The Russian People Don’t Want War

23 February 2018
Fr. Georgy Kochetkov reflects on why it is unnatural for the church to bless warheads
Foto by RIA Novosti
Foto by RIA Novosti

The military rhetoric which is aroused by political powers would not be supported by the church, were there not a very insistent “recommendation” that that such support be shown.

It isn’t really possible to say, at this point, that the church is patriotic, and to say that it disposed to militarism would also be incorrect. The fact is, that the church simply doesn’t have the power within itself to turn down the requests of the authorities. Our church needs to attain freedom, a clearer consciousness of itself, and an understanding of the fact that when it makes such compromises it undermines the trust of the people – the very people we seek to serve – and this blocks their spiritual rebirth and growth. Our people can’t and don’t want to fight. We are now at a time when to fight or support a militaristic attitude in any form is very unnatural. The church shouldn’t be blessing any tanks or weapons. In a word, it is forbidden by the canons. Anything which serves to murder people should not be blessed. Yes, sometimes believers are called upon to bear arms – when they are defending their brothers, their families and their homeland. But this is always a compromise, a bitter necessity that arises out of the need to protect ourselves from evil in this world which lies riven in evil.  

We often connect militarism and patriotism, because evil needs a “cover” – evil needs to connect itself with something more “decent”. But militarism is militarism. Patriotism, on the other hand, is love for one’s country and love for one’s “hearth and home”, the graves of our fathers, our people’s land and traditions…for that place which is intimately connected with the lives we are building, the place that preserves us and connects us to the greater context of the world at large.

Our people long for the rebirth of the nation’s principle, Russian culture, language and holiness. But we can only get to that rebirth by understanding what it is that we have lost and how that loss has happened. In other words, we come to rebirth through repentance. And when people think that patriotism should be somehow connected to militarism, this is always the fruit of barbarous ignorance and the misuse of the people’s barbarous ignorance, at that. In this way of thinking, if you are a patriot it means you have a warlike outlook and want to take something away from someone else, grab something that isn’t currently yours, and make war. But real patriotism never sets such goals, even though it includes within itself the understanding that we must defend our families and friends. As Christ says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13). These words of Christ reveal to us that true patriotism and the place it occupies is in the life of the church.

The church’s main business is to preach the word of God, the rebirth of man, his heart, his life, and primarily his spirit. The church must participate in the rebirth of man from above and in the business of people becoming “truly themselves” in Christ. Without question, the church is also responsible for history, for the nation and its tradition – but all this must come second. The ancient church tried to pull out of history by not recognizing it, thinking that everything would come to an end very soon. But 2000 years have passed and the world is still here, amazing though this is. And this means that we have to answer for history, our country, our people and our society. In a way, we are also responsible for the government. We need to be enlighteners of these societal phenomena and of community in general. We need to chase away all darkness that lies upon our people and land by the grace of God, but we should never exchange the primary internal tasks of the church for these goals.

Christians are called to be real patriots. This means to be bearers of the best traits of their nation, and in our country this primarily means our best Russian traits. We have to remember the best of everything that ever happened in this land and we have to know the bad, too, in order to draw conclusions from that. Every nation on earth should do this – history should teach people. I support this sort of enlightened patriotism, which is equivalent to responsibility for one’s neighbours, i.e. for the people whom God gives to us, independent of their faith, age, sex, social standing or culture. Such patriotism I can only welcome, and I regret that there is so little of it in our church and our country. Moreover, that which we now see being called patriotism everywhere around us actually can’t be called patriotism at all. All this is only compromise – the execution of the latest socio-political command – which is to say that it is something artificial.

Our holiday, the 23rd of February, is also an artificial holiday – a throwback to Soviet times. I think that this isn’t really a holiday that Christians should be celebrating…after all, its heritage is tied to the creation of the Red Army and the establishment of Soviet power, which almost destroyed the Russian people and the Russian Church. And even if we just turn the 23rd of February into “men’s day”, in the same way that the 8th of March is celebrated as International Women’s Day, it still isn’t worth supporting. Setting up a person’s sex as if it is the primary thing about a person is not a Christian approach to the human person. Congratulating women just because they are women, or men just because they are men, seems to me to be degrading in both cases.

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