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In the ongoing media commentary about the upcoming meeting of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with Pope Francis in Jerusalem, an article by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, deserves particular attention.
Orthodoxy, Putin, and The West
by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis
With the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the swelling imperialism of Russia, Westerners have been exposed to various characteristics, frequently caricatures, of Orthodox Christianity, the dominant faith in Russia and Ukraine, but also practiced worldwide. There are even mystifying glimpses into the religious ambition — perchance holy crusade and justification? — of Russian President Vladimir Putin with his infatuation with Orthodoxy’s foremost monastic community on Mount Athos, Greece, his personal quest for spiritual direction from high-level ecclesiastical authorities and charismatic mentors and high-profile moral pronouncements.
All of this is frustrating to Orthodox Christians, who note that many non-Orthodox are receiving a limited, distorted view through a Putin lens of their Church’s spiritual tradition that values the uniqueness of every human being created in the image and likeness of God. Genuine Orthodoxy recognizes tolerance and champions religious freedom and human rights. This exasperation was confirmed recently when Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and one of the architects of the Eastern policy of the E.U. claimed that Eastern Orthodoxy is the principal threat to western civilization.
The image of Orthodoxy according to Putin is vastly different, and has been further complicated by some of America’s political religious right’s agreement with Putin. These political circles are partial to drawing sweeping distinctions between East and West, applauding the virtues of the former while berating the vices of the latter. They perceive indiscriminate connections between the “moral infallibility” of the right and the post-Cold War religious fervor of the Kremlin. How else can one explain the cynical certitude of columnist Pat Buchanan, when he asks — with the callous absolutism of a nineteenth-century De Maîstre — in relation to Russia’s role in Crimea and the world generally: “Whose side is God on now?” — the title of a recent article by him.