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“Pussy Riot” phenomenon shakes the ideological foundation of the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church
14 November 2012, 14:54 | Open theme | 14 | | Code for Blog | |
by Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw BUCIORA
The discussion about the “Pussy Riot” protest, motivated by religious hatred against Vladimir Putin at the Jesus Christ the Saviour Cathedral, continues inside Russia and abroad. The circles of the discussion broaden as many other World Church organizations and political parties express their opinions regarding freedom of speech in Russia and the well being of the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot. World organizations strongly criticize the Russian Government and especially the Russian Orthodox Church for undermining the freedom of expression. It is my prediction that this discussion will intensify in the future as civil unrest and crackdowns on the dissent in Russia reaches a higher point of intolerance and political persecution.
As we noticed previously, the entire discussion could be approached from two different perspectives. From one perspective, it is an anthropological component of human will and drive for self-identification that is being defined in a democratic society as freedom. The other perspective consists of the parameters of our expressions: what is permissible or not in a civilized society when expressing your own point of view.
Drive for self-identification in contemporary Russia
According to contemporary Orthodox theological thinking, the fundamental aspect that defines every man is his/her will. As a creation of God, we are searching for a way to determine who we are by using our choice: as self-determination. This is what differentiates us as people from the rest of the world. We have the ability to determine our destiny. The gift of our freedom to choose is so immense for humanity that, according to Orthodox anthropology, it is impossible to discuss humanity without this essential foundation. According to some contemporary theologians, the free gift of freedom for humanity by God could also presuppose a possibility of acceptance or rejection of God. There is a sort of incomprehensible Divine wisdom in our ability for determination that allows us even to choose not to accept God.
Freedom given to us by God defines us as independent and autonomous free beings. The gift of free choice by God to humanity is always present in every human being as a force that is always independent and always pulling us toward identification. This is one of the reasons why at the point of a baptism or wedding, there is a straight and repeated question: ...”do you have a free will...” This is a component of free acceptance and identification with the reality of God.
The Church becomes a sort of living conscience of the state, urging people to search for theosis (transformation).
The latest events in Russia regarding the election and the direct involvement of the Moscow Patriarchate in the election are in contradiction with the basic characteristics of Orthodox ecclesiology as defined above. The involvement of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church in the election is not only wrong, but the engagement weakens the credibility of the message of Christ. In this situation, the Church loses its original purity as the Church compromises the heavenly call for political gain. The latest decision of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to allow the clergy to run on party lists discredits the doctrinal foundations of the Church. The truth of Christ, professed by the doctrine of the Church, is brought down to political machinations of the Russian State. The Church of Jesus Christ would be evaluated by the electoral system of the Kremlin, while the Church hierarchy would have to be part of the Russian Duma that sends Russian troops to kill and destroy the enemy of the Russian Empire. May God have mercy upon all those who follow this path. The results could be disastrous in the near future.
The drive for self-determination of man is also characteristic for present day Russia. A new generation of Russians, brought up in a different mentality and with access to information, exercises its natural rights to identify themselves according to their own way of thinking. After ninety years of communism, people have a chance to think for themselves and determine their own future. It is also a sort of natural drive in them, uncontaminated by the sociopolitical agenda that is imprinted by the original anthropology of the Orthodox Church. The process of self-determination of Russians comes together with the restoration of the Orthodox Church. The change in the mentality of the Russian society and the ability to go beyond the presented official government position is accentuated in street demonstration which was unthinkable twenty years ago. In our case, the fact that the members of the Pussy Riot band are so young indicates a new way of thinking within a new generation within Russian society. A young generation of Russians is grasping at the highest level of human calling: a search to exercise free will. This search has immense and immediate implications in Russian society.
The resurgence of people to exercise free will is found in the doctrinal teaching of the Church that maintains the fundamental right for every individual. It is the uncontaminated anthropology of the Orthodox Church that gives a foundation for people to express themselves. I strongly believe that there is a strong sense of recognition in Russian society between the genuine charismatic Church and its portrayal in the structure of the Moscow Patriarchate. The words of one of the protesters Maria Alekhina, quoted by CBC in an article: “Pussy Riot member released by Moscow court” are quite expressive: “We didn’t mean to offend anyone. We went to the cathedral to protest against the joining of the political and spiritual elites”. In this statement, there is not one word of accusation against the genuine Orthodox Church itself, but the comment goes against the abuse of the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate of its own calling. According to the three members of the Pussy Riot, the “performance inside Moscow’s main cathedral was political in nature and not an attack on religion” (CBC article). Very intriguing in the statement is the fact that the members of the Pussy Riot themselves distinguish between a political protest and a religious one. The differentiation between the political intent of the protesters and the nature of religion has immense and immediate consequences upon the entire predicament. The Orthodox Church, as they described by the term: religion, was never an object of their protest. It is not the “religion – the Orthodox Church” that prompted them to protest, but an element that is immediately intertwined with the structural life of the Church: the elite. The positioning of those two arguments in a specific context could be detrimental for the further development of ideological thinking in Russian society. Because of this specific identification of these two elements by the young members of the Pussy Riot: religion as the Orthodox Church and the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is surprising that the Russian Orthodox Church characterizes the protest as an attack upon the Russian Orthodox Church in general from the unspecified “anti-Russian forces” (Reuters Agency, Pussy Riot reveals rift in Russian Orthodox Church). The generalization of the protests by the authorities of the Russian Church has a broader implication that brings into the front line the involvement of the elite of the Moscow Patriarchate in the presidential election. It is a deflection that will be discussed further in our discussion.
The foundation of the Church is being destabilized by the involvement of the highest members of the Patriarchate in the politics of the Russian State. Let us recall the words of Patriarch Kirill, who while supporting Vladimir Putin’s presidency, called him a “miracle of God” (Reuters Agency). The unequivocal support of Patriarch Kirill for the ex-KGB spy (Reuters Agency) is understood by Russians as a betrayal of the original mission of the Church in the world. The Church is absorbed into an orbit of Russian politics and used as a vehicle for the ideological mission of the Russian empire. A compromise of the Russian Orthodox Church with the political system and ideology of the Russian empire transfigures the Church into a distrustful entity that will not differ from any other organization within the government. The younger generation, instead of finding an inspiration for freedom in the Church, choose to revolt and protest against abuses in the Church in the forms they know. The events at the Cathedral have to be understood as a venue to protest against the Russian Church elite. It is a cry of disbelief and pain from the younger generations of Russians who were deceived by the elite of the Church. The original call of the Orthodox anthropology for self-determination is manipulated by the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church in order to stimulate believers to think and act in a specific way. The support of Putin by Patriarch Kirill is equivocal to the notion not much different from communist subjection of the mind of the people. It is not the act of free choice for self-determination proclaimed by Orthodox theology, but an abuse and manipulation of the truth of anthropology by those who should stand to guard the truth.
For the Moscow Patriarchate, it is not a time to look towards “Divine retribution” (Reuters Agency) and punishment of those young politically inexperienced individuals. If “divine retribution” results in the young to be imprisoned in Siberia where rape and physical abuse is a daily occurrence, the image of the Divine, as a merciful Father who forgives unconditionally, portrayed by the elite of the Moscow Patriarchate, equals that of an unmerciful Inquisitor from the Middle Ages. Who will take the responsibility for the destruction of the Divine image and likeness in the persons of those young women? Who will explain to their children (4-year old daughter and 5-years old son) that their mothers are imprisoned in Siberia because the Church elite supported the elite of the political party. What kind of message does the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church send to the world? If fear of imprisonment in the Republic of Mordwinsk (550 kilometers south east of Moscow) and the Land of Permsk (1300 kilometers east of Moscow) is an instrument of the Russian Orthodox Church to bring people to the Church, I suspect, there is nothing genuinely Christian left in the philosophy of thinking of the elite of the Church. It should be a time for them for self-evaluation and self-reflection upon these events. The elite of the Russian Orthodox Church should be deeply contemplating its present path that is being rejected by those who see, in Orthodox anthropology, a genuine expression of freedom. Unless the entire court case of the members of the Pussy Riot in Moscow is a deflection from the real problem at stake which is the direct involvement of the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church in the election in Russia. If the answer goes towards the deflection, then the consequences might be explosive internally as well as externally. This would be understood as a complete theological collapse of the Moscow Patriarchate and ideological travesty among the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church.
From another perspective, the events in Moscow present the weakness and instability of the Russian Orthodox Church externally and internally. The intrinsic balance of stability and direction of the Moscow Patriarchate is fundamentally shaken. “Pussy Riot” is only a taste of a spiritual decadence of the elite of the Moscow Patriarchate that unfortunately has a negative impact on Russian society. If the social phenomenon of the Pussy Riot can shake the ideological foundation of the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church, the stability of the Church within Russian society is at least questionable. The political influences of the Moscow Patriarchate and its presence within the international arena can never be understood as a spiritual greatness and power. The policing of the life of the Local Orthodox Churches in the World by the External Department of the Moscow Patriarchate led by Metropolitan Alfeyev might be also an indication of an artificial portrayal of an imaginary greatness of the Moscow Patriarchate. We have to keep in mind that Jesus Christ was born in a cave in a very obscure and marginalized world. Church wealth is not the world of political glory but a constant sacrificial strife for the Heavenly Kingdom exemplified by the myriad of its martyrs. It is my assumption that the portrayal of the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church with the political spheres of Russia will be met with spiritual ruin and rejection in society. It is not a ruin of the true Church, but a disfigured image that carries with itself distasteful results.
Self-Identification Presupposes Responsibility
The other perspective of our discussion underlines the aspect of our responsibility for exercising our free will. An individual who makes certain choices in his/her life is responsible for their final consequences. Personal choice presupposes personal consequences. Because of the magnitude of the power of our free will, there are established parameters for its expressions. Uncontrolled freedom can also be very dangerous for an individual as well as the others. In Orthodox ethics, there is a discussion of an intrinsic undependable ethical agent that characterizes a particular action as bad or good. This agent also limits the exercise of free will to the sphere of a particular individual being. In Orthodox theology, sin is always a consequence of personal choice. Our free will cannot be imposed upon others or trespass the boundaries and values of another human being. The parameters of the exercise of our free will cannot also dishonour the beliefs and treasures of other individuals, as it is in the case for the members of Pussy Riot. Even though there is no question of betrayal against the fundamental ecclesiology of the Church by the Moscow Patriarchate elite, the venue of the protest taken by the young members of group is at least condemnable. We have to underline that the Cathedral is not a property of the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church, but a place of worship of the people of God who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. It is a sacramental place where the will of people is being magnified and sanctified by the presence of God. The ways of expression of the disappointment by the members of Pussy Riot at the Cathedral, even though directed against the elite of the Moscow Patriarchate, are in fact in direct conflict with others. As such, the action is disrespectful and intolerable. A similar reaction would clearly be seen in any other part of the world where places of worship would be disrespected.
In the conclusion, I want to emphasize the complexity of the political sphere in Russian society. The implications are far more reaching then we may think. It has immediate implications on Ukraine and its process for the development of a democratic society. Firstly, people are striving for self-determination by way of exercising their freedom. It is a genuine human drive that all of us, who live in democratic countries, take for granted. Alternatively, there exists a temptation to express their freedom in an uncontrolled way. A manifestation of this approach is the case of the members of Pussy Riot who by their action condemned the belief of the genuine believers of the Orthodox Church. The complexity of the situation is even more explosive when we bring the involvement of the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church in the life of the Russian society. The entire situation suggests that all involved in the conflict must consider the scenario as a fluid and unstable environment that is in search for genuine authentication. If in the Russian mentality there exists an authentic drive for democracy, there should be enough room for mutual understanding, respect, and forgiveness. The only justification for the members of the Pussy Riot is their age and lack of religious education. It might be that their emotions and discouragement in the Russian Orthodox Church authorities compromised their lack of judgement between what is right and what is wrong, what is permissible and what is harmful. Taking under consideration the circumstances and the background of the situation, the emphasis of the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church on “Divine retribution” and repentance is wrong and unpastoral. It would be an indication of greatness and spiritual wisdom if there would be forgiveness on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church. If the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church insist on repentance of young members of Pussy Riot, who might not even understand what repentance entails, than who will ask for repentance of all the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church who collaborated with the communists revealing the most secret confessions of believers. Is it not sacrilegious to destroy the life of so many people who put all their trust in all those who presently profess from the altar the sanctity of Russkyy Mir? The hypocrisy of the elite of the Russian Orthodox Church is disgraceful not only to Russian society in general, but harmful for the Orthodox Church in the world in general. To conclude, it is forgiveness that exemplifies the cross of Christ on Golgotha. Obviously, the idea of forgiveness is far removed from the elite of the Moscow Patriarchate as retribution is the only language used by those who need forgiveness the most.
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