Russia — the shining light of Christendom?

09.02.2015


William Yoder, Ph.D.

It wasn’t difficult for official Russia to come out of the sad case involving Paris’ satire weekly «Charlie Hebdo» smelling like roses. On 19 January, hundreds of thousands gathered in Grosny (Chechnya) to march under the slogan of «We love the Prophet Mohammed.» Orthodox clerics marched along. I know of no case in which Russian Protestants claimed the «Je suis Charlie» call for themselves. The Russian state has instead repeatedly appealed for respect for all major religions and pointed out that offending religious beliefs is prohibited by Russian law. Yet the West had in this instance, in the name of freedom of speech, defended obscenity and the right to insult the religious feelings of others. The same had occurred in the case involving the girl music group «P*-Riot». Traditional Christian values and morality rate higher among Russian believers than press freedom.

Yevgeny Bakhmutsky, a Baptist pastor in Moscow, wrote on precisely such terms: «Obviously, freedom of expression has come to dominate over moral and ethical values in French society. Yet I would recommend the French that they remember not only Voltaire, but also Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur and many others. For them, religious and moral values were very important factors in life.»

Of course, the terrorist acts in Paris received no blessing from the Russian mainstream. One of the first letters of condolence arrived from Vladimir Putin.

Russia is celebrated by some Russian media as a bulwark of the Christian West, as the historical «Third Rome». While the West does nothing to defend itself against the anti-religious slander of a «Charlie Hebdo», Russian Orthodoxy is not afraid to stand tall in the defence of historic Christian values. Official Russia wants to defend motherhood, morality, loyalty and love of the motherland while attacking social experiments such as the re- interpretation of homosexuality. The USSR was once a global contender for the highest number of abortions annually. Yet in his first speech ever before the Russian Duma on 24 January, Patriarch Kirill called for dropping state-funded abortions and forbidding surrogate motherhood. Such policies have also found their supporters in the West. Dubious anti-gay activists as well as American evangelicals such as Franklin Graham und Pat Robertson have expressed sympathy for the Kremlin’s policies on the family.

Yet the Christian faith can hardly be described as a major factor shaping the eastward, Euroasian about-face of the Russian government. More decisive are geostrategic and economic interests. But this reorientation has created an ideological vacuum into which Russian Orthodoxy is willingly sucked.

National Bolshevists and similar nationalist movements without traditional ties to the Orthodox faith tend to regard it as little more than a convenient accessory. Without any noticeable spiritual conversion, they have begun equating the Orthodox faith with love for the motherland. When Patriarch Kirill presented communist party boss Gennady Zyuganov with an order on the occasion of his 70th birthday last June, he expressed the hope that Zyuganov would «contribute to the moral transformation of society». Yet there exist of course many sincere, Orthodox believers — some indeed may be members of the communist CPRF. A third of its members are said to belong to the Orthodox church.

The droves of mostly-young, Western-oriented and secular consumption advocates are in any case a more numerous ideological force than the Orthodox. Yet the current tensions between East and West have diminished their popularity.


 

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