right the cultural and religious ship of Russia by returning her to some semblance of the status quo of 1917. Once the groups that suffered through Communism have gained some footing after being massacred (unlike their well fed, merely looked down upon counterparts in the West) some loosening of restrictions is envisioned. I would imagine traditional Lutheran groups will be protected, while newer groups (or those with only paper relationships with traditional groups) will be actively discouraged and pressured to close down as 'corporations' or entities - which isn't the same thing as saying they can't meet, can't support preachers, etc. It's likely more akin to a religious group losing its nonprofit status and right of corporate personality - legal and economic benefits solely and not issue of personal or communal religious liberty.

Is the ROC too close with the government? For me, yes. For many in Russia and beyond, no. There are many in America that think there is too little religious influence on our government; others think too much already - and these discrepencies on both sides expressed by believers and non-believers. This isn't simply a theological issue, it is theological and pastoral. The entire society is trying to right itself. It will make mistakes. They are not Americans, they have a different history and mindset, there will likely be clashes between American and Russian sensibilities on a wide range of issues - religious freedom being one of them, the unfettered right to proselytize another. America is rootless, most of the rest of the world is not. This effects the politics of religion.

Personally, I expect persecution. I see it as a mark of the Church. While not to be sought after, it is to be accepted in the way that Ignatius longed for martyrdom - once it came knocking. God help us all to persevere in truth and that in His light we may see light. Glory to God for all things.

Father Hollywood said...

Of course what was a symphonia between the Church and the Christian State in 325 is today dysphonia between the Church and the secular state.

Apples and oranges.

Again, I believe any church - Orthodox, Lutheran, or any other - would be utterly foolish to appeal to an Atheist state to do its bidding.

Furthermore, no-one in Russia is being compelled to leave the Russian Orthodox Church. They willingly choose to.

Other religious groups, be they Roman Catholics and Lutherans, or Jehovah's Witnesses and believers in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, can only put forth their ideas. Either the Russian Orthodox people will reject those preachers, or accept them. There is no coercion.

I'm sure many Atheists used the same argument to moralize their oppression of the Russian Orthodox clergy for decades of bloodshed. And yet, Christians coerce no-one.

Again, Russian Orthodox Christians are willingly leaving the Russian Orthodox Church.

That is the problem.

The Orthodox hierarchy needs to focus on keeping their flock instead of asking the godless state to do their shepherding for them by way of a virtual Berlin Wall.

I too expect persecution - though I would hope it would come at the hand of non-believers. Think of how it must grieve our Lord when it comes at the hand of fellow believers.

These Russian Orthodox collaborators remind me of the parable of the unforgiving servant. Having been delivered from their oppression, they now seek to use the very same weapon against their fellow servants. And we all know the fate of the unforgiving servant. It is a cautionary tale the bureaucrats of all churches ought to heed.

orrologion said...

Yes, the Russian Orthodox Church is meting out the same punishment they received at the hands of the Soviets and were finally saved from. The 'persecution' of non-traditional religious groups is more akin to most states not recognizing same-sex 'marriage', though that is what Unitarians and others refer to the ceremonies they perform for same-sex couples. This isn't to equate Lutherans in Russia with gay marriage, it's just an example that what we are talking about is government sanction and government benefit, not freedom to believe as one wishes.

I agree regarding your comment about 'fellow believers'. If most Western Christians truly believed that Orthodoxy was composed of 'fellow believers' then they wouldn't have swooped in setting up their own churches in the religious rubble left after the martyrdom of millions (primarily Orthodox). They would have supported the existing churches in Russia - the ROC, the Catholic church and the various traditional Protestant churches serving their people. This was partially done, but the real focus was on separate evangelism of the unchurched (Orthodox included).

All that said, the ROC is too cozy with the State. It is a blind spot in Orthodoxy since it was a faith tied in 'symphonia' with the State since Constantine the Great, through the Turkish millet system, in Tsarist Russia and the other independent Balkan states over the past millenium. It has also been identified too closely with nationhood and culture ever since the adoption of Christianity by the Romans (and therefore different than the Zoroastrian Persians, which was dangerous to Persian and Persian-dominated Christians [e.g., Georgians]). Of course, American Christians didn't see themselves as cultural/religious imperialists when they went into the former Soviet Bloc, but that is due to our own blind spots - i.e., we didn't see the how very 'American' our brand of 'just Christianity' and 'the Gospel' was.

If the tables were turned and the LCMS had any history of violent persecution and state sponsorship as a national faith, coupled with evangelism from abroad I'm sure we could point to problems, too.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christopher:

You wrote: "If most Western Christians truly believed that Orthodoxy was composed of 'fellow believers' then they wouldn't have swooped in setting up their own churches in the religious rubble left after the martyrdom of millions (primarily Orthodox). They would have supported the existing churches in Russia - the ROC, the Catholic church and the various traditional Protestant churches serving their people."

I don't think anyone "swooped" in (which is the way you would describe a predator scooping up prey). Frankly, after 70 years of Communism, Russia was no longer a Christian nation. It had Christians, but it also had (and has) millions of atheists. When freedom of speech returned with the end of the USSR, that meant people were free to articulate unpopular ideas (you don't need freedom of speech for "popular" speech). Unpopular ideas are going to include all sorts of different religions.

Christians are to evangelize. The Orthodox do it. The RC's do it. And so do the Lutherans, and everyone else. I don't consider it predatory behavior for an EO church to crop up in my neighborhood. Should I? Christians evangelize. They build churches. That's just what they do.

There are Lutherans in Russia. They shouldn't be compelled to attend EO churches. And there are also people in Russia who wish to reject these churches (be they EO or Lutheran) and their consciences dictate that they be something else. But only a bloodthirsty tyrant would try to bully a Baptist or a Buddhist to join a state-approved Christian church. Jesus never used the compulsive arm of the Roman state to evangelize. He simply preached. Some converted, most didn't.

I have yet to meet a Jehovah's Witness who sticks a gun in anyone's face and compels them to open the door.

The fact that the first Russian converts were marched into the Volga against their will to be baptized in the winter doesn't mean that this is a God-pleasing method of making disciples. And even if the EO church were to try it again, I don't think it would work today. ;-)

I'm sure the RC Inquisition made more "converts" than the LCMS Ablaze!(tm) program, but that doesn't make either one of them any good.

We do have Orthodox Christians evangelizing among both Christians and non-Christians in America. The EO Church didn't refuse to come to America because it was already in the hands of Roman Catholics and Protestants. They came to both serve EO people who were here, and to provide opportunity for others to come to the EO church as well. It's not predatory. Or should I see something sinister in this? Should I lobby my congressman to put bureaucratic stumbling-blocks in the way of Eastern Orthodoxy because I had a parishioner leave my congregation and join the EO?

There's even a yahoo-group called "Lutherans Looking East." Some Lutherans consider that predatory ("sheep stealing"). Some Lutherans would, if they could, outlaw such a group. As for me, I say the Holy Spirit and the Christian Church doesn't need apparatchiks or thought-police to force people to stay within our communion. If a church has to use the KGB to keep people in, it calls to question whether they really believe what they say they believe, whether the Holy Spirit is truly in their midst.

When we spread the Gospel it isn't imperialism - whether the opening of Orthodox Churches in America or the opening of Lutheran churches in Russia. We were specifically told: "go and make disciples of all nations..." We compel no-one.

And the day that Eastern Orthodox Christians in America start collecting money to support Lutheran missionaries, say in Sri Lanka or Madagascar (where we have a much bigger presence than EO), then maybe it would be considered reasonable to expect American Lutherans to send checks to Orthodox Churches doing mission work in Russia as well.

Your implication that the problem in Russia is that we don't think EO is a Christian faith ("fellow believers") is exactly backwards. We Lutherans believe you are without doubt part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. It's the EO that do not believe the same about Lutherans - which is why the EO now wants to get cozy with the martyr-maker Russian state to do its bidding. I think it's not only a confession of a lack of faith, it's also riding the tiger.

They would rather cozy up to the atheist Vladimir Putin than to treat Bishop Lytkin to be an ally in any way. In fact, they want to team up with Putin to (at very least) discourage Lytkin in his work in Russia. How perverse is that?

orrologion said...

Perhaps you'd feel differently if many more millions of your coreligionists were killed for their faith. Perhaps it would also be different if confessional Lutheranism had more deeply influenced a culture and history in a recent century.

As to LLE, I would note that it is specifically designed to be a completely passive resource. It's the online equivalent of leaving the front door of the church open during office hours.

Traditional Lutherans in Russia have never been in danger of being banned from believing and worshipping as they please. What has been at issue is how free a hand outside groups that did not suffer under Communism should be given relative to those indigenous religious groups that suffered horribly - the largest being Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. There is no danger of an Orthodox theocracy being put in place by these laws. Merely an attempt to dampen the activity of what are seen to be religious carpetbaggers - I'm sure a Southerner can understand the analogy with sympathy.

That being said, the protections being put in place to defend Russia's traditional faiths should not stand in perpetuity in a religiously free and pluralistic society. But, I think it is up to Russia to decide whether or to what extent it wants that kind of society. It was such a choice that led much of Germany and Scandinavia to become Lutheran. Why? Because their rulers gave them little to no choice and actively contained 'foreign' or 'out of favor' religious influences, to greater and lesser extents. Neither 21st Century Russia nor 16th Century Germany are examples of countries I would care to live in from a religious freedom standpoint - but I'm a 21st Century American in the US and prefer to keep my isolationist Republican nose in my own business.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christopher:

The number of Lutherans being killed for the faith doesn't have anything to do with the principle. Besides, even though the Jews suffered terribly at the hands of German Christians, I have yet to meet one that wants to put restrictions on the practice of Christianity.

Once again, if the Russian hierarchs believe they can only defend their faith by persecuting others, not only are they faithless, they are cowards. Shame on any of them that take part in this. Will God be mocked?

As far as your assessment of traditional Lutherans in Russia and the way they are treated, the actual Lutherans in Russia tell a very different story than you do.

And my suggestion to pray for my persecuted brethren in Russia - be they Lutherans, Baptists, or Russian Orthodox - is in no way carpetbagging. We are supposed to pray for our brothers and sisters. A typical American Republican might suggest bombing Russia (after all, Sarah Palin can see it from her house, and she and McCain were saber rattling on the campaign trail). By contrast, I'm suggesting prayer. When it comes to foreign policy, I'm all for non-interventionism, but when it comes to praying for persecuted brethren, it would be a shame to describe oneself as an "isolationist."

Here in the South, carpetbaggers *used* the force of government to carry out their self-serving agenda. In Russia, it seems that the only religious collaboration with the Russian government is being done by the Russian Orthodox. And since they are already there, they can't, by definition, be called "carpetbaggers." In the South, we've always called native collaborators "scalawags." I imagine the Russians have an equivalent term.

I would hope (and I assume) that only a handful of such "scalawag" bishops exist in Russian Orthodoxy.

orrologion said...

Of course you are correct to pray for your co-religionists in Russia. My point was that Western Christians were allowed full and unfettered free access to proselytize all over Russia through the Russian government's weakness before and dependence on Western nations in the 1990s (the 'carpetbaggers' received support from their own governments as they forced the then weak Russia to acquiesce to their demands for unfettered religious freedom in much the way that the US federal govt forced the weak, unrepresentative Reconstruction governments to allow and assist economic carpetbaggers). That's the unsettled times when no clear religious policy was in place except 'anything goes', this was especially the case because all the traditional religious groups had been more than decimated (what's the term for only 10% left rather than only 10% killed?). This is when Lutherans, for one, did not seek only to help the traditional Ingrian Lutherans (whose rights as a traditional faith of a defined people were protected) but to spread the Gospel to those that would have normally been served by the Orthodox or Uniates, etc. but were unable to due to the bloody kind of persecution not being experienced by religious minorities (especially recent imports) in Russia today.

You are, of course, welcome to vent your spleen on this topic. It's your blog and they are your co-religionists. Many Orthodox are as blindly pro-Serb, but note that I am not giving the kind of blanket support to the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church or the Russian State you are giving to Russian Lutherans. I am simply noting that Russia is not the US and that there are perhaps valid reasons why a curtailing of unfettered, Western-style religious pluralistic consumerism may not be appropriate for an only recently militantly atheistic society with historic religious communities (the Ingrian Lutherans serving Ingrians being one of them) at a distinct disadvantage when trying to 'compete' with well-funded, well-fed foreign denominations - that is not a level playing field given the amount of suffering indigenous faith communities underwent. (Note, too, that I am not defending just the ROC, as you seem to assume; I am defending the right of Russia to defend the rights of its own traditional faiths to minister and proselytize their traditional communities without unfair, external competition.)

But, prefer righteous indignancy as you expect Russia to agree with American values, if you like. We're not really talking about Christianity anymore, but politics.

Father Hollywood said...

"American values"?

Governments refraining from harassing people based on religion is not simply an "American value" and thus to be shrugged off as a provincial matter by Americans any more than we should shrug off abortion as a right that the American state has to legitimize murder because the government has spoken.

I'm reminded of my former co-worker who emigrated with his family from Romania when he was six. His father was a lawyer and a Baptist minister. After years of having Sunday services broken up by police, being arrested, arguing in court that the Romanian Constitution protected freedom of religion, being released, re-starting services, and having the cycle repeat itself all over again, the family was able to leave (in spite of the promise of the Communists that the pastor would leave Romania "when he could see the back of his neck").

I suppose one could argue that Baptists are not Orthodox, and therefore shouldn't have the same protections as the Orthodox Church. And in fact, that did seem to be the case in Communist Romania.

Richard Wurmbrand, the Lutheran pastor who was jailed and tortured for many years by the Romanian government recalls both pious Orthodox Christians who helped their fellow Christians and who were themselves victims, as well as Quisling conspirator hierarchs who played patty-cake with the Communists while members of the well-fed well-funded foreign denominations (who were, I suppose, not playing with a level playing field with the poor Orhthdox Church) were being put in concentration camps.

Shame on the Soviet Union. Shame on the Russian Federation. Shame on the Russian Orthodox Church. Shame on anyone else who seeks to leverage their own religion by force. It is especially shameful that the preaching of Christ is being stifled by these bishops. That is as antichrist as anything the papacy has ever done.

Not recognizing the filioque isn't such a grand mark of one's Christianity when one's cowardice and collaboration lands Christians, including women and children, in prisons specifically for confessing Christ. Who can defend these "men"? I'm far from impressed with these toadies. My being an American - or even my being a Lutheran - really has nothing to do with it. Evil is evil, even if it wears a cassock and a cross.

Your Orthodox co-religionists in Russia (whom I believe are also my fellow Christians and co-religionists) need to repent. You would think their own history would impel them to oppose government strong-arming of religion instead of their embrace of it.

orrologion said...

You obviously have strong feelings about this. I do not disagree with you, except in arguing for some restraint in rhetoric and in understanding the historical context within which these things are happening. I am merely trying to put the best construction on the actions re religion - note, not just for Orthodoxy and against all other religions or denominations - in Russia. I am simply pointing out the anthropological dictum that we cannot judge other cultures according to our values and history as if we are the criterion of truth.

You are also conflating quite a lot of history before and after the fall of Communism in a way consistent with American views of Russia, but not in line with reality. Russia is not Communist anymore, and while it is taking a marked shift towards authoritarianism of late the country was almost anarchic for years under Yeltsin, so 'good government' of the most minimal kind would be 'more authoritarian' than what they had.

What is happening to minority and foreign religious groups - whether Christian or Muslim or New Age - is a far, far cry from the persecution Pr. Wurmbrand, your Romanian Baptist friend or the Romanian priestmonk that christmated me endured. To imply otherwise is a slight to these Confessors of conscience. It plays well to the passions, but is inaccurate and far from putting the best construction on events and persons.

Perhaps 'constructive' dialogue is not desired or welcome, perhaps it is impossible. I'm sorry you feel so hurt by the Orthodox Church.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christopher:

I understand your point that history doesn't exist in a vacuum, and there are indeed much different social and governmental pressures in Russia than what we have here. The Russians have a different set of "baggage" than we do.

But there is a danger in slipping into a kind of situational ethics in which oppression, repression, or even persecution of Christians is excused based on those cultural or social differences, a denial that there is an objective and universal good and evil that transcends culture and government.

From the pagan imperial Roman perspective, we can certainly understand *why* Christians were seen as "atheists" and "haters of mankind." We can certainly understand how the Christians' refusal to acknowledge Caesar as divine would be interpreted as a political snub and a violation of the law. It all makes perfect sense, and is not unreasonable. There is certainly a best construction that can be put on it. And it would certainly be a strange way of looking at history if we were to judge the Romans for not allowing, say, women to vote, or permitting legalized prostitution, slavery, or not eating turkey on the last Thursday in November.

But nevertheless, there is a universal law that even the Romans were accountable to, from which they had no excuse - the law written on their hearts. Putting the best construction on the actions of Nero is not to excuse him or to describe evil actions as good.

Whether Christians are persecuted, bullied, or harassed by Romans, Muslims, Communists, post-Communists, or even by so-called free societies - with or without the collaboration of other Christians - doesn't turn an immoral act into a moral one.

I'm not sure what you mean by "I'm sorry you feel so hurt by the Orthodox Church". I have never been hurt by the Orthodox Church. I have friends and family in the laity and clergy alike in Orthodoxy - and as far as I can tell, none of them have ever petitioned the government for my church's liquidation. But there are Christians in Russia with whom I'm in communion who cannot say the same thing.

In fact, I was skeptical that the Russian Orthodox Church was collaborating - until you and others began to rationalize the situation and admit that the Russian Orthodox Church was indeed doing these things - and defend them.

There is indeed a difference between hassling Christians over paperwork and putting them into prison. But it doesn't take a Ph.D. in history to see where this will lead. The Lutherans aren't going to simply comply. They can't they're bound by conscience. They will practice their faith with or without paperwork. There are consequences to breaking these kinds of laws. Otherwise, the goal - (which you've admitted to) to eliminate "competition" in matters of religion in a way favorable to Russian Orthodoxy - can't be achieved. When the Lutherans (and the Baptists, and the Scientologists, and the Mormons) violate these religious laws, are you saying there will be no consequences? There is always "paperwork" before ghettos and ghettos before concentration camps. Maybe the Russians will be kind and only seize the property of these people and deport them instead of reopening the Gulag. But even if such treatment would be a far cry from Wurmbrand and the priest who baptized you - this is how these things get started. Surely you're not so naive as to think that church groups that have been liquidated will all just join the local Orthodox Church, or that the Russian government will just hand out five dollar fines for non-compliance!

It seems that "constructive dialogue" means you want me to just submit and agree with you, to applaud the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government while they throw roadblocks in the way of Christians who want to practice their faith in Russia. Why would I be happy to see Lutherans in Russia being hassled? Why would I want to see churches where I could take the Holy Sacrament should I ever visit Russia to be under pressure to disband? Why would I wish such things on my fellow Christians? In fact, I believe Christians are obliged to oppose such treatment even when doled out to non-Christians.

I remember how one of our Lutheran pastors in Russia (who was studying at the Fort Wayne seminary) - and in fact I believe it was Bishop Lytkin) - explained that because of his religion, he was forced to carry around paperwork (it's always the paperwork!) indicating that he was "mentally ill." It kept him from getting jobs, and resulted in his being shunned by a lot of people in society. This is hardly a concentration camp or martyrdom - but it is still persecution. I would hope the Russian Orthodox Church would never champion such an idea.

Look, we simply disagree. I think the Russian government's actions are outrageous, and the Russian Orthodox Church, if she is indeed collaborating, to be antichristian and diabolical. That is what I believe. There is no way to sugar-coat ("restraint in rhetoric") the work of Satan. You see things otherwise. That doesn't make our dialogue non-constructive.

orrologion said...

Now this is more constructive dialogue. Ask my friend Pr Weedon about how much I enjoy discussions with him even, perhaps especially, when we disagree. I appreciate his calm, thoughtful enunciation of his thoughts, concerns, etc. He raises important points and provides contrary evidences and lines of understanding. This post of yours gets at that level of expression and I appreciate it. My comment regarding being 'hurt' stems from the posts and comments that veer from the tone in this comment to more highly charged, passionate hyperbole that leaves little to no room for conversation.

Are you sure that the papers story re Bishop Lytkin happened after the fall of Communism? That sounds like the same sort of treatment the Orthodox received in the USSR. If it happened afterward, I'd wonder where he was serving. There is a great difference between Belarus, for instance, and certain autonomous oblasts in the Russian Federation (it is, still, an actual Federation with a highly decentralized federal structure where a great deal of power is held by local governors that do not report to Moscow).

The 'slippery slope' argument is itself a slipper slope. It can easily lead one into almost non sequitor, reductio ad absurdum conclusions similar to the McCain/Palin assertion that Obama was a socialist. This kind of argument is perfectly at home in a philosophy or theology course, but not when discussing real politik.

It is my understanding that the religion laws in Russia do not outlaw holding particular beliefs and do not ban organizing together to worship, study, pray, etc., but that they do significantly restrict the monies allowed to be sent in from abroad, the legal standing of their religious corporations, the tax benefits they would enjoy under the government, the right to build new churches, schools, etc. without hindrance. Again, this is merely to allow indigenous religious groups serving their indigenous religious communities to regain their footing after suffering in a way Western 'interlopers' have not. Paperwork problems and non-recognition are a far cry from Gulags and the Colliseum - to elide them together is to undermine the credibility and validity of the broad points you are making while also falling into simplistic Revisionism that is 'insulting' to the real Confessors of real religious persecution.

Now, is this all an excuse to minimize foreign religious influence? In some/many minds, perhaps. But, culture is a funny thing and many an American community has fought to keep a minaret from going up in their backyard. Is religious freedom something to be promoted? Yes. But let's not throw stones when we live in glass houses, when our own church histories are replete with great benefits arising from state 'involvement'. 'Interference', 'persecution' and 'defense of the faith' are in the eyes of the beholders. The Lutheran view of Christianity would have likely died on the vine and had little impact were it not for the 'involvement' of German and Scandinavian governments; yet this was viewed as something quite different by both Rome and the Anabaptists.

It isn't that Russia is 'backward', but they are dealing with a very different history that calls for cultural and political triage as they seek to recover from a 70+ year experiment in militant atheism tied to totalitarianism and backwards economics. The massive drop in the Russian stock market of late shows just how fragile their society really is.

The ROC should not be as cozy as it is with the Putin government. Most Orthodox would agree with that. That was a major point raised by staunch traditionalists in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) that have joined various schismatic groups rather than reunify with the Moscow Patriarchate. They make arguments similar to yours. There are many on the 'left' in the Orthodox Church that make similar arguments. This greater affiliation with the government is not being welcomed across the board. In fact, the ROC still doesn't own most of its own churches - they are merely on loan from the government which has retained ownership since their confiscation by the Soviets. So, you see that the situation is complex and political to say the least. This is a very different governmental situation than churches in the West find themselves, especially when you add in the fact that many in the government are still rather anti-religious except insofar as religion is seen to be 'useful' to the interests of the State.

In an extremely diverse, fragmented, rootless and insecure society thrashing around for a unifying identity around which to organize in defense (note, Russians are historically very, very insecure having no natural boundaries and many adventuristic neighbors), it is no wonder that 'foreign' religious influences are contained while 'traditional' faiths are defended.

That being said, one doesn't have to look to hard to find examples of the ROC in general and individual Orthodox Christians in Russia bucking against the government. The Georgian conflict is a recent example as were arguments over religious education in schools, property disputes, acknowledgment of religious persecution in the USSR, etc.

Comfy Americans - me included - should be wary of opining on what 'should' be done in Russia. We know-it-all Westerners had out chance in the 90s and ruined their country economically - we lost our chance to 'fix' Russia. Same with the religious front; the story of religion and government in Russia is far more complex than we realize, and is being undertaken in a culture far different than our own baring scars far deeper and diverse than we have ever suffered (well, at least since the religious wars of the 16-17th Centuries).