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May/14

10

St. Josef?

Modern Russia:
Russia2014

Estonia’s president Toomas Hendrik Ilves tweets:

Syncretism: the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.

Pause to consider the outrage if a similar icon, but bearing the picture of Hitler, had been included in a march in Germany.

And here’s Serge Schmemann writing in the National Geographic back in 2009:

…Some astoundingly dark and retrograde notions openly circulate in reactionary churches and on nationalist websites. One is a drive to canonize Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible, two of the more noxious characters of Russian history who have been reinvented by extremists as “defenders of Holy Russia.”

Outside St. Petersburg, the decaying summer palaces of old Russia’s tsars and grand dukes overlook the Gulf of Finland. Behind the ruins of one such palace stands a tiny, half-restored chapel. Inside I come face-to-face with a spectacle that makes me gasp—a large icon of Joseph Stalin. He’s not wearing the halo of a saint, but a saint is blessing him.

The icon depicts a legend in which Stalin, at the outbreak of World War II, secretly visits St. Matryona of Moscow, a blind and paralyzed woman to whom many people came for spiritual guidance until her death in 1952. According to the legend she counseled the Soviet dictator not to flee Moscow before the invading German Army, but to stand firm against the onslaught.

The chapel’s pastor, Evstafy Zhakov, is a fiery nationalist highly regarded by his flock for his charismatic sermons. In an interview with the right-wing newspaper Zavtra, he defended the icon by explaining that Russia has a long tradition of saints blessing warriors before battle.

“But Stalin was an atheist,” the interviewer interjected.

“How do you know?” Father Evstafy retorted. Two wartime patriarchs proclaimed Stalin a believer, “and I will believe them before I believe all these liberals and democrats.”

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Apr/14

27

Putin’s Church

Valamo, Finland 1930sThe Aviationist reports:

A Tupolev Tu-214SR, used as a communication relay aircraft often dispatched by the Russian Air Force to accompany Putin’s presidential aircraft or other Moscow’s VIPs on their trips, has departed from St. Petersburg and it is currently circling near the border with Finland.

The orbit RSD49 (the radio callsign of the aircraft) is flying, centered on the island of Valaam, the largest in Lake Ladoga, where Putin is visiting his “spiritual mentor”, brings the Tu-214 as close as 20 km from the Finnish border.

There’s something nastily appropriate about that. The Valaam monastery is in a part of Karelia that was Finnish territory until stolen by Stalin in 1940.

In other Russian Orthodox news, note this detail from the recent account of a visit to “separatist”-occupied Slavyansk (eastern Ukraine) by the Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Halko:

[T]hey are in complete control of the city; Slavyansk is occupied.

Q: And what do they call themselves, these armed men?

A: They do not introduce themselves. They have signs everywhere saying “Donbas People’s Militia.” But no one introduced himself to us. No one said anything about himself.

The only person who spoke to us was a civilian who was standing at these roadblocks with a ribbon of St. George [symbol of loyalty to Russia] and without a mask. Some kind of hardcore Orthodox fundamentalist. Only with him was it clear who he was, that he was a local; he even showed his passport – he has retained a Soviet passport in which there was a column for nationality; in it was written: “Russian.” He is proud of this. And he says that we are all Orthodox Russians here. That means, we do not want this “European plague.”

Only he spoke with us in a normal way, and told us about his motives at least. Incidentally, among these people there are many with beards, but not because they have not shaved for many days, but really long beards, as if they were some kind of Orthodox brotherhood. Many say they are from Slavyansk, I do not know.

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Apr/14

6

God and Mr. Putin

Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir PutinPat Buchanan, writing in Human Events, appears to suggest that Vladimir Putin may, so to speak, be on the side of the angels:

In his Kremlin defense of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin, even before he began listing the battles where Russian blood had been shed on Crimean soil, spoke of an older deeper bond.

Crimea, said Putin, “is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”

Russia is a Christian country, Putin was saying.

This speech recalls last December’s address where the former KGB chief spoke of Russia as standing against a decadent West:

“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”

Heard any Western leader, say, Barack Obama, talk like that lately?

…Author Masha Gessen, who has written a book on Putin, says of his last two years, “Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world.”

But the war to be waged with the West is not with rockets. It is a cultural, social, moral war where Russia’s role, in Putin’s words, is to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”

Would that be the “chaotic darkness” and “primitive state” of mankind, before the Light came into the world?

This writer was startled to read in the Jan-Feb. newsletter from the social conservative World Council of Families in Rockford, Ill., that, of the “ten best trends” in the world in 2013, number one was “Russia Emerges as Pro-Family Leader.”

In 2013, the Kremlin imposed a ban on homosexual propaganda, a ban on abortion advertising, a ban on abortions after 12 weeks and a ban on sacrilegious insults to religious believers.

“While the other super-powers march to a pagan world-view,” writes WCF’s Allan Carlson, “Russia is defending Judeo-Christian values. During the Soviet era, Western communists flocked to Moscow. This year, World Congress of Families VII will be held in Moscow, Sept. 10-12.”

Will Vladimir Putin give the keynote?

In the new ideological Cold War, whose side is God on now?

On the corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church: nothing.

On the bullying of other (non-Orthodox) Christian denominations: nothing.

And on so much else: nothing.

People believe what they want to believe and they see what they want to see.

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Mar/14

29

Dana Rohrabacher, Again

Pussy Riot in KievDana Rohrabacher, Republican congressman and scourge of Pussy Riot, is at it again.

The New York Times:

…Then came Russia’s takeover of Crimea, and Mr. Rohrabacher had to draw the line — in favor of Mr. Putin.

“There have been dramatic reforms in Russia that are not being recognized by my colleagues…The churches are full. There are opposition papers being distributed on every newsstand in Russia. You’ve got people demonstrating in the parks. You’ve got a much different Russia than it was under Communism, but you’ve got a lot of people who still can’t get over that Communism has fallen.”

What about Pussy Riot, the Russian protest group? Its members were jailed for criticizing Mr. Putin, released, then publicly flogged when they showed up at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“Well, I don’t think that happens often,” Mr. Rohrabacher said with a shrug. “There are lots of people demonstrating in the streets of Russia who are perfectly free to do so.”

Don’t get me wrong, Russia has changed immensely (and generally for the better) since the fall of the Soviet Union, but there is a middle ground between accepting that the old Cold War certainties no longer apply on the one hand, and a starry-eyed enthusiasm for the emerging new Russia on the other, but that’s not where Dana Rohrabacher stands.

· · · ·

MoscowMarch15Two of the formerly-jailed Pussy Rioters have been in Moscow today, bravely speaking at a demonstration to oppose what Putin is doing in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Right Wing Watch (I know, I know) reports that Concerned Women of America will no longer be attending a ‘World Congress of Families’ summit scheduled to be held in the Kremlin later this year. The group’s CEO Penny Nance has said, “I don’t want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.” Well, it’s taken a while for the penny to drop, Penny, but good.

On the other hand:

CWA’s choice is especially surprising because its senior fellow, Janice Shaw Crouse, is amember of the board of the World Congress of Families and has been a vocal defender of Putin’s social policies. Last month, Crouse even appeared at a press conference promoting the Moscow summit.

Now the question becomes whether other American groups will follow Nance’s lead. An organizing meeting for the event in October included Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Benjamin Bull of Alliance Defending Freedom, Justin Murff of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.

A draft program for the event that was obtained by Buzzfeed includes speeches by ADF president Allan Sears, Focus president Jim Daly, Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, Brown, Ruse and Murff, among others.

In addition, the World Congress of Families receives funding from “partner organizations” including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and Americans United for Life.

The World Congress of Families’ Larry Jacobs said at last month’s press conference that members of the U.S. Congress would also attend the event, though he would not specify which ones since he said their confirmations were not yet finalized. The draft program also accounts for speeches from unidentified members of Congress. to speak.

As we’ve noted, the planned summit is more than just a trip to Moscow. It’s being held at the Kremlin with funding from key Putin allies and will include a joint forum with Russia’s parliament. In addition, the World Congress of Families itself has been working to support Putin’s crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia…

Ruse articulated the apparent attitude of many American groups when he told Buzzfeed that although the Ukraine invasion “muddied the water,” he had not been concerned about working so closely with the Putin regime until now, “because the Russian government has been quite good on our issues.”

Useful idiots, redux.

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Mar/14

2

“Black Cassock, Gold Epaulettes”

pussy riotThe latest issue of the British magazine, Standpoint, has a fine profile of Pussy Rioter Nadezhda Tolonnikova by Rachel Polonsky.

The whole piece is well worth reading, but this, in particular, caught my attention:

The dissident priest Gleb Yakunin regards the performance in the cathedral as a miracle in the full Christian sense of the word. Pussy Riot’s words “black cassock, gold epaulettes” drove “to the very heart of Patriarch Kirill”, he said. During their imprisonment, Yakunin composed a verse cycle in Pussy Riot’s honour, The Pussiniad. He too did time in prisons and labour camps in the Soviet period. In 1993, five years after his amnesty, the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him for exposing its infiltration by the KGB. Yakunin had unmasked Kirill as a high-ranking agent codenamed Mikhailov.

Let’s scroll back to the controversy last year involving remarks by two Republican congressmen, Steve King and Dana Rohrabacher, over Pussy Riot, a controversy that led Rohrabacher to write a comment over on NRO’s corner that included this:

The group snuck its way onto the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior without permission and performed a punk rock song with vulgar lyrics. Their stunt was disrespectful and completely irreverent…There is a distinction between a group engaged in outrageous acts for the sake of notoriety and those engaged in political speech. This group’s activities certainly appear to fall in the former category.

Yakunin or Rohrabacher? It’s not a difficult choice.

· ·

Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir PutinCross-posted on Ricochet.

Having long lost out in his efforts to woo Russia’s liberals, and increasingly struggling with opposition in Russia’s metropolitan centers, Vladimir Putin has instead being appealing to Russia’s ‘silent majority’.

I wrote about this for National Review a week or two ago, noting how this latest pivot by Putin has been winning him some (mistaken) approval on the right over here too.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times has more on Vladimir Putin, conservative:

“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent keynote speech. “Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”

In his state of the nation address in mid-December, Mr. Putin also portrayed Russia as a staunch defender of “traditional values” against what he depicted as the morally bankrupt West. Social and religious conservatism, the former KGB officer insisted, is the only way to prevent the world from slipping into “chaotic darkness.”

…Mr. Putin’s views of the West were echoed this month by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church, who accused Western countries of engaging in the “spiritual disarmament” of their people. In particular, Patriarch Kirill criticized laws in several European countries that prevent believers from displaying religious symbols, including crosses on necklaces, at work.

Well, Kirill may be a thoroughly disreputable figure but he is (broadly speaking) right about the stupidity of not allowing people to display religious symbols at work. That said, this claim, to put it mildly, is a stretch:

… Other figures within the Orthodox Church have gone further in criticizing the West. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, suggested that the modern-day West is no better for a Christian believer than the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities executed some 200,000 clergy and believers from 1917 to 1937, according to a 1995 presidential committee report. Thousands of churches were destroyed, and those that survived were turned into warehouses, garages or museums of atheism.

To argue that Christians in the West today are treated in a manner in any way comparable to that is to insult the memories of those murdered (not to speak of the countless others subjected to ‘lesser’ persecution) for their faith in the Soviet Union, and to trivialize their fate.

Back to the Washington Times:

…The Kremlin’s encouragement of traditional values has sparked a rise in Orthodox vigilantism. Fringe groups such as the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers, an ultraconservative movement whose slogan is “Orthodoxy or Death,” are gaining prominence.

Patriarch Kirill has honored the group’s leader, openly anti-Semitic monarchist Leonid Simonovich, for his services to the Orthodox Church. The Banner Bearers, who dress in black paramilitary uniforms festooned with skulls, regularly confront gay and liberal activists on the streets of Moscow.

Although Mr. Putin has never made a secret of what he says is his deep Christian faith, his first decade in power was largely free of overtly religious rhetoric. Little or no attempt was made to impose a set of values on Russians or lecture to the West on morals.

However, since his inauguration for a third presidential term in May 2012, the increasingly authoritarian leader has sought to reach out to Russia’s conservative, xenophobic heartland for support.

It has proved a rich hunting ground.

Indeed it has.

· · ·

Jan/14

10

Church and States

Novodevichy, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Russia’s first modern ‘official’ ideology was developed in the early 19th Century, primarily as a response to the potential liberal challenge from both home and abroad, and was summed up in the words Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality. And by nationality, it meant Russian nationality, a key concern for a czar presiding over a multinational empire.

Some traditions die hard. Here’s the Kyiv Post reporting on the disagreement between Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a firm supporter of the Putin regime, and the Ukrainian patriarch, Filaret:

Commenting on the statement of Russian Christian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill that the EuroMaidan demonstrations are a threat to the spiritual unity of Ukrainians and Russians, the Patriarch of Kyiv and all Rus-Ukraine Filaret stated: “This is not true.”

“If we take the idea that Kirill defends – Rusky Mir (Russian World) – it is not unity, it is empire, wrapped in a nice package. In fact, it is about creating a new empire. The Customs Union is the beginning,” said Filaret, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revival of an economic and political union of former Soviet republics including Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Putin also hopes to include Ukraine, the second largest former Soviet republic, in the grouping.

According to Filaret, “the truth is to practice the Orthodox faith, and each nation will have its own independent church, as required by the canons of the church.”

I’ve no idea about the canon law, but Filaret is clearly onto something about the politics of all this.

· ·

Nov/13

3

Vladimir & Kirill

Fili, Mar 93 (AS)There were some here in the US, particularly a few on the Religious Right, who failed to appreciate the extent to which the Pussy Rioters’ decision to stage their brief event in a cathedral was not just some childish blasphemy, but a very deliberate protest against the way in which the Russian Orthodox church was using, and being used by, the Putin Regime, a process which some might consider to be rather more of a descration than a few seconds of mime near an altar.

Now here’s this from Window on Eurasia:

President Vladimir Putin at Valdai and Patriarch Kirill at the more recent World Russian Popular Assembly chose exactly the same themes: “isolationism and the opposition of Russia to the West, Russia’s moral supremacy over other countries and especially ‘rotten’ Western democracy, and Russia’s special path as a great power.”

Taken together, Roman Lunkin, a leading Russian specialist on religious affairs at the Institute of Europe of the Academy of Sciences, says, these constitute “a farewell to democracy,” something that Kirill has been promoting since long before he became patriarch but that until now Russian leaders would not have permitted themselves to say so explicitly…

In speech after speech…Kirill has spoken about the unique qualities of the Russian people and about “the need to build a corporate Orthodox state on the basis of the concept of ‘Russian civilization.’” Earlier, he spoke about democracy only as “the harmonization of the interests of the authorities and the people.” Now, he has dispensed with that.

Moreover, this year as he has in the recent past, the patriarch rejected the notion of universal human rights and said that “the observance of traditional moral values and way of live” must have “primacy,” even if that requires the use of force by the state itself, views that have attracted many Russian nationalists to his side, even if they are not especially religious.

And, Lunkin continues, “it is no accident that the patriarch cited the philosopher Ivan Ilin who spoke for the establishment of a corporate-social strata national-orthodox state” and who infamously but consistently “greeted at the outset national socialism in Germany” under Adolf Hitler.…

· · · ·

Aug/13

27

Russia Takes on the Pastafarians

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (July 2000, AS)I’ve always thought that the joke about the Great Spaghetti Monster was a touch on the leaden side, but compared with Russia’s response to the “Pastafarians”…

NBC reports:

MOSCOW, Russia — The march of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had all signs of being a satirical stunt – some of its 100 participants were armed with colanders on their heads and pasta in their mouths.
But the reaction of Russian authorities to so-called Pastafarians has been anything but lighthearted.

Police and members of a Russian Orthodox group set upon the group last Saturday, knocking some to the ground. Eight members of the church were detained and subsequently charged with organizing an unsanctioned rally. Although those detained have since been released, they are due back in court before the end of August. Pastafarians are part of an international ‘religious’ movement founded in the U.S. in 2005 in opposition to the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools. It has become an international movement, generally recognized as satirical poke at organized religion. But its adherents insist that it’s a ‘real religion’ and the dogma they follow is the rejection of dogma. They claim to have 15,000 adherents in Russia.

Aside from demonstrating how some Muscovites may not appreciate the Pastafarians’ sense of humor, the recent crackdown reveals just how close Russia’s Orthodox Church and state agencies have become in what was once an officially atheist nation…Alexei Romanov, a member of the Pastafarian Church, called the move and subsequent legal proceedings against it “absurd.”

“The country is gradually turning into an authoritarian state,” he said.
Romanov’s fellow Pastafarians are falling victim to a recently introduced law that bans insulting the religious feelings of believers.

This time members of an unregistered Orthodox Christian group who call themselves “God’s Will,” called the police when they found out about the procession, according to Romanov.

They accused the spaghetti worshipers of insulting the religious feelings of believers – an accusation that, if found to be true by a court of law, can have mean up to three years in jail….

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