Becoming the Gospel: the example of four saints

by Jim Forest

We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.

mmaria3

These few words from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom were the underlying theme of all his books, lectures and sermons. To be a Christian is to devote one’s life to becoming the Gospel. The Gospel exists so that each of us can make of our lives a unique living translation of its stories, sayings and parables. Like no other book in the world, it is meant to be lived, to be lived in such a way that those who have not read the text might guess at least its major themes simply by knowing those who are absorbing the text into their lives.

Orthodox ritual goes to great lengths to draw our attention to the Gospel. This small book, containing only the texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is enthroned on the altar. It is something we bow toward and often kiss. Side by side with the Cross, it is before us when we confess our sins. Held high, it is solemnly carried through the church in procession every week. It is decorated with relief icons. During services, it is not simply read but chanted so that the words of the Gospel might enter us more deeply.

Only a degree less important in the life of the Orthodox Church is our close attention to the lives of the saints, that is to those people who, to a remarkable degree, in some way became the Gospel. Each saint provides a unique translation of the Gospel. Each saint not only helps us see what the Gospel is about but also how diverse are the ways in which a person can become the Gospel. Each saint throws a fresh light on how the Gospel can be lived more fully in the particular circumstances of our lives.

I would like to look at the example given by several people newly recognized as saints: Mother Maria Skobtsova plus three others closely associated with her: the priest Dimitri Klepinin, her friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky; and Mother Maria’s son, Yuri. On the first weekend of May, in the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Paris, their names were added to the Church’s calendar of saints.

Mother Maria Skobtsova was born in 1891 in Latvia — then part of the Russian Empire — and was given the name Elizaveta. She grew up near the Black Sea and later in St. Petersburg. Her childhood faith collapsed following her father’s death, but as a young adult her faith was gradually reborn. Liza prayed and read the Gospel and the lives of saints. While regarding herself as a socialist, it seemed to her that the real need of the people was not for revolutionary theories but for Christ. She wanted “to proclaim the simple word of God,” she told Alexander Blok in 1916. She was the first woman to study at the theological institute in St. Petersburg. After Lenin’s forces took power, she narrowly escaped summary execution by convincing a Bolshevik sailor that she was a friend of Lenin’s wife.

One of the many refugees who fled Russia during the civil war, by the time she reached Paris in 1923 she had finished one marriage and started another and was the mother of three.

One child, Nastia, died very young — the kind of death that visited many Russian families struggling to survive in France in those days. Liza’s monastic vocation is partly connected with Nastia’s death in the winter of 1926. During her month-long vigil at her daughter’s bedside, Liza came to feel how she had never known “the meaning of repentance.”

“Now I am aghast at my own insignificance,” she wrote. “I feel that my soul has meandered down back alleys all my life. And now I want an authentic and purified road. Not out of faith in life, but in order to justify, understand and accept death …. No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, ‘Love one another,’ so long as it is love to the end and without exceptions. And then the whole of life is illumined, which is otherwise an abomination and a burden.”

After Nastia’s burial, Liza became aware “of a new and special, broad and all-embracing motherhood.” She emerged from her mourning with a determination to seek “a more authentic and purified life.” She felt she saw a “new road before me and a new meaning in life, to be a mother for all, for all who need maternal care, assistance, or protection.”

In 1930, she was appointed traveling secretary of the Russian Student Christian Movement, work which put her into daily contact with impoverished Russian refugees in cities, towns and villages throughout France.

She took literally Christ’s words that he was always present in the least person. She wrote:

If someone turns with his spiritual world toward the spiritual world of another person, he encounters an awesome and inspiring mystery …. He comes into contact with the true image of God in man, with the very icon of God incarnate in the world, with a reflection of the mystery of God’s incarnation and divine manhood. And he needs to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God in his brother. Only when he senses, perceives and understands it will yet another mystery be revealed to him — one that will demand his most dedicated efforts …. He will perceive that the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil …. And he will want to engage in battle with the devil for the sake of the divine image.

Metropolitan Anthony, then a layman in Paris studying to become a physician, recalled a story about her from this period that he heard from a friend:

She went to the steel foundry in Creusot, where many Russian refugees were working. She came there and announced that she was preparing to give a series of lectures on Dostoevsky. She was met with general howling: “We do not need Dostoevsky. We need linen ironed, we need our rooms cleaned, we need our clothes mended — and you bring us Dostoevsky!” And she answered: “Fine, if that is needed, let us leave Dostoevsky alone.” And for several days she cleaned rooms, sewed, mended, ironed, cleaned. When she had finished doing all that, they asked her to talk about Dostoevsky. This made a big impression on me, because she did not say: “I did not come here to iron for you or clean your rooms. Can you not do that yourselves?” She responded immediately and in this way she won the hearts and minds of the people.

While her work for the Russian Student Christian Movement suited her, she began to envision a new type of community, “half monastic and half fraternal,” which would connect spiritual life with service to those in need, in the process showing “that a free Church can perform miracles.”

Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, dean of the St. Sergius Theological Institute and her confessor, was a source of support. He was a confessor who respected the freedom of all who sought his guidance, never demanding obedience, never manipulating. Another key figure in her life was her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy. He was the first one to suggest to Liza the possibility of becoming a nun. Assured by him that she would be free to develop a new type of monasticism, engaged in the world and marked by the “complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds,” in March 1932 Liza was professed as a nun, receiving the name Maria. Her goal was to create a model of what she called “monasticism in the world.”

Here again there is an interesting impression by Metropolitan Anthony of what Mother Maria was like in those days:

She was a very unusual nun in her behavior and her manners. I was simply staggered when I saw her for the first time in monastic clothes. I was walking along the Boulevard Montparnasse and I saw: in front of a cafe, on the pavement, there was a table, on the table was a glass of beer and behind the glass was sitting a Russian nun in full monastic robes. I looked at her and decided that I would never go near that woman. I was young then and held extreme views.

Mother Maria’s intention was “to share the life of paupers and tramps,” but how she would do so was not yet clear. She knew that it could not be a life of withdrawal from the sufferings of the world. “Everyone is always faced,” she wrote, “with the necessity of choosing between the comfort and warmth of an earthly home, well protected from winds and storms, and the limitless expanse of eternity, which contains only one sure and certain item … the Cross.”

With financial help and the encouragement of Metropolitan Evlogy, she started her first house of hospitality. As the building was unfurnished, the first night she wrapped herself in blankets and slept on the floor beneath the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. Donated furniture began arriving, and also guests, mainly unemployed young Russian women. To make room for others, Mother Maria gave up her own room and instead slept on an iron bedstead in the basement. A room upstairs became a chapel while the dining room doubled as a hall for lectures and discussions.

When the first house proved too small, a new location was found — a house of three storeys at 77 rue de Lourmel in the fifteenth arrondisement, an area where many impoverished Russian refugees had settled. While at the former address she could feed only 25, here she could feed a hundred. A stable behind the house was made into a church. The house was a modern Noah’s Ark able to withstand the stormy waves the world was hurling its way. Here the guests could regain their breath “until the time comes to stand on their two feet again.”

As the work evolved, she rented other buildings, one for families in need, and another for single men. A rural property became a sanatorium.

Donations were given and quickly spent, yet the community purse was never empty for long. She sometimes recalled the Russian story of the ruble that could never be spent. Each time it was used, the change given back proved to equal a ruble. It was exactly this way with love, she said: No matter how much love you give, you never have less. In fact you discover you have more — one ruble becomes two, two becomes ten.

Mother Maria felt sustained by the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not only do we know the Beatitudes, but at this hour, this very minute, surrounded though we are by a dismal and despairing world, we already savor the blessedness they promise.”

Of course she had her critics. The house on rue de Lourmel, some charged, was an “ecclesiastical Bohemia.” There should be more emphasis on services, less on hospitality. But Mother Maria’s view was that “the Liturgy must be translated into life. It is why Christ came into the world and why he gave us our Liturgy.”

She had an unusual opinion regarding exile. In her view, far from being a catastrophe, it was a heaven-sent opportunity to renew the Church in ways that would have met with repression in her mother country:

What obligations follow from the gift of freedom which [in our exile] we have been granted? We are beyond the reach of persecution. We can write, speak, work, open schools …. At the same time, we have been liberated from age-old traditions. We have no enormous cathedrals, [jewel] encrusted Gospel books, no monastery walls. We have lost our environment. Is this an accident? Is this some chance misfortune?… In the context of spiritual life, there is no chance, nor are there fortunate or unfortunate epochs. Rather there are signs which we must understand and paths which we must follow. Our calling is a great one, since we are called to freedom.

She saw expatriation as an opportunity “to liberate the real and authentic.” It was similar to the opportunity given to the first Christians. “We must not allow Christ,” she said, “to be overshadowed by any regulations, any customs, any traditions, any aesthetic considerations, or even any piety.”

In September 1935 Orthodox Action was founded. The name was proposed by her friend Nicholas Berdyaev. The co-founders included the theologian Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, the historian George Fedotov, the literary scholar Constantine Mochulsky, her long-time co-worker Fedor Pianov, and Ilya Fondaminsky, the editor of various Russian expatriate journals who had once had a post in the Kerensky government. Metropolitan Evlogy was honorary president. Mother Maria was chairman. Its projects included hostels, rest homes, schools, camps, hospital work, help to the unemployed, assistance to the elderly, and publication of books and pamphlets. By now many co-workers were involved.

While many valued what she and her co-workers were doing, there were others who were scandalized with the shabby nun who was so uncompromisingly devoted to the duty of hospitality that she would leave a church service to answer the door bell. “For church circles we are too far to the left,” Mother Maria noted, “while for the left we are too church-minded.”

Following the departure for England of the first chaplain, Fr. Lev Gillet, in October 1939, Metropolitan Evlogy sent another priest to rue de Lourmel: Father Dimitri Klepinin, then 35 years old. He had been born in Russia in 1904. He came to Paris from Belgrade in 1925 to study at the St. Sergius Theological Institute. Like Mother Maria, he was a spiritual child of Father Sergei Bulgakov. A man of few words, great modesty and a profound love of the Liturgy, Father Dimitri proved to be a major partner in Mother Maria’s work.

The last phase of the life of Mother Maria and her co-workers — these now included her son Yuri — was shaped by World War II and Germany’s occupation of France.

Paris fell on the 14th of June 1940. France capitulated a week later. With defeat came greater poverty and hunger for many people. Local authorities in Paris declared the house at rue Lourmel an official food distribution point.

Paris was now a prison. “There is the dry clatter of iron, steel and brass,” wrote Mother Maria. “Order is all.” Russian refugees were among the particular targets of the occupiers. In June 1941, a thousand were arrested, among them her friend Ilya Fondaminsky. His long delayed baptism occurred within the makeshift Orthodox chapel at the prison camp in Compiegne. He died at Auschwitz the following year.

When the Nazis issued special identity cards for those of Russian origin living in France, Mother Maria and Father Dimitri refused to comply, though they were warned that those who failed to register would be regarded as citizens of the USSR — thus enemy aliens — and be punished accordingly.

Early in 1942, Jews began to knock on the door at rue de Lourmel asking Father Dimitri if he would issue baptismal certificates to them. The answer was always yes. The names of those supposedly baptized were duly recorded in his parish register in case there was any cross-checking by the police or Gestapo. Father Dimitri was convinced that in such a situation Christ would do the same.

In June the Jews of occupied France were ordered to wear the yellow star.

There were, of course, Christians who said that the anti-Jewish laws being imposed had nothing to do with Christians and therefore this was not a Christian problem. “There is no such thing as a Christian problem,” replied Mother Maria. “Don’t you realize that the battle is being waged against Christianity? If we were true Christians we would all wear the Star. The age of confessors has arrived.”

In July Jews were forbidden access to nearly all public places while shopping by Jews was limited to one hour per day. A week later, there was a mass arrest. Nearly 13,000 Jews, two-thirds of them children, were brought to a sports stadium less than a mile from rue de Lourmel where they were held for five days before being transported to Auschwitz.

Mother Maria had often regarded her monastic robe as a God-send in aiding her work. Now her nun’s robes opened the way for her to enter the stadium. Here she worked for three days trying to comfort the children and their parents, distributing what food she could bring in, and even managing to rescue a number of children by enlisting the aid of garbage collectors and smuggling them out in trash bins.

The house at rue de Lourmel was bursting with people, many of them Jews. She told Berdyaev that, if anyone came to the house searching for Jews, she would show them an icon of the Mother of God.

Father Dimitri, Mother Maria, Yuri and their co-workers set up routes of escape to the unoccupied south — complex and dangerous work. An escaped Russian prisoner of war was also among those assisted. A local resistance group helped secure the food that was needed.

On February 8, 1943, Nazi security police entered the house Lourmel and found a letter in Yuri’s pocket in which Fr. Dimitri was asked to provide a Jew with a false baptismal document. Yuri was arrested, and Fr. Dimitri the next day. Under interrogation he made no attempt to hide his beliefs. Called a “Jew lover,” he responded by pointing to the cross he wore. “Do you know this Jew?” he asked. For this he was struck on the face.

Mother Maria’s arrest followed. At first she was confined at the Gestapo headquarters in Paris in the same building where Yuri, Father Dimitri and their co-worker of many years, Feodor Pianov, were being held. Pianov later recalled the scene of Father Dimitri in his torn cassock being taunted as a Jew. One of the SS officers began to beat him while Yuri stood nearby weeping. Father Dimitri consoled him, reminding him that “Christ withstood greater mockery than this.”

In April they were transferred to Compiegne. Mother Maria was able to have a final meeting with Yuri. Hours later, Mother Maria was sent in a sealed cattle truck to the Ravensbrück camp in Germany. In a letter Yuri sent to the community at rue de Lourmel, he said his mother told him “that I must trust in her ability to bear things and in general not to worry about her. Every day [Fr. Dimitri and I] remember her at the proskomidia … We celebrate the Eucharist and receive communion each day.”

“Thanks to our daily Eucharist,” he reported in another letter, “our life here is quite transformed and to tell the honest truth, I have nothing to complain of. We live in brotherly love. Dima [Fr. Dimitri] … is preparing me for the priesthood. God’s will needs to be understood. After all, this attracted me all my life and in the end it was the only thing I was interested in, though my interest was stifled by Parisian life and the illusion that there might be ‘something better’ — as if there could be anything better.”

For nine months the three men remained together at Compiegne. “Without exaggeration,” Pianov wrote after being liberated in 1945, “I can say that the year spent with [Father Dimitri] was a godsend. I do not regret that year…. From my experience with him, I learned to understand what enormous spiritual, psychological and moral support one man can give to others as a friend, companion and confessor.”

On December 16, Yuri and Father Dimitri were deported to Buchenwald in Germany, followed several weeks later by Pianov. In January 1944, Father Dimitri and Yuri were sent to another camp, Dora, about 20 miles away. On the 6th of February, Yuri was “dispatched for treatment” — a euphemism meaning sentenced to death. Four days later Fr. Dimitri died of pneumonia.

A final letter from Yuri made its way to rue de Lourmel: “I am absolutely calm, even somewhat proud to share mama’s fate. I promise you I will bear everything with dignity. Whatever happens, sooner or later we shall all be together. I can say in all honesty that I am not afraid of anything any longer…. I ask anyone whom I have hurt in any way to forgive me. Christ be with you!”

At Ravensbrück, Mother Maria endured for two years, an achievement in part explained by her long experience of ascetic life. A fellow prisoner who survived recalls how Mother Maria she would recite passages from the New Testament: “Together we would provide a commentary on the texts and then meditate on them. Often we would conclude with Compline… This period seemed a paradise to us.”

By March 1945, Mother Maria’s condition was critical. On the 30th of March — Good Friday, as it happened — she entered into eternal life. The shellfire of the approaching Red Army could be heard in the distance.

Regarding her last day, accounts vary. According to one, she was simply one of the many selected for death that day. According to another, she took the place of a fellow prisoner, a Jew. Her friend Jacqueline Pery wrote afterward:

“It is very possible that [Mother Maria] took the place of a frantic companion. It would have been entirely in keeping with her generous life. In any case she offered herself consciously to the holocaust … thus assisting each one of us to accept the cross …. She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”

Four saints, all victims of one of the ideological insanities that destroyed so many millions of people in the 20th century.

In them, we see an extraordinary example of what perhaps could be called “the sacrament of the open door.”

Recently my wife asked me what is the most important thing in our house. I thought for a moment, then mentioned certain books and icons. “No,” she said, “it is the front door. Everything depends on how we open the door. Everything depends on hospitality.”

It was a startling thought. I’m sure all the newly canonized saints said very similar things many times. Indeed in one of her essays Mother Maria uses the term “the asceticism of the open door.”

Controversial in life, Mother Maria remains a subject of contention to this day and I expect this controversy will continue even now that she has been recognized as a saint. While clearly she lived a life of heroic virtue and is among the martyrs of the twentieth century, her verbal attacks on nationalistic and tradition-bound forms of religious life still raise the blood pressure of many Orthodox Christians. St. Maria of Paris, as perhaps she will now be called, remains an indictment of any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside church buildings.

All saints show us in certain ways what it means to become the Gospel. From such people, even if we knew nothing at all about the words of Christ, we could guess the outline of Christ’s teaching simply by the example given by these dedicated followers. Each of their lives provides a translation of the Gospel into the circumstances of their vocation and time.

Jim Forest is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. This is a shortened version of a talk delivered at the Sourozh diocesan conference held in Oxford in May. The main source of biographical material used in this text is Fr. Serge Hackel’s biography of Mother Maria, Pearl of Great Price, published in Britain by Darton Longman & Trodd and, in America, by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Impressions of a Canonization

by Nancy Forest

The canonization of Mother Maria Skobtsova and several people closely associated with her was the occasion of a trip to Paris the first weekend of May, 2004, for many members of our Amsterdam parish. It was my first visit to the church on the Rue Daru. The name of the church itself is the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, but the phrase “Rue Daru” is used far more often. For Orthodox Christians of the Russian tradition in Western Europe, it’s a way of distinguishing a jurisdiction: “our church isn’t Moscow Patriarchate, it’s Rue Daru.” After the Russian Revolution and the civil war that came in its wake, many Russians — including members of the nobility as well as intellectuals — fled to the west. Thousands ended their journey in or near Paris. With the Church in Russia enduring severe persecution, there was a real question as to the connection between this new diaspora church and the Moscow Patriarchate. The church of the emigres appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch and asked if they, as Russian Orthodox, could be received under his jurisdiction. This change took place, and now the “Rue Daru” church, so very Russian as it is, is still under the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul rather than Moscow.

This was the situation that Mother Maria Skobtsova and Father Dimitri Klepinin found themselves in. Not only that, but over the years, as more and more French people became Orthodox, and more of the Russians became real Frenchmen, a stressful situation developed between the Russian and the “French” parts of the congregation. The solution was to split the church, with the Russians having Slavonic service upstairs (where the canonization took place) and the French having services in French in the lower church (known among European Orthodox simply as The Crypt). This situation still stands.

This is important background information, and I think it was partly because I knew this that the canonization service struck me so profoundly.

The cathedral is a beautiful building. It’s often included among guidebook sites — one of the spots even a non-Orthodox visitor might wish to see in this part of Paris. According to the guide book Jim and I had with us, it was built in 1861, “designed by members of the St. Petersburg Fine Arts Academy and financed jointly by Tsar Alexander II and the local Russian community.”

The iconography reminded me very much of the work of the 19th-century Russian itinerant painters and iconographers, especially Vasnetsov. These were men who painted ordinary Russians — peasants, women, children — in a very compelling, compassionate way, a style which carried over into their icons. So even though the inside of the cathedral is quite splendid, there is something almost homely about the way it is decorated, something very human and solid. There are two large painted panels on either side of the church — one of Christ preaching from a boat on the Sea of Galilee to a great crowd of people, the other of Christ walking on the water, a small haloed figure in the moonlight moving across a vast expanse of water, and in both you sense that this is Christ of the people, the ordinary people. I have a feeling Mother Maria must have felt very much at home in this place, and that it may even have helped stir her feelings of great compassion for ordinary people.

We attended both the Saturday evening Vespers, which began with a panikhida — a final memorial service for those soon to be recognized as saints — and the Sunday Liturgy. The services were long, but no longer than you would expect for something of this magnitude in the unhurried Russian tradition.

In addition to the services themselves there were other things that struck meeven though we were “upstairs” in the Russian Church, there was a blend of French and Russian used throughout both services. (We spoke with a friend later on, the wife of a French priest, who said this has to be regarded as one of Mother Maria’s miracles.)

The archbishop for the Ecumenical Patriarchal Russian church in Western Europe, Archbishop Gabriel, is from Flanders, and his mother tongue is neither Russian nor French but Flemish. He conducted the service mainly in Slavonic and preached in French. We know him from years ago when he was the priest of the Russian church in Maastricht here in the Netherlands. (When I went up for the blessing during the Vespers service he smiled at me and said “Christus is opgestaan!”, the Easter greeting in Dutch.) Celebrating with him was Bishop Basil of Sergievo of the Moscow Patriarchate in Great Britain (successor to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom). Bishop Basil is an American but has lived in England for 35 years. So standing there in the center of that staunchly Russian church were two Western bishops. On the other side of Archbishop Gabriel was Bishop Silouan, who is serving the Romanian church in Western Europe.

Also present was Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, who was given a seat of honor in front of the iconostasis. Cardinal Lustiger was a dual representative at the canonization, not only of the Catholic Church but also of the Jewish community, since he is a convert from Judaism and always identifies himself as a Jew. He was born in Paris of Polish Jewish parents. When the Germans occupied the city he was sent to live with a Christian family and was baptized in 1940. His parents were both deported, and his mother was killed in Auschwitz. So this service, and the nature of the martyrdom of Mother Maria, Father Dimitri, Yuri Skobtsov and Ilya Fondaminsky must surely have meant a great deal to him.

We also noticed a very old, white-haired woman on the other side of the church — she had been provided with a chair and given a place of honor — and were later told that she was a fellow prisoner in Ravensbrück with Mother Maria and was with her until the end.

The church gradually filled to overflowing during both services. It must have taken nearly an hour to serve Communion.

Both the cathedral choirs provided music — the Russian choir and the French choir — and they switched back and forth. This meant that neither choir became exhausted, and the singing continued at the same glorious level all the way through both services. So here, again, was another sign of reconciliation — the Russian and the French choirs, singing together.

There were many priests involved in the services, but the most visually interesting was Father Serge Hackel. Father Serge wrote the book Pearl of Great Price, the story of Mother Maria, and it is partly due to his work that the life of Mother Maria became known to so many people in the West.

Father Serge was wearing an old, tattered, faded vestment of coarse fabric, obviously hand-embroidered. There’s a vestment with a story, I said to myself. Later on we discovered that this was a vestment Mother Maria herself had embroidered by hand for Father Dimitri. (We recalled that Mother Maria wrote with disdain about nuns who do nothing but embroider vestments for the clergy; so much for saintly consistency.)

After the Liturgy we met Father Serge out in the church parking lot, carrying his vestments in a plastic bag. Jim asked him if he could take a picture of the vestment, and he was only too happy to oblige. Then we asked if we could touch it, realizing instantly that this was a relic. He told us how he came to have this vestment. In 1967, a German film crew had come to Paris to do a film based on Fr. Serge’s biography of Mother Maria. At rue de Lourmel, in a room that served as the chapel vestry, Fr. Serge discovered vestments Mother Maria had made. Due to moth damage they were soon to be burned, he was told. Instead they were entrusted to Fr. Serge’s care and have since been repaired.

The high point of the canonization service occurred Saturday evening when the icons of the new saints were brought out. I knew this was going to happen, but I had no idea how strong the impact would be. There were actually five saints who were canonized, shown on two icons. One was an icon of Father Alexis d’Ugine Medvedkov, a Russian priest who worked in France after the Russian Revolution in great obscurity and humility; when his remains were unearthed they were discovered to be incorrupt. The other icon was of the martyrs Father Dimitri Klepinin, Mother Maria, Yuri, Skobtsov (Mother Maria’s son), and Ilya Fondaminsky, a Russian Jewish intellectual who was baptized after his arrest by the Nazis. [The icon plus two others are on the OPF website. Also on the site are articles about St. Dimitri, St. Ilya and St. Alexis. See St. Maria Skobtsova]

Many members of Father Dimitri’s family were at the services: his daughter Helene Arjakovsky and four of Helene’s children. Her daughter Tanya, Father Dimitri’s granddaughter, is a member of our parish in Amsterdam and is married to Deacon Hildo Bos. Tanya told us she and her mother felt as if they had been taken out of themselves, the services were so beautiful; they had to pinch themselves to make sure they were really awake. (Helene’s collection of essays — Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings — was recently published in English translation by Orbis Books.)

We were also happy to meet Father Paul Schroeder and Elizabeth and their two children at the canonization. The Schroeders had come all the way from California. After the Liturgy, we went to a small flat they had rented and went out to lunch with Elizabeth and Zachary (who, he told me proudly, is seven).

After visiting with the Schroeders we did something we had very much wanted to do — went on a pilgrimage to 77 Rue de Lourmel, once site of the house hospitality Mother Maria founded. It took some navigating by metro, but finally we found the place — a very ordinary Paris street, it was raining slightly, and once we got there we found that Mother Maria’s building was gone. In its place was a modern block of flats. But at the building’s entrance we discovered that someone had put up a white marble plaque with gold letters, explaining that this had been the place where Mother Maria and Father Dimitri had done their good work and saved the lives of many Jews, and that they had been killed by the Nazis. So even though the building is gone, they are commemorated on the streets of Paris to this day.

Nancy Forest-Flier is a translator and editor living in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.

Photos of the canonization: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/164907/

A cloud of witnesses

Mother Maria Skobtsova
Mother Maria Skobtsova

There is probably no other journal in the English-speaking world that has paid so much attention to Mother Maria Skobtsova, Fr. Dimitri Klépenin and those associated with them as In Communion. Many members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship have hoped we might live to see the day when these models of hospitality and courage would be officially recognized as saints and become part of the Church’s calendar. Thus it will be no surprise that a substantial part of this issue is given over to the canonizations that occurred in May at the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevksy in Paris, a church well known to the four new saints. It was here that Fr. Dimitri was ordained a priest. When the icon of the four was carried into the church many were weeping with paschal joy. May the example given by these four brave disciples help us to be better witnesses to the Gospel.

It seems appropriate that this issue also includes a new translation by Fr. Paul Schroeder of an important text on hunger and famine from St. Basil the Great, who responded not only with word but action to the urgent needs of others, no matter what their belief or condition. It is remembered that in times of crisis he could be found at work in a soup kitchen clad in an apron. “Give but a little,” he taught, “and you will gain much; undo the primal sin by sharing your food.”

We are grateful to Timothy Beach for his reflections on the future of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and look forward to hearing reader responses. This issue also includes a moving account of the impact of the Liturgy on a recent convert to the Orthodox Church, Mary Ward.

We once again appeal for your help to keep the Orthodox Peace Fellowship going. Subscription payments alone are not enough to pay the bills. Especially now that we have a staff person on each side of the Atlantic, we need to substantially enlarge our base of support. Please send a donation.

— Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

Albania: first impressions

Resurrection in Albania

This short report with photos results from a trip to Albania that started at the end of February and ended March 16, 2001.

In Albania every moment you touch the rough surface of life. Where there is wealth, it is gross and unembarrassed. Death is close and unhidden. Power and evil are undisguised, with no silk wrappings. Poverty rules to a degree seen nowhere else in Europe, and yet it is not hard to encounter kindness and welcome of a quality not easily found in richer countries.

The great majority of people are living in austere circumstances while in the countryside life has changed little since the medieval period. Many roads are unpaved, while those that are surfaced are so full of holes that even a short drive on what appears to be a straight road is a longer ride because of the curves the driver must make in choosing the path least likely to damage the car. Many still use horse and wagon or donkey. Electricity is unpredictable and the voltage flow so uneven that electrical circuits are easily damaged. Hospitals are few, with meager resources and in appalling condition — broken windows and doors, badly overcrowded, many elevators no longer working. Schools are often in a similar state. Many factories are closed because of age and decay.

Poverty often breeds crime, especially in a society in which religious life has been badly damaged, and this is the case in Albania. The “Albanian Mafia” is infamous throughout western Europe. A car stolen in Amsterdam may well end up in Tirana. There is also the drug trade and, still worse, a trade in young women forced into prostitution with the threat that any effort to escape will result in the murder of one or more members of the woman’s family.

Possibly as much as a third of the Albanian population of three million has left to work in other countries — there is an estimated half-million in Greece alone, many of them there illegally.

Far worse than poverty has been the creation of what Archbishop Anastasios, head of the Orthodox Church of Albania, often calls “a culture of fear” which he sees symbolized by the hundreds of thousands of mushroom-like bunkers scattered throughout the country. Especially during the communist era, neighbor did not dare to trust neighbor. “Unless you like to fight dragons, like Saint George,” one old man told me, “you had to carefully hide even the smallest sign of political dissent or religious belief.”

While repression was normal throughout the Communist world, in no other country was the determination to destroy every vestige of religious life so methodical and thorough as in Albania. At least 355 priests were either executed or perished from illness, starvation or injuries in prisons and labor camps. Religious repression began when the partisans took power after the German occupation. In 1967 Albania went a step further, declaring itself the world’s first atheist state. Every church and mosque was closed. Many religious buildings were demolished. Others were turned in warehouses, weapons depots, stables, stores, clubs and restaurants. (There is still resistance in the government to the return of former churches and monasteries. No matter what road the visitor follows, ruined churches are still easily found, yet also clear indications that for local people even the ruins of a church provide a place of prayer. Candles are lit, small paper icons are left.)

For all its poverty and the harsh history, only among Palestinians have I experienced such absolute hospitality. What little people have they share with an enthusiasm that reveals a different sort of poverty in the rich world.

Among the treasures of Albania today is its Orthodox Church, at the heart of which is Archbishop Anastasios. Now 71, he had hoped to spend this part of his life teaching and writing books but has instead accepted responsibility for leading the Church in Albania.

The fact that Archbishop Anastasios is Greek has been a problem. Apart from the Greek-speaking minority, many Albanians regard Greeks with suspicion. He has often been the target of severe criticism and false reports in the Albanian press. Efforts have repeatedly been made to get rid of him. A law was almost passed that would have forced any non-Albanian bishop to leave the country. His life has been repeatedly threatened. It is one of many Albanian miracles that he is still alive, well and in Albania.

When he arrived in Tirana in 1991, the legal prohibition of religious life had ended but only a few buildings had been returned to the church and each in a badly damaged state. Only fifteen Orthodox priests were still alive, all of them old and frail. Tirana’s cathedral on the main square had been demolished years before to make way for a hotel. Archbishop Anastasios’ first action on arrival was to visit the present cathedral, a smaller church which had been converted to a gymnasium after 1967. Here he gave the Paschal greeting “Christ is risen!”, lit a candle and embraced local believers. “Everyone was weeping,” he remembers, “and I was not an exception.”

But no matter how gifted the bishop, everything he does depends on the quality and inspiration of the people working with him, some of whom I can now refer to as friends, both Albanians and people — in a few cases families — who have come to Albania to help.

One of the most striking characteristics of the Church in Albania is its commitment to education and the works of mercy: clinics, programs to assist the handicapped, nurseries, kindergartens, various schools, summer camps for young people, a seminary with not only men but women students, work with prisoners and the homeless, free cafeterias, and material assistance to the destitute. Assistance is available to each person without regard for the person’s religious belief — or lack of belief. When hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into Albania from Kosovo in 1999, the Orthodox Church immediately responded, taking care of 30,000 people. The only refugee camp still open in Albania is a project of the Orthodox Church.

Each day I was in Albania I met with men and women who give an example of following Christ that I have never encountered before. Within the Church, I felt as if I were not just meeting occasional saints but was in a community in which sanctity is normal. This is what I will be trying to describe in a book to be published later this year by the World Council of Churches.

Jim Forest, March 17, 2001 (updated March 23, 2001)

Glimpses of the Orthodox Church in Albania

Here are photos made during a stay in Albania that began at the end of February and ended in mid-March 2001. The first — at the top of the page — is the candle-lit face of Archbishop Anastasios, 71, taken just before an Akathist service in Tirana’s Annunciation Cathedral. His first action after arriving in Albania ten years ago was to visit this church, then in a ruined state, to light a candle in this church and meet local believers. During the communist era the church had been turned into a gymnasium.

Children in front of the Annunciation Cathedral iconostasis in Tirana on the Sunday of the Orthodoxy, a day when the Church celebrates the end of the iconoclastic heresy. Several of the children come from families serving the Church in Albania thanks to support of the Orthodox Christian Missionary Center in St. Augustine, Florida.

The reading of the Gospel in Annunciation Cathedral.

Fr. Luke Veronis with is son Paul visit Christina, a poet who is chronically ill, unable to walk and with only limited use of her arms. Her baptism several years ago was grew out of contact with students from the Church’s youth group. Christina — who has become much loved by the doctors and nurses — is one of the few patients to have her own room, but the room is now needed for another purpose. She has been told she must leave. The day we visited her she had no idea where she could live.

Archbishop Anastasios pointing out a bullet that lodged in the double-pane glass his Tirana office window during the violent upheavals that occurred in 1997. The heavy glass used in the windows was necessary because of threats made against the Church. On the window ledge behind the curtain on the left he pointed out a pigeon tending a single egg in a flower pot. The archbishop commented: “A bullet and an egg! Perfect symbols of Albania at the crossroad.”

Archbishop Anastasios reading aloud from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” First he recited the text in Greek from memory, then found an English text so that I might understand it.

During the Communist era, when every religious symbol and gesture was prohibited, Papa Jani secretly made hundreds of small crosses (here he is drawing a sketch of one in my notebook) that he would leave at ruined churches as a gift for those who came to pray in secret. He was one of the first persons ordained a priest after Archbishop Anastasios came to Albania. He is now secretary of the Holy Synod. Even after the communist period ended, attempts were made on his life by the secret police. As a child, living in what he called “the age of propaganda,” his family kept religious feasts in a hidden way. He told me the story of a woman whose hidden icons were discovered and taken away. When the police were leaving she said to them, “You forgot one icon.” They replied, “Give it to us.” She then made the sign of the cross on her body. “It is in my soul and no one can take it away.”

In 1999 many thousands of refugees flooded into Albania from Kosovo. The Orthodox Church immediately responded, taking care of the largest segment of refugees. The only refugee camp still open in Albania is a project of the Orthodox Church. Each family has its own small house, a donation from the government of Greece.

Bread, eggs and flour are among foods distributed daily to each refugee family.

Many churches remain in ruins but are still used as places of pilgrimage and prayer. This photo is taken in the roofless sanctuary of a monastery church dedicated to St. John Vladimir in the mountains above Elbasan. For many years the monastery was used as an army base. Now the nearby buildings have been returned to the Church. These are now used for a girls’ summer camp. But the church building itself has not been given back. A small icon of St. John Vladimir is near the bread on the table.

Metropolitan John, bishop of Korca, is the former rector of the Church’s seminary near Durres. A scholar, as time allows, he is translating religious books into Albanian and writing a three-volume book on dogmatic theology but says projects to serve the poor are more important. “At the Last Judgment I will not be congratulated for my theological writings. I will be asked why I didn’t help a certain old woman.” After a simple lenten meal in his apartment supper, when we were talking about gratitude, he commented, “Complaining is the disease of our time. Our sin is not being grateful. I visited recently an 83-year-old woman who was blind since she was three. I have never met anyone as grateful as she is, someone so thankful …. But in our present world if you don’t complain you are regarded as an idiot.

With the help of the late Father Kosma and several friends, among them the young man who is today Metropolitan John, Marika Cico (now 95) and her sister Demetra arranged secret baptisms, weddings and liturgies in their home in Korca. Members of the group repeatedly engaged in “unsleeping prayer”– 40-day periods of continuous prayer, each person praying in one or two-hour shifts, for the end of persecution. She credits her mother (in the center of the photo) for her faith. Marika is on the left, her sister Elizabeth on the right. “I am 95 years old and I have no strength,” she told me. “I have little education but I have faith and love. Who knows why God has allowed me to live so long. It is a miracle. I would like to die in a monastery. I always wanted to live a monastic life but it was not possible. I can die tonight, I can die tomorrow. Blessed be God.”

With a friend, Marika demonstrates how a mortar and pestle were used as a bell. “Finally [in 1990] the communist time ended — we were so happy — but all the churches were closed. The government in Korca decided we could have one church back and that we would be permitted to have the Liturgy there. The first service we prepared was for Theophany in January 1991. We had been preparing everything but we needed a bell! Then we found the solution, a large brass mortar used for grinding garlic! It rang perfectly …. Everyone came out to take part. They heard the bell. The roads were filled. Everyone was trying to touch Fr. Kosma. Everyone was blessed with water, the whole city.”

In the dead of night and with blanket-draped windows, this room in Marika’s house served as a hidden church. A niece of Marika’s is on the left, a friend on the right.

Free lunches are served five days a week in Korca as part of the Church’s “service of love” program. Among the frequent guests is Metropolitan John, whose office is across the square. The meals are cooked and served by volunteers.

One of the rare churches to survive to Hoxha era without damage, this chapel on the outskirts of Korca was recognized as a historic monument. While too small to meet the needs of a parish, it is now used for occasional services.

An icon of the resurrection now graces the main square of Lushnja — also a Marlboro umbrella over a fruit and vegetable stand. Note the approaching horse and wagon, which many people find not only cheaper but more useful and reliable than a car.

One of the main stresses on the Church in Albania is to provide basic health care. When we happened to pass a mobile dental clinic on the way to the Monastery of Ardenica, the archbishop decided not only to greet the children waiting in line but to test the dental chair.

Archbishop Anastasios greeting children and parents at the mobile dental clinic.

At the Ardenica monastery, one of the people who approached Archbishop Anastasios was a man who said, “I am not baptized. I am a Moslem. Will you bless me?” He received not only a blessing but was reminded by the archbishop that he was a bearer of the image of God.

The archbishop at prayer in the church of the Ardenica Monastery. In the communist era, the monastery (having earlier been recognized as a monument) was made into a tourist resort.

The fresco in the monastery church shows Christ in rags that are the result of schisms, heresies and dissension within the Church.

There are Albanians who believe in dragons and perhaps Albanians who have seen them, one of my translators reminded me after reading an essay on mine on the Saint George icon which treated dragons exclusively as symbols of evil and fear. Will I someday see a dragon in the mountains of Albania? What is certainly true is that the Church, represented by the Cross, has been attacked by dragon-like forces, yet not destroyed.

A view of the city of Gjirokaster. In the center is the Metropolia of the diocese, a series of buildings which include the Holy Cross School with about a hundred students. The ruined building in the foreground is the police station, burned by protesters in 1997.

In a village near Gjirokaster the Church has opened a school for girls from local villages and a dormitory where they can stay during the week. Girls are also a substantial part of the student community at seminary near Durres. Archbishop Anastasios wants the Church in Albania to have women with a solid theological background to prepare them for a wide range of responsibilities in catechism programs, education, diaconal service and parish leadership.

A woman in traditional clothing told me about how her family had managed to live a hidden religious life during the years when Albania was trying to suppress every vestige of religious faith. Had her mother not been regarded as crazy, she would have been arrested. “I am crazy like my mother,” the woman told me.

Archbishop Anastasios in front of bunker near a newly built church. There were between 500,000 and a million bunkers built during the communist era, a symbol of what Anastasios calls “a culture of fear — a fear that is still at the center of life for many Albanians. But new churches represent a culture of life.”

The archbishop often received flowers when visiting local churches. On this occasion he gave this bunch to me. I in turn gave the flowers to an old woman in black. She immediately rushed to the archbishop to present them to him…

Archbishop Anastasios with village children. He often speaks of children as the future both of the Church and stresses efforts to meet their spiritual and educational needs. Often it is younger people who bring their parents to faith.

Archbishop Anastasios blessing the ground where a new church, school and cultural center will be built. Architectural drawings are on the two chairs, the work of a architect friend in Athens who volunteers her services. A boy and girl hold the bishop’s symbols of office.

A church in a remote Albanian village where Archbishop Anastasios celebrated the liturgy March 11. The community’s main church was destroyed many years ago but the small cemetery church, having been designated a monument, survived and was used as for weapons storage.

This was the only decorated Gospel book I saw in church use during my 16 days visiting Albanian church. Such treasures were either destroyed or sent to museums. This one had been hidden by a local family and is now back in use despite loose pages and damaged binding. An image of Christ’s resurrection is in the center.

Communion in the village church.

Dionis Bello, an engineer working at the Metropolia in Tirana, stands next to a map showing the location of new or rebuilt churches in Albania.

Archbishop Anastasios with a Paschal icon of Christ lifting Adam and Eve from their tombs. Christ’s resurrection is both the theme of all his efforts during the past ten years and is the day-to-day experience of the Church in Albania.

On the back of the archbishop’s pendant is the cross surrounded by two shafts of wheat. The symbol represents the Gospel text, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bring forth new life.” Archbishop Anastasios often remarks, “The resurrection is not behind the cross but in the cross.”

page as posted March 18, 2001 / updated March 27, 2001 / photos by Jim Forest — please do not reproduce without permission

For another person’s impressions of the Orthodox Church in Albania, see Steve Haye’s report of his time teaching at the seminary near Durres.

The Orthodox Church and Society

The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church

Bishops’ Statement

This document, The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, is called to serve as a guide for Synodal institutions, dioceses, monasteries, parishes and other canonical church institutions in their relations with various secular bodies and organizations and the non-church mass media. This document is to be used by church authorities to make decisions on various broad issues relevant to their own particular time and place, as well as to make decisions on very specific concerns. The document is to be included in the curriculum of the theological schools of the Moscow Patriarchate. As changes take place in public and social life and new problems significant for the Church emerge in this area, “The Basis of the Church’s Social Concept” may be developed and improved. The results of this process shall be adopted by the Holy Synod, the Local or Bishops’ Councils.

Note

This version of the Bishops’ Document is a meticulously edited edition that has been prepared by St. Innocent/Firebird Videos, Audios & Books, producers of educational materials about the Orthodox faith. Hundreds of hours were spent in revising the Patriarchate’s original English translation so that it would have a normal English flow. The editor has also added a table of contents and, in the printed version, an exhaustive index. Because this authoritative document — issued in the year 2000 by the Council of Russian Bishops — is so magnificent, and of such enormous value in understanding contemporary social ethical issues as Orthodox Christians, St. Innocent/Firebird is pleased to make its version available to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to be used on their In Communion web site. Printed copies of the English edition are available from St. Innocent/Firebird Videos, Audios & Books for $8 plus shipping and handling. A trade discount is available for resale in bookstores. Please go to the following URL to visit the Firebird web site for contact and ordering information.

Contents

Introduction

Adopted at the Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, this document sets forth the basic provisions of her teaching on church–state relations and a number of problems socially significant today. It also reflects the official position of Moscow Patriarchate on relations with the state and secular society. In addition, it gives a number of guidelines to be applied in these social-ethical issues by the episcopate, clergy and laity.

The nature of the document is determined by the needs experienced by the whole of the Russian Orthodox Church during a long historical period both within and beyond the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. Therefore, it deals primarily with fundamental theological and ecclesio-social issues, as well as those aspects of the life of the state and society which were and are equally relevant for the whole Church at the end of the 20th century and in the near future.

I. Basic theological provisions

I. 1. The Church is the assembly of believers in Christ, which He Himself calls every one to join. In her “all things heavenly and earthly” should be united in Christ, for He is the Head of “the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). In the Church the creation is deified and God’s original design for the world and man is fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is a result of both the redemptive feat performed by the Son Who was sent by the Father and the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit Who descended on the great day of Pentecost. According to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Christ put Himself at the head of humanity, becoming the Head of renewed humanity as His body in which access is found to the source of the Holy Spirit. The Church is the unity of “the new humanity in Christ”, “the unity of God’s grace dwelling in the multitude of rational creatures who submit to grace” (A.S. Khomyakov). “Men, women, children, deeply divided as to race, nation, language, way of life, work, education, status, wealth . . . — all are restored by the Church in the Spirit . . . All receive from her one nature which is beyond corruption — the nature that is not affected by the numerous and profound differences by which people differ from one another . . . In her, no one is at all separated from the common, as everyone is as if dissolved in one another by the simple and indivisible power of faith” (St. Maxim the Confessor).

I. 2. The Church is a divine-human organism. Being the body of Christ, she unites in herself the two natures, divine and human, with their inherent actions and wills. The Church relates to the world through her human, created, nature. However, she interacts with it not as a purely earthly organism but in all her mysterious fullness. It is the divine-human nature of the Church that makes possible the grace-giving transformation and purification of the world accomplished in history in the creative co-work, “synergy”, of the members and the Head of the church body.

The Church is not of this world, just as her Lord, Jesus, is not of this world. However, He came to the world He was to save and restore, “humbling” Himself to match its conditions. The Church should go through the process of historical kenosis, fulfilling her redemptive mission. Her goal is not only the salvation of people in this world, but also the salvation and restoration of the world itself. The Church is called to act in the world in the image of Christ, to bear witness to Him and His Kingdom. The members of the Church are called to share in Christ’s mission, in His service of the world, which is possible for the Church only as a conciliar service so that “the world may believe” (Jn. 17:21). The Church is called to serve the salvation of the world, for even the Son of man Himself “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

The Saviour said about Himself: “I am among you as he that serveth” (Lk. 22:27). Service for the salvation of the world and human beings cannot be limited to national and religious limits, as the Lord Himself states clearly in the parable of the merciful Samaritan. Moreover, the members of the Church encounter Christ as the One Who assumed all sins and suffering of the world when they welcome the hungry, homeless, sick or prisoners. Help to those who suffer is in the full sense help to Christ Himself, and the fulfilment of this commandment determines the eternal fate of every man (Mt. 25:31-41). Christ calls upon His disciples not to shun the world, but to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”.

The Church, being the body of God-Man Christ, is divine-human. However, even if Christ is the perfect God-Man, the Church is not yet perfect in her divine humanity, for on earth she has to struggle with sin, and her humanity, though inherently united with the Godhead, is far from expressing Him and matching Him in everything.

I. 3. Life in the Church, to which every one is called, is continuous ministry to God and people. All the people of God are called to it. The members of the body of Christ, participating in common service, also fulfil their particular functions. Each is given a special gift to serve all. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same, one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10). “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues; but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:8-11). Gifts of the manifold grace of God are given to every one individually but for the common ministry of the people of God (also for the service of the world). And this represents the common service of the Church performed on the basis of not one but many various gifts. The variety of gifts creates various ministries; however, “there are difference of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:5-6).

The Church also calls her faithful children to participation in the life of society, which should be based on the principles of Christian morality. In the High Priestly Prayer, the Lord Jesus interceded the Heavenly Father for His followers: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one …. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:15, 18). It is inadmissible to shun the surrounding world in a Manichean way. Christian participation in it should be based on the awareness that the world, socium and state are objects of God’s love, for they are to be transformed and purified on the principles of God-commanded love. The Christian should view the world and society in the light of his ultimate destiny, in the eschatological light of the Kingdom of God.

The variety of gifts in the Church is manifested in a special way in her social ministry. The undivided church organism participates in the life of the world around it in its fullness, but the clergy, monastics and laity can realise this participation in different ways and degrees.

I. 4. Fulfilling the mission of the salvation of the human race, the Church performs it not only through direct preaching, but also through good works aimed to improve the spiritual-moral and material condition of the world around her. To this end, she enters into co-operation with the state, even if it is not Christian, as well as with various public associations and individuals, even if they do not identify themselves with the Christian faith. Without setting herself the direct task to have all converted to Orthodoxy as a condition for co-operation, the Church hopes that joint charity will lead its workers and people around them to the knowledge of the Truth, help them to preserve or restore faithfulness to the God-given moral norms and inspire them to seek peace, harmony and well-being — the conditions in which the Church can best fulfil her salvific work.

Continue on to II. Church and Nation from The Orthodox Church and Society

II. Church and nation

II. 1. The Old Testament people of Israel were the prototype of the peoples of God the New Testament Church of Christ. The redemptive feat of Christ the Saviour initiated the being of the Church as new humanity, the spiritual posterity of the forefather Abraham. By His Blood Christ “hast redeemed us to God out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The Church by her very nature is universal and therefore supranational. In the Church “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek” (Rom. 10:12). Just as God is not the God of the Jews alone but also of the Gentiles (Rom. 3:29), so the Church does not divide people on either national or class grounds: in her “there is neither Greek, nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

In the contemporary world, the notion of “nation” is used in two meanings, as an ethnic community and the aggregate citizens of a particular state. Relationships between church and nation should be viewed in the context of both meanings of this word.

In the Old Testament, the terms ‘am and goy are used to denote “a people”. In the Hebrew Bible, each term is given a quite concrete meaning, the former denoting God’s chosen people of Israel, the latter in its plural form goyim the Gentiles. In the Greek Bible (Septuagint), the first term was rendered by the term laos (people) or demos (a nation as a political entity), while the second by the term ethnos (nation, in plural ethne, meaning “heathens”).

God’s chosen people of Israel are opposed to other nations throughout the Old Testament books associated in one way or another with the history of Israel. The people of Israel were chosen not because they surpassed other nations in number or anything else, but because God chose and loved them (Deut. 7:6-8). The notion of a God’s chosen people was a religious one in the Old Testament. The feeling of national community characteristic of the sons of Israel was rooted in the awareness of their belonging to God through a covenant made by the their fathers with the Lord. The people of Israel became God’s people whose calling was to preserve the faith in one true God and to bear witness to this faith before other nations so that through Israel God-Man Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all people, may be revealed to the world.

In addition to their sharing one religion, the unity of the people of God was secured by their ethnic and linguistic community and their rootedness in a particular land, their fatherland.

The ethnic community of the Israelites was rooted in their origin from one forefather, Abraham. “We have Abraham to our father” (Mt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8), the ancient Jews would say, emphasising their belonging to the posterity of the one who God ordained to become “a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5). Great importance was attached to the preservation of the purity of the blood: marriages with strangers were not approved because in these marriages “the holy seed” was mingled with “the people of those lands” (Ezra 9:2).

God gave the people of Israel the Promised Land for livelihood. After they came out of Egypt, these people went to Canaan, the land of their predecessors, and by God’s will conquered it. Since then the land of Canaan became the land of Israel, while its capital city, Jerusalem, became the principal spiritual and political centre of God’s chosen people. The people of Israel spoke one language that was not only the language of everyday life, but also the language of prayer. Moreover, Hebrew was the language of Revelation, for it was in it that God Himself spoke to the people of Israel. In the era before the coming of Christ when the dwellers of Judea spoke Aramaic, Greek was elevated to the status of the national language, while Hebrew continued to be treated as a sacred language in which worship was conducted in the temple.

Being universal by nature, the Church is at the same time one organism, one body (1 Cor. 12:12). She is the community of the children of God, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God” (1 Pet. 2:9-10). The unity of these new people is secured not by its ethnic, cultural or linguistic community, but by their common faith in Christ and Baptism. The new people of God “have no continuing city here, but seek one to come” (Heb. 13:14). The spiritual homeland of all Christians is not earthly Jerusalem but Jerusalem “which is above” (Gal. 4:26). The gospel of Christ is preached not in the sacred language understandable to one people, but in all tongues (Acts. 2:3-11). The gospel is not preached for one chosen people to preserve the true faith, but so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).

II. 2. The universal nature of the Church, however, does not mean that Christians should have no right to national identity and national self-expressions. On the contrary, the Church unites in herself the universal with the national. Thus, the Orthodox Church, though universal, consists of many Autocephalous National Churches. Orthodox Christians, aware of being citizens of the heavenly homeland, should not forget about their earthly homeland. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Divine Founder of the Church, had no shelter on earth (Mt. 8:20) and pointed that the teaching He brought was not local or national in nature: “the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” (Jn. 4:21). Nevertheless, He identified Himself with the people to whom He belonged by birth. Talking to the Samaritan woman, He stressed His belonging to the Jewish nation: “Ye worship ye know what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22). Jesus was a loyal subject of the Roman Empire and paid taxes in favour of Caesar (Mt. 22-16-21). St. Paul, in his letters teaching on the supranational nature of the Church of Christ, did not forget that by birth he was “an Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5), though a Roman by citizenship (Acts 22:25-29).

The cultural distinctions of particular nations are expressed in the liturgical and other church art, especially in the peculiarities of Christian order of life. All this creates national Christian cultures.

Among saints venerated by the Orthodox Church, many became famous for the love of their earthly homeland and faithfulness to it. Russian hagiographic sources praise the holy Prince Michael of Tver who “gave his life for his fatherland”, comparing his feat to the martyrdom of the holy protomartyr Dimitrius of Thessaloniki: “The good lover of his fatherland said about his native city of Thessaloniki, ‘O Lord, if you ruin this city, I will perish together with it, but if you save it, I will also be saved'”.

In all times the Church has called upon her children to love their homeland on earth and not to spare their lives to protect it if it was threatened. The Russian Church on many occasions gave her blessing to the people for them to take part in liberation wars. Thus, in 1380, the venerable Sergius the abbot and miracle-maker of Radonezh blessed the Russian troops headed by the holy Prince Dimitry Donskoy before their battle with the Tartar-Mongol invaders. In 1612, St. Hermogen, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, gave blessing upon the irregulars in their struggle with the Polish invaders. In 1813, during the war with the French aggressors, St. Philaret of Moscow said to his flock: “If you avoid dying for the honour and freedom of the Fatherland, you will die a criminal or a slave; die for the faith and the Fatherland and you will be granted life and a crown in heaven”.

The holy righteous John of Kronstadt wrote this about love of one’s earthly homeland: “Love the earthly homeland it has raised, distinguished, honoured and equipped you with everything; but have special love for the heavenly homeland that homeland is incomparably more precious that this one, because it is holy, righteous and incorruptible. The priceless blood of the Son of God has earned that homeland for you. But in order to be members of that homeland, you should respect and love its laws, just as you are obliged to respect and really respect the laws of the earthly homeland”.

II. 3. Christian patriotism may be expressed at the same time with regard to a nation as an ethnic community and as a community of its citizens. The Orthodox Christian is called to love his fatherland, which has a territorial dimension, and his brothers by blood who live everywhere in the world. This love is one of the ways of fulfilling God’s commandment of love to one’s neighbour which includes love to one’s family, fellow-tribesmen and fellow-citizens.

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

When a nation, civil or ethnic, represents fully or predominantly a monoconfessional Orthodox community, it can in a certain sense be regarded as the one community of faith an Orthodox nation.

II. 4. At the same time, national sentiments can cause such sinful phenomena as aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, national exclusiveness and inter-ethnic enmity. At their extremes, these phenomena often lead to the restriction of the rights of individuals and nations, wars and other manifestations of violence.

It is contrary to Orthodox ethics to divide nations into the best and the worst and to belittle any ethnic or civic nation. Even more contrary to Orthodoxy are the teachings which put the nation in the place of God or reduce faith to one of the aspects of national self-awareness.

Opposing these sinful phenomena, the Orthodox Church carries out the mission of reconciliation between hostile nations and their representatives. Thus, in inter-ethnic conflicts, she does not identify herself with any side, except for cases when one of the sides commit evident aggression or injustice.

Continue on to III. Church and State from The Orthodox Church and Society

III. Church and state

III. 1. The Church as a divine-human organism has not only a mysterious nature not submissive to the elements of the world, but also a historical component which comes in touch with the outside world including state. The state, which exists for the purpose of ordering worldly life, also comes into contact with the Church. Relationships between state and the followers of genuine religion have continuously changed in the course of history.

The family represented the initial cell of human society. The holy history of the Old Testament shows that the state was not formed at once. The Old Testament people had no state before Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt. State was gradually formed in the epoch of the Judges. As a result of a complex historical development guided by Divine Providence, the complication of social relations led to the emergence of the state.

In ancient Israel before the period of Kings, there was genuine theocracy, i. e. the rule of God, which proved to be unique in history. However, as society moved away from obedience to God as the organiser of worldly affairs, people began to think about the need to have a worldly ruler. The Lord, while accepting the people’s choice and authorising the new form of government, regrets their rejection of divine rule. “And the Lord said unto Samuel. Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:7, 9).

Thus, the emergence of the temporal state should not be understood as a reality originally established by God. It was rather God’s granting human being an opportunity to order their social life by their own free will, so that this order as a response to the earthly reality distorted by sin, could help avoid a greater sin through opposing it by means of temporal power. At the same time, the Lord says clearly through Samuel’s mouth that He expects this power to be faithful to His commandments and to do good works: “Now therefore behold the king ye have chosen, and whom ye have desired! and, behold, the Lord hath set a king over you. If ye will fear the Lord, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall both ye continue following the Lord our God. But if ye will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers” (1 Sam. 12:13-15). When Saul violated the Lord’s commandment, God rejected him (1 Sam. 16:1) and ordered him to anoint His other chosen one, David, a son of the commoner Jesse.

The Son of God Who reigns over heaven and earth (Mt. 28:18) through becoming man subjected Himself to the worldly order of things, obeying also the bearers of state power. To His crusifier, Pilate, the Roman procurator in Jerusalem, He said, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (Jn. 19:11). The Savoir gave this answer to the tempting question of a Pharisee about whether it is permissible to pay tribute to Caesar: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (Mt. 22:21).

Explaining the teaching of Christ on the right attitude to state power, St. Paul wrote: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou them not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Rom. 13:1-7). The same idea was expressed by St. Peter: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as he servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:13-16). The apostles taught Christians to obey the authorities regardless of their attitude to the Church. In the apostolic era, the Church of Christ was persecuted both by the Jewish and Roman State authorities. This did not prevent the martyrs and other Christians of that time from praying for prosecutors and recognising their power.

III. 2. The fall of Adam brought to the world sins and vices which needed public opposition. The first of them was the murder of Cain by Abel (Gen. 4:1-16). Aware of this, people in all known societies began to establish laws restricting evil and supporting good. For the Old Testament people, God Himself was the Lawmaker Who gave rules to regulate not only religious life proper but also public life (Ex. 20-23).

God blesses the state as an essential element of life in the world distorted by sin, in which both the individual and society need to be protected from the dangerous manifestations of sin. At the same time, the need for the state aroused not because God willed it for the primitive Adam, but because of the fall and because the actions to restrict the dominion of sin over the world conformed to His will. Holy Scriptures calls upon powers that be to use the power of state for restricting evil and supporting good, in which it sees the moral meaning of the existence of state (Rom. 13:3-4). It follows from the above that anarchy is the absence of proper order in a state and society, while calls to it and attempts to introduce it run contrary to the Christian outlook (Rom. 13:2).

The Church not only prescribes for her children to obey state power regardless of the convictions and faith of its bearers, but also prays for it, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:2). At the same time, Christians should avoid attempts to make it absolute and failure to recognise the limits of its purely earthly, temporal and transient value conditioned by the presence of sin in the world and the need to restrain it. According to the teaching of the Church, power itself has no right to make itself absolute by extending its limits up to complete autonomy from God and from the order of things established by Him. This can lead to the abuse of power and even to the deification of rulers. The state, just as other human institutions, even if aimed at the good, may tend to transform into a self-sufficing institute. Numerous historical examples of such a transformation show that in this case the state loses its true purpose.

III. 3. In church-state relations, the difference in their natures should be taken into account. The Church has been founded by God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, while the God-instituted nature of state power is revealed in historical process only indirectly. The goal of the Church is the eternal salvation of people, while the goal of state is their well-being on earth.

“My kingdom is not of this world”, says the Saviour (Jn. 18:36). “This world” is only partly obedient to God, but for the most part it seeks to become autonomous from its own Creator and Lord. To the extent the world disobeys God it obeys “the father of lie” and “lieth in wickedness” (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 5:19). But the Church as “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27) and “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), in her mysterious essence can have no evil in herself, nor any shadow of darkness. Since state is part of “this world”, it has no part in the Kingdom of God, for where there is Christ “all in all” (Col. 3:11) there is no room for coercion, nor is there opposition between the human and the divine, hence there is no state.

In the contemporary world, state is normally secular and not bound by any religious commitments. Its co-operation with the Church is limited to several areas and based on mutual non-interference into each other’s affairs. However, the state is aware as a rule that earthly well-being is unthinkable without respect for certain moral norms the norms which are also essential for the eternal salvation of man. Therefore, the tasks and work of the Church and the state may coincide not only in seeking purely earthly welfare, but also in the fulfilment of the salvific mission of the Church.

The principle of the secular state cannot be understood as implying that religion should be radically forced out of all the spheres of the people’s life, that religious associations should be debarred from decision-making on socially significant problems and deprived of the right to evaluate the actions of the authorities. This principles presupposes only a certain division of domains between church and state and their non-interference into each other’s affairs.

The Church should not assume the prerogatives of the state, such as resistance to sin by force, use of temporal authoritative powers and assumption of the governmental functions which presuppose coercion or restriction. At the same time, the Church may request or urge the government to exercise power in particular cases, yet the decision rests with the state.

The state should not interfere in the life of the Church or her government, doctrine, liturgical life, counselling, etc., or the work of canonical church institutions in general, except for those aspects where the Church is supposed to operate as a legal identity obliged to enter into certain relations with the state, its legislation and governmental agencies. The Church expects that the state will respect her canonical norms and other internal statutes.

III. 4. Various models of relationships between the Orthodox Church and the state have developed in the course of history.

The Orthodox tradition has developed an explicit ideal of church-state relations. Since church-state relations are two-way traffic, the above-mentioned ideal could emerge in history only in a state that recognises the Orthodox Church as the greatest people’s shrine, in other words, only in an Orthodox state.

Attempts to work out this form were undertaken in Byzantium, where the principles of church-state relations were expressed in the canons and the laws of the empire and were reflected in patristic writings. In their totality these principles were described as symphony between church and state. It is essentially co-operation, mutual support and mutual responsibility without one’s side intruding into the exclusive domain of the other. The bishop obeys the government as a subject, not his episcopal power comes from a government official. Similarly, a government official obeys his bishop as a member of the Church, who seeks salvation in it, not because his power comes from the power of the bishop. The state in such symphonic relationships with the Church seeks her spiritual support, prayer for itself and blessing upon its work to achieve the goal of its citizens’ welfare, while the Church enjoys support from the state in creating conditions favourable for preaching and for the spiritual care of her children who are at the same time citizens of the state.

St. Justinian in his Sixth Novella formulates the principle lying in the basis of church-state symphony: “The greatest blessings granted to human beings by God’s ultimate grace are priesthood and kingdom, the former (priesthood, church authority) taking care of divine affairs, while the latter (kingdom, government) guiding and taking care of human affairs, and both, come from the same source, embellishing human life. Therefore, nothing lies so heavy on the hearts of kings as the honour of priests, who on their part serve them, praying continuously for them to God. And if the priesthood is well ordered in everything and is pleasing to God, then there will be full harmony between them in every thing that serves the good and benefit of the human race. Therefore, we exert the greatest possible effort to guard the true dogmas of God and the honour of the priesthood, hoping to receive through it great blessings from God and to hold fast to the ones which we have”. Guided by this norm, Emperor Justinian in his Novellas recognised the canons as having the power of state laws.

The classical Byzantine formula of relationships between state and church power is contained in the Epanagoge (later 9th century): “The temporal power and the priesthood relate to each other as body and soul; they are necessary for state order just as body and soul are necessary in a living man. It is in their linkage and harmony that the well-being of a state lies”.

This symphony, however, did not exist in Byzantium in an absolutely pure form. In practice it was often violated and distorted. The Church was repeatedly subjected to caesarean-papist claims from the state authorities, which were essentially the demands that the head of the state, the emperor, should have the decisive say in ordering church affairs. Along with the sinful human love of power, these claims had also a historical reason. The Christian emperors of Byzantium were direct successors of the Roman pagan rulers who, among their numerous titles, had that of pontifex maximus, chief priest. The caesarean-papist tendency manifested itself most bluntly and dangerously for the Church in the policy of heretical emperors, especially in the iconoclastic era.

Unlike Byzantine basileuses, Russian tsars had a different legacy. For this and other historical reasons, relationship between the church and the state authorities was more harmonious in Russian antiquity. However, there were also deviations from the canonical norms (under Ivan the Terrible and in the confrontation between Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich and Patriarch Nikon).

As far as the Synodal period is concerned, the evident distortion of the symphonic norm for two centuries in church history is associated with the distinct impact that the Protestant doctrine of territory and established church (see below) made on the Russian perception of law and order and political life. An attempt to assert the ideal of symphony in the new situation when the empire collapsed was made by the Local Council of 1917-1918. In the declaration that preceded the Action on Church-State Relations, the demand to separate church and state was likened to the wish that “the sun should not shine and fire should not warm up. The Church, by the internal law of her being, cannot renounce her calling to enlighten, to transform the whole human life, to imbue it with her rays”. In the resolution of the Council on the legal status of the Orthodox Church of Russia, the state is called upon to accept, in particular, these provisions: “the Russian Orthodox Church, being part of the one Universal Church of Christ, shall have the pre-eminent public and legal status among other confessions in the Russian State, which befits her as the greatest shrine for the overwhelming majority of the population and a great historical force that built the Russian State As soon as they are made public, decrees and statutes issued the Orthodox Church for herself in the order established by herself, as well as deeds of the church government and court shall be recognised by the State as legally valid and important unless they violate state laws State laws concerning the Orthodox Church shall be issued only with the consent of the church authorities”. Subsequent Local Councils were held in situations when history made it impossible to return to the pre-Revolutionary principles of church-state relations. Nevertheless, the Church asserted her traditional role in the life of society and expressed readiness to work in social field. Thus, the 1990 Local Council stated: “Throughout her millennium-long history the Russian Orthodox Church educated the faithful in the spirit of patriotism and love of peace. Patriotism is manifested in the concern for the historical heritage of the Fatherland, in active civil position by sharing the joys and hardships of her people, in zealous and conscientious work and in concern for the moral state of society and for the preservation of nature” (from the Message of the Council).

In the European medieval West, a doctrine of “two swords” was formed not without influence by the work of St. Augustine entitled “On the City of God”. According to it, both church and state power, the former directly, the latter indirectly, go back to the Bishop of Rome. Popes were absolute monarchs ruling over the Papal States, a part of Italy, the remnant of which is what is the Vatican today. Many bishops, especially in feudally divided Germany were princes with state-like jurisdiction over their territories, with their own governments and armies of which they were leaders.

The Reformation left no ground for the popes and Catholic bishops to preserve their power in the territories of countries which became Protestant. In the 17th-19th centuries, the legal conditions in Catholic countries also changed so much that the Catholic Church was in fact removed from government. Along with the Vatican, however, the doctrine of “two swords” helped to retain the practice of concluding agreements in the form of concordats between the Roman Curia and states in which there were Catholic communities. Due to this, the legal status of these communities was determined in many countries not only by internal laws, but also by the law regulating international relations, to which the Vatican State was subject.

In the countries where the Reformation triumphed and later in some Catholic countries, the territorial principle was established in church-state relations, giving to state full sovereignty over a territory and the religious communities found in it. This system of relations was expressed in the phrase cujus est regio, illius est religio (the religion of the sovereign is the religion of the country). If realised consistently, this system implies that those whose faith is different from that of the bearers of the highest state power should be banished from the state (a practice realised more than once). In real life, however, this principle gained a foothold in a softer form described as the established church. It gives to the majority religious community, to which the sovereign belongs and which he officially heads, the privileges of the state Church. A combination of this system of church-state relations with remnants of the traditional symphony inherited from Byzantium determined the peculiarity of the legal status of the Orthodox Church in the Synodal period in Russia.

In the United State of America where there have been a multiconfessional state from the outset, the principle of radical separation of Church and State has been established, whereby the power system is neutral to all confessions. However, absolute neutrality is hardly feasible at all. Every state has to reckon with the real religious composition of its population. No Christian denomination taken separately makes up a majority in the United States, yet the decisive majority of US people are precisely Christians. This reality is reflected, in particular, in the fact that the president takes the oath of office on the Bible, Sundays are official days off, etc.

The principle of church-state separation, however, also has another genealogy. In the European continent it has resulted from the anticlerical or outright anti-church struggle well known, in particular, from the history of the French Revolutions. In these cases, the Church is separated from State not because of the multiconfessionalism of the population, but because the State identifies itself with a particular anti-Christian or altogether anti-religious ideology, making it pointless to speak about its neutrality towards religion and even its purely secular nature. For the Church, it normally means restrictions, limited rights, discrimination or outright persecution. The history of the 20th century has given many examples of this attitude of State towards religion and Church in various countries of the world.

There is also a form of church-state relations, intermediate between the established church and the radical separation of Church from State whereby the Church has the status of a private corporation. It is the status of the Church as a legal public corporation. In this case, the Church can have some privileges and obligations delegated to her by the state without being the Established Church in the proper sense of this word.

Today a number of countries, such as Great Britain, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Greece, still have Established Churches. Other states, which increasingly grow in number (USA, France), build their relations with religious communities on the basis of full separation. In Germany, the Catholic, Evangelical and some other Churches have the status of legal public corporations, while other religious communities are fully separated from state and regarded as private corporations. In practice, however, the real status of religious communities in most of these countries depend little on whether they are separated or not from the state. In some countries where Churches have retained the public status, it has been reduced to collecting taxes for their upkeep by the public fiscal administration and recognising church baptism and marriage records as valid legally as civil status certificates registered by public administrative bodies.

Today the Orthodox Church performs her service of God and people in various countries. In some of them she represents the nation-wide confession (Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria), while in others, which are multinational, the religion of the ethnic majority (Russia). In still other countries, those who belong to the Orthodox Church comprise a religious minority surrounded by either heterodox Christians (Finland, Poland, USA) or people of other religions (Japan, Syria, Turkey). In some small countries the Orthodox Church has the status of the state religion (Cyprus, Greece, Finland), while in other countries it is separated from state. There are also differences in the concrete legal and political contexts in which the Local Orthodox Churches live. They all, however, build both their internal order and relations with the government on the commandments of Christ, teaching of the apostles, holy canons and two-thousand-year-long historical experience and in may situation find an opportunity to pursue their God-commanded goals, thus revealing their other-worldly nature, their heavenly, divine, origin.

III. 5. Given their different natures, Church and State use different means for attaining their goals. The state relies basically on material power including coercion and on respective secular ideological systems, whereas the Church has at her disposal religious and moral means to give spiritual guidance to the flock and to attract new children.

The Church infallibly preaches the Truth of Christ and teaches moral commandments which came from God Himself. Therefore, she has no power to change anything in her teaching. Nor has she the power to fall silent and to stop preaching the truth whatever other teachings may be prescribed or propagated by state bodies. In this respect, the Church is absolutely free from the state. For the sake of the unhindered and internally free preaching of the truth, the Church suffered persecution by the enemies of Christ not once on history. But the persecuted Church is also called to endure the persecution with patience, without refusing to be loyal to the state persecuting her.

Legal sovereignty in the territory of a state belongs to its authorities. Therefore, it is they who determine the legal status of a Local Church or her part, either giving her an opportunity for the unhampered fulfilment of church mission or restricting this opportunity. Thus, state power makes judgement on itself and eventually foretells its fate. The Church remains loyal to the state, but God’s commandment to fulfil the task of salvation in any situation and under any circumstances is above this loyalty.

If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostatise from Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state. The Christian, following the will of his conscience, can refuse to fulfil the commands of state forcing him into a grave sin. If the Church and her holy authorities find it impossible to obey state laws and orders, after a due consideration of the problem, they may take the following action: enter into direct dialogue with authority on the problem, call upon the people to use the democratic mechanisms to change the legislation or review the authority’s decision, apply to international bodies and the world public opinion and appeal to her faithful for peaceful civil disobedience.

III. 6. The principle of the freedom of conscience, which emerged as a legal notion in the 18th-19th centuries, has become a fundamental principle of interpersonal relations only after World War I. It was confirmed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and included in the constitutions of most states. The emergence of this principle testifies that in the contemporary world, religion is turning from a “social” into a “private” affair of a person. This process in itself indicates that the spiritual value system has disintegrated and that most people in a society which affirms the freedom of conscience no longer aspire for salvation. If initially the state emerged as an instrument of asserting divine law in society, the freedom of conscience has ultimately turned state in an exclusively temporal institute with no religious commitments.

The adoption of the freedom of conscience as legal principle points to the fact that society has lost religious goals and values and become massively apostate and actually indifferent to the task of the Church and to the overcoming of sin. However, this principle has proved to be one of the means of the Church’s existence in the non-religious world, enabling her to enjoy a legal status in secular state and independence from those in society who believe differently or do not believe at all.

The religio-ideological neutrality of the state does not contradict the Christian idea of the Church’s calling in society. The Church, however, should point out to the state that it is inadmissible to propagate such convictions or actions which may result in total control over a person’s life, convictions and relations with other people, as well as erosion in personal, family or public morality, insult of religious feelings, damage to the cultural and spiritual identity of the people and threats to the sacred gift of life. In implementing her social, charitable, educational and other socially significant projects, the Church may rely on the support and assistance of the state. She also has the right to expect that state, in building its relations with religious bodies, will take into account the number of their followers and the place the occupy in forming the historical, cultural and spiritual image of the people and their civic stand.

III. 7. The form and methods of government is conditioned in many ways by the spiritual and moral condition of society. Aware of this, the Church accepts the people’s choice or does not resist it at least.

Under the Judges’ rule, the public system described in the Book of Judges, power acted not through coercion, but authority, which was sanctioned by God. For this authority to be effective, the faith in society should be very strong. Under monarchy, power remains God-given, but for its exercise it uses not so much spiritual authority as coercion. The shift from the judges’ rule to monarchy indicated the weakening faith the fact that caused the need to replace the King Invisible by the king visible. Contemporary democracies, including those monarchic in form, do not seek the divine sanction of power. They represent the form of government in secular society that presupposes the right of every able-bodied citizen to express his will through elections.

Any change in the form of government to that more religiously rooted, introduced without spiritualising society itself, will inevitably degenerate into falsehood and hypocrisy and make this form weak and valueless in the eyes of the people. However, one cannot altogether exclude the possibility of such a spiritual revival of society as to make natural a religiously higher form of government. But under slavery one should follow St. Paul advice: “if thou mayest be free, use it rather” (1 Cor. 7:21). At the same time, the Church should give more attention not to the system of the outer organisation of state, but to the inner condition of her members’ hearts. Therefore, the Church does not believe it possible for her to become an initiator of any change in the form of government. Along the same line, the 1994 Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church stressed the soundness of the attitude whereby “the Church does not give preference to any social system or any of the existing political doctrines”.

III. 8. The state, including the secular state, is normally aware if its calling to build the life of the people on the principles of good and justice, taking care of both the material and spiritual welfare of society. Therefore, the Church can cooperate with the state in affairs which benefit the Church herself, as well as the individual and society. For the Church this co-operation should be part of her salvific mission, which embraces comprehensively the concern for man. The Church is called to take part in building human life in all spheres where it is possible and, in doing so, to join efforts with representatives of the secular authority.

Church-state co-operation should be realised on the following conditions: the Church’s participation in the work of the state is correspondent to her nature and calling; the state does exercise dictate in the Church’s social work; and the Church is not involved in the spheres of public activity where her work is impossible for canonical and other reasons.

The areas of church-state co-operation in the present historical period are as follows:

a)peacemaking on international, inter-ethnic and civic levels and promoting mutual understanding and co-operation among people, nations and states;

b)concern for the preservation of morality in society;

c)spiritual, cultural, moral and patriotic education and formation;

d)charity and the development of joint social programs;

e)preservation, restoration and development of the historical and cultural heritage, including concern for the preservation of historical and cultural monuments;

f)dialogue with governmental bodies of all branches and levels on issues important for the Church and society, including the development of appropriate laws, by-laws, instructions and decisions;

g)care of the military and law-enforcement workers and their spiritual and moral education;

h)efforts to prevent crime and care of prisoners;

i)science and research;

j)healthcare;

k)culture and arts;

l)work of ecclesiastical and secular mass media;

m)preservation of the environment;

n)economic activity for the benefit of the Church, state and society;

o)support for the institution of family, for motherhood and childhood;

p)opposition to the work of pseudo-religious structures presenting a threat to the individual and society.

Church-state co-operation is also possible in some other areas if it contributes to the fulfilment of the tasks enumerated above.

At the same time, there are areas in which the clergy and canonical church structures cannot support the state or cooperate with it. They are as follows:

a)political struggle, election agitation, campaigns in support of particular political parties and public and political leaders;

b)waging civil war or aggressive external war;

c)direct participation in intelligence and any other activity that demands secrecy by law even in making one’s confession or reporting to the church authorities.

Among the traditional areas of the social efforts of the Orthodox Church is intercession with the government for the needs of the people, the rights and concerns of individual citizens or social groups. This intercession is a duty of the Church, realised through verbal or written interventions by appropriate church bodies with the governmental bodies of various branches and levels.

III. 9. In the contemporary state, power is normally divided into the legislative, executive and judicial branches and the national, regional and local levels. This determines the specificity of the Church’s relations with the authorities of various branches and levels.

Relations with the legislative power consist in dialogue between the Church and the legislators on the improvement of the national and local law pertaining to the life of the Church, church-state co-operation and the spheres of the Church’s social concern. This dialogue also concerns the resolutions and decisions of the legislative power which have no direct bearing on legislation.

In contacts with the executive power, the Church should conduct dialogue on making decisions pertaining to the life of the Church, church-state co-operation and the spheres of the Church’s social concern. To this end, the Church maintains contacts on the respective level with central and local executive power bodies, including those responsible for solving practical problems in the life and work of religious associations and those responsible for monitoring the observance of law (organs of justice, prosecution, interior) by the above-mentioned bodies.

The Church’s relationships with the judiciary on various levels should be limited to the representation, if necessary, of her interest in court. The Church does not interfere in the judicial authority’s exercise of its functions and powers. Except for absolute necessity, the interests of the Church are represented in court by lay people empowered by the church authorities on the respective level (Chalced. 9). Internal church disputes should not be brought out to secular court(Antioch. 12). Interconfessional conflicts and conflicts with schismatics which do not touch upon doctrinal matters can be brought to secular court (Carth. 59).

III. 10. The holy canons forbid the clergy to approach the government without permission from the church superiors. Thus, Canon 11 of the Council of Sardica reads: “If any bishop or presbyter or generally any one of the clergy dare go to the ruler without permission and credentials from the bishop of the province and even more so from the bishop of the metropolis, let he be suspended and deprived of not only communion but also the dignity he enjoyed If an urgent necessity makes one go to the ruler, let he do this with consideration and permission of the bishop of the metropolis and other bishops of that province and let he be sent with credentials from them”.

The Church’s contacts and co-operation with the highest state authorities are carried out by the Patriarch and the Holy Synod directly or through representatives who have powers confirmed in writing. Her contacts and co-operation with the regional governments are carried out by diocesan bishops or through representatives who also have powers confirmed in writing. Her contacts and co-operation with the local authorities and self-government bodies are carried out by deaneries and parishes with the blessing of their diocesan bishops. The representatives of the church supreme authorities empowered to maintain contacts with the governmental bodies may be appointed both on the permanent and ad hoc basis.

If a matter considered previously on the local or regional level is referred to the highest governmental bodies, the diocesan bishop notifies the Patriarch and the Holy Synod about it and asks them to keep in contact with the state in further consideration of this matter. If a legal case is transferred from a local or regional to the highest level, the diocesan bishop should make a written report to the Patriarch and the Holy Synod about the earlier court examination. Those presiding over self-governed church districts and the administrators of dioceses in particular states have a special blessing from the Patriarch and the Holy Synod to maintain contacts with the leaders of these states.

III. 11. To avoid any confusion of church and state affairs and to prevent the church authority from acquiring temporal nature, the canons prohibit the clergy from participating in the affairs of state government. Apostolic Canon 81 reads: “It does not befit a bishop or a presbyter to go into the affairs of the people’s government, but to be always engaged in the affairs of the Church”. Apostolic Canon 6 and Canon 10 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council speak of the same. In the contemporary context, these provisions apply not only to administration but also participation in the representative bodies of power (see, V. 2).

Continue on to IV. Christian Ethics and Secular Law from The Orthodox Church and Society

IV. Christian ethics and secular law

IV. 1. God is perfection, therefore the world created by Him is perfect and harmonious. Life is observance of the divine laws, as God Himself is life endless and abundant. Through the original fall, evil and sin entered the world. At the same time, fallen man has retained the freedom to choose the right way with God’s help. In this effort, the observance of God-given commandments asserts life. But deviation from them leads inevitably to damage and death, as it is noting else but deviation from God, hence, from being and life, which can be only in Him: “See, I have set thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes and his judgements, that thou mayest live But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away ye shall surely perish, and ye shall not prolong your days upon the land” (Deut. 30:15-18). In the earthly order of things, sin and retribution do not often follow each other immediately but may be intervened by many years and even generations: “For I the Lord thy God an a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me, and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments” (Deut. 5:9-10). This distance between crime and punishment keeps man free, on the one hand, and compels the reasonable and pious people to study the divine commandment with a special attention, on the other, in order to learn to distinguish between right and wrong, lawful and unlawful.

Among the oldest monuments of the written language are numerous collections of homilies and statutes. Undoubtedly, they go back to the even earlier, pre-alphabet, existence of humanity, since “the work of the law” is written by God in human hearts (Rom. 2:15). Law has been there in the human society from times immemorial. The first rules were given to man as far back as the paradise time (Gen. 2:16-17). After the fall, which is violation by man of the divine law, law becomes a boundary and trespassing against it threatens the destruction of both the human personality and human community.

IV. 2. The law is called to manifest the one divine law of the universe in social and political realms. At the same time, any legal system developed by the human community, being as it is a fruit of historical development, carries a seal of limitation and imperfection. Law is a special realm, different from the related ethical realm, as it does not qualify the inner conditions of the human heart, since God alone is its Reader.

Yet it is human behaviour and actions that is the subject of the legal regulation, which is the essence of legislation. The law also provides for coercive measures for making people obey it. The legislative sanctions to restore the trampled law and order make law a reliable clamp of society unless, as it has often happened in history, the whole system of the enforced law capsizes. However, as no human community can exist without law, a new legislative system always emerges in place of the destroyed law and order.

The law contains a certain minimum of moral standards compulsory for all members of society. The secular law has as its task not to turn the world lying in evil into the Kingdom of God, but to prevent it from turning into hell. The fundamental principle of law is: “do not do to others what you would not want to be done to yourself”. If a person has committed a sinful action against another, the damage inflicted on the integrity of the divine law and order can be made up by the suffering of the offender or pardon whereby the moral consequences of a sinful action is assumed by the person (ruler, spiritual father, community, etc.) who issues pardon. Suffering heals the soul affected by sin, while the voluntary suffering of the innocent for the sins of a criminal represents the highest form of redemption the ultimate of which is the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Who took upon Himself the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).

IV. 3. The understanding of where the “wounding edge” separating one person from another lies was different in various societies and in various periods. The more religious a human community the greater its awareness of the unity and integrity of the world. People in a religiously integral society are viewed in two perspectives, both as unique personalities, who either stand or fall before God (Rom. 14:4) and who cannot be judged by other people, and as members of the one public body in which the illness of one member leads to the sickness and even death of the whole body. In the latter case, every person can and must be judged by the whole community, since the actions of one make an impact on many. The seeking of the spirit of peace by one righteous man, according to St. Seraphim of Sarov, leads to the salvation of thousands around him, while a sin committed by one culprit may entail the death of many.

This attitude to sinful and criminal manifestations is firmly grounded in Holy Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. “By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted; but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked” (Prov. 11:11). St. Basil the Great taught the people of Caesarea in Cappadocia: “Because of a few, disasters come upon a whole people, and because of the evil deeds of one, many have to taste their fruits. Ahab committed sacrilege, and all the chariots were defeated; already Zimri committed whoredom with a Midianitish woman, and punished was Israel”. St. Cyprian of Moscow writes about the same: “Do not you know that people’s sin fall upon the prince, and the prince’s sin fall upon the people?”

That is why old statute books also regulated those aspects of life which are outside regulation by today’s law. For instance, by the legal provisions of the Pentateuch, adultery was punished by death (Lev. 20:10), whereas today it is not regarded as a legal offence in most states. If the vision of the world in its integrity is lost, the field of legal regulation becomes reduced to the cases of the visible damage done, and the boundaries of the latter become more narrow with the erosion of public morality and secularisation of consciousness. For instance, today’s law treats sorcery, which was a grave crime in ancient communities, as a imaginary action not to be punished.

The fallen nature of man that has distorted his awareness does not allow him to accept the divine law in all its fullness. In various periods, people have been aware of only part of this law. This is evident from the Gospel’s talk of the Savoir about divorce. Moses permitted divorce “because of the hardness of our hearts”, but it was not so “from the beginning” because in marriage a man becomes “one flesh” with his wife, making marriage indissoluble (Mt. 19:3-5).

However, in the cases where the human law completely rejects the absolute divine norm, replacing it by an opposite one, it ceases to be law and becomes lawlessness, in whatever legal garments it may dress itself. For instance, the Decalogue clearly states: “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Ex. 20:12). Any secular norm that contradicts this commandment indicts not its offender but the legislator himself. In other words, the human law has never contained the divine law in its fullness, but in order to remain law it is obliged to conform to the God-established principles, rather then to erode them.

IV. 4. Historically, both religious and secular laws originate from the same source. Moreover, for a long time they only represented two sides of one legal field. This idea of law is also characteristic of the Old Testament.

The Lord Jesus Christ, in calling those faithful to Him to the Kingdom that is not of this world, separated (Lk. 12:51-52) the Church as His body from the world lying in evil. In Christianity, the internal law of the Church is free from the spiritually-fallen state of the world and is even opposed to it (Mt. 5:21-47). This opposition, however, is not the violation but the fulfilment of the law of the divine Truth in its fullness, which humanity repudiated in the fall. Comparing the Old Testament norms with that of the Gospel, the Lord in His Sermon on the Mount calls people to seek the full identity of life with the absolute divine law, that is to deification: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).

IV. 5. In the Church founded by the Lord Jesus, there is special law based on the Divine Revelation. It is the canon law. While other religious statutes are given to humanity as fallen away from God and can be essentially part of the civil law, the Christian law is fundamentally supra-social. It cannot be part of the civil law, though in Christian societies it can make a favourable influence on it as its moral foundation.

The Christian state normally used the modified law of the pagan times (for instance, the Roman law in the Codex of Justinian), since it included the norms consonant with the divine truth. However, any attempt to develop the civil, criminal and public law based on the Gospel alone cannot be efficient, for without the full churching of life, that is without complete victory over sin, the law of the Church cannot become the law of the world. This victory is possible, however, only in the eschatological perspective.

However, the experience of the Christianization of the legal system inherited from the pagan Rome under Emperor Justinian proved to be quite successful. It was so not in the least because the legislator, in developing the Codex, was fully aware of the dividing life between the order of this world, marked with the fall and sinful erosion even in the Christian era, and the statutes of the grace-giving body of Christ, the Church, even its members and the citizens of a Christian state are the same people. The Codex of Justinian determined for centuries the Byzantine legal system and made a considerable impact on the development of law in Russia and in some Western European countries both in the middle ages and the modern time.

IV. 6. The idea of the inalienable rights of the individual has become one of the dominating principles in the contemporary sense of justice. The idea of these rights is based on the biblical teaching on man as the image and likeness of God, as an ontologically free creature. “Examine what is around you”, writes St. Anthony of Egypt, “and see that princes and masters have power over your body alone, not over your soul, and always keep this in mind. Why when they order, say, to kill or to do something else, inappropriate, unrighteous and harmful for the soul, it is not proper to obey them, even though they torture your body. God has created the soul free and self-ruled, and it is free to do as it wills, good or bad”.

The Christian socio-public ethics demanded that a certain autonomous sphere should be reserved for man, in which his conscience might remain the “autocratic” master, for it is the free will that determines ultimately the salvation or death, the way to Christ or the way away from Christ. The right to believe, to live, to have family is what protects the inherent foundations of human freedom from the arbitrary rule of outer forces. These internal rights are complimented with and ensured by other, external ones, such as the right to free movement, information, property, to its possession and disposition.

God keeps man free, never forcing his will. Contrary to it, Satan seeks to possess the human will, to enslave it. If the law conforms to the divine truth revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ, then it also stands guard over human freedom: “Where the Spirit is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore, it guards the inalienable rights of the personality. Those traditions, however, which do not know of the principle of the freedom of Christ, often seek to subject the human consciousness to the external will of a ruler or a collective.

IV. 7. As secularism developed, the lofty principles of inalienable human rights turned into a notion of the rights of the individual outside his relations with God. In this process, the freedom of the personality transformed into the protection of self-will (as long as it is not detrimental to individuals) and into the demand that the state should guarantee a certain material living standard for the individual and family. In the contemporary systematic understanding of civil human rights, man is treated not as the image of God, but as a self-sufficient and self-sufficing subject. Outside God, however, there is only the fallen man, who is rather far from being the ideal of perfection aspired to by Christians and revealed in Christ (“Ecce homo!”). For the Christian sense of justice, the idea of human freedom and rights is bound up with the idea of service. The Christian needs rights so that in exercising them he may first of all fulfil in the best possible way his lofty calling to be “the likeness of God”, as well as his duty before God and the Church, before other people, family, state, nation and other human communities.

As a result of the secularisation in modern times, the theory of natural law prevailed, which in its constructions did not take into account the fallen humanity. This theory, however, did not lose links with Christian tradition, for it proceeded from the conviction that the notions of good and evil were inherent in humanity. Therefore, law grew up from life itself, based on conscience (“the categorical moral imperative”). This theory was dominant in the European society up to the 19th century. Its practical consequences included, firstly, the principle of the historical continuity of the legal domain (law cannot be abolished as conscience cannot be abolished; it can only be improved and adjusted also legally to new situations and cases). Secondly, it gave rise to the principle of precedent (in conformity with conscience and the legal tradition, the court can pass a right sentence, that is a sentence consonant to the Divine Truth).

In the contemporary understanding of law, views apologetic towards the positive law in force have prevailed. Law is viewed as a human invention, a construction that is built by society to benefit itself and to fulfil tasks defined by itself. Hence, any changes to the law, if approved by society, are considered valid. The written law has no absolute legal basis whatsoever. This view gives validity to the revolution that rejects the laws of “the old world” and to the full rejection of the moral norm if this rejection is approved by society. Thus, if in contemporary society abortion is not believed to be murder, it is not such legally either. Apologists of the positive law believe that society can introduce very diverse standards, on the one hand, and consider any law in force to be legitimate by virtue of its very existence, on the other.

IV. 8. The law and order of a particular country is a special version of the common worldview law characteristic of a given nation. The national law expresses the fundamental principles of relations between persons, between power and society and between institutions in accordance with the peculiarities of a given nation moving in history. The national law is imperfect, for imperfect and sinful is any nation. However, it establishes a framework for the people’s life if it translates God’s absolute truths into and adjusts them to the concrete historical and national existence.

Thus, law and order in Russia gradually developed and grew ever more complex for a millennium as society itself developed and grew in its complexity. The conventional Slavic law, which had preserved the ancient common Aryan forms until the 10th, due to Christianization incorporated some elements of the Byzantine legislation. It did it through the Codex of Justinian tracing back to the classical Roman law and the church canon law, which at that time was fused with the civil law. From the 17th century, the Russia law drew intensively on the standards and legal logic of the Western European law, doing it in a fairly organic way, since the Roman legal tradition, basic for Europe, was borrowed by Russia from Constantinople together with Christianity as far back as the 10th-11the centuries. The Old Russian Russkaya pravda (Russian truth), princes’ statutes and charters, legal documents and books, the Council of the Hundred Chapters and the 1949 Conciliar code, Petrine articles and decrees, legal actions by Catherine the Great and Alexander I, reforms of Alexander II and the 1906 Basic Law all represented one legal fabric of the creative people’s organism. Some standards became out of date, while other come replace them. Some legal novations failed as inconsonant with the order of people’s life and ceased to be applied. The flow of the river of Russian national law whose sources were lost in distant history was stopped by the year 1917. On November 22 of that year, the Council of People’s Commissars, in conformity with the spirit of the positive law, repealed the whole Russian legislation. After the collapse of the Soviet statehood in the early 90s, the legal system in the CIS and Baltic countries is still in the making. At its foundation are the ideas dominating in the contemporary secularised sense of justice.

IV. 9. The Church of Christ, preserving her own autonomous law based on the holy canons and keeping within the church life proper, can exist in the framework of very diverse legal systems which she treats with respect. The Church invariably calls upon her flock to be law-abiding citizens of their earthly homeland. At the same time, she has always underlined the unshakeable limits to which her faithful should obey the law.

In everything that concerns the exclusively earthly order of things, the Orthodox Christian is obliged to obey the law, regardless of how far it is imperfect and unfortunate. However, when compliance with legal requirements threatens his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of another doubtless sin before God and his neighbour, the Christian is called to perform the feat of confession for the sake of God’s truth and the salvation of his soul for eternal life. He must speak out lawfully against an indisputable violation committed by society or state against the statutes and commandments of God. If this lawful action is impossible or ineffective, he must take up the position of civil disobedience (see, III. 5).

Continue on to V. Church and Politics from The Orthodox Church and Society

V. Church and politics

V. 1. In the contemporary state, citizens participate in the government of the country by voting. Most of them belong to political parties, movements, unions, blocs and other suchlike organisations based on various political doctrines and views. These organisations, seeking to order social life according to the political convictions of their members, have as one of their goals to hold or reform power in the state. Exercising powers given to them by popular vote during elections, political organisations can participate in the work of the legislative and executive power structures.

The presence in society of different, sometimes opposing political convictions and discordant interests generates political struggle which is waged by both legitimate and morally justified methods and methods sometimes contradicting the norms of public law and Christian and natural morality.

V. 2. The Church, according to God’s commandment, has a task to show concern for the unity of her children and peace and harmony in society and the involvement of all her members in common creative efforts. The Church is called to preach and build peace with outer society: “If it is possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:19); “Follow peace with all men” (Heb. 12:14). It is even more important for her, however, to be internally united in faith and love: “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind” (1 Cor. 1:10). For the Church the highest value is her unity as the mysterious body of Christ (Eph. 1:23) on which the eternal salvation of humanity depends. St. Ignatius the God-Bearer, addressing the members of the Church of Christ, writes: “You all make up as if one church of God, as if one altar, as if one Jesus”.

In face of political differences, contradictions and struggle, the Church preaches peace and co-operation among people holding various political views. She also acknowledges the presence of various political convictions among her episcopate, clergy and laity, except for such as to lead clearly to actions contradicting the faith and moral norms of the church Tradition.

It is impossible for the Church’s Supreme Authorities and for the clergy, hence for the plenitude of the Church to participate in such activities of political organisations and election processes as public support for the running political organisations or particular candidates, election campaigns and so forth. The clergy are not allowed to be nominated for elections to any body of representative power at any level. At the same time, nothing should prevent bishops, clergy and laity from participation in the expression of the popular will by voting along with other citizens.

In church history there were not a few cases when the whole Church gave support to various political doctrines, views, organisations and leaders. In some cases, this support was linked with the need for the Church to defend her fundamental interests in the extreme conditions of anti-religious persecution and the destructive and restrictive actions of the non-Orthodox and non-Christian power. In other cases, this support resulted from the pressure from the state or political structures and usually led to divisions and controversies within the Church and to the falling away of some of her people infirm in their faith.

In the 20th century, the clergy and hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church were members of some representative bodies of power, in particular, the State Duma of the Russian Empire and the Supreme Soviets of the USSR and the Russian Federation, some local councils and legislative assemblies. In some cases, their participation in the work of governmental bodies was beneficial for the Church and society. However, it sometimes generated confusions and divisions. This happened especially when the clergy were permitted to run for elective offices without the blessing of the Church. The practice of this participation as a whole has shown that it is almost impossible without one’s assuming responsibility for making decisions which are in the interests of only a part of the population and against those of others. This is a situation that seriously complicates the pastoral and missionary work of the clergy called to be, according to St. Paul, “all things to all men that by all means some may be saved” (1 Cor. 9:22). At the same time, history has shown that the decision of the clergy to participate or not to participate in political activities was made and should be made depending on the needs of a particular period and the internal condition of the church organism and its place in the state. From the canonical point of view however, the answer to the question of whether a priest in a public office should work as a professional is unequivocally negative.

On October 8, 1919, St. Tikhon appealed to the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church not to interfere in the political struggle. He pointed out in particular that the servants of the Church “by virtue of their rank should be above and outside any political interests. They should remember the canonical rules of the Holy Church whereby she prohibits her servants from interfering in the political life of the country, joining any political parties and, what is more, from making the liturgical rites a tool of political demonstrations”.

Prior to the elections of the USSR people’s deputies, the Holy Synod resolved on December 27, 1988, that “in case of the nomination and election of representatives of our Church, blessing be given upon this activity in the conviction that it will benefit the faithful and our whole society”. In addition to being elected as USSR people’s deputies, some bishops and clerics occupied deputy’s posts in republican, regional and local soviets. The new situation in the political life compelled the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in October 1989 to pay more attention to the two questions: “Firstly, how far can the Church go in assuming responsibility for political decisions without casting doubt on their pastoral authority and, secondly, is it permissible for the Church to refuse participation in legislation and the opportunity to make a moral impact on the political process at a time when a particular decision determines as much as the fate of the country?” As a result of this discussion, the Bishops’ Council recognised the Holy Synod decision of December 27, 1988, as valid only for the previous elections. It adopted the procedure for the future, whereby the Supreme Church Authorities, namely the Holy Synod (in case of bishops) and ruling bishops (in case of clergy under their jurisdiction), should decide beforehand in every particular case whether the participation of the clergy in an election campaign was desirable.

Notwithstanding, some representatives of the clergy did take part in the elections without obtaining the necessary blessing. The Holy Synod regretted to state on March 20, 1990 that “the Russian Orthodox Church declines the moral and religious responsibility for the participation of these persons in the elected offices”. For the reasons of oikonomia, the Synod refrained from using appropriate sanctions against the violators, “stating that such a behaviour lies on their own conscience”. On October 8, 1993, in view of the establishment of a professional parliament in Russia, the Holy Synod at its enlarged session decided to prescribe to the clergy to refrain from participating in the parliamentary elections in Russia as nominees to parliament. It resolved that the clergy who violated this decision should be defrocked. The 1994 Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church approved this resolution as “timely and wise” and resolved to apply it to “the future participation of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church in any election to the representatives bodies of power in the CIS and Baltic countries on both national and local levels”.

The same Bishops’ Council, responding to the challenges of time in faithfulness to the holy canons, adopted a number of rules concerning the subject under discussion. Thus, in one of its resolutions, the Council decided: “to re-affirm the impossibility for the church Plenitude to give support, first of all in election campaigns, to any political party, movement, bloc, union or a similar organisation and to any of their leaders To consider it extremely undesirable for the clergy to join political parties, movements, unions, blocs and similar organisations which are intended primarily for pre-election struggle”.

The Bishops’ Council that took place in 1997 developed the principles of the Church’s relations with political organisations and made even stronger one its previous resolution by refusing to give its blessing to the clergy for them to join political associations. It resolved, in particular, in its statement “On Relations with State and Secular Society: “to welcome the Church’s dialogue and contacts with political organisations if such contacts are not supportive politically; to consider it admissible to maintain co-operation with these organisations in tasks beneficial for the Church and the people unless this co-operation can be interpreted as political support to consider inadmissible the participation of bishops and clergy in any election campaign or their memberships in political associations whose constitutions provide for the nomination of their candidate to elective offices on all levels”.

The fact that the Plenitude of the Church does not participate in political struggle, in the work of political parties and in election processes does not mean her refusal to express publicly her stand on socially significant issues and to present this stand to governmental bodies in any country and on any level. This position may be expressed only by Councils, the church authorities and those empowered to act for them. In any case, the right to express it cannot be delegated to public offices or political or other secular organisations.

V. 3. Nothing can prevent the Orthodox laity from participating in the work of legislative, executive and judicial bodies and political organisations. This involvement took place under various political systems, such as autocracy, constitutional monarchy and various forms of the republican system. The participation of the Orthodox laity in civic and political processes was difficult only in the contexts of non-Christian rule and the regime of state atheism.

In participating in government and political processes, the Orthodox laity are called to base their work on the norms of the gospel’s morality, the unity of justice and mercy (Ps. 85:10), the concern for the spiritual and material welfare of people, the love of the fatherland and the desire to transform the surrounding world according to the word of Christ.

At the same time, the Christian, a politician or a statesmen, should be well aware that in historical reality and, all the more so, in the context of today’s divided and controversial society, most decisions adopted and political actions taken tend to benefit only a part of society, while restricting or infringing upon the interests and wishes of others. Many such decisions and actions are stained with sin or connivance with sin. Precisely for this reason the Orthodox politician or statesman is required to be very sensitive spiritually and morally.

The Christian who works in the sphere of public and political building is called to seek the gift of special self-sacrifice and special self-denial. He needs to be utterly attentive to his own spiritual condition, so that his public or political work may not turn from service into an end in itself that nourishes pride, greed and other vices. It should be remembered that “principalities or powers, all things were created by him, and for him and by him all things stand” (Col. 1:16-17). St. Gregory the Theologian, addressing the rulers, wrote: “It is with Christ that you command, with Christ that you govern, from Him that you have received the sword”. St. John Chrysostom says: “A true king is he who conquers anger and jealousy and voluptuousness and subjects everything to the laws of God and does not allow the passion for pleasure to prevail in his soul. I would like to see such a man in command of the people, and the throne, and the cities and the provinces, and the troops, because he who subjected the physical passions to reason would easily govern people also according to the divine laws But he who appears to command people but in fact accommodates himself to wrath and ambition and pleasure, will not know how to dispose of the power”.

V. 4. The participation of the Orthodox laity in the work of governmental bodies and political processes may be both individual and corporate, within special Christian (Orthodox) political organisations or Christian (Orthodox) units of larger political associations. In both cases, the faithful have the right to choose and express their political convictions, to make decisions and to carry out appropriate work. At the same time, lay people who participate in public or political activity individually or within various organisations do it independently, without identifying their political work with the stand of the Church Plenitude or any of the canonical church institutions or speaking for them. At the same time, the supreme church authority does not give special blessing upon the political activity of the laity.

The 1994 Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church resolved that it is admissible for lay people to join political organisations and “to found such organisations, and if they describe themselves as Christian or Orthodox organisations, they are called to increase their interaction with the church authorities. It is also possible for the clergy, including those representing canonical church structures and the church authorities, to participate in particular activities of political organisations and maintain co-operation with them in tasks beneficial for the Church and society if this participation is not supportive of political organisations and contributes to building peace and accord among people and in the church community”.

A similar resolution of the 1997 Bishops’ Council reads in particular: “To believe it possible for lay people to participate in the work of political organisations and to found such organisation if the latter have no clergy among their members and conduct responsible consultations with the church authorities. To resolve that these organisations as participants in the political process cannot enjoy the blessing of the church authorities and speak for the Church. The Church’s blessing cannot be given and, if given previously, will be denied to the church-public organisations involved in election campaigns and political agitation and claiming to express the Church’s opinion, which is expressed before the state and society only by church Councils, His Holiness the Patriarch and the Holy Synod. The same should be applied to the ecclesial and ecclesio-public mass media”.

The existence of Christian (Orthodox) political organisations and Christian (Orthodox) units in larger political associations is perceived by the Church as positive as it helps lay people to engage in common political and public work based on Christian spiritual and moral principles. These organisations, while being free in their activity, are called to consult the church authorities and to co-ordinate their actions in implementing the Church’s position on public issues.

In relations between the Church Plenitude and Christian (Orthodox) political organisations, in which Orthodox lay people participate, and particular Orthodox politicians and statesmen, situations may arise where their statements or actions essentially differ from the Church’s stand on public issues or impede the realisation of this stand. In such cases, the Church Authorities ascertains the fact of differing positions and states it publicly in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding among the faithful and society at large. The statement of such a difference should compel the Orthodox laity participating in political activity to think whether it is appropriate for them to continue their memberships in this political organisation.

The organisations of Orthodox Christians should not have the nature of secret society presupposing one’s total subjection to the leaders and conscious refusal to disclose their essence when consulting the Church Authorities and even making one’s confession. The Church cannot approve of the participation of the Orthodox laity and, more so, clergy in the non-Orthodox societies of this kind, since by their very nature they divest a person of his total commitment to the Church of God and her canonical order.

Continue on to VI. Labor and Its Fruits from The Orthodox Church and Society