Page 1



The Council of Crete Good and Bad Ecumenism The Legal Status of Blasphemy




STATE OF AFFAIRS 5 Address to the Holy and Great Council Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus

CONVERSATIONS 10 “In the Council, Discussion Has Been Vigorous and Challenging” Interview with Archdeacon John Chryssavgis

INTERSECTIONS 15 Blasphemy and Democracy Interview with Anastasia Colosimo

20 Bad Ecumenism Christopher Stroop

FROM THE ARCHIVES 25 Faith and Responsibility Archbishop John (Shakhovskoy)

POETRY DESK 33 Leave-Taking of Pascha David O’Neal

EARS TO HEAR, 34 Pilgrimage Chapel at Ronchamp Maximus Clarke EYES TO SEE 40 Menorah and Cross in Late Antiquity Lidia Chakovskaya

FROM THE ARCHIVES 48 The Eucharist of Boris Pasternak Alexander Schmemann

POETRY DESK 53 Maine Triad John Congdon

Š 2016 The Wheel. All rights reserved. ISSN 2379 - 8262 (print) ISSN 2379 - 8270 (online) May be reproduced and distributed for noncommercial use.

Editorial Board Inga Leonova Michael Berrigan Clark Timothy Scott Clark Joseph Clarke Gregory Tucker

Advisory Board Archpriest Robert M. Arida Sergei Chapnin Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun Pantelis Kalaitzidis Archpriest Andrew Louth Gayle E. Woloschak

Graphic Designer Anastasia Semash

Visit us at or contact us at

His Beatitude, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus participates in the opening session of the Holy and Great Council. Photo: Romanian Orthodox Church/ Robert Nicolae.


Address of His Beatitude, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus to the Holy and Great Council Translated by Christopher Sprecher Your All-Holiness, holy brothers, I do not think it to be a disadvantage that I, in speaking after many brothers, am constrained to repeat many things that have already been said. The event we are experiencing is an extraordinary and very great one, and for this reason, while stressing its significance and expressing our joy, we must persuade ourselves and the whole world of [the Council’s] dimensions and the expected outcomes. After many centuries of introspection, the Orthodox Church finds itself once again gathered together in council, in one joint journey towards confronting the pressing problems of the world. The historical transformations that have taken place since the eighth century until the present day, and which greatly wounded all the churches of The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

the first millennium—social, epistemological, and economic changes, which quickened in pace in later centuries; the explosion of media and the rapid dissemination of knowledge and ideologies in our electronic age; the migration from the south to the north that we see nowadays; the many problems afflicting people. All this drives us to movement and action, and to take responsibility. Orthodoxy must hear and understand these problems and propose life-giving alternatives to the thorny issues of the day.

Note: this text is a translation of the Address of His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos of Nova Justiniana & All Cyprus, originally given in Greek, to the Holy and Great Council at its opening session on Monday, June 20, 2016.

Therefore, the time has come when we should be measured against what is great. Finding ourselves, by God’s providence, in the place where the apostles trod, here where the great Paul, together with Titus, preached Christ, we continue in the same footprints of this sacred history. 5

1 This is the first line of the second troparion, Ode 7, second canon at Matins of the Feast of Transfiguration. 2

The Symplegades [Gr. Συμπληγάδες] or “Clashing Rocks,” also known as the Cyanean Rocks, were, according to Greek mythology, a pair of rocks at the Bosphorus that clashed together when somebody went through. They were defeated by Jason and the Argonauts, who would have been lost and killed by the rocks except for Phineus’s advice. Jason let a dove fly between the rocks; it lost only its tail feathers. The Argonauts rowed mightily to get through and lost only part of the stern ornament. After that, the Symplegades stopped moving permanently.

The convocation of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, as much as it may seem unbelievable, is a reality! The absence of some local Churches does not diminish the importance of the Holy and Great Council. Both the themes and the texts of the Council, as well as the convocation of the Council, had been discussed and unanimously approved by the representatives and primates of the Orthodox Churches. Their absence today is not related to the themes and the substance of the discussions, but is due, in my opinion, to reasons of communication or other internal matters of the Churches in question. For us, this event remains extremely important and a crowning achievement in the life of the Church. Even in their absence, we can say: “Now what was unheard of has been heard”.1 The fulfillment of the dream, in which the Orthodox people of God have cradled and nourished their hope, causes every Orthodox person, and especially us pastors, to rejoice: because it not only stimulates inter-Orthodox relations, but also puts forward the credible witness of the Orthodox Church to the modern-day pressing problems of the human being and the world. Even though the convocation of the Holy and Great Council is a collective act—not only of us who are alive, but also of our departed fathers and brethren, who, by God’s leave, will have a share in our joy—we must, from the start, admit that the mastermind and guide behind this whole endeavor has been His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. His All-Holiness has shaped and directed the many years of efforts, oftentimes gathering various tendencies together on the effective and saving foundation of these [fathers]. In the mo-


saic of the preparations for, and convocation of, the Holy and Great Council, each Church, each primate, and each hierarch, has their place. In the center, however, the imposing figure of His All-Holiness presides. A great man at a great hour in history! We thank you, Your All-Holiness. Being filled right now with many emotions, and looking back, we are aware of the difficulties we faced in the long lead-up to the Council: the reefs and shoals, the Symplegades,2 through which our efforts passed. Nevertheless, all of us Orthodox understand that such a summit was needed to shed light, through the Gospel, on the major problems of a world that is subject to constant changes, and to confront the new challenges facing society, though a series of difficulties threatened to frustrate its convocation. In my opinion, the inter-Orthodox rivalries on account of ethnophyletism were the first reason why the preparations for the Council took so long. Ethnophyletism is what blocked the question of autocephaly and of the diptychs from coming to the Council, and is also the cause behind the lessthan-canonical solution given to the issue of the diaspora. Nowadays, at a time when national barriers are being eliminated one after the other, we Orthodox do not just set ourselves at naught, but also set ourselves up for ridicule by setting up ethnicity as a constitutive element of our ecclesiology and our ecclesial identity. The fundamentalist groups, the fanatics—among whom are found both theologians and hierarchs, and who themselves do little—and who are pretty much everywhere in the Orthodox world today, equally merit serious consideration: not only on account of

the delay in convening the Holy and Great Council, but also on account of the danger threatened [by them]. The opposition of these groups to every notion of rapprochement with other Christians has indirectly affected even our local councils, which have attempted and continue to attempt to make profuse amendments to the texts and regulations of the documents that were prepared by the pre-conciliar meetings. We have no illusions. For these groups, we have been found to be mired in heresy and apostasy.

overthrew the social and cultural cohesion of communities. The Internet and other media questioned the uniqueness of Orthodox teaching and led many to move away from this. Under these circumstances, human problems are constantly changing shape and priorities are constantly changing, which fact often leads to questioning the value or effectiveness of the issues dealt with by the Council.

And most importantly: we talk about the Greek East (τὴν καθ’ ἡμᾶς Ἀνατολήν); about our particular way These situations in the Church are of living and thinking, our values, neither unknown nor unprecedented. traditions, and ideals. But how can The field of the Church also brings we be distinguished in our ethos and forth tares that have been sown traditions when we have all adopted by the enemy; The Church shall a culture imported from the West, live thus until the end of the ages.  and a Western lifestyle? Half of Orthodoxy today is culturally a part of Moreover, the hardships suffered by all Europe; our countries are members the Orthodox Churches in the years of of the European Union, where the preparation are known and should not Western expression of Christianity be ignored. Thus far, 1964 marks the dominates. How easy is it to express last great persecution of the Orthodox our beliefs by means of a system of Church of Constantinople, which was labels contrary to our own values? a continuation of the [persecutions] of 1922 and 1974. There was the expatria- But glory be to God! The diffition of 1955, continuing to this day, of culties and the suffering are tothe Orthodox element in our Church. day a thing of the past. And sitIn recent years, there has been the mar- ting now in Council, we glorify tyrdom of the patriarchates of the Mid- God who has led us “to this hour”.3 dle East. Throughout nearly the entire twentieth century, there were the trib- Naturally (thanks to technology), evulations for most Orthodox Churches eryone has their eyes on us in these under the Communist regime.  All of days, waiting for a word of life, a word these sufferings, of course, exercised a of substance that appeals to everynegative impact on the preparations of one. Especially now, with the crisis of the Council, both in terms of the time- the Western world’s turning away from its own Christianity, we have become line as well as the themes. an expectation of hope. Events deterAnd, yet, the change in the structures mine our own responsibility, pushing and the symbolic universe of Ortho- us to focus not so much on the internal dox societies greatly hampered our problems of Orthodoxy. In the eyes of work. The Orthodox communities that the modern world, which desperately had been rural and agrarian gradu- seeks for a sign of life and a vision of ally became urban and industrial. Mi- salvation, we might resemble the sons grations, both internal and external, of Zebedee, if we continue to make a The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016


Cf. John 12:27.


fuss over the diptychs and primacy, over insignificant things of life. It is certain that the world is watching us, seeking to learn what efficacious word Orthodoxy has to say to the problems and concerns of people today. We have to demonstrate our ability to grasp the message of the times. Primarily, however, the Orthodox world expects from the Holy Council a practical expression of the unity of Orthodoxy in the face of these problems, and a single position in its relations with the rest of the Christian world. And it is, I think, a huge responsibility of all to avoid harming this unity. When we are unable properly to prioritize values, to distinguish what is great from what is secondary and insubstantial, what response will our call to the people find to rise from what is earthly to what is spiritual? The aim, then, of the Council will be the healing of wounds, divisions, and failures, and to create the framework for a single voice in the body of the Orthodox Church. I am sure we all realize that an equally important purpose of the Holy and Great Council is the promotion of the spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy to all those beyond its limits in order to prepare the path leading to unity. At the same time, having the conviction which we openly declare, that the Orthodox Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ, we reaffirm that our primary effort and concern, in all dialogues, is the offering of Orthodox teaching and experience to other Christians. The fullness of our Orthodoxy awaits us from the Council: that it also turn its attention to Orthodox societies, which day by day descend increasingly into corruption; that it seek the causes [of 8

this] and offer options for treatment; that it express the ethos and values of the Church, as an effective means of combating corruption; and that it highlight the evolution of spiritual values with public values and provide [the Church’s] liturgical dimension with a moral one as well. The messages expected to be promulgated by the Council are neither few in number nor are they to be disparaged. It is recognized, however, by all that we lagged somewhat in preparing and this delay has had an impact on the results of the Council as well. The many problems we have faced, and which have dragged out the preparations over many years, have brought us to the point (in the words of Melito, the Bishop of Chalcedon of blessed memory) where the problems of yesterday have not been overcome by the problems of today, nor by the problems of tomorrow, but by those of the day after next. The world of 1961 or 1986 no longer exists. In its place, another more complicated world was born. We see set before us the external existential problems of humanity, as well as other issues such as the environment, bioethics, drugs, information technology, and the economy, which has gone awry. A new way of life based on consumption and individualism has replaced the timeless Orthodox lifestyle with its austere way of life and the pursuit of virtue. The human being of today is now living out a tragedy. Atop the most unsettled things of life, he tries to build his happiness. The mentality of our culture today leads many to exploit not only their fellow human beings but also to exploit nature and to destroy the environment itself, with the final result of having no deeper meaning in life. As has been aptly said, underlying the murder of the earth [γεοκτωνία] is the spiritual suicide [αυτοκτωνία] of the

modern human being, and underlying our ruined environment is ruined human nature. It may, therefore, be necessary that by this Council we solve the issues of the canonical organization of the Orthodox Church; however, we should harbor no illusions that these problems concern or interest our flock more than they do other Christians. With the experience we have gained, therefore, we should proceed quickly to a new Great Council that will chiefly deal with the problems of ecology, bioethics, the non-symmetrical development of material and spiritual values, and a lacking meaning of life in the modern world, and that will give hope to the staggering world. A period of three to five years will suffice for this aim, I think. Such a new Great Pan-Orthodox Council should have the additional aim of creating a way for receiving heterodox [Christians] into the Orthodox Church, as did the Ecumenical Councils of the first millennium, and creating conditions for exercising for its part an influence, both in terms of mission work as well as in other ways, on the rest of the world. To borrow a phrasing from physics: it should aim at keeping Orthodoxy open to osmosis into the heterodox and diffusion outwards to other religions. It should also study reforms that do not affect the core of the faith and doctrine of the Church and which refer to practical, moral, and canonical issues in a world that is con-

stantly changing in terms of structures and functions. The packaging can be modified, making the content of our Orthodox faith more accessible to human beings. Even though people have been distanced from the will of God, even though our society has become secularized, the world forever remains the object of Divine Providence. Its creation entails a goal to be attained. And we, the Church, must support and guide this world towards the fulfilment of the will of God. Our responsibility is, therefore, neither terminated nor reduced by this Holy and Great Council. On the contrary: considering the expectations of the people, we should redouble our efforts to express the will of God in our time and place, illuminating the way for people in the various straits of life.

The original text of the Archbishop’s address was published on the website of the Holy & Great Council (www. speeches-addresses).

Once again glorifying God, we first thank Your All-Holiness from the bottom of our heart, for all your care, for the convocation and the smooth operation of the Holy and Great Council, within the bounds of your jurisdiction, and furthermore the Reverend Archbishop and episcopate of Crete, for the many labors and various cares with which they have been entrusted. We pray for God’s bountiful light on us all so that the work we shall undertake might also be bountiful.

© 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Chrysostomos II (Demetriou) is Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus. In 1972, he graduated from the Theological School of the University of Athens and became Hegumen of the Monastery of St. Neophytos. He was consecrated Metropolitan of Paphos in 1978 and enthroned as primate of the Church of Cyprus in 2006.

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016


Council press briefing with Abp. Job of Telmessos and Fr. John Chryssavgis. Photo: John Mindala.


“In the Council, Discussion Has Been Vigorous and Challenging”: Interview with John Chryssavgis Note: During the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, The Wheel conducted an exclusive interview with the Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne, theological advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch, and Director of the Press Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Council. Fr. John was interviewed on the island of Crete by Dr. Gayle E. Woloschak, who sits on The Wheel’s advisory board and participated in the work of the Press Office at the Council. Gregory Tucker prepared interview questions.


Gayle Woloschak: Father John, thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to talk to The Wheel at this exciting time in the life of the Orthodox Church. John Chryssavgis: I appreciate the unique work that The Wheel has done in maintaining a website and a blog about the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. Getting the word out—in a sincere and solemn manner—to the faithful as well as to the broader community about the work of the Council is vital, both for a balanced understanding of what took place at the Council and also for the process of reception of its documents and decisions. GW: First, we would like to ask you to reflect on one aspect of the ongoing conciliar process. After the publication

of drafts of the six proposed Council documents several months ago, Orthodox theologians around the world began a period of intensive reflection on these texts and produced a large number of important commentaries, drawing on their wide range of expertise. Much of their work was undertaken as part of a special project arranged by the Orthodox Theological Society in America (OTSA), and the results were made available immediately online at and in print. Other commentaries have been printed and posted on blogs and websites in several official languages. We have heard that some serious theological discussion has already taken place in the opening days of the Council but the first document to be discussed—”The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”—has received only light editing, despite the serious concerns

expressed by scholars. To what extent are the bishops aware of and engaging with these commentaries and the work of professional theologians outside their own group? JC: The official documents for consideration by the Council that had been unanimously approved by the primates of the Church were released in January 2016. The members of the Council are fully aware that there has been on-going discussion about the Council documents and in fact welcomed it. This Council has been associated with unprecedented discussion on the documents with specific commentaries given at every level from national churches to eparchies to parishes, from clergy and laity, even to theologians, as you rightly observe. It has really been remarkable. I don’t know if this has ever taken place to quite such an extent at any other point in the history of the Church. Everyone is invited to comment; everyone is interested; and everyone awaits the decisions of the Council. The hierarchs at the Council have undoubtedly heard and been exposed to this discussion, much of which will be in their minds as they review the documents this week. In the Council room, discussion of the documents has been vigorous and challenging, but also transparent and respectful. The final documents are still being modified and will be approved by consensus of the Council members for publication and dissemination toward the end of the Council. However, your question also alludes to a deeper issue, if not a problem, in our Church. It is very important for all of us to engage in conversation about issues in the Church, without feeling threatened by such an open exchange and dialogue. And the truth is that The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

hierarchs and scholars have not traditionally been partners in the journey toward a more unified and more informed Church. It is my hope and prayer that this Council may be yet another small step toward that goal. GW: Related to the influence of lay theologians on the work of the Council is the issue of the so-called “diaspora.” Several of the episcopal delegates, who were carefully chosen by their synods to attend the Council, exercise their ministry outside the territories of the ancient patriarchates, and a great many more were educated there. In addition, several members of the Press Office staff and other auxiliary staff and resources come from these regions. Does this perhaps signify a greater openness among the Council fathers toward the “diaspora” communities—even a willingness to embrace them as other than a diaspora, and swiftly to resolve the canonical issues which continue to impede the Church’s mission? Is the life of the Orthodox Church in the “diaspora” perhaps spoken of so often and so easily as a problem to be solved by the historical canonical churches that its many gifts and opportunities have been overlooked? JC: Prior to the Council many comments were forthcoming about the diaspora document, which would impact most of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world. Discussion of the diaspora document during the Holy Council was also lively, with some modifications proposed and incorporated by the delegates. The hierarchs are certainly aware of the pressing problems of the diaspora and are more or less in agreement about the establishment of canonical normality in churches of the diaspora, but there is no unanimity among them about exactly how this should be achieved. Of course, we will not know the result 11

until later this week, but it is clear that this is an important issue for the hierarchs because of its broad-ranging impact both now and in the future. But I would like to suggest very humbly that it is almost escapist for us in the United States to wait for an answer to our situation. The answer was given [at the pan-Orthodox pre-conciliar meeting] in Chambésy, Switzerland several years ago, in 2009, when the decision was taken by all of the autocephalous Orthodox churches to establish assemblies of bishops in several regions throughout the world. The creation of the episcopal assemblies in the diaspora is a provisional and transitional measure that affects all churches in the non-traditional Orthodox countries, including the United States of America. In fact, the Assembly of Bishops in the U.S. is one of the most active throughout the world. However, the measure is provisional because the goal is to work toward the reality of one Orthodox bishop in one city. By discussing the documents on diaspora and autonomy, the Holy and Great Council is advancing the cause not only of global, but also local pan-Orthodox unity. Opening session of the Council. Photo: Romanian Orthodox Church/Robert Nicolae.


Any inactivity or delay in responding to the mandate of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches with regard to the work of the Assembly is simply an excuse that betrays the responsibility of church leaders to their faithful. I don’t know how to put it more simply than that. GW: On Monday, we heard some very strong words from Archbishop Chrysostomos of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus in his opening speech to the Council, concerning the serious problem of fundamentalism in the Orthodox Church. He said that “the fundamentalist groups, the fanatics— among whom are found both theologians and hierarchs, and who themselves do little, and who are pretty much everywhere in the Orthodox world today, equally merit serious consideration: not only on account of the delay in convening the Holy and Great Council, but also on account of the danger threatened [by them]. The opposition of these groups to every notion of rapprochement with other Christians has indirectly affected even our local councils, which have attempted and continue to attempt to make profuse amendments to the texts and regulations of the documents that

were prepared by the pre-conciliar meetings. We have no illusions. For these groups, we have been found to be mired in heresy and apostasy.” In the press briefing on Tuesday, you also spoke boldly about the need to articulate new answers to the many issues which today confront the Church, formulating “an inspiring, a prophetic, a constructive, a consoling word to its people throughout the world.” Can you comment on the way the Council has begun to think about the rising influences of Orthodox fundamentalisms (Biblical, Patristic, Byzantine, anti-Western) and the extent to which the delegates are willing to engage the most urgent issues of the day? JC: I have heard Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus speak on several occasions to his fellow primates, and now to the members of the Council. He speaks clearly and boldly, hitting the nail on the head each time. As you rightly point out, he commented on the problems of rising fundamentalisms in the Orthodox world and concerns about how best to face these issues. The document on “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” helps to address some of these concerns, but similar discussion has also followed related to the document on fasting. It is clear that the bishops—as pastors and leaders—understand this problem, which has proved toxic in Orthodox church life. It is not a new phenomenon; in fact, it has always been with the institutional church, probably as a result of waning standards among church leaders and of the efforts of Christian faithful to lead consistent spiritual lives in the Church. But as the bishops in the Council underlined, there needs to be a closer connection between the charismatic and the canonical in the Church, a closer connecThe Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

Council press briefing with Fr. John Chryssavgis. Photo: Sean Hawkey.

tion between the institutional and the missionary aspects of the Church. GW: Finally, Father John, much media attention has been focused on the small but significant number of autocephalous churches which decided at the last minute to withdraw from participation in the Council’s sessions this week. There seems to be a growing opposition between those attending the Council, who continue to insist on its legitimately pan-Orthodox character and binding authority irrespective of the attendance of particular local churches this week, and those who insist that there can be no pan-Orthodox council without preexisting unanimity on all matters, and who therefore consider this council to be, at best, another stage in the pre-conciliar process which has been ongoing for many decades. How much confidence do the Council fathers have that their deliberations will be taken seriously by all Orthodox churches? And what historical significance do you attribute to the Holy and Great Council at this stage? JC: Certainly the documents of the Council will generate further discus13

sion in the Church and in the broader community. The ultimate acceptance of the Council will come about when it is received by the people of the Church—not, mind you, only by the leaders and churches that were absent. Many of the hierarchs, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, have expressed hope that this council will mark the renewal of conciliarity at a global scale in the Church, with councils continuing to occur periodically in years to come. In his opening message to the Council, His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew expressed this: “Only insurmountable historical circumstances can justify the inactivity of the synodal institution on any level, including the global level.” With this in mind, we are surely justified in hoping that conciliarity will become a normal process for the Church, in the future as it was in the first millennium, and thus continue the work begun at this council.

© 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Council began with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist by all the Orthodox primates. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples—broken and confused after the turmoil and scandal of Christ’s crucifixion—were inspired by the gentle and renewing breath of the Spirit, which called them all to unity. And they were called to share the good news “to the ends of the earth.” We should remember that they were “called” to unity, which means that unity is the goal and the gift; it is not the starting point or the way.

The Church teaches that the salvation offered in Christ brings healing to humankind and transfiguration to the whole creation. In this cosmic vision there must be no place for isolationism or sectarianism, triumphalism or obscurantism, nationalism or imperialism. Moreover, in a world that is witnessing the most horrendous humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, the Church should have a word of hope and consolation.

Similarly, on the feast of Pentecost, the primates and bishops of the Orthodox churches throughout the world are meeting in council as the successors of Christ’s disciples in order to implore and invoke the Spirit of God—which, as we sing in an Orthodox hymn at Pentecost, “fills all things that are lacking”—in order to affirm and demonstrate their unity, and in order to empower and energize them to be a credible witness to the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection in the contemporary world. But in order for this to happen, the bishops must be assembled—as the disciples were 2,000 years ago—“in the same place, together.” It is helpful to remember that the Greek word for council (syn-odos) means precisely “being on the same road with one another.” That is my own prayer, and that of many Orthodox faithful, for the Holy and Great Council.

That was the miracle of Pentecost, the feast on which the Holy and Great

GW: Father John, thank you for your time.

The Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis is an author and theologian who serves as Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and theological advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch. He is a clergyman of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Born in Australia, he graduated from Athens University and the University of Oxford. He has published over thirty books and numerous articles in several languages. He lives in Maine.


Rally in Strasbourg following Charlie Hebdo shooting, January 11, 2015. Photo: Claude Truong-Ngoc.


Blasphemy and Democracy Interview with Anastasia Colosimo Translated by Michael Berrigan Clark French law does not recognize the notion of “blasphemy” in the sense of insult or outrageous utterance directed to God, the Church, or sacred matters. The Catholic Church, however, still considers blasphemy—expressed in word, act, image, or the like—to be among the gravest of sins. The act of blasphemy is always evil, independent of circumstances or intentions. Does the judicial repression of blasphemy have meaning only for a Christian society and Christian institutions? A “Notice” in the French Senate on the suppression of blasphemy in several different countries and an essay by Anastasia Colosimo on the notion of blasphemy and democracy appeared at roughly the same time, in January 2016. In 2013, Colosimo defended a thesis at the Institute for Political Studies entitled “Does Religion Make Law? The Metamorphosis of Blasphemy.” In the three years since, she has been preparing a doctoral dissertation, the subject of which is “Judging Religion? Law, Politics, and Liberty in the Face of Blasphemy in a Democratic Society.” Although still a doctoral candidate, she teaches on theology and politics at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris. At the age of 25, she has just published her first book, Les Bûchers The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

de la liberté [The Funeral Pyres of Liberty], a brilliant essay on blasphemy and liberty of expression that does not shrink from challenging ideas. Anastasia Colosimo, who is an Orthodox Christian, was willing to respond to some questions on these subjects.

Yves Chiron: Following the assassination of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo one year ago, your book is a plea for total liberty of expression. Is that because this liberty is constitutive of the human being or is it because the notion of blasphemy is meaningless in a secular society?

Note: This interview originally appeared in French in the online and print newsletter Aletheia (no. 243, January 28, 2016). The editor, Yves Chiron, wrote the introductory remarks in order to explain the significance for contemporary French society of Anastasia Colosimo’s new work. His five questions addressed to Ms. Colosimo form the substance of the interview.

Anastasia Colosimo: To say that liberty of expression is constitutive of the human being is both true and misleading at the same time, because the very term “liberty of expression” is an invention of political modernity. That does not mean, however, that thoughts on liberty are absent from the premodern world. I would even say that such reflections are essential, because they define the figure of the Just One, of the person who does not fear to question the established or15

der and to tell the truth about the world as it is. This dimension is central in the dialogues of Plato. It is for having made too much of his freedom of speech that Socrates is condemned to drink hemlock. The other important figure is obviously that of Jesus Christ—who, interestingly, was condemned to crucifixion for having blasphemed. But if freedom of speech in the premodern world is intimately correlated to the search for truth and its affirmation, modern liberty of expression depends rather on the idea of the fundamental rights of the human person and refers to an individual’s right to express an opinion in the public sphere. The premodern world, if we had to define it in two words, was the world of transcendence and heteronomy, which implied that temporal power found its legitimacy in divine authority and that there was a perfect congruity between the political community and the spiritual community. Thus the blasphemer in the premodern world was the one who would question the truth that was not only shared by all but was constitutive of the unity of the community. The one who blasphemed was already excluded de facto from the community, but also had to be explicitly excluded by others, since the blasphemer imperiled the very truth that was the foundation of society. On the other hand, the modern world, or rather the contemporary world, defines itself through immanence and autonomy. Thus in the secularized context, the unity of the political community is no longer founded in a shared revealed truth, but in the contract to which each member of society adheres. In this sense, the notion of “blasphemy” becomes without effect, since religious conviction is relegated to the status of one opinion among 16

others. Therefore, it is entirely logical that the offense of blasphemy should be abolished in contemporary democratic societies. In other words, liberty of expression is constitutive of the human being in the premodern world as well as in the contemporary world, but according to different modes, the passage from one mode to the other following the irresistible movement of secularization. Y.C.: The 1881 Law on the Freedom of the Press, passed in a context of secularization and anticlericalism, abolished criminal offense for the expression of opinion. In 1972, the Pleven Law restrained liberty of opinion by declaring punishable anything that would tend to promote “discrimination, hate, or violence with regard to a person or group of persons respecting their ethnicity, national origin, race, or religion.” In what way does this latter law open the way for what you call the “judicialization of thought”? A.C.: The 1881 Law on the Freedom of the Press is one of the great laws of the Third Republic. It follows the Law on Freedom of Assembly (1880) and precedes the Trade Union Act (1884), the Associations Bill (1901), and finally the formal law on the Separation of the Churches and the State (1905). These laws constitute the bulwark upon which the contemporary French order of liberties depends. The Pleven Law (1972), which modified the Law on the Freedom of the Press of 1881, was approved unanimously by the National Assembly in the international context of an initiative against racism and in a national context of rediscovered guilt with respect to France’s Vichy past. The formulation of this law, however, introduces ambiguity by placing ethnic,

national, racial, and religious identity on the same level; it also shows a certain ignorance of the religious reality common enough at the time, since the great return of the religious question didn’t manifest itself until the end of the 1970s. Most surprising, however, is that with the Pleven Law, lawsuits can be filed not only by individuals but also by “any association set up within five years of the facts in question that proposes, by means of these statutes, to combat racism.” This law represents a fundamental break from the previous understanding in its apprehension of the limits to liberty of expression; it allows associations to file suit on behalf of communities, leading to the introduction of the American model of “class action.” The most edifying example is the suit brought against Charlie Hebdo in 2007, on the basis of the Pleven Law, by the Union of Islamic Organizations of France and the Paris Mosque, because of the weekly magazine’s publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. The formulation of the law gave the impression that all the Muslims of France were suing Charlie Hebdo, even though the overwhelming majority was not even aware of the existence of the journal. This also introduced to public discourse the notion of the “Muslim community,” without anyone knowing exactly what this expression referred to, since the reality of Muslim life in France is just as complex as the reality of Christian or Jewish life. It should be noted, furthermore, that even though the 2007 lawsuit against Charlie Hebdo was the most far-reaching and the most thoroughly covered in the media, the majority of lawsuits based on the Pleven Law were brought by Catholic associations. What I try to demonstrate in my book is that these lawsuits are, in reality, blasphemy suits in all but name. Since it The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

is no longer possible to speak of a ban on blasphemy in secularized societies, confessional groups have adopted the language of modernity and make reference to “offense against believers.” From a dead-end debate between a religious argument (the ban of blasphemy) and a secular argument (the freedom of expression), the debate becomes a systematic one between two human rights, namely the protection of others—or the protection of the feelings of others— and the freedom of expression. This diversion is extremely problematic, because not only does it force citizens to be enrolled in a community, but it also introduces a genuine competition between communities. The “memorial laws” that followed represent the logical continuation of this misdirection. Y.C.: There is a paradox in American society. Offenses against opinion do not exist there, as it is solemnly affirmed in the First Amendment to the Constitution (1791) and in the 1952 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that you cite. At the same time, anti-religious caricatures such as those published by Charlie Hebdo would never appear. Is it simply self-censorship and the effect of being “politically correct” and “religiously correct”? Or is it because American identity is so intrinsically religious (in all its diversity of denominational confessions)? Is the controversy over religious caricatures a sign that, in the end, France is not clear in its definition of secular society [laïcité] and in the affirmation of its identity? A.C.: The United States and France represent two different, not necessarily contrary, models. It should be noted there is no exact equivalent of the French word laïcité in English—the best approximation is the word secular. 17

If the secular [laïcité] in the American understanding stands for the idea that the public sphere is a space where all religions have the right to be represented, laïcité according to the French understanding asserts the idea that the public sphere is a space where no religion should be represented. This is easily understood if one tries to analyze the social and political structures of the two countries. Whereas the United States is marked by a good measure of mistrust of the state on the part of its citizens and by the distinct presence of communities that often present themselves as intermediaries between the state and its citizens, France, on the other hand, is a country with a strong state-oriented tradition, where national identity takes precedence over community identity, since the state addresses itself to citizens and never to communities. This is what differentiates the American communitarian idea and the French republican idea. To this must be added the fact that the United States has constructed for itself a veritable civil religion—witness the fact that one swears on the Bible to take a public oath, and public officials routinely intone “God bless America!”—though no one knows to which god the phrase refers, if not the uniquely American god. Therefore there exists a “religiously correct” aspect to American life, since religion plays such a central role in the construction of the American nation; the American identity is intrinsically religious, as you said so well. Nevertheless, it is necessary to keep in mind that this civil religion was constituted in reference to Protestantism. It is only by understanding this direct connection that one can understand the role played by puritanical Protestantism in the insanity of the American “politically correct” language debate. 18

This leads us to the paradox that you mention. The United States is the country of the First Amendment and thus of near total liberty of expression and at the same time the country where, the day after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, not a single one of the offending caricatures appeared on television. Although judicial pressure is very weak, societal pressure is extremely strong. The controversy that took place in France regarding the religious caricatures after the attacks, but also before, is the sign, in my opinion, of a crisis in the definition of the secular [laïcité] according to the French model. While some would prefer to perpetuate the republican tradition, others think that the fracturing of French society into distinct communities is unavoidable, and instead of merely succumbing to it, one should make an effort to frame the new structure as best one can. Ignorance of both the forces present and of religious reality leads repeatedly to confusion, preventing the definition of a clear vision of secular society [laïcité] as it finds itself confronted by new contemporary issues. For my part, I remain convinced of the superiority of the French model. Y.C. The Pleven Law and the memorial laws (against Holocaust denial, on the Armenian genocide, etc.) put French society at a double risk, in your view: of accentuating communitarian fracturing and of giving more power to what you call the “language police,” what Annie Kriegel and Jean Madiran used to call “the thought police.” How do we escape from this impasse? Does repealing the Pleven Law (and those that followed it) seem possible to you? A.C.: The Pleven Law and the memorial laws (which were often presented as necessary under the circumstances

of the time) have in reality done far more harm than good. In addition to unleashing competition between communities, they have contributed, through the systematic judicializing of language, to the state’s abandoning its essential role as educator. It seems unthinkable today that a representative in the Assembly might propose the abolition of these laws, because, in that case, what would be the message sent to civil society? One can easily see the trap set by these laws, which now cannot be unwound or unraveled. The only solution would be to avoid the obstacle by saying it was necessary to recast the press freedom law of 1881, which would send a less negative signal, but I am afraid that no one has the courage to do it. Y.C.: “One does not penalize error, one combats it,” you write in the conclusion to your book. As a Christian, how does one “combat” an insulting caricature of the Pope or a scandalous film about Christ? A.C.: First of all, I do not defend total liberty of expression: I find it perfectly just that one should be able to defend oneself in court against an offense to oneself personally. After all, this conception is the one that comes to us from Roman law, where defamation (and more broadly, insult) is understood as an attack on one’s honor. This offense is taken up in the Law on the Freedom

of the Press of 1881. I even think it not absurd that a person might file a suit when singled out as belonging to an ethnicity, nation, race, or religion. What I find problematic, on the other hand, is the idea of offense to a group. First of all, it has transformed our perception of blasphemy by inventing the figure of the “offended believer.” But also, more generally, in regard to racist language, it contributes to sending each person back to a group identity, back to one’s tribe. As a Christian, “to combat” an insulting caricature of the Pope or a scandalous film on Christ—although these are not entirely the same thing—is completely possible through debate, the medieval disputatio. But it is also necessary to accept the democratic game plan and not feel targeted each time religion is put in question. And it is granting too much attention to a certain kind of press to feel overwhelmed by instances of caricature. Most of all, I think that for believers, the best way to “combat” blasphemy today is not to yield to the growing “sentimentalizing” of the faith, which is nothing more than a perverse effect of continuing secularization. The combat must be one of reason enlightened by faith and, in that sense, it is first of all cultural, and should incline us to refuse the evil temptation of the ghetto.

© 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Anastasia Colosimo is a PhD candidate at Sciences Po Paris, where she teaches political theology after having obtained a Law and criminology degree at Université Paris II Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is the author of Les bûchers de la liberté, published in January 2016 for the one year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016



Bad Ecumenism: The American Culture Wars and Russia’s Hard Right Turn Christopher Stroop 1 I think “Kantian-ish,” awkward as the term may be, is a better descriptor for me than “spiritual but not religious.” The philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) emphasized what we might call epistemological humility with respect to spiritual reality and metaphysical speculation. 2 Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, eds., The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), esp. 15–69. See also Jürgen Habermas et al., An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age, tr. Ciaran Cronin (Cambridge: Policy Press, 2010).


Born in northern Indiana in 1980, I was raised in a conservative evangelical Protestant enclave community, and thereby hangs a tale. While I will try not to tell it like an idiot, this tale is certainly full of sound and fury. My fundamentalist milieu was characterized by an apocalyptic ethos that went hand-in-hand with urgent engagement in what I like to call the quasi-ecumenism of Biblical literalism—though “interconfessional culture wars” might be a more immediately accessible descriptor—with implications for church-state relations, interfaith dialogue, and even geopolitics. This tale may be framed as one of “bad ecumenism,” the offspring of fundamentalist resistance to modernity and Cold War anti-Communism. Ironically, the associated movement has, of late, been forging an alliance with Moscow. Far-right voices in both Europe and North America have been looking to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a moral exemplar and a beacon of hope. Bad ecumenism has ushered in an era of right-wing fellow travelers.

part in it, seeking common ground and, where possible, making common cause with representatives of various faith traditions toward the general good in our pluralist society.

But what do I mean by bad ecumenism? In answering this question, I would like to begin by placing my commitments on the table. I’m a believer, if not in the specific dogma of any religious tradition, then, at least, in the value of interfaith dialogue. I also believe that the unaffiliated, or “nones”—the atheists, the agnostics, and the “Kantian-ish” sorts like myself1—ought to take interfaith dialogue seriously and ought to take

Our pluralist society consists not merely of atomized individuals, but also of various social groups and communities, among which religious communities are numbered. I will not concede the fundamental importance of the separation of church and state, but at the same time it would be undemocratic to exclude members of religious communities from participation in the public sphere. In this respect, there is much of value in the re-

Why? I have pragmatic, philosophical, and personal reasons for the value I place on “good ecumenism” (broadly defined—I do not believe universal Christian unity to be an attainable or even desirable goal, as in my skepticism I can conceive of it happening only in an authoritarian way) and on the participation of the unaffiliated in it. Pragmatically, religion has proven remarkably persistent; whether atheists and agnostics would like it to persist is beside the point. As Soviet experience shows, repression—and I would add that such repression is, regardless of effectiveness, unethical—cannot eliminate it. Ignoring religion, when it retains substantial social significance, is not a good option either, and this is where my pragmatic reasons intersect with my philosophical reasons.

cent slim volume The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, particularly in the debate between Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor regarding the appropriate means for participation of religious believers in the public sphere. Once holding to an essentially strict early Rawlsian position that religious reasoning should be excluded from the public sphere, Habermas now concedes that religion has important cultural resources that ought not to be lost to modern democratic societies. Taylor, meanwhile, adds that in inviting various constituencies into dialogue and debate in the pluralist public sphere, we should set a democratic goal of preventing any one of them from dominating others.2 I agree with both points, and it seems to me that if the unaffiliated refuse to engage with religious believers, this will do nothing to discourage the kind of religious radicalism that does seek to dominate society, and will most likely encourage it. This leads to my personal reasons for supporting interfaith dialogue and the participation of the unaffiliated and unbelieving in it. I may have grown up with a kind of fundamentalist evangelical Protestantism that I find in many respects wrongheaded, but there are many kindhearted, generous, good people in it. I have seen some evolve on culture wars issues, and there are signs that more broadly, despite the numerous examples of fundamentalist backlash currently underway in evangelical institutions, some sections of evangelical Protestantism are changing for the better.3 Meanwhile, some of my close friends are moderate and progressive Christians (of various stripes, including evangelicals), and they demonstrate the ability of believers to act in the public sphere in good faith, not seeking to dominate society by imposing exclusively religious values on others in the form of coercive law, even though their positions are informed by their faith. The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

Here there is much room for common ground, and it will be better for all of us if we seek it. All of this contrasts sharply with bad ecumenism, which we can categorize as a strategy of fundamentalists who feel threatened. Like good ecumenism, it seeks, if not full unity, then at least cooperation between members of various Christian churches (and at times also with social conservatives outside Christianity). But that is where its similarity with good ecumenism and good-faith interconfessional initiatives ends. In contrast to these, bad ecumenism is oriented not toward the general good, but toward the goal of conservative Christian political domination through the coercive imposition of shared “traditional values” that in fact dehumanize and, when enshrined in law, discriminate against women, members of the LGBTQ community, non-Christians, liberals—in short, a variety of “others.” Perhaps because I was socialized in Christian Right institutions to become a culture warrior in this vein, when it comes to approaches to discussions of fundamentalism, I have something to bring to the table in dialogue with nonfundamentalist believers. Let’s examine the current orientation of some American social conservatives toward Moscow as a specific example of how bad ecumenism operates. On October 28, 2015, Franklin Graham—son of “America’s pastor” Billy Graham, and current president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse—met with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus’ while on a visit to Russia. During his audience with the patriarch, Graham opined that U.S. President Barack Obama “promotes atheism,” adding: “Unfortunately he does not have a Christian worldview.” In a subsequent press conference, Graham contrasted Obama with Putin,

3 On conservative backlash in evangelical institutions of higher education, see Christopher Stroop, “Special Report: Have Evangelical Colleges Succumbed to ‘Theological Paranoia’?”Religion Dispatches, January 19, 2016. religiondispatches. org/ special-report-haveevangelical-collegessuccumbed-totheological-paranoia/, accessed May 25, 2016. 4 Miranda Blue, “Franklin Graham Praises ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law, Criticizes US ‘Secularism’ In Russia Visit,” Right Wing Watch, November 11, 2015. www. rightwingwatch. org/content/franklingraham-praises-gaypropaganda-lawcritizes-us-secularismrussia-visit. Accessed April 23, 2016. 5 Priest Mark Hodges, “Russian Orthodox Patriarch: Americans for Natural Marriage Are ‘Confessors of the Faith,’” PravMir, November 3, 2015. russian-orthodoxpatriarch-americans-fornatural-marriage-areconfessors-of-the-faith/. Accessed April 23, 2016.


6 Pat Buchanan, “Whose Side Is God on Now?” Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website, April 4, 2014. blog/whose-side-godnow-6337. Accessed April 23, 2016. 7 Ian Hanchett, “Buchanan on Strained US-Russian Relations: ‘What is the Matter with This Country?’ Putin Is an ‘Ally’ Against Islamic State,” Breitbart, April 23, 2016. video/2016/04/23/ buchanan-on-strainedus-russia-relationswhat-is-the-matterwith-this-countryputin-is-an-ally-againstislamic-state/. Accessed April 23, 2016. 8 Erik Rush, “How to Disarm the Mainstream Media,” World Net Daily, October 24, 2012. www. wnd. com/2012/ 10/how-to-disarm-themainstream-media/. Accessed April 24, 2016. Erik Rush, “Obama Backs Nazis, Crickets from the Press,” World Net Daily. March 12, 2014. www. wnd. com/2014/ 03/obama-backs-naziscrickets-from-thepress/. Accessed April 24, 2016. Erik Rush, “Homofascists, Christians, and the State as ‘God,’” World Net Daily. June 3, 2015. www.wnd. com/2015/06/ homofascists-christiansand-the-state-as-god/. Accessed April 24, 2016. 9 Alexey Zygmont, “The Problematics of Violence in Post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Discourse,” State, Religion and Church 2:2 (2015): 29–53.


thanking the latter for “protecting Russian young people against homosexual propaganda.”4 For his part, Patriarch Kirill, putting aside doctrinal differences between Protestant and Orthodox believers, declared opponents of marriage equality to be “Confessors of the Faith,” adding, “This gives us a sign of hope: there are people among Western Christians akin to us in ethical principles, sharing them with the Russian Orthodox Church.”5 Over a year earlier—just after Putin’s annexation of Crimea, and in a moment in which Graham may still have had doubts about Putin’s KGB past—another Catholic American, the prominent paleoconservative political strategist, pundit, and former Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, strongly hinted that God is now on Russia’s side.6 He has remained something of a Putin apologist since.7 And it is not difficult to find other apologists for Putin among hardline American conservatives, a fact that has important geopolitical implications. For example, Erik Rush, a columnist for the far-right website WorldNetDaily and a repeat guest on Fox News who charmingly looks forward to a time when “the political disenfranchisement of liberals, progressives, socialists and Marxists can begin in earnest, and in the open,” has defended Putin’s approach to Ukraine. He has also been known to tweet memes in which Obama is portrayed as weak and effeminate in comparison to Putin, and to rail against “homofascists,” who exist, of course, only in the fevered imagination of fundamentalists.8 This rapprochement between American religious and social conservatives and the Kremlin might seem odd, given not only festering post-Cold War resentments among Russians toward the West, but also given the fact that the “sectarian” represents one of the two major classes of “enemies” in contemporary Russian Orthodox dis-

course about spiritual warfare. It may also strike us as odd on the U.S. side, given lingering Cold War mistrust and recently heightened international tensions over Ukraine. So how did we get here? What unites both parties is their fundamentalist conservatism—in particular their anti-gay animus, their focus on “the natural family,” and their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of LGBTQ rights as human rights. Indeed, as Alexey Zygmont has argued, the second primary “enemy” in post-Soviet Russian Orthodox discourse about spiritual warfare is the “sodomite.”9 Even so, shared anti-LGBTQ animus is hardly a sufficient condition for the arguable emergence of a “right-wing international” centered on Russia.10

In 1999, during my senior year of high school, I was approached by my Midwestern K-12 Christian school’s orchestra director, who, as it turned out, also organized short-term mission trips with OMS International. Formerly known as Oriental Missionary Society, and apparently recently rebranded as One Mission Society, OMS was known only by its initials at that time. These days, its website proclaims that, “on average, one person comes to Christ every 31 seconds through the ministries of One Mission Society.” One of the ways this Greenwood, Indiana-based missionary organization achieves these conversions is by mobilizing youth for short-term mission trips to a number of countries.11 Denominational affiliation meant very little to my family or to many in my wider social circle. In my early childhood, my family had attended a Baptist church and a Wesleyan church, followed by an independent Christian church (historically related to the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ

denomination, part of the Restoration Movement), followed by a full-throated embrace of the non-denominational Protestant bandwagon. What was very clear throughout these peregrinations was that in order to be Christian, one needed to fight to restore officially sanctioned prayer in public schools, to reverse the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade (we were taught that abortion was a literal holocaust), to stop the advancement of LGBTQ civil rights, and to elect Republicans. Failing to deny evolution and global warming was highly suspect, but not necessarily an automatic indication that someone was out of the true Christian club. Over time, in conjunction with the political battles surrounding these issues, I observed how even Catholicism, once highly distrusted by evangelicals, became less and less dubious to us. The same thing has now occurred with Mormonism. But Orthodoxy? Orthodoxy was hardly on our community’s radar screen. While my dad, as I recall, knew one Orthodox convert from Protestantism, I do not remember ever discussing the specifics of his faith. I can recall other instances, though, in which I got the sense that Orthodoxy was “exotic” and “dubious” among evangelicals. When I accompanied the school orchestra teacher to a rural part of Russia’s Vladimir Oblast for our “English camp” missionary project in 1999, I imagined us attempting to convert atheists, assuming there were still quite a few of them in Russia given the Communist Party’s repression of religion. In fact, I’m not sure any of the students—whom we “tutored in English” by reading from an English translation of the Bible (not a very pedagogically sound method), and with whom we shared our testimonies, as evangelical Protestants do—were atheists. Our project was undertaken in coordination with local Orthodox structures, however, and The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

a priest joined us for some meals and regularly led prayer services for the Russian students, which actually made me feel good. Something about the idea of converting Christians to another form of Christianity struck me as off-putting. When I went back the following year, however, and worked with many of the same people, there was no longer any involvement of the Russian Orthodox Church, and I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the entire project (not least, however, because I was in the midst of my own crisis of faith). As it turns out, this was precisely the time of a major rift in relations between Russian Orthodox Christians and conservative American Protestants, who had indeed been proselytizing in Russian public schools, on a very large scale, under the guise of providing a Christian ethics curriculum. This initiative was coordinated by a coalition of far-right ministries known as the CoMission, with Campus Crusade for Christ (since rebranded as “Cru”) at the helm, and it represented itself very differently to its Russian partners than it did to its American evangelical supporters.12 Despite the disbanding of the CoMission and the way in which it scandalized the Russian Orthodox leadership and the Russian government, Protestant missionary efforts did help to export the American culture wars to post-Soviet Russia.13 Significantly, however, much of what the American Protestants brought to Russia has since been “nationalized.” Culture-war initiatives have been reconceptualized in terms of Russian traditions and Orthodox Christianity, something that is not in fact out of keeping with the old Slavophile Russian discourse of moral superiority.14 Especially since the beginning of Putin’s third term, the Russian state has enthusiastically embraced op-

10 Christopher Stroop, “A Right-Wing International? Russian Social Conservatism, the World Congress of Families, and the Global Culture Wars in Historical Context,” The Public Eye, Winter 2016, 4–10. 11 See the organization’s website, Accessed April 24, 2016. 12 See Bruce Wilson, “How Antigay American Fundamentalists Indoctrinated Russia’s School Children, 19921997,” TWOCARE, May 4, 2014. http:// how-antigay-americanfundamentalistsindoctrinatedrussias-schoolchildren-1992-1997/. Accessed April 24, 2016. 13 This is a topic Xenia Loutchenko and I touched on when I interviewed her on May 8, 2015. See “Religion and Politics in Russia: An Insider’s View. Xenia Loutchenko Interviewed by Christopher Stroop,” The Wheel 3, Fall 2015, 30–35. 14 See Stroop, “A RightWing International?”


position to LGBTQ rights and to some extent opposition to abortion, and has positioned itself, increasingly successfully, as the global standard bearer for the defense of “traditional values.” But what has brought the American culture warriors, who were used to leading rather than following in these matters, into the fold?

Angela Lahr, Millennial Dreams and Apocalyptic Nightmares: The Cold War Origins of Political Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Jonathan Herzog, The Spiritual-Industrial Complex: America’s Religious Battle Against Communism in the Early Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).


16 Hemant Mehta, “Liberty University, Whose Founder Once Denounced Martin Luther King, Will Host Donald Trump Today,” Friendly Atheist, January 18, 2016. http://www.patheos. com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/01/18/ liberty-universitywhose-founder-oncedenounced-martinluther-king-will-hostdonald-trump-today/. Accessed April 24 2016. 17 Blue, “Franklin Graham.”

I thank LGBTQ rights researcher L. Cole Parke, of Political Research Associates, for providing me with a recording of Komov’s presentation. 18

© 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


The American Christian Right’s modern institutional structure—the same that brought me to Russia on short-term mission trips in 1999 and 2000—has its roots in Cold War anti-Communism. Opposition to Communism was what brought conservative evangelicals back into the American mainstream in the 1940s and 50s, as Angela Lahr, Jonathan Herzog, and others have shown.15 Even the initial opposition of Christian Right groups to the Civil Rights Movement (a part of their history that now embarrasses them) was sometimes framed as anti-Communism.16 Communism and secularism were conflated in right-wing American Christians’ minds, and it is clear that Franklin Graham, who was socialized in the Cold War conservative evangelical environment, still thinks in these terms. “Secularism, which is almost no different from Communism, is an atheistic movement,” he remarked on his recent visit to Russia in the context of suggesting that Americans are losing religious freedom, while Russians are gaining it.17 For their part, Russian political and religious leaders are only too happy to proffer this narrative to American fundamentalists such as Graham. Russian social conservatives were heavily involved in founding the World Congress

of Families, one of the most significant examples of bad ecumenism on the present world stage. And at WCF IX, which took place October 27–30, 2015, in Salt Lake City, Alexey Komov—WCF’s Regional Representative for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States; the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society’s representative to the United Nations; and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarchal Commission on the Family and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood—argued that since Russians and East Europeans had already survived an era of anti-religious persecution, they were now prepared to “help our brothers in the West” in their struggle against the “new totalitarianism” of “political correctness” and sexual revolution.18 Of course, the parallel Komov draws between the Bolsheviks’ persecution of believers in the Soviet Union and today’s phony “religious freedom” struggle of the American religious right is a clearcut case of false equivalence. But prominent figures in the American religious right are buying this narrative, as the statements Graham made while in Moscow show. Ironically, as they imagine their religious freedom to be threatened by the “new totalitarianism” of latterday “secularists,” whom they persist in equating with Communists, they are looking to a newly resurgent conservative Russia as an ostensibly morally superior alternative to hold up against an America supposedly in moral decline. In these times of newly tense US-Russian relations, which some are comparing to the Cold War, we can thank bad ecumenism for the curious emergence of right-wing fellow travelers.

Christopher Stroop is a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the History Department at the University of South Florida. He is also a freelance writer, a senior research fellow in the School of Public Policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, and editor of the academic journal State, Religion and Church. Follow him on Twitter @C_Stroop.

Archbishop John, Metropolitan Ireney, Father Alexander Schmemann, 1977.


Faith and Responsibility Archbishop John (Shakhovskoy) Translated by Fr. Alvian Smirensky This essay, written in 1954, was inspired by the controversy surrounding the death in 1953 in New York of Russian socialist and revolutionary Vladimir Mikhailovich Zenzinov. Zenzinov had been involved in the Revolution of 1905 and was later an official in Alexander Kerensky’s provisional government, but opposed the October 1917 Revolution. Exiled in 1918, he traveled to China, Europe, and finally to the United States, where he remained until his death. Not long after this, the newspaper Rossiya published an article by one Taras Novak condemning all revolutionaries to eternal damnation. Novak gloated especially over the fact that Zenzinov had died without a last confession and refused a church burial. Archbishop John’s response has become one of his best-known works. The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

The disappearance of personal responsibility constitutes one of the difficulties of human life today. Nations are increasingly losing responsibility for their acts, spouses for their family life, individuals for their faith. Many people would like to exclude themselves, their party, their nation, and their church from the sphere of responsibility. But least of all can people who believe in the true God be excluded from that sphere. Only a belief in idols, indulging in passions and egoism, could allow such irresponsibility. Faith in the Living God stands opposed to any egoism, especially a religious one. Faith in God is man’s recognition of his great— not simple—metaphysical responsibility for his own life and also for the lives 25

of his neighbors. The Gospel parable about the good Samaritan, about the wounded man who was lying by the wayside and the insensitive ministers of the faith, quite clearly demonstrates the character of this responsibility. It was superbly manifested in the apostles who assumed responsibility for the whole world for the sake of the truth they proclaimed. In the Russian Church, this spirit found its realization in the Optina elders and in Father John of Kronstadt. Father John prayed not for the Orthodox alone, but even for non-Christians, healing them also by his prayers. Truth is always married to mercy. Where there is no mercy toward man there is, of course, no truth. All of the world’s believers—including the Orthodox—often stumble over the same thing that caused the older son of the merciful father in the parable of the prodigal son to stumble. This older son never left the father, he always worked in the father’s house. But it turned out 26

that the father’s attention was focused not on him, but on his prodigal brother, the sinner . . . . Here begins the tragedy of false righteousness. The structure of such righteousness collapses under the icy weight of jealousy. And we see how “older sons” (many of them have been found in history!) not only envy the Father’s merciful acts toward sinners, but would even challenge the very right of the Heavenly Father to be merciful to those who, in the opinion of the older sons, are not entitled to such mercy. Not waiting for the Father’s judgment, these falsely righteous ones already proclaim damnation upon all of their prodigal brethren. This false righteousness thus turns into a genuine struggle against God. This is especially evident in the era of the New Testament, when the full measure of truth and mercy have become manifest in Christ. A person who considers himself “saved” and “close to God” not because of God’s mercy but through his own righteousness will most certainly become the inquisitor. And we see that the world is being filled with “greater” and “lesser” inquisitors, who consider their faith to be a personal privilege and even their own power, rather than their responsibility. This idea of faith as responsibility was central to my article “On the Irreligious Use of Religion,” published in New York on November 29, 1953. I will clarify the principles that I defended in my article. One cannot consider any theoretical belief taken in isolation from the grace of God as sufficient for salvation. Even the most theologically correct expression of faith cannot be considered “sufficient for salvation” if it lies dormant in a person’s mind. The salvation of a person’s soul, its entrance into the kingdom of Heaven, depends only on the power, force, and mercy of the one and great living God, revealed in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

who has created man not for death but for immortality. Nothing human has the power, in itself, to save man for eternity. As for salvation, the only thing required of man is the freedom to receive the Holy Spirit, the freedom to discover himself as a child of God. Only God saves, and he saves only those who do not reject his Spirit, but dispose themselves with love before him, before his truth. Man is saved by faith, but not by faith alone: “Even the demons believe— and shudder” (James 2:19). Man is saved by “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Man is saved by accepting Christ’s life into his own. A faith that is perfectly orthodox but abstract cannot save the soul, because “faith apart from works is barren” (James 2:20). But neither can one enter the divine eternity with good works alone, no matter how magnificent and grandiose they may be, if these works do not lead one’s soul into maturity in God and are not the result of God’s life in man, if they are not the fruits of the true Spirit within him. It is possible to carry out falsely good works, just as it is possible to speak falsely religious words, for self-aggrandizement, vainglory, and self-interest. The creator seeks faith not as a simple “acknowledgment” of his existence, but as an organic opening of man’s heart, mind, and will to God’s life, which sanctifies and saves. This is the substance of the Orthodox teaching about man’s organic salvation. On the basis of this faith, it is impossible to anticipate what the divine judgment may be over anyone’s soul (particularly that of the late V. M. Zenzinov), either on the side of justifying that soul and proclaiming its salvation, or on the side of a proclamation of its spiritual death, particularly on the side of its damnation. I am an earthly man and do not know the ultimate mysterThe Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

ies of divine judgment. But I have a kind of a consoling hope, the source of which I find in the witness of the Word of God, in the traits of a deceased man’s soul, in the power and authenticity of prayers to God of the heavenly and earthly Church, and in the Eucharistic offerings that are offered not only for the righteous but also for sinners—even for those who consider themselves righteous, that is, for the greatest of sinners. The prayers of the Church are even stronger when she intercedes for humble sinners, for the whole creation that dies in sin and in blindness. In my article, I express my trusting faith that, on the threshold of eternity, even the soul of one such as the late Zenzinov is capable of knowing its Savior, Christ. My hope is Christ the Lord, the one and only Door (John 10:9). Hope for the ultimate salvation of one or another person created in the image and likeness of God is always legitimate. St. Gregory of Nyssa hoped for a lot more than I do, for the ultimate salvation of all people and the whole of God’s creation. And the Church did not condemn him for the boldness of his hope. My hope is for less, for salvation “as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15) of all the kind and humble people in all nations, those who loved Love in their earthly lives. No matter with what crumbs of Love from the heavenly table these people nourished themselves, each crumb was nourishing. The Church does not condemn great hope. Countless prayers of the heavenly and earthly Church ascend to God for sinners and the spiritually blind of the world. The sacrifice of Golgotha is offered on every altar in every Church “on behalf of all and for all.” Here are the words that the Church raises to God at St. Basil’s Liturgy: “Preserve the good in goodness and make the evil good by your goodness . . . reunite the separated; lead back those who are in 27

error and join them to your holy, catholic, and apostolic Church; free those who are held captive by unclean spirits . . . . Remember, O Lord, those who entreat your great lovingkindness; those who love us and those who hate us . . . . For you, O Lord, are the helper of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, the savior of the afflicted . . . . Be all things to all men.” This Eucharistic prayer of the Church lays out the path not only for the people’s prayers, but also for their sensitivities. Thus, the hope which I expressed concerning the late V. M. Zenzinov does not rest upon a faith in an abstract idea of a “higher good”; this would be absurd. Under the rubric of the “higher good” anything can lurk, in a distorted and obscurant consciousness. But for a mind that has been enlightened, divine truth can be found in this concept. The living Creator himself is, without a doubt, the highest, the very highest good that one can ever imagine. He is also the highest truth, the highest holiness, the highest purity, the highest love: everything that is supreme and good. And the evangelical good of Christ can rightfully be called the highest good. But in an abstract sense, as a term that desires to be a substitute for the living God, the “highest good” is not acceptable. It cannot internally determine the destiny either of mankind or of an individual person. Being dependent on a person’s natural feelings only, it gives no criterion for good. But, as we all are aware today, a philosophy of natural feelings, without a compass from on high, can lead only to a distortion of “truth” and “good.” We see how evil frequently hides behind the mask of good and even tries to put on the mask of the “highest good.” Of itself, the term is imperfect, but one must not ridicule it. The Lord, the living God, is above any human definition, but man’s highest moral attrib28

utes likewise belong to God himself: fatherhood, holiness, goodness, mercy, justice, graciousness, purity, and love, as well as other attributes which can be expressed in weak human language. The Gospel advises each one of us to sit only in the lowest place. Our Orthodox hope regarding ourselves cannot extend beyond this: “Go and sit in the lowest place” (Luke 14:10). The Savior’s words are clear. Lamentable is the position of unfortunate proud people: as pride is not conformable to the commandment of Christ, it testifies to their remoteness from his Spirit. And “any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). Neither the name Orthodox, nor the priesthood, nor the episcopacy, nor even martyrdom gives one the right to salvation on the basis of such a spiritual makeup that was revealed in the article to which I am responding. This is clear to people who are even in a small measure sensitive to the Spirit of Christ. Each one of us must stand as if in God’s temple, not daring to raise our eyes to heaven. And if striking one’s breast, then make sure it is one’s own and not a neighbor’s, especially not the breast of one who has already gone on to the Last Judgment. The Church’s pastors and preachers likewise are sent out to call other people to repentance and salvation. But their words will be fruitful only if they remember what the Savior said—“I choose to give to this last as I give to you” (Matt. 20:14)—and only if their words will be taken as comforting by the ones they are addressing. The spiritual testament of the person who refuses a Christian burial is not the last word or act of his earthly life. For us, it is natural to see this desire of someone who was baptized by the Church as very sorrowful. This is a severe symptom. But this symptom is severe not only for the one who died,

but also for us, for the Church’s pastors and all those who were around him. First we could not confirm him in his faith, and later we were unable to bring the lost sheep back to God. Great is the mystery of man’s posthumous journey. One must approach this mystery very cautiously. One can neither categorically confirm nor deny anything with respect to any soul that has gone to face God’s judgment. Being conscious (from my own example) of the weakness and unworthiness of some of the Church’s pastors, I could concede without any reservation (and I consider it just to concede even that) that some of us ministers of the Church would be found more responsible for Zenzinov’s last will than Zenzinov himself. We are all responsible for one another, according to Christ’s law, as Dostoevsky saw correctly and so profoundly. Perhaps some will not like such a thought. But it is no secret to any of us that we pastors, we believers, we Christians, occasionally stand before the unbelievers of this world not as an open door inviting them into the kingdom of Heaven, but as a door that is closed and even tightly slammed. Thus, in the case of any rejection of a Christian burial by a baptized person, we must not express anger and rage towards him, but must quietly weep. Weep for him who died—and for ourselves . . . . Many believers will answer for the unbelief of unbelievers! Many who did not commit suicide will answer for those who did! For having led them to it, for not holding them back, for not helping them, for not laying down our life for them . . . . The “highest good” is a nebulous and imperfect concept. It is difficult even to comprehend how one can believe in it in place of the living God and the Gospel. How can one believe in a candle when there is the sun?! One can only The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

believe in such a “candle” because of blindness, misunderstanding, or delusion. Even the term God, taken in the abstract, is insufficient for an understanding of God and an expression of the true faith. Deism is not a belief in the living God. True faith is expressed in the Ten Commandments given to Moses, in the words of the Gospel and in the apostolic and patristic Creed. But even the Orthodox expression of the Creed, assimilated by man, is not the salvific faith itself. That faith must be implemented in life. The implementation of that faith is the opening of the soul to God, a total submission to him. It is through the submission of a person’s heart to Christ’s Spirit that faith enters into the person’s life as a great gift from God, changing his hearing, sight, mind, and will, raising him in Christ and bringing him to everlasting life. Only such a faith saves.

1 The Cathedral of the Holy Protection is located on Second Street in New York City—Ed.

One cannot be saved outside of the divine Logos and the Church, which is his body. The Church is the kingdom of the Word, of the Logos, of the Lamb of God. Outside of that kingdom there is no everlasting life. But it is not possible—it is even blasphemous—to anticipate divine judgment over any soul, even the most sinful one. The mystery of salvation is in God’s hands alone. Only in isolated instances is it revealed to the Church by the Lord himself, who holds the “keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18). Some who appear to be unbelievers may secretly believe in Christ’s truth, belonging to it in secret, loving it as did Nicodemus of the Gospels, approaching it unbeknownst to others and perhaps even to themselves. I knew V. M. Zenzinov only during his later years. He would occasionally come to me on Second Street in New York for a discussion, before my move to San Francisco.1 Having returned to New York last fall from my voyage 29

around the world, and having heard that Vladimir Mikhailovich was seriously ill and was waiting for an operation, I telephoned him. He was at home, expecting to go to the hospital the following day. Our telephone conversation was brief but somehow very significant. I expressed a thought to him, to which he answered exactly as follows: “Even K——v [the name of a writer] says that I believe in God.” His voice lacked a firm certainty in this, but there was in it something kept in secret there . . . . Perhaps this was his desire for faith.


I recall an incident from my pastoral life in connection with this. Once, in Europe, a woman came to me and began to lament bitterly that she “had no faith in God,” that she “did not believe in God.” It turned out that in her tearful prayer to God, she poured out this sorrow, telling him in her bitter laments about her unbelief. This is an example of the evangelical poverty of spirit. The woman was not aware that she already had a profound faith and, more than that, an ardent love for God. People in this world somehow fail to understand what it is to be poor in spirit. They make less and less of it as the foundation of their approach toward life—their own and those of others.

munist party’s Central Committee. Avel was kindly disposed towards artistic persons, and only because of his help the pianist, with her family, was able to leave the Soviet Union in the thirties. Here is what she told the priest: “Just before we left Moscow, I came to his Kremlin office for the last time, so I could thank him for everything he has done for me and my family. When I said goodbye and was leaving, Enukidze looked kind of strangely at me and said the following: ‘I know that you are a believer. If you should hear anything about me, please pray.’ I learned about his execution, and here I am to carry out his request.” This is a true story, and here is what it shows: The collapse of all the ambitions of human life can lead even some of those people who have strayed far from the Father’s house to realize the transparency and emptiness of transient earthly comforts and achievements. This realization can often soften and humble the soul. It can bring toward God even that soul in which everything has been displaced by faithlessness and false teachings except for a single drop of goodness. And then, in Pushkin’s words, the barbaric coatings fall away from the soul like old scales, and it gains its freedom and perhaps even the joy of learning the truth.

I know of another case that affirms the Church’s faith in the worth of an informal, spiritual, and cautious approach toward the mystery of the soul’s salvation. In the mid-thirties, a well-known pianist M—— approached one of the pastors in Europe with a request to serve a panikhida. The slip of paper which she presented contained only one name: Avel. The priest prayed. After the service he heard the following story. The person for whom she offered the panikhida was Avel Enukidze, a well-known member of the Com-

We do not know what took place in the souls of those countless Party bosses and Red Army officers who, passing through solitary prison cells, disappeared by the thousands from the face of the earth. No one even knows where they were buried. Only the prayers of their loved ones were—and still are—raised for them towards heaven. How many among them, these truly unfortunate Russian people, turned out to have been like the wise thief, and how many were not so wise, never having raised a single

sigh of prayer towards heaven? Only the Lord knows all. However, there is greater joy in heaven over a single repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance. We who are attentive to God’s word must understand that heavenly joy. If old biblical faith entertained the idea that “when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness” (Prov. 11:10), then the attitude of Christians must be one of the deepest sorrow for those who have deprived themselves of the highest heavenly joy. St. Isaac the Syrian expresses a remarkable thought about the purified soul that has been granted closeness to God: “That soul receives the gift to be merciful towards all creation.”

to this truth. Salvation is in the hands of him who came “not to destroy but to save” his creation, of him who “will not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick” (Matt. 12:20).

I do not believe in the juridical, legalistic understanding of salvation. Even the Catholic Church has moved away from it, allowing that even Protestants can be saved—that is, understanding salvation as not that which is outside the Church of course, but as something that belongs to the mystery of the Church. In the Gospels, in St. Paul’s letters, and in the Revelation of St. John the Divine, this mystery of salvation is seen in its astonishing magnificence, like a great hymn of creation.

The Lord, the Father who has created all, will turn away all the demons and those like demons who consciously oppose him in their hatred and evil— the unrepentant ones. His open and secret followers he will receive, some in the morning, some at midday, some toward evening, and some even at midnight, at the last minute . . . . If an earthly mother worries and cares for her children with such great love, how much more will the Lord who created us. He does not want anybody’s eternal destruction. He is the Good Shepherd. Truly, the highest good is the goodness of that shepherding.

Following the father of the Orthodox faith, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, I believe in the organic salvation of people in Christ’s Church. Along with the Blessed Augustine, I believe that not all the souls that are now in the net of the Church will be brought on the shore of the kingdom of Heaven (those who give false reverence to Christ will be thrown out of that saving net). Some of those who are presently not inside Christ’s net will be let in and will be delivered onto the shore of God’s eternity. Such is the faith of the Fathers. The first century Christian prophetic contemplations of St. Hermas bear witness The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

Addressing the Pharisees and the lawyers who knew everything about God yet did not know God, the Lord said: “The tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31). Some have no greater difficulty than with this thought. However, the thought is clear; it is only hard to understand why it makes so embarrassed, indignant, and uncomfortable those who think it undermines Orthodoxy. One ought to rejoice at such a shining truth!

2 Archbishop John is responding to this passage in Taras Novak’s article: “Cursed be the day and the hour when all these appeared on the Russian soil: all the rabid nobility-Decembrists, all the seminary dropout Chernyshevskys and Dobrolubovs, all the terrorist tsar assassins, all the morons of ‘February’ and the hardened criminals of ‘October.’ Cursed be the wombs of the mothers who bore and nourished you, and the breasts that nourished all these maniacs. This is the seal of Cain and Judas the Traitor that these miserable people will bring before the face of the Righteous Judge! It is frightful to die without repentance!”

Any flaunting of orthodoxy, any selfconfidence in a self-righteousness, and even more so, any bold presumptuousness to anticipate God’s judgment by hurling condemnations in the direction of the departed and even in the direction of their “mothers, who bore and nourished them,” is a frightful spiritual illness, a darkness of the spirit. This darkness is even thicker where politics is fused with religion, where a spiritual struggle is confused with a struggle of the flesh.2 The delusion of 31

anti-Christian false orthodoxy is obvious. This is not an imaginary delusion, in response to a clearly expressed truth in the world, but a delusion that closes the door to truth.

© 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Only he who in repentance prostrates himself before God and is acutely aware of his own responsibility has the right to denounce people who do not repent. As Christians, we must first of all denounce ourselves (and perhaps only ourselves). This is what the Apostle recommends, and he adds: “God judges those outside” (1 Cor. 5:13). This is not a justification for being outside the Church. And nonbelievers cannot justify ignoring the call for repentance, as if it only applied to believers. This is obvious. But we are accustomed to look at everything through partisan eyes, and we even look at the Church in the same way. Those who attack the Church for the sins of her members are being partisan, as are those who defend the Church in an un-churchly manner, as something that is their own. The Church is not ours. It is God’s. The truth of faith does not belong to us, but we, if we are repentant, might belong to that truth. Let us recall the words spoken to the angel of the church in Sardis: “I know

your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead . . . . Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you” (Rev. 3:1, 3). This is addressed to the one presiding over the Church and not to pagans or Jews. Here are the words to the angel of the church in Laodicea, again through the one who presides over it: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15–16). Again, this is not addressed to pagans or Jews. This is addressing the Orthodox. The Orthodox should not take offense with me because I speak more of their repentance than the repentance of people outside the Church. They know well that for every sin of people outside, for every iniquity of this world, the faithful Christian has a sacred authority and a filial right ­to unsheathe the sharpest sword of truth: his own penitential stance before God. New York, 1954

The Most Rev. John was born in Moscow as Prince Dimitry Shakhovskoy in 1902. After the Russian Civil War, he studied at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, worked as a missionary priest in Europe, and wrote poetry. Archimandrite John moved to the United States in 1946 and was elected to the See of San Francisco of the future Orthodox Church in America, where he served for over 25 years.


Photo by Yuri Belanovsky


Leave-Taking of Pascha David O’Neal Thirty-nine days Are sufficient For rejoicing. Spend more time At it than that And you begin To miss the other Resurrections That bless the cosmos Every time honesty And compassion Come to their Inevitable conclusions. These small risings-from-the-dead, Unadorned by empty tombs, Can be easy to miss. So, then, let us take This farewell to be The beginning of a 326-day opportunity To pay attention to them. In Leap Year, 327.

© 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

David O’Neal is a book editor who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. His essays and poetry are archived on his blog, Nonidiomatic (

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016



Pilgrimage Chapel at Ronchamp Photographs by Maximus Clarke In 1944, a bomb destroyed a small Christian chapel on a hill outside the eastern French town of Ronchamp. The structure had been built in the fourth century, probably on the site of a pagan altar, and had become an important pilgrimage site. After the end of the war, the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier was commissioned to design a new church. Though not Roman Catholic himself, Le Corbusier was moved to embark on a profound struggle with the principles of machine-age rationalism that had guided his earlier work. His sculptural chapel of Notre-Damedu-Haut was consecrated in 1955, and is seen as a turning point not only in his career but in European modern architecture as a whole.


“In June 1950, on the hill, I spend three hours observing the sun and the horizons. To drink them in. . . The shell of a crab, picked up on Long Island near New York in 1946, is sitting on my drafting table. It will become the roof of the chapel: two concrete membranes, six centimeters thick, separated by a distance of 2.26 meters. The shell will be carefully placed on walls made of salvaged stone . . . The shell is positioned on these ridiculously—but intentionally—thick walls. They contain reinforced concrete posts, on which the shell will be supported, without touching the walls themselves. A horizontal stream of light 10 centimeters wide will provoke astonishment.” —Le Corbusier in Ronchamp, ed. Jean Petit (1961) “Observe the play of shadows, learn the game . . . Precise shadows, clear cut or dissolving. Projected shadows, sharp. Projected shadows, sharply delineated, but with what enchanting arabesques and frets. Counterpoint and fugue. Great music. Try to look at the pictures upside down or sideways. You will discover the game.” —Le Corbusier in Ronchamp, ed. Jean Petit (1961)

“The boat drifts onward Voices onboard sing As all become strange and are translated are carried on high and reflect on the plan of gladness.” —Le Corbusier, Le Poème de l’angle droit (1947–53)

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016



The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016


“The exaggerated supremacy of ‘Art’ in [postwar] European Architecture probably denotes a hesitant attitude towards technology, which itself has possibly been retarded by our derisive attitude towards the myth of progress, the recent belief that true progress lies in charity, welfare, and personal happiness, having replaced the Victorian idea of progress as the invention and perfection of man’s tools and equipment. “ —James Stirling, “Ronchamp: Le Corbusier’s Chapel and the Crisis of Rationalism,” The Architectural Review (1956) “It is at once simple, strong, radiant—and above all a symbol of freedom. You see, NotreDame-du-Haut does not instruct. [Medieval] cathedrals were built to instruct. Here one finds what one is watching for, what one is seeking. Here, some receive a powerful shock. Others come and are completely unmoved.” —René Bolle-Reddat, priest at Ronchamp, interviewed in Coopération (1987)


“Secularized architecture dwells on the difference between apparent and real to keep us alive to our own constructive perception, while sacred architecture dwelt on the same difference to keep us alive to the fallibility of our senses. Choice between these two ways of seeing is normally aided by context, but at Ronchamp they are elided in a such a way that it is impossible to tell whether architecture is exploiting a residue of popular faith in furtherance of its now secular aims, or whether faith draws architecture back into its service again. It depends, I think, on the balance of laughter and awe.” —Robin Evans, The Projective Cast: Architecture and its Three Geometries (1995)

Maximus Clarke is a photographer, stereographer, and multimedia artist who lives in Queens, NY. His stereographic and video works have been featured in exhibitions at the Chennai Photo Biennale, the Warhol Museum, the Clocktower Gallery, and the Center for Holographic Arts. His work can be viewed at and

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016


Torah Ark in the synagogue of Dura-Europos (Syria), 2nd–3rd centuries.


Menorah and Cross in Late Antiquity: The Dialogue of Images Lidia Chakovskaya Translated by Vera Winn Some time ago, a magazine asked for my comments on a certain project launched by an international network of tattoo salons, the goal of which was to restore the swastika’s primordial solar meaning. Before submitting my analysis, I spent some time exploring the history of the symbol. I was struck by the deep iconic resonance of the swastika in a variety of different cultures, where it stood for well-being, light, and movement. But even more remarkable was the speed with which it acquired a new, vastly more sinister set of meanings during the 20th century. Among other novel interpretations, the Indian origin of the swastika was cited as the reason for its iconic representation of the “Aryan” race, and its circular movement was reimagined as a reference to the never-ending struggle 40

between races. And, of course, its intimate identification with the monstrous Nazi state and its vast crimes against humanity transposed the swastika into a mark of unfathomable evil across much of the world. The story of the swastika demonstrates how a symbol’s manifold meanings, accumulated over time, persist even while providing the ground for developing new ones. But after its most recent iteration as the symbol of Nazi Germany, the swastika cannot be simply restored as an image of heavenly realms. Yet as horrible as this transformation of an ancient symbol of light into a modern mark of maleficence is, its journey is instructive in understanding our own cultural iconography. The cross, for example, has for centuries been the

iconic heart of Christian civilization, emerging into cultural prominence after the Roman embrace of Christianity. We take for granted that in the image of the cross, all aspects of Christian aspirations and longings are united. Over the years it has become, in most European countries, a prominent state symbol and, in one fashion or another, a source of governing legitimacy. Before the common era, however, another symbol—the Menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem—emerged in the land where Christianity was soon born. First depicted on a coin minted by the last Hasmonean King of Judea, Antigonus II Mattathias (died 37 BC), the menorah soon began to appear on graves and in synagogues, and by the fourth century had come to be depicted in a wide variety of artifacts, both domestic and funerary, that have since been discovered in Palestine and throughout the ancient Mediterranean. It is clear from the archaeological and literary evidence that the menorah became a touchstone of Jewish national identity, appearing in Byzantine synagogues, medieval Jewish manuscripts, and, finally, as the seal of the modern state of Israel. Late antiquity witnessed the transformation of the language of art from a concentration on visible realities to more intangible meanings derived from motifs inherent in the literature and culture undergirding various symbols. As a result, physical images became only the first layer of the multiple meanings that educated audiences could discern in a symbol. The menorah’s evolution from a specific ritual object into a far more expansive sign of Jewish national identity paved the way for a similar development of the cross. Semantic analogues with ancient Jewish symbolism played an important role in the formation of the visual The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

aspects of the cross during the period when the specifically Christian symbol was negotiating its relationship to the shameful and terrifying Roman cross. To identify the nexus of interaction between menorah and cross, we have to consider the stages of their historical existence. Let us first examine the ancient reported history of the Menorah itself.1 In Exodus, God provides direction for its construction, stylizing it as a tree of gold adorned with almond blossoms, and thereby associating the lampstand of the Tabernacle with the notion of the tree of life (35:14). The almond tree provided wood for the rod of Aaron (Num. 17:8), leading to an association between the menorah, community authority, and divine protection.2 Jeremiah also makes an association between the almond tree and God’s watchfulness, using a Hebrew word play that builds on the almond tree’s early seasonal blooming as a sign of the potential—but fragile—natural fertility of the land (Jer. 1:11–12). Although biblical accounts report that in Solomon’s Temple there were ten other lampstands (1 Kgs. 7:49), Josephus claims that the Menorah was the only one lit in the rituals.3 After the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, all temple supplies were carried to Babylon, from which there is no record of their return (Jer. 52:18–20).

1 The Temple’s Menorah is one of the most studied objects of the Jewish Temple. See Rachel Hachlili, The Menorah, the Ancient Seven-Armed Candelabrum: Origin, Form and Significance (Leiden: Brill, 2001); Carol L. Meyers, The Tabernacle Menorah: A Synthetic Study of a Symbol from the Biblical Cult (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1976); In the Light of the Menorah: Story of a Symbol, ed. Yael Israeli (The Israel Museum, 1999). 2 Leon Yarden, “Aaron, Bethel, and the Priestly Menorah,” Journal of Jewish Studies 26 (1975): 39–47. 3 Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 8:89–90.

The end of the Babylonian captivity in 520 BC, the return to Jerusalem, and the construction of the Second Temple marked a new epoch in Jewish life. For Zechariah, a critical symbol of God’s presence in the renewed Jerusalem was the new lampstand, representing “the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth” (4:1–11). The building of the new Temple required not only physical human effort, but 41

the course of their ascent to power, the menorah became a symbol of the struggle against Hellenization, support for Jewish identity, and the restoration of a legitimate Jewish government—a new role encapsulated by the story of the eight-day rededication of the Temple in 164 BC, when the new golden Menorah was lighted. The Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah, has since been observed as a national celebration, and in time the menorah became not only the object of Temple rituals: a version of it also became a household object in the form of the Hanukkah lamp.

The Golgotha cross behind the veil. The marble mosaic from Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, 6th century.

4 Philo of Alexandria, On the Life of Moses, 2:102–3; Questions and Answers on Exodus.

also cosmic intervention to remove the causes and consequences of the expulsion; therefore, the lampstand here was both the symbol of the Temple and the image of God’s vision manifested as light. The symbolism of the tree of life was also further developed, as two olive trees were added on either side of the lampstand, representing the anointed civil and religious authorities of the restored nation. Through its association with divine anointing, the Menorah here became linked with certain messianic properties that were later to be transferred to Christ, as the tree of life would blossom with the branch of the Messiah (Zech. 3:8). During the turbulent Hellenistic period, the Temple became identified as the singular locus of authority, both religious and political. In 168 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes pillaged the Temple, looted all the precious ritual objects, and “departed to his own land” (1 Macc. 1:21–24). As a result of the revolt and civil war occasioned by this defamation, the Hasmonean dynasty ultimately took control of Judea, cleansed the Temple, and reasserted Jewish religious practice. In 42

After the Maccabean uprising, the new Hasmonean dynasty constructed a new Menorah. The menorah became a symbol of the legitimacy of the Maccabees. The Hasmoneans who reconsecrated the Temple merged the ideas of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem as part of their state-building campaign. Despite their general aniconic policies, in certain cases they began using art, including depictions of the Menorah, as a support for their rule (a menorah relief has also been discovered in a synagogue at Migdal dating from the early Roman period). At a time of brutal confrontation with Rome’s appointed Herod the Great, the menorah was an iconic affirmation of the Temple, an independent Judah, and the legitimacy of Hasmonean rule—a role manifested by its depiction on the coin of Mattathias Antigonus, the last king and high priest from the Hasmonean dynasty. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Herodian Temple in AD 70, the Menorah was removed to Rome with other trophies, as depicted on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. Several centuries later, according to Procopius of Caesarea, “the treasures of the Jews” were looted from Rome by the Vandals, who took them to Carthage. In 534, the Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius

took them to Constantinople, where the Emperor Justinian, afraid that the Menorah would bring him misfortune, sent it back to Jerusalem, from which it subsequently vanished without record. By the time the physical Menorah disappeared, its image had been fully incorporated into the art of late antiquity, finding new life as a mutating symbol open to a variety of associations and interpretations. In the first century BC, Philo of Alexandria had described it alternately as representing the sky, the celestial bodies, the zodiac and the seasons, and the heavens, where the flame in the center represented the sun while those on either side were the stars, with the branches being three months of each season.4 According to Josephus, it represented the seven visible planets.5 By the turn of the millennium, the menorah had already become such a meaningful semantic entity that even with the destruction of the Temple and its eclipse as a physical object, its icon and the ideas associated with it continued to expand. The graphic image of the Menorah in the synagogue at Dura-Europos belongs to the last phase of its semiotic development. By the time Christian culture began to influence Jewish civilization significantly in the fifth century, the menorah had already become not only an important symbol for the entire Eastern Mediterranean, but also a signifier of the civic matrix of Jewish communities. The menorah has evolved into an image in which various semantic possibilities bleed into each other, permitting multivalent interpretations to stand alongside each other and to inform the self-identification of the variegated community that looks to it. Each successive interpretation of the menorah has added to, rather than annihilated, the previous ones. Based initially on the very precise description given The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

to Moses in Exodus, the menorah has evolved into an image of the entire world, becoming a sacral divine tree of anointment, evidence for the restoration of Jewish statehood and the direct divine interference in that history, and then, in the visions of Philo and Josephus, a celestial archetype. Initially a simple textual image, the menorah ultimately became graphical, marking the final transformation of an object into a symbol.


Jewish Antiquities, 6:7

The cross has gone through a symbolic transformation similar to that of the menorah, with each step of its semantic development being the result of a new angle of theological understanding. Unlike the Menorah, the sacred design of which was purportedly revealed to Moses by God, the cross was a quotidian instrument of horrible punishment. At the time of Christ, crucifixion was the most painful, gruesome, and shameful method of public execution in Roman Empire. Yet several centuries later, the image of this instrument of capital punishment was seen everywhere. The cross was glori-

Coin of Antigonus II Mattathias of Judah (37 BC).


fied in liturgical poetry and its meaning expounded in various texts; by the fourth century it had become a symbol of religious identity for much of the population of the Mediterranean basin and the Near East.

6 Epistle of Barnabas, 9:7. 7 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 86. 8

Ambrose, On the Death of Theodosius.

Menorah stone from the synagogue at Migdal (Galilee).


The first generations of Christians reflected on the meaning of the crucifixion for the salvation of the world and avoided the details of its physical appearance; it was not the cross that stood for Christians, but Christ himself. New Testament authors stressed the cross as an instrument of the resurrection, and Jesus as “life” and “light.” The most ancient visual manifestation of the cross was conveyed not through a literal graphic representation, but in the form of a Christogram, a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation or acronym for the name of Jesus Christ or one of his various titles. In Christian scribal practice, nomina sacra were abbreviated in order to highlight the name of God among other names, and the cross itself was frequently given prominence as one of these sacred words. These Christograms were often freighted with numerological significance, their symbolic meanings based partially on their numeric correspondence to important biblical sums (for example, the elect three hundred and eighteen horsemen of Abraham, where the numerical value of eighteen is represented by the iota-eta— the first two letters of Jesus’s name in Greek—and the letter tau stands both for the number 300 and for the cross).6 In Christian manuscripts of 175–200, the Staurogram, composed by letters tau and rho, was used to abbreviate the Greek words “cross” and “crucify.” The focus of these texts was not on the image of the cross, but on the power of the sacred word; the abbreviated name of Jesus was more important than the cross.

Justin Martyr followed another line of reasoning by interpreting the cross as a universal cosmological image. He conceived the wood itself in architectural terms; material used as a frame for torture was reconceptualized as essential scaffolding for the universe, forming the basis for the form and structure of human beings. Such concentration on the cross’s physical elements also led naturally to the identification of the cross as a tree of life, a manifestation on earth of its antecedent in the garden of Genesis 2.7 This interpretation extended the referential range of the cross by associating it with one of the most important biblical topoi related to the menorah. As Christ is the “light of the world,” so the cross was also understood as the source of light and comprehension of divine mysteries; this added to the similarities with the menorah, an actual lamp. The motif of light as applied to the cross would be appropriated and expanded by the Emperor Constantine as it became the sign of political triumph, inseparable from the new Christian state. During the first centuries, Christians conceived the cross as the tree of life, the symbol of the atoning sacrifice, the image of the universe, and the bearer of

divine light, but confined themselves to concepts instead of images. Although gradually the cross became an essential feature of the Mediterranean semiosphere, even in the fourth century St. Ambrose said about St. Helena that she “adored not the wood, because this is an error of the Gentiles and the vanity of wicked. But she adored him who hung on the tree, whose name was inscribed on the title.”8 Throughout this early period, the cross’s function as a tool of Roman capital punishment was mostly ignored in writings and graphic depictions. The two earliest known pictorial references to the crucifixion emerged from non-Christian and non-Jewish milieux, one as a parody (the Alexamenos graffito, c. 300), and another as an engraved magical gemstone amulet of the late second or early third century. Only after early Christians began to perceive a greater variety of interpretational possibilities in the cross did they describe the crucifixion itself through imagery and artifacts, and in fact the earliest image of the event did not appear until the late fifth century. The transmutation of the cross into a visual sign was also closely tied to its appropriation by the imperial household, beginning with Eusebius’s report

of Constantine’s vision of the cross before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312. Eusebius reports: “Constantine said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, ‘Conquer with this [τούτῳ νίκα].’” He claims that at first Constantine did not understand what the apparition meant, but that on the following night he had a dream in which Jesus “appeared with the same sign which he has seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign . . . and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.”9 Constantine then created a standard overlaid by a golden wreath, with the christogram XP placed in its center.

9 Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 28–29.

Two aspects of this account are noteworthy. First is the continued prominence of the Christogram: the figure of the cross itself seems not to have been sufficient as an iconic representation, but required an additional literary designation. Second and more intriguing is the combination of the cross with solar imagery in Constantine’s vision (in Russian Orthodox tradition, Constantine’s labarum is also called “Shaped like the Sun” and is seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy

Bronze coin of Constantine with labarum, AD 327.

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016


Apse mosaics of Santa Pudenziana in Rome, depicting the Golgotha cross, AD 400. 10

André Grabar, L’Empereur dans l’art Byzantin (Paris, 1936).

in Mal. 4:2–3). Constantine is known to have been a devotee of the solar cult, and this was not his first solar vision: Panegyrici Latini 6 describes how, after defeating Emperor Maximian in 310, Constantine experienced a shining heavenly vision of Apollo— Sol Invictus—in his temple. After the vision of the miraculous cross on the sun, Sol Invictus was replaced by Christus Victor. Constantine’s military standard, rather than a simple graphic depiction of the cross, became the dominant symbol of the Roman Empire in his period and continued to have strong influence in Orthodox iconography and hymnography. The military and nationalist influence of Constantine’s vision is still quite apparent in the hymnography for the Feast of the Cross; the cross assimilated the solar symbolism understood by the Emperor and was then parlayed into a trophy for the construction of a new Roman state ideology. Some years after Constantine’s initial visions, the prominence of the cross in


the Empire was even further enhanced when his mother Helena reported the discovery of the True Cross in Jerusalem shortly after the Council of Nicea. Following the recovery of this object, Constantine built the Church of the Resurrection on the site of its discovery, and Christian tradition claims that he then erected a cross on Calvary. In the Life of Constantine, Eusebius describes him as a new Moses who had first crossed the sea and then, in the new Tabernacle, had erected the new Menorah, now transmogrified into the saving Sign of the Cross. Most probably the “new Menorah” was a life-sized jeweled cross resting on a three-stepped pedestal; depictions show it decorated with golden apples, and the sixth-century mosaic in Hagia Sophia portrayed it as located behind a curtain, similar to the setting of the Menorah in the Temple.10 Jeweled cruces gemmatae ultimately became an important component of imperial donations; in the Holy Sepulcher, the earthly Jerusalem and Christian concepts of the New Jerusalem were

united. According to the travel diary of the nun Egeria, after venerating the relics of the true cross, pilgrims were shown relics of the ring of Solomon and the horn from which the kings were anointed. Imperially sanctioned solar imagery continued to be a major feature of cross visions, highlighted especially by the appearances (staurophaneiai) of crosses of light in the sky above Jerusalem, as recorded by Cyril of Jerusalem in 351.

During the Second Temple period, the menorah gradually became a profound symbol significant in the entire Mediterranean area. It became a sign of anointing, a symbolic manifestation of God’s presence and—due to the Maccabees and the account of the miracle of light—a symbol of statehood. At the same time, within the Hellenistic culture sphere, the menorah symbolized a celestial system. Yet the materiality of the menorah always remained at the heart of this sign. Conversely, early Christians started realizing the metaphysical and allegorical significance of the cross before it became a physical object of worship and a symbol of Christianity. In contrast to subsequent theological reflection, early Christians barely acknowledged the “physical” reality of the cross as a tool for the murder of Jesus Christ. Semantic overlaps with ancient Jewish

Reliquary cross of Justin II (Constantinople, 568–74).

symbolism played a significant role in overcoming the fear of the terrifying Roman cross. The concentration on the iconography of the cross began only after Constantine had seen it in the form of letters and the cross acquired its meaning as a symbol of the state, of the intervention of higher powers, of the heavenly army, of heavenly light. Yet by the time Helena discovered the true cross, the menorah had already long been associated in Judaism with these same ideas.

© 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Lidia Chakovskaya, PhD, is a senior researcher at the State Institute of Art Studies, senior lecturer at Moscow State University, and Associate Professor at the Humanities Center of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute). She is the author of The Memory of the Temple Embodied: The Artistic Realm of the Holy Land Synagogues of the 3rd–6th Centuries (Moscow: Indrik, 2011).

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016



The Eucharist of Boris Pasternak Alexander Schmemann Translated by Inga Leonova

Note: Originally published in Free Thought No. 3, Munich, September 1961.


“The Miracle,” a poem in Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago, trans. Max Hayward and Manya Harari (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997), 551.

Pasternak died—and in spite of all the clamor of modernity, in spite of all the news about global events, the world became quiet and empty for a moment. This din drowned his voice, he took no part in these events. But, as he said in one of his poems, “a miracle is a miracle.”1 And the miracle was that his lone voice was heard even in his silence, that we felt his presence— in life, in the world, in history being made before our eyes—as a source of joy and hope . . . . It was good to know that in Peredelkino, a few kilometers from hectic Moscow, there lived a man who not only had not forgotten the most important thing, but who had also become for thousands and thousands of people a witness to that most important thing . . . . It is not our purpose here to talk about the place and value of Pasternak in Russian literature. But it is a duty of us all to try to understand and to remember his testimony. And that brings us, of course, to the amazing book that has exploded as a bomb over the world and now, after the death of its author, contains his final testimony addressed to us.

When Pasternak’s novel had ceased to be a burning sensation, when everybody had read it, and the time of the first hasty and acute reactions had 48

passed, people began to argue about Doctor Zhivago. Alongside a chorus of enthusiasm, there also began to be heard voices of protest debunking the novel and its author. All this is natural, and we can assume that there will be a long debate. Too many issues are intertwined in Zhivago, it touches too vividly upon times and affairs that are still not forgotten, and are still being responded to with acute pain. The process of slowly digesting, absorbing, understanding Zhivago has started and will continue for a while . . . . Perhaps we will see in Doctor Zhivago what we do not see now; it is also possible that what now seems to us the most important and central to it will take a more modest place as we absorb it. Such is the fate of all great works of art. As Anna Karenina was being printed in one of the large Russian magazines, an influential critic denounced it as an uninteresting “salon drama.” There are still people who believe that, although [Fyodor] Dostoevsky was a deep thinker, he wrote badly. Literary critics will disassemble the novel into pieces, discover all the possible influences, make all the necessary convergences. Pasternak and Tolstoy, Pasternak and Dostoyevsky, Pasternak and Blok—all of these titles can already be anticipated in the extensive literature which, in due course, will acquire the honorable status of “Pasternak

bibliography,” and inevitably become the apparatus of “Pasternak studies.” Ideologues, for their part, will prove to us that Pasternak “expressed” the very things they claim. We will certainly read about Pasternak’s place in the “liberation struggle,” of his position on the idea of the person, democracy, and so on. American PhD candidates, following Edmund Wilson, will hurriedly begin to collect information about the symbolism of the Orthodox service as the key to Zhivago, while others will apply to it the infallible categories of Freudian psychology or sociology . . . and thus well-ordered, deciphered, dismembered, and explained in minute detail, Zhivago will take its rightful place in the history of culture, and we will be able to move on. Without denying the value of any of these approaches, but being neither a literary critic nor an ideologue, I would like to approach Zhivago somewhat differently. I confess that after a second reading of the novel I no longer saw clearly that which seemed clear after the first, and I could no longer simply and, as they now say, “neatly” answer the question of what Pasternak wanted to say with his novel. And yet reading the novel—and entering into its life and thought—are making it more and more obvious what he said to me. I think that, along with the objective content of any literary work that is the subject of scholarly and ideological study, there exists a certain undeniable mystery of personal perception. An author of any true work of art speaks not only urbi et orbi,2 to everyone, but also addresses everyone individually and personally, and art, just like the revelation of faith, comes to life in a new and unique way every time when such a personal meeting takes place. And only thus, through personal perception, can a work of art become transformed into something more than art, The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

can die as art or as just a book and be resurrected as the invisible yet driving force of life.

2 “To the city [of Rome] and the world,” a Latin expression used in the Roman Catholic Church.

So much has already been said about the religious nature of Doctor Zhivago that to add to it would be akin to forcing an already open door. It is of course a religious book, but not in the sense that it deals with religion, but rather that everything in it is related to some kind of ultimate spiritual depth, to some fundamental, in Pushkin’s sense of the word, essential issue. People and events and nature—all is living and moving as if against a background of something else, and it is this something else, not explained but shown, that gives meaning and significance to everything that takes place, and, by being mysteriously present, points to the importance of it all. It is fair to talk about the symbolism of Doctor Zhivago, but this symbolism is very far from a commonplace, conventional understanding of symbolism 49

3 Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago, 42.

as actions and situations which are meant to represent something “other” and only thereby acquiring a symbolic meaning. The symbolism of Zhivago is defined in the novel itself. “Life is symbolic,” says Pasternak, “because it is meaningful.”3 The concept of symbolism here is contrary to its usual understanding. This or that event—or even life itself—is not meaningful because it is symbolic, but rather it is symbolic because it is meaningful. If one looks at the life of the world, man, nature, history, and every event in a special way, and if one treats them accordingly, then man and his life, the world in which he lives, acquire a new meaning, are disclosed in new dimensions. This is what symbolism means. One can see and one can contemplate. Contemplation is impossible without seeing, but one can see and not truly behold. So it seems to me that the symbolism of Doctor Zhivago is a symbolism revealed in contemplation. It is not symbolism opposed to realism, but rather realism pushed to its limit, because to know the reality fully is to know its meaning, its ultimate essence. In literature, “realism” is usually defined as a description of the world and of life “for what they are.” But who will tell us what it is and what it is like? Pasternak’s response and his method is to see as much and as fully as possible, to expand seeing to contemplating, to unravel the symbolism of life through comprehension of its meaning. But this is in fact a religious—and moreover deliberately Christian—approach to life and to man. The Gospel says, “you shall indeed see but never perceive” (Matt. 13:14). In the man Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee, one may or may not see the Son of God. In order to see, one needs depth of sight, one needs contemplation in the deepest sense of the word. And this contemplation con-


stitutes the movement of faith, which determines all the other “moves” and the entire approach to reality. For if I saw and knew God in a man, Jesus, then in every person I see and learn more than meets the eye. Hence the possibility of this strange identification in the parable of the Last Judgment: “I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt. 25:36). Faith that is directed to God reveals to us the true nature of the world, life, man. Here lies the foundation of Christian symbolism, incomprehensible to all those who oppose symbolism to realism as something that is merely “symbolic,” unreal. Faith makes possible the contemplation that we have just discussed, that new and perfect realism that also becomes a perfect symbolism. “Life is symbolic because it is meaningful.” This approach—religious in the deepest sense of the word—constitutes, in my personal experience and perception of Doctor Zhivago, the most important content of the novel. Modern literature has lost this approach. It has lost it completely, one might say sincerely, not because of ill will and not for trivial reasons; but still it has lost it, and, for all of modern literature’s unquestionable successes, this loss defines its crisis. It offers us a lot of fun, a lot of aesthetic pleasure, for people have learned to write, to make literature in ways they may not have known how to before, but it has ceased to nourish us, that is, to be transformed into us, into our spiritual experience, to renew and expand it from within. Reading the amazing descriptions of nature in [Ivan] Bunin, one admires their perfection. But this is the perfection of seeing, not contemplating. He sees and lets us see, but he does not contemplate and does not lead us into contemplation, into spiritual compre-

hension of reality. This seeing can turn into a primordial, almost animal joy of life, and it can identify and reflect the sadness and absurdity of life; it can, finally, lead us to some kind of mystery and point it out to us, but without turning into contemplation it remains, at the end, just literature. And here a miracle of Doctor Zhivago— and I deliberately use this word—is that it returns this approach to us. It has enlightened art once again, and this art has not only begun to reflect the light or the darkness of life, but has become in the world and in life a source of light and warmth itself. How long since we have had a chance to read a book that we could feel and experience as if it were radiating light and warmth, in spite of all the horrors that filled it! This book came to us from a man who, it would seem more than anyone else, had the right to express disappointment and frustration, cynicism and accusatory anger. And in order to write it, to explore that light and warmth, he did not depart, as others did, into a kind of sweet otherworldliness, into the contemplation of the past, into the escapism of the intimate, personal, lyrical. No—he, a refined lyricist and singer of “details,” took as the subject of his book his own terrible time, the terrible Russia of that time, and the terrible people of that Russia and that time. Doctor Zhivago is the fruit of a spiritual feat, the fruit of freedom and responsibility. And looking at the amazing face of this amazing man imprinted on the photos, looking at the whole of his appearance against the background of white birches and snow of his suburban seclusion, one cannot help recalling the words of the poet: “A child of love and of light, / He’s all—a testament to freedom!”4 The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016

So what is this special approach to the world and man, which I define as contemplation and in which I perceive the main theme of Pasternak? I hasten to say that I do not consider the ideology—elements of which are scattered throughout the novel in the statements of Yuri’s uncle Nikolai Nikolayevich Vedenyapin, of Sima, and of Yuri himself—to constitute the primary content of this work. Also the idea of a free person, the idea of life as a sacrifice, the “philosophy of history” expressed by Pasternak’s characters, and finally, “man thankfully celebrated in all the cradle songs of mothers and in all the picture galleries the world over” — none of this is especially original and is part of the common heritage, a common spirit of Russian religious thought.5

4 Alexander Blok, “I yearn to live a life of meaning” (1914), in The Stranger: Selected Poetry of Alexander Blok, tr. Andrey Kneller (Boston: Andrey Kneller, 2011). Actual text: “A child of goodness and of light, / He’s all—a testament to freedom!”

And if the novel had been written in order once again to proclaim this “Russian idea” (or rather, the Russian refraction of common Christian ideas), it would have been a roman à thèse [thesis novel], in which only this thèse would deserve attention. But I think the real value of the novel lies not in this ideology, which, incidentally, is expressed quite inconsistently and not without contradictions. Its value, literary rather than ideological, is in what Pasternak—as a writer, not as a thinker—has said, expressed, made us feel and experience. This brings me to what I felt to be the most important thing in Doctor Zhivago. But to explain this most important thing I need to start not with Pasternak, but with Christianity. Two sensations, or, more precisely, two experiences define a fundamental “sense of self” in Christianity, without which its teaching, its life, its call “do not sound.” They are the experience of thanksgiving and the experience 51

of death as the enemy. That mystery in which Christianity expresses its entire essence and its entire life, which is “celebrated” by the Church, is called thanksgiving, the Eucharist.

5 Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago, 43. 6 In Russian, the root of Zhivago is zhiv, “the living”—tr.

© 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Theology teaches that thanksgiving and praise are the highest forms of prayer. All theological doctrines of the restoration of man, of his salvation and return to God, can ultimately be reduced to the fact that in Christ man reclaims pure thanksgiving as the real essence of his life. This is not just one of the rituals, one of the prayers. This is the condition in which and for which man was created, a true insight into the being of and communion with the Divine life. For thanksgiving is simultaneously an act of love and of freedom, and thus in it is overcome the basic limitation, the “enslavement” of creatures, dependency and fear . . . . Christ, the perfect man, restores in himself this original eucharistic relation of man to God and brings us into the eternal Eucharist. To reach it, to partake of it—essentially, completely, ontologically— constitutes the intent and the purpose of Christian life. All this we know in our mind and confess by our mouth. But how weak this act of thanksgiving is in us and in our church life! We can say that it has long ceased to be dominant in our faith, in our Christian life experience. And if

the voice of Christianity is heard so weakly in the world, it may be first of all because Christians have forgotten, have lost along the way, this sense of Christianity itself, of living our entire life as a sacrifice of praise . . . . But it is precisely this sense that defines Pasternak’s novel from the first page to the last. If he calls his hero “Zhivago”—the living—then life is preserved, filled, maintained in him precisely by this deep sense of thanksgiving, of life as a gift.6 This is not some kind of animal life force as such, because Zhivago is deprived of it, as is evidenced by his biography. It is not “vitalism,” triumphant despite all obstacles: Zhivago’s end, his death testify to this quite eloquently. No, the strength of this very human life that, in spite of sins, falls, and confusion, there is always—as a cleansing and transforming source—a return and true triumph of thanksgiving, a sense of life as purity and wholeness. I do not include quotations, because this attitude of thanksgiving is not one of the themes of the novel. It is the general tone of the book, the light penetrating it from within. From where did it come to Pasternak? We do not know. But the quality of this thanksgiving, its tonality, is Christian . . . .

The Rt. Rev. Alexander Schmemann was an Orthodox theologian who played a central role in founding the Orthodox Church in America. He was a graduate of St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. He was Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary from 1962 to 1983, and also taught at Columbia University, New York University, and Union Theological Seminary.


Illustrations by Anastasia Semash


Maine Triad John Congdon I. The Mill The Mill sits over the edge of the water. Built at the end of the seventeenth century, Powered by the tide, It turned pine logs into planks and timbers To be sent down the coast to the shipbuilders in Bath. Then later, it was a lumber shed, A chicken coop, A country store. She moved here to take over the store Two marriages ago, six children, dozens Of grandchildren and great grandchildren Too many to keep track of, And too few days left to waste on counting. She knows she loves them all: The lobsterman, The lawyer, The artisanal ice cream maker And they all come to visit, cramming the Mill And the main house up the hill Until every bed is full and every couch and every scrap of floor Is covered in sleeping bags and dogs.

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016


All gone home now. She took them To the airport herself. Too crippled (as she says) to stand without help Or walk without her walker (With the carrying net a local boat captain made for her, Sitting in her kitchen with an aquavit in one hand And his netting needle in the other), But put her behind the wheel of her car, and Watch Out! So we sat in the main house and drank tea, Talked business (quickly and satisfactorily concluded) And then talked of other things, And the quiet of the house settled around us. She talked of the Mill. How husband number one and she had run it as a store Before giving that up, but keeping the place, Turning it first into a home, And then the guest house (One of her grandsons had told me of what it was like To lie in bed in the dark and hear The tide running through the old millrace Under the floor.) And then her studio Where she painted the fog banks over the bay And the light through the windows And the red flower on her windowsill Against the grays and buffs of the winter And wrote her poems. How they plugged the knotholes in those old floorboards With Bacardi corks to keep out the drafts And during the storm of ’79 (When she and husband number two were away) Their neighbors up the road came down to move things To the upper floors to keep them from being flooded away. Annie was standing over a knothole when a wave came in, Blew the cork out like a popgun And a fountain of seawater jetted up her skirt. “Charlie,” she said, “I think we’d best be going.” (Annie wanted to make it to 100, and almost did, But her mind started to go, and it got worse and worse, And one day, Charlie shot her, then himself. When she told me this, she looked me in the eye, And said, “I pray she didn’t see it coming.”)


She showed me paintings of the view from the windows, the view Down the hall with all the doors open, the view Down the odd, awkward stairs that spiraled Across inconvenient landings, Out the window to the Boathouse. I don’t believe in magic, but I agree with her: It is a magical place. There is a rightness to it, a sense that apart from all that is broken and soiled, That all will be well. The residue clings to it of all who have been happy there. “My body is here,” she said, “But my heart is there.”

II. The Road The road to the Mill lies long down the island. It does not cut through the land, But curves and twists, Clinging to the earth like a vine Of poison ivy, hairy roots Holding fast to the cracked bark of an old tree. The land here is ancient, Scraped smooth by the last ice age, Hard granite with a thin layer of sandy soil. The ponds dotted about Were not formed by flowing streams or beaver dams; They were scooped out by the ice And have no outlet for whatever rain falls in them. No sandy beaches on their shores, But a ring of hard rock between water and scrub Kept clean by the freeze and thaw Of the annual ice age Of winter. Roads do not sink into the land here As they do in other parts of the world, Gradually deepening, trees leaning over Eventually to meet in a green tunnel beneath and between the fields. Here, they lie atop the ground, With three hundred years of gravel added, An artificial esker laid down for men to travel Between the black pines— Cold in their shade,

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016


With flickers of warmth when you pass through Bands of sunlight Before plunging back into dark— Their roots shallow, too weak To pierce the granite, Woven through the sand in a tight mat that holds them up Yet does not give firm purchase; Everywhere, trees lie amidst their fellows, Blown down By the hard winds of the winter storms. The land is wild, and yet the mark Of man’s hand is everywhere. Not just in the road, but everywhere. First, they cut down the trees, Shipped the big ones over the sea to England To mast the king’s ships and plank their hulls. Then they tried to farm—no luck there, The sandy soil too poor for crops, The thin topsoil too quickly blown away Without even the tree roots to hold it. But they cleared the land, Plowed the rocks out of the fields, piled them at the edges Into tall walls, no need for other fences. Then they brought sheep and cows, And that kind of worked. The sheep are gone now, But there are still a few cattle farms, With a dozen or so head grazing. The trees grew back, and the walls That divided this field from that Now run through the woods, a memory Of use long gone. Some summer homes, but not so much of the wealthy (Not yet, anyway, but they’re coming); Mostly year-round folk And fishermen And the few farmers Whose teenagers rebuild old Chevrolets And race them on the back roads. But three hundred years have not changed the granite, And the pines are still dark, And the sea still moves.


III. The Sea The sea, they say, is rising. Far away in Polynesia (Another land of many islands) The coral is dying. There is no higher ground. Men and women add blocks under the corners of their homes, To raise them up beyond The waves that come up when the wind rises. But soon there will be no land at all, And the dead will float out of their graves, And they will be left in their houses on stilts Over blue water With their island gone. When the sea rises Over this island, And the water soaks the sandy soil And sweeps away all the houses And all the barns And the Mill and the Boathouse, When those who remember are gone And those who remember those who remembered are gone And all that we have and all that we are And all we have loved and all we have held Are swept away in the rising tide, Will all that remains Be an abandoned wall Sunk in a drowned forest At the bottom of a barren, acidic sea?

Š 2016 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

—April 14, 2016

John Congdon was born near Albany, grew up primarily in New England, and has been an Orthodox Christian since 1986. He holds a degree from Oberlin College in Ancient Greek Language & Literature and has been a cabinetmaker, violin repairman, art restorer, delivery truck driver, and furniture salesman. A professional fundraiser, he lives in Ohio with his wife, two children, and two pitbulls.

The Wheel 6 | Summer 2016


Submissions The Wheel publishes essays, reviews, poetry, fiction, and images. Writers should familiarize themselves with the journal before contacting the editors. A query for an article submission should include a basic thesis statement, an explanation of why it is important to argue in this journal, and a short biography. The editors will also consider unsolicited manuscripts; these should include a cover letter giving the same information as for a query. The Wheel rarely publishes articles over 3,000 words. Manuscripts should be sent in Microsoft Word format. Manuscripts and queries should be submitted to editors@wheeljournal. com. If you have not received a response within four weeks, please send a followup query. Letters in response to articles published in The Wheel are welcome, and will appear in the following issue if they are deemed to contribute to the discussion. Letters should be submitted promptly in order to meet editorial deadlines. Submissions under four hundred words are preferred, and may be edited for length and clarity. Please send them to editors@wheeljournal. com.

Subscribe to The Wheel Annual subscription (4 issues) $59 + shipping Single issue $15 + shipping

The Wheel is an independent publication produced by volunteers and relies on readers’ generosity. Donations are accepted by secure credit card and PayPal payment at www. The Wheel is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and your gift may be tax deductible.

Coming soon from The Wheel Fr. Georges Florovsky

The Body of the Living Christ: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Church Available this summer for pre-order and download from

Father Georges Florovsky (1893–1979) was one of the most influential Orthodox intellectuals of the twentieth century: a consummate philosopher and theologian, pioneer of the neopatristic synthesis, and devoted ecumenist. Part of the Russian emigration, he taught at Saint Sergius in Paris, became Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in New York, and later taught at both Harvard and Princeton. The Body of the Living Christ is Florovsky’s most extensive treatment of ecclesiology, and now appears complete in English for the first time. Translated with an introduction by Archpriest Robert Arida, this learned but accessible work will prove insightful to all those engaged in the task of imagining and understanding the Church today.

The Wheel, Issue 6, Summer 2016  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you