Public Orthodoxy on Ukraine


A wall in Cathedral of the Schismatic Church in Ukraine, which has been recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In it you see St. George slaying the Russian Double-Headed Eagle, people literally draped in the Ukrainian flag, and you also see the Neo-Nazi Right Sector Flag in the background.

The people at Public Orthodoxy have issued a declaration against the Russian Church in which they accuse the Russian Church of heresy -- which they assert is the idea of "Русский мир" or "The Russian World." They included accusations against the Russian Church for failing to condemn one of the three major parties in the war in Ukraine (which includes Russia, the post-coup Ukrainian government, and the United States). They also allude to the controversy over the Ecumenical Patriarchate's recognition of the schismatics in Ukraine. I won't repeat what I have said about the complexities of the war, in part 1. And I have written fairly extensively on the Ukrainian schism -- which you can read in full here, but if you only want to read one article, see "An American Perspective on the Ukraine Crisis." In this article, I will focus specifically on the merits of the claim that there is a heresy called "The Russian World."

What Public Orthodoxy has Not Felt a Need to Condemn

Before getting into the merits of their claims in this declaration, I think it is interesting to consider that while Public Orthodoxy has posted numerous articles condemning the Russian Church and its position on the Ukrainian schism, as well as numerous articles condemning Russia for the war in Ukraine (which has been going on for 8 years, and began with a coup sponsored by the United States), but they have not felt any need to condemn the United States' regime change war in Syria which has raged for 10 years. Far more people have been killed in that war (the current estimates range between 500,000 and 610,000), and this war represents an existential threat to the Orthodox Christians in Syria (which was about 10% of the Syrian population before the war). If the United States had succeeded in installing an Islamic jihadist government in Syria, this would have meant the end of Christianity in Syria, for all practical purposes, and likely the same fate would have befallen Lebanon. Russian military intervention has thus far prevented that from happening, but the United States continues to occupy 10% of Syria, denying Syria access to its own oil resources, and it has imposed crippling sanctions on Syria that are causing immeasurable suffering among the people of Syria -- both Christian and Moslem. So this is an issue that Orthodox Christians ought to be concerned about -- and yet not only has Public Orthodoxy not issued a statement condemning the actions of the American government in Syria, it has hardly said anything about it at all. Perhaps some big money might dry up, if they chose to take such a stand, but one would think anyone who was a believer, and had an ounce of courage would take the right stand regardless. Why the silence?

See "The Immoral Policy of the United States Government in Syria," for more information, though the article is from 2016, it nevertheless lays out the reasons why US policy in Syria is undeniably evil.

Public Orthodoxy not only fails to condemn those who oppose Christian morality -- they are one of the chief purveyors of these heretical teachings. So Public Orthodoxy is hardly a reliable guide on the subject of what is, or is not heretical.

"Ethno-Phyletism" for Me, but Not for Thee

One telling fact of this declaration is that it does not include a single quote of a specific statement that it might have cited as an example of the errors they claim the Russian Church is teaching. They also do not reference any document in which one might look to find this heresy espoused.

In a search of the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate, I found an article in which Patriarch Kirill summarized what he understands the concept of "The Russian World" to refer to: "Святейший Патриарх Кирилл: Русский мир — особая цивилизация, которую необходимо сберечь," which in English means "His Holiness Patriarch Kirill: The Russian world is a special civilization that must be preserved."   

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Patriarch Kirill notes that the Orthodox Culture of the Kievan Rus', which is the common heritage of the Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Carpatho-Russians, is not defined by political boundaries, and he has does not see it as promoting the building or rebuilding of any empire. He does see it has something worth preserving, which if lost, would be a loss to humanity. He does not see this as ethnic or racial, but cultural. He also does not assert that this culture is superior to all others, only that it is their culture, and it is worth preserving.

In the official conciliar documents of the Russian Church, the question of the Church's relationship to culture has been addressed in detail. "The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church," which was approved in 2000, includes in section II, a statement entitled "Church and Nation." I would defy anyone to point to anything in this statement, and to lay out a reasoned and supported argument for why it is heretical.

It is especially curious to hear this charge from an organization which is headed by two members of the Greek Archdiocese, because one hears a very similar concept to "The Russian World" fairly frequently, only it is called "Hellenism." A Google search of the official website of the Greek Archdiocese for the word "Hellenism" turns up "About 13,900" hits. One of the first articles to come up is entitled "New Program to Promote Hellenism in the United States." And the subtitle of that article is, interestingly enough "The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Foundation for the Hellenic World Announce New Program to Promote Hellenism in the United States" [emphasis added]. In that article, you will see that Archbishop Elpidophoros himself was involved in the promotion of this new program. It certainly seems like Archbishop Elpidophoros thinks that there is a Greek Orthodox culture that is not limited by political boundaries, which is the heritage of all Greek people, and is worth preserving.

So is there a heresy of "The Hellenic World"? If not, it seems like members of a Church that considers the promotion of Hellenism to be a key part of their mission, might want to lay out exactly how this concept is not heretical, before they accuse the Russian Church of heresy for essentially having the same idea with regard to their own culture.

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As a non-Russian who has been in the Russian Orthodox Church for close to 32 years now, I can tell you that I never felt pressured to become a Russian, nor have I been made to feel like I was a second class member of the Russian Church because I was not a Russian. For more on that, see "Converts and Culture," and "The Colors of the Russian Church."

In short, this declaration consists of a series of assertions that the Russian Church teaches things that they provide no evidence of anyone actually teaching, and they should perhaps examine their own views of Orthodoxy and culture, before they attack those of others.

Ioann4/12/2022 12:13 am
Nadieszda Kizenko, a professor of history and the director of religious studies at Albany University, is a lifelong member of ROCOR and the daughter of a priest: “Now would be a good time for the ROCOR to dust off its critical aspect of its identity and its role as a goad and nasty gnat on the wall that doesn’t let you sleep at night. It may be too much to expect priests and bishops in Russia to take a critical position … but we have nothing to lose. We can speak out.”
Nikolai4/11/2022 11:45 pm
Thank you brother Ioann for your Holy prayers.
Ioann4/11/2022 7:22 pm
Reported in UOJ today, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry said: “The Church prays that the Lord would shut those lie-speaking lips and stop with His grace this murder of one human by another human, because murder cannot be justified by anything."
Ioann4/11/2022 6:47 pm
“At this tragic hour, we express special love and support to our soldiers who stand guard and protect and defend our land and our people. May God bless and keep them safe!” - Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All-Ukraine. Glory to God, there are soldiers who are protecting Metropolitan Onufry's corner of the "Russkiy Mir" from the invaders. We must not forget Metropolitan Onufry and his flock of millions in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They must not be assigned the roles of just-collateral damage or sacrificial lambs who must die in order for a Putinskiy Mir to arise.
Texan Orthodox4/10/2022 10:10 pm
Thank you Fr John ! Your words speak wisdom. Glory to God ! Just like our modern American/NATO governments are only ok with democratic elections in the world if they work out how they want, the “public Orthodoxy” modernist crowd seems only ok with modernist expressions of Orthodox Christianity that validate their modernist perspectives. They’ve hitched their wagon to the secularist West and to the Patr of C’ple. Time will tell how that works out for them. My guess is they’ll eventually either become Roman Catholic or quit Christ altogether. Of course, they’re always welcome to return to the Church and to Christ’s loving arms. But these days they seem to love their transgender-affirming brothers in the secular West more than they love their Orthodox brothers and sisters in the Patriarchate of Moscow. Sad.
Fr. John Whiteford4/10/2022 12:03 am
JJ, I have not been to Beirut, but the facts I cited were compiled by someone who has spent a lot of time in Lebanon and Syria, his wife is Syrian. If you want to say my facts are wrong, point out specifically what was untrue, and provide the evidence to the contrary.
Juan4/9/2022 10:53 am
Joseph Bell: Take a look back, brother, at who started infiltrating and puppetmastering the Ukraine to become Russia's enemy. Who has been encouraging neo-fascists and talking with Ukraine about planting nuclear missile bases there? Not Russia. You don't blame a man for defending his own house by attacking robbers in his back yard.
Afanassy4/9/2022 5:42 am
Fr John, good analysis, but as I said about Irina's article on the "Declaration", the "Public Orthodoxy" people have no legitimate credentials for saying anything about true Orthodoxy. It is included here: "This article above by Ms Borshch, while well intended, is probably unnecessary. The original "Declaration" was also published by the somewhat leftish Moscow Times, and is written by people who have no validity in saying anything about Orthodoxy. The "Declaration" is here: I had reviewed this matter for our Diocese. The sponsoring organizations for this "Declaration" are: 1) The Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University was founded by and managed by two Greek New Calendar lecturers under the Ecumenical Patriarch, George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou. Ref: 2) The Volos Academy for Theological Studies in located in Greece, under the New Calendar Ecumenical Patriarch, for the Goal of - - - Ref: The Volos Academy for Theological Studies functions as an open forum of thought and dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the broader scholarly community of intellectuals worldwide, organizing a series of studies, international seminars, conferences, roundtables and publications. 3) The Original Article Condemning the Russian Orthodox Church and its ecclesiology, is here: At the date of the Moscow Times publication, there were 342 signatories. I found them listed in a link provided in the "Declaration". I checked and reviewed the bios and credentials of each one. There is not a single traditional Orthodox participant, nor representative of he Moscow Patriarchate in the list. Some were not even scholars. Hence, no validity. Their conclusions about "Russian World" applying to Russian ethnicity is just as silly as saying that the Roman Catholic Church applies to Roman ethnicity. ====================="
Eddy Houghton4/9/2022 4:58 am
Well said Father. I'm also a non-Russian member of the Russian Orthodox Church, although I live in Europe. Our community is extremely diverse with members from the United States right through the Orthodox world to Sakhalin Island, our clergy is at least 50% Ukrainian and nobody has ever pressured me to "be more Russian". Unlike in the schsismatic Orthodox Church of the Ukraine, our icons, many with holy relics, do not celebrate coups d'etat or neo fascist movements such as Bandera's, rather they depict holy martyrs, great saints from the United States, through Spain to Russia, and of course, the Holy Mother of God and Jesus Christ. Although our Patriarchate is in Moscow, our Church is truly universal.
John4/9/2022 4:52 am
"Русский мир" or "The Russian World." How does Russian peace translate into The Russian World? What does Russian peace mean?
Alex4/9/2022 4:02 am
'Public Orthodoxy' is a BIG joke...and everyone knows it!
Ivan G.4/9/2022 1:19 am
Nice! Also noticed the nazi batallion Azov amblem above saint George.
JJ4/9/2022 12:25 am
I am an Orthodox believer and a citizen of Lebanon. Father John Whiteford's points on Syria / Lebanon are completely and utterly wrong. He has cherry picked facts and recast them in a different light. An American living in the USA (have you ever visited Beirut / Damascus Father John?) (have you ever talked with the Orthodox living in Lebanon / Damascus?) (do you speak Arabic - do you understand all the debate in the Orthodox community in Lebanon / Syria?) has absolutely no idea of what is happening in Lebanon / Syria or what has happened historically.Al Jazeera recently ran an article of what it was like to live under Russian bombardment Syrians recount horror under Russian air attacks "Al Jazeera talks to Syrians who endured Russian air strikes as Moscow tries to advance its invasion of Ukraine." I don't want to debate this but Father John's comments amount to propaganda. Integrity and truth are the hallmarks of a Christian.
GP4/8/2022 11:56 pm
I often disagree with Fr. John, but I have to say he is spot on here: the position on the Russkiy Mir concept is absolutely hypocritical. There is no end to the explicit racial/ethnic bias of the Greek hierarchy both in the "Greek" Patriarchates and here in the US. The "Russian world" on the other hand is literally the standard belief that most of us eastern slavs received from our parents and grandparents - in my case those descended from what is now Ukraine. I am certainly opposed to this invasion but in no way shape or form do I believe that Great Russians, Ukrainians, White Russians, and Carpatho-Russians aren't brothers and heirs to one civilization. Yes, Great Russian chauvinism in a problem. So is Ukrainian nationalism. Both need to be dealt with and certainly Putin has done great damage in inflaming both. But as Zelensky pointed out "we are one people."
fr James4/8/2022 10:33 pm
exactly, Fr John. Thank you very much; well said. I serve in a Greek diocese, and there is much evidence that the needs of Greek parishes take precedence over those of fledgling mission parishes with non-Greek believers. One sometimes gets the impression that the Orthodox faith is seen as but a part of the broader phenomenon of Hellenism, which is the real, truly important, item on the agenda, sad to say.
Justina4/8/2022 7:17 pm
Bob4/8/2022 6:45 pm
Let's just boil all this down to one present issue. The Russian church has lost all moral authority through the actions and silence of Patriarch Kirill. Up til this I have been 100% behind him re the uncanonical actions taken by Pat B. And I have not changed my stance on that. But regarding this war that Russia has launched, Pat K is supposed to go so far as being a martyr if required, but instead is allowing Putin to rein as "God's monarch." Why no outcry against fighting against brother? The slaughter of innocents? Etc.? Sorry, but Pat K just undid ALL the good done up to this point.
Joseph Bell4/8/2022 6:09 pm
The Russian state has recklessly risked and continues to risk a nuclear conflict by the invasion of historic Kievan Russia. By saying this does it mean that I agree with Public Orthodoxy's stand on this issue? Absolutely not. Does it mean that I endorse them? Absolutely not. Is risking nuclear war or armageddon in order to defend Orthodoxy or the Russian state defensible? It is not.
George Larin4/8/2022 5:09 pm
Excellent, well-documented commentary. Was a pleasure to read it A to Z.
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