Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Orthodox Peace Fellowship

I keep running into things from those Orthodox that I like. Might come in handy if I ever do make it to Russia. A friend just got back from Khabarovsk today. Why I am the only one who finds it an intriguing place?

For my future reference:

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship

and article:

Following Christ in a Violent World

And I thought this was interesting in relation to other stuff I have been reading of late:

The state and anarchy: Regarding Romans and "the sword," my New Testament professor once pointed out to me that there are basically two images from the Scriptures that the Church has used historically to describe the state.

The first is the "minister of God" image from Romans; Romans was written by Paul in a time when his citizenship in the Roman government was offering limited protection in his proclamation of the Gospel.

But the second is the Beast of the Apocalypse, a book written during a period of state-sanctioned persecution of the Church, and which regards civil government (the "kingdoms of this world") as irredeemably corrupted by the principalities of "this age," its power as deriving from Satan, not from God.

Historically speaking, the Church has tended to use one image or the other depending on whether the state was assisting or hindering the Church in its mission at the time. One cannot simply point to Paul's image in Romans as if this were the only way to think about the Church's view of state power; in the pre-Constantinian church, it is the image of the beast that predominates when speaking about the state, not the "minister of God" image.

Regarding anarchy: I think it is fairly easy to detect an underlying stream of what might be called "Christian anarchism" within the Orthodox tradition. For example, the Desert Fathers frequently harbored fugitives from the law, to the point that some abbas advocated lying to authorities in order to protect those charged with capital crimes from the very "sword" that St. Paul refers to in Romans.

The coercive power of the state was mostly unenforceable in Scetis, part of the reason the monks chose to settle there, and the early monastic communities felt free to subvert or ignore that power, in part because their view of the state was more like that of the Apocalypse than that of Romans; as Merton once wrote, they saw the entire culture as "a shipwreck from which every person must swim for his life." They refused to identify the enemies of the state as their enemies, heeded no call to arms, and regarded themselves as citizens of no earthly kingdom.

It is interesting to note that imagery from the Apocalypse forms a dominant theme in the iconography of the monasteries on Mount Athos, something you find hardly anywhere else (books have been written on this subject). This imagery represents, among other things, the deep-seated mistrust of the monks of all forms of civic government as representative of the power of the beast, their absolute non-allegiance to the kingdoms of this world. The anarchist spirit of Scetis lives on in Mount Athos through the fact that Athos constitutes a self-governing entity, not under the legal jurisdiction of any state.

Fr. Paul Schroeder


Erich said...

Coming to see the light, eh? If you're ever in Moscow, I'll recommend a really nice little Russian Church in central Moscow that, for me, embodies everything good about Russian Orthodoxy. You should check it out.

Anyway, interesting point about anarchism. The thought of religious anarchism was never stronger than in Russia at the turn of the century. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both clearly Christian anarchists, although they defined Christianity quite differently. Dostoevsky is the closest thing to an Orthodox anarchist that you really see in the period. However, Orthodox tend to as a whole to see the state as a good thing, I would say. I'm talking about historical majorities here, not what is correct or theologically consistent. The vast majority of those Orthodox thinkers around the turn of the century thought that Christianity should inform politics and political structure.

JJ said...

That sounds like soemthing I would love to see. The friend who came back from Khabarovsk was also in Moscow. His pictures were making me jealous.

Can you recommend any good reads on Dostoevsky that might flesh out what you just said a bit?

Erich said...

Hmm, that's a hard one. There's a lot of good stuff out there on Dostoevsky, but I have ready more Dostoevsky than commentaries on Dostoevsky. Of the things I do know about him, some of the best are written by a lit guy named Victor Terras. His Karamazov Companion is quite great. As to older emigre literature on him, see Berdyaev's Dostoevsky. Also, see Mirsky and Mochulsky and Ivanov on Dostoevsky (let alone Rozanov). You see, everyone from the Silver Age wrote a book or something on Dostoevsky. As to which ones would be a good commentary on his politics, I haven't the slightest idea. Sorry. But as to the anarchist perspective, you should look in the early page of the Brothers Karamazov. It comes across rather clearly in a conversation between Father Zossima and Ivan Karamazov.