The Opposition, the Authorities, and a Third Way?

23 August 2019
Who is right? The demonstrators or the authorities? Fr. Georgy Kochetkov and Fr. Giovanni Guaita consider this question at this year’s Transfiguration Meetings Festival

The social tension – especially evident in Moscow as a result of the recent elections for the city Duma – doesn’t seem to be dying down. Both the authorities and the opposition have created a clear picture of “the enemy” and are demonizing each other. What does it mean to be a Christian in this socially and politically intense situation? The church has not yet made any official statement, and hasn’t even called for reconciliation, as once before Patriarch Tikhon did, at the time of the Revolution. But the voice of the church isn’t only made up of official statements. The faithful within the church also have a voice…

Fr. Georgy Kochetkov and Fr. Giovanni Guaita consider the question of what a Christian position might look like at this year’s Transfiguration Meetings Festival, dedicated to the theme of “A Time for Peace”. This year’s festival gathered over 3 thousand people at Sokolniki, in Moscow.

Fr. Georgy Kochetkov and Fr. Giovanni Guaita. Photo by Alexander Volkov
Fr. Georgy Kochetkov and Fr. Giovanni Guaita. Photo by Alexander Volkov

Priest-monk Giovanni (Guaita): Praying for peace, living in the thick of current events, and demanding that laws be observed.

Our task as Christians is to pray for peace. But as citizens, we must demand that the authorities in our country observe our country’s laws. Every Christian is called to live in prayer, live with peace in his heart, and have fellowship with God. But at the same time he is called to live in the thick of current events. Christ said that his followers were in the world but not “of this world”. Each Christian should begin the day by reading the Gospel. But thereafter, it’s good to read the news, listen to the radio, know what is going on in the world and on the streets of our cities.

When I saw that around two hundred young people had come into our church – many of them only teenagers – I told them that we were happy to receive them, but asked them to remember that our church is a place of prayer. I suggested that we pray for peace. During these prayers, I read the Gospel from the place where Christ pronounces the commandment, “let us love one another”. Then, in my preaching, I told the young people that it is very good when a young person has a position and takes a stand for it, but asked them not to forget that the most important thing for a Christian is never to have hate in his heart. Therefore, I suggested to these young people that we pray for everybody – for them, for the people who make up the law enforcement authorities, and especially that people’s hearts be filled with peace.

And so when there was another demonstration in Moscow a week later, it so happened that we ended up praying for peace again, and for a halt to the fires in Siberia. At some point, three policemen from the special forces entered the church. We spoke, and it turned out that they were Orthodox Christians! I told them that any person under authority must, of course, obey his orders – but that this obedience can be given in different ways. To use force against an unarmed person is a heavy sin, and I asked them not to do this.

For a Christian is called to carry peace within himself, and especially into places where that peace doesn’t exist. The Lord wants us to make ourselves known. We live in this world and we are called to carry the word of Christ to society: we should pray, and we should act.

Fr. Georgy Kochetkov: It is difficult to call the authorities to observe the law, but not doing this doesn’t lead anywhere either. We need to find a third way.

In this conflict situation, we need to ask the question: where are the two sides leading? 

It is a difficult thing to demand justice from our authorities, and addressing them with the high-minded call to “follow your own laws” – that’s not really why the laws were passed. 

And if we look at the other side – the young people, the teenagers and their leaders…what are they calling for? What solution or image of the future are they proposing? Are they proposing anything? No they aren’t!

For this reason, we really can’t throw our weight behind either side. We have to seek a way of peace, while both sides in this conflict lead to war and blood. We are looking for a third way, without which it is impossible to resolve this situation. 

The historical period in which we are living might end in many different ways: with a catastrophe and a plunge into the chasm…but there are also other possibilities. For this reason, we continue to speak of rebirth and hope. There is something for everyone to think about here, especially with respect to repentance. 

We are desperately in need of inner rebirth and rebirth in terms of relationships between people. The existence of various forms of association and people coming together – although it is difficult for these to survive – shows that this potential is there. For this reason, our “Those who have Hope” Forum is a possible solution or stepping-stone to a new era, which must be ushered in – and soon. We know this to be true, and we also know how to make it happen. 

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