Orthodox Fundamentalism?

It is frequently said that Eastern Europeans are homophobic, anti-Western, Islamophobic, xenophobic, et cetera, and that the Orthodox Church there is an accomplice to this.

Consider Serbia as an example. Some Serbians have claimed that Metropolitan Amfilohije’s rhetoric comparing the Belgrade gay pride parade to Sodom and Gomorrah was an attempt to encourage right-wingers to take violence against it, a not uncommon occurrence in Eastern European pride parades. Whatever his intentions were, many in the West would agree that such speech is prone to inciting hate. Patriarch Irinej has not spoken so harshly, but has routinely called homosexuality a disease. Similar statements can be found from other prominent Serbian Orthodox.

Take, as another example, the Russian Orthodox Church. We not uncommonly hear that it serves Russian nationalist interests more than Christ and can be dangerously fundamentalist to this end. At first glance, relatively popular priests such as Fr. Daniel Sysoev (now martyred) and Fr. George Maximov, might seem to confirm this. Both have engaged in polemics against Islam. Both have written against evolution. Former Russian Patriarch Alexy II even supported an institute meant to argue for creationism. Further, the Russian Orthodox Church’s arguments to keep close relations between Church and State sometimes claim that Russian culture is primarily Orthodox, which may seems exclusionary to Russians of other faiths. In fact, in 2005, a Russian archbishop, Nikon, called Krishna “Satan” in his opposition to a temple to Krishna being built by Hindus in Moscow.

It is not to be doubted that there are such problems in Orthodoxy. Yet such a depiction is not detailed enough, so it is more like caricature than a true to life portrait. There are many facts that the rough sketch neglects. For instance, in 2010 the Serbian Holy Assembly of Bishops released a statement concerning that year’s pride parade which discouraged violence. Another appeal released that year on the same subject by 29 priests frequently mentions love and forgiveness. For a more in-depth account of Serbian Orthodoxy’s relationship with homosexuality, read the article ‘Silence or Condemnation: The Orthodox Church on Homosexuality in Serbia’ by Miloš Jovanović.

In Russia, Patriarch Alexy II was a well-known opponent of antisemitism. In The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way, the famous 19th-century works of Russian spirituality, a holy man at one point exhorts another not to curse Jews, because God made them just as He made the Christians, and we are also told that the Fathers teach that, if one has a good intention and spirit, he may learn from even a Saracen (i.e., a Muslim). More examples can be given. Archbishop Nikon’s anti-Krishna letter, mentioned above, is ironically quite ecumenical. In his attempt to criticize certain Hindus for worshiping the “Lord of death,” he claims opposition to such worship is the common opinion of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs.

Commenting on the Charlie Hebdo shooting, Fr. George Maximov criticized the publication for their crude depictions of Muhammad saying “I will never approve of such cynical and vulgar mockeries of Muslims and their faith.” At the same source, Fr. George tells us that Fr. Daniel spoke against the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. Furthermore, while Fr. George has written against evolution, he has also written an article against those who think geocentrism is Orthodox dogma.

It seems fairly clear to me that since a lot of what Eastern Europeans say is behind a language barrier, only a very simple summary of they say is translated into English and so we do not get to see the details of their positions. On the other hand, even the Catholic Church – which publishes everything in English – gets misrepresented by our media.

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