The Fondazione Bruno Kessler has posted this report of our conference on tradition and traditionalism in American and Russian thought. The conference, at the Fondazione’s headquarters in Trent, Italy, was a very worthwhile event. The discussions revealed significant differences, and some similarities, in how American and Russian scholars perceive tradition and tradition’s proper role in law and politics.
For me, the most interesting discussions were those that revealed the differences among us. From the American side, some of us were concerned with carving out space for traditional communities in the larger society; others were more interested in placing tradition at the center of legal debate. Some argued that tradition is already more central to that debate than it sometimes seems.
On the Russian side, some participants took the Russian Church’s recent advocacy of traditional values as a serious critique of liberalism, one that resonates with consistent themes in Orthodox thought. Others, by contrast, argued that “traditional values” are a recent, post-Soviet construct, even a pretext.
The Postsecular Conflicts Project will publish an online collection of participants’ essays later this year. Meanwhile, let me say thanks again, on behalf of the Center, to Kristina Stoeckl, Pasquale Annicchino, Marco Ventura, and their very capable staffs, for being such good hosts. Let’s do it again soon!
In recent years, the Russian Orthodox Church has taken the lead in asserting an Orthodox approach to human rights, one that focuses on the moral value of tradition and which differs in significant respects from the secular human rights model. In close coordination with the Russian government, the Church, and especially its leader, Patriarch Kirill, has promoted its vision of human rights in international fora, including the UN’s Human Rights Council, often to the consternation of Western human rights advocates.
It’s imperative for students of human rights law to understand the Church’s model and its appeal to tradition–an appeal that differs in significant ways from Western understandings of tradition. In fact, next month in Trento, the Center will co-host a conference on the different meanings of tradition in American and Russian thought; more on this to come. Meanwhile, here’s a new book from the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press on Kirill’s thought, Patriarch Kirill in His Own Words, edited by the seminary’s president, Chad Hatfield. The description is from the publisher’s website:
Patriarch Kirill shepherds the largest flock in the Orthodox world in a time of great transition and growth. In the past century Russia experienced the greatest persecution of Christians in history. But the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union the Church in Russia has been reborn and has grown beyond all expectation.
This unprecedented renewal continues under Patriarch Kirill’s pastoral guidance. In this book we encounter the patriarch’s vision for the Church’s mission and public life, including her relationship with the state. We also find the penetrating words of a spiritual father who offers counsel on how we can fight the passions and acquire the virtues, who gives guidance on how we can find our way in the midst of modern temptations, confusions, and distractions. At the very center of Patriarch Kirill’s vision we encounter Christ, who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2.4).
Catherine Cosman, recently retired senior policy analyst for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, will discuss religious liberty in Russian and its impact on foreign policy at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, in the Burke Auditorium at King’s College.
The free public lecture, titled “An (Un)Orthodox View: Religions and Politics in Russia Today,” is co-sponsored by the KING’S McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, the King’s Public Policy and Research Institute, and the Wyoming Valley Interfaith Council.
After 70 years of official Soviet atheism, Russia is now home to a great variety of religions. While the Russian Constitution says that the country is a secular state, the religion law preface claims four religions as “traditional”: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. The Russian government, particularly the Kremlin, relies almost solely on the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (MPROC) as its official religious bulwark. Cosman’s talk will examine some of the reasons for the Kremlin’s focus on the Moscow Patriarchate and how this focus both affects other religious communities and plays out in Russian international politics.
Cosman joined the staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2003. Her areas of responsibility include the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Organization on Security and Cooperation (OSCE). She previously served on the staff of the U.S. Helsinki Commission as senior analyst on Soviet dissent.
She also worked with emerging independent labor unions for the Free Trade Union Institute, especially in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In Estonia, she was the Senior Expert of the OSCE Mission, focusing on the integration of the Russian minority. She managed the Central Asian and Caucasus grants program at the National Endowment for Democracy and edited “Media Matters” and “(Un)Civil Societies.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in history from Grinnell College, Cosman earned a master’s degree and an ABD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Brown University. She also studied at the Free University of Berlin and the All-Union Institute of Cinematography in Moscow.
The Burke Auditorium is located in the William G. McGowan School of Business on North River Street. Parking will be available in on-campus lots. For more information, please contact Dr. Bernard Prusak, director, McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, at (570) 208-5900, ext. 5689.
More information on the lecture can be found here.
A fascinating, vivid, and on-the-ground account of Russian Orthodoxy’s resurgence
A bold experiment is taking place in Russia. After a century of being scarred by militant, atheistic communism, the Orthodox Church has become Russia’s largest and most significant nongovernmental organization. As it has returned to life, it has pursued a vision of reclaiming Holy Rus’: that historical yet mythical homeland of the eastern Slavic peoples; a foretaste of the perfect justice, peace, harmony, and beauty for which religious believers long; and the glimpse of heaven on earth that persuaded Prince Vladimir to accept Orthodox baptism in Crimea in A.D. 988.
Through groundbreaking initiatives in religious education, social ministry, historical commemoration, and parish life, the Orthodox Church is seeking to shape a new, post-communist national identity for Russia. In this eye-opening and evocative book, John Burgess examines Russian Orthodoxy’s resurgence from a grassroots level, providing Western readers with an enlightening, inside look at the new Russia.
Containing Balkan Nationalism focuses on the implications of the Bulgarian national movement that developed in the context of Ottoman modernization and of European imperialism in the Near East. The movement aimed to achieve the status of an independent Bulgarian Orthodox church, removing ethnic Bulgarians from the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This independent church status meant legal and cultural autonomy within the Islamic structure of the Ottoman Empire, which recognized religious minorities rather than ethnic ones.
Denis Vovchenko shows how Russian policymakers, intellectuals, and prelates worked together with the Ottoman government, Balkan and other diplomats, and rival churches, to contain and defuse ethnic conflict among Ottoman Christians through the promotion of supraethnic religious institutions and identities. The envisioned arrangements were often inspired by modern visions of a political and cultural union of Orthodox Slavs and Greeks. Whether realized or not, they demonstrated the strength and flexibility of supranational identities and institutions on the eve of the First World War. The book encourages contemporary analysts and policymakers to explore the potential of such traditional loyalties to defuse current ethnic tensions and serve as organic alternatives to generic models of power-sharing and federation.
From Crux’s John Allen, here is an interesting and provocative article on today’s scheduled meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis. Surprisingly, Allen writes, on some issues, the two men have “forged an improbably strong partnership.”
One of those issues is the persecution of Mideast Christians. While Western nations have temporized, refusing even to acknowledge the sectarian dimension of the crisis–ISIS’s actions have nothing to do with religion, apparently–Putin has made himself the champion of the region’s Christians:
“As regards the Middle East and its Christians, their situation is dire,” Putin said in April. “The international community is not doing enough … this is the motherland of Christians. Christians have lived there from time immemorial, for thousands of years.”
In some corners of the Middle East, such as the Syrian region of Qualamun, Russia actually has floated the idea of granting citizenship to pockets of Orthodox Christians, effectively offering them a security blanket.
Now, talk is cheap. And Putin’s motivations are not wholly humanitarian. By offering itself as the protector of Mideast Christians, most of whom are Orthodox, Russia can exert influence in the region. (France has traditionally put itself forward in the same role, although France tends to focus on Catholics). Speaking out for Christian minorities also increases Putin’s credibility as the representative of traditional Christianity, which no doubt wins him admirers in the developing world, where Christianity is expanding, often in conflict with a rising Islam. And, of course, championing the cause of Orthodox Christians increases his political appeal in Russia itself.
Still, whatever his motives, Putin has focused on the suffering of Christians as Christians, and that is something many leaders in the West are apparently reluctant to do. It is also a stance, Allen writes, that appeals to Pope Francis:
Since Francis’ election in March 2013, meanwhile, no social or political issue has engaged the pontiff like the plight of persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East.
In March, he demanded that the world stop trying to “hide” the reality of anti-Christian violence, and he’s also argued that the shared suffering of Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants alike is the basis for a contemporary “ecumenism of blood.”
Allen notes that the conflict in Ukraine will pose obstacles for any real partnership between Russia and the Vatican. Ukrainian Catholics believe that Pope Francis has taken too soft a line in that particular crisis. Francis has described the conflict as an unfortunate disagreement between Christians, while Ukrainian Catholics tend to see it as the result of Russian provocation, which they wish Francis would denounce. In particular, Ukrainian Catholics resent what they see as bullying and duplicity on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly the Moscow Patriarchate.
By the early twentieth century, a genuine renaissance of religious thought and a desire for ecclesial reform were emerging in the Russian Orthodox Church. With the end of tsarist rule and widespread dissatisfaction with government control of all aspects of church life, conditions were ripe for the Moscow Council of 1917-1918 to come into being.
The council was a major event in the history of the Orthodox Church. After years of struggle for reform against political and ecclesiastical resistance, the bishops, clergy, monastics, and laity who formed the Moscow Council were able to listen to one other and make sweeping decisions intended to renew the Russian Orthodox Church. Council members sought change in every imaginable area—from seminaries and monasteries, to parishes and schools, to the place of women in church life and governance. Like Vatican II, the Moscow Council emphasized the mission of the church in and to the world.
Destivelle’s study not only discusses the council and its resolutions but also provides the historical, political, social, and cultural context that preceded the council. In the only comprehensive and probing account of the council, he discusses its procedures and achievements, augmented by substantial appendices of translated conciliar documents.
Tragically, due to the Revolution, the council’s decisions could not be implemented to the extent its members hoped. Despite current trends in the Russian church away from the Moscow Council’s vision, the council’s accomplishments remain as models for renewal in the Eastern churches.
Even casual observers know that Orthodox Churches traditionally have close ties with the state. So many in the West don’t know what to make of the fact that, in the current conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church appears to be siding with the protesters. The New York Times, for example, reports that protesters running from riot police in Kiev take refuge in a historic Orthodox monastery, and that the Church’s patriarch, Filaret (above), strongly opposes the government. Filaret has stated that Ukraine should look West and join the European Union, and that President Victor Yanukovich, who recently announced that Ukraine would not agree to a long-anticipated trade deal with the EU, should resign.
To understand what’s going on, one has to know a little about the divisions within Orthodoxy in Ukraine. Patriarch Filaret is the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyvian Patriarchate. The Kyvian Patriarchate is in schism from the main body of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, which, as its name suggests, is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. The Moscow Patriarchate does not recognize the canonical status of the Kyvian Patriarchate; indeed, no Orthodox Church in the world does. (To make things even more confusing, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is under the jurisdiction of neither the Kyvian or Moscow Patriarchates, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople).
It’s not at all surprising, therefore, that Patriarch Filaret would support closer ties with Europe and a weakening of Russian influence in Ukraine. He and his flock are likely to have more status and independence in a Ukraine that looks toward the West. This is just another example of how religious and political interests often converge. As Daniel Larison writes, it will be interesting to see if there is now a pro-Russian pushback from those Ukrainians loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Year by year, it becomes clearer that Russia will be an important participant in global conversations about law and religion. This is true with respect to religious law—the canons of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)—and also with respect to church- state and religious freedom issues.
For European scholars, it will be crucial to understand how the vocal and active presence of the ROC in the courts will influence the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). I have already shown that the ROC was a key player in the Lautsi case on the display of the crucifix in Italian public schools. After the first decision in Lautsi,Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the ROC’s Department of External Church Relations, clearly expressed his opinion–on the judgment, the Court, and the need for action by religious groups–in a letter to the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone:
“We consider this practice of the European Court of Human Rights to be an attempt to impose radical secularism everywhere despite the national experience of church-state relations. The above mentioned decision is not the only one in the practice of the Court, which has increasingly shown an anti-Christian trend. Taking into account the fact that the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have clearly lost touch with legal and historical reality in which most of the Europeans live, while the Court itself has turned into an instrument of promoting an ultra-liberal ideology, we believe it very important that religious communities in Europe should be involved in a discussion concerning its work”.
For these reasons, it will be interesting to see how the ECtHR decides the recently-lodged case of the Pussy Riot punk band (above), some of whose members were arrested after performing a “punk prayer” in one of the most important Russian churches. Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Natalia Tolokonniva were in fact sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. The complaint at the ECtHR, filed one month ago, alleges that the group’s conviction amounts to a violation Convention’s guarantees of freedom of speech, the right to liberty and security, the prohibition of torture and the right to a fair trial.
If the cases moves forward, it promises to be an important one in many regards: both for the legal arguments and standards that the Court will apply to balance (or not) the different rights at stake, but also for the position religious groups, like the ROC, take in any third party interventions before the Court.