You do NOT have to hate the west to be Orthodox!

The rhetoric from Moscow – to include from the Moscow Patriarchate and its daughter Churches – may be great at gathering support for Putin’s domestic and foreign policy goals, but it is dividing Orthodox Christians in the West and threatens to do serious damage to Orthodoxy’s ability to spread the Gospel here.  There is no doubt that America and the other western nations have flaws, but the black and white demonization that comes out of the Kremlin and the mouths of Orthodox preachers leads their flocks to think that the only way to become truly Orthodox is to hate America and the West.

This is a wicked lie, no matter the rank of those who voice it or how often it shows up in our Facebook feeds.

Baptism of Rus'; pre-fire iconography at St. Michael's in Woonsocket RI.

Baptism of Rus’; pre-fire iconography at St. Michael’s in Woonsocket RI.

I teach Ukrainian Orthodox Church spirituality and history at seminary.  One of the things we celebrate in conjunction with the baptism of Kyivan-Rus is the way it baptized the pre-Christian culture of what is now Ukraine.  The result of this baptism looked quite a bit different from the Byzantine Orthodox culture that surrounded Kyivan’ Rus’ mother Church in Constantinople, but it was no less Orthodox for it.  The Ukrainian Orthodox (the direct heirs of that conversion) celebrate many folk traditions that can be traced to Ukraine’s pagan past, but that were transformed into bearers of Orthodox joy and truth.  Now, the Russian Orthodox would have us believe that America and the West have no traditions or culture worth redemption or capable of bearing Christ.  They have even turned our support for human rights and democracy into demonstrations and shibboleths of our wickedness!  The irony is, that His Holiness Patriarch Kirill calls for Russians to cherry-pick from their own history in order to work towards a better, more Christian, nation.  As RFE-RL covered his speech;

[Patriarch Kirill] said Russia should cherrypick the best aspects of its history to lay the foundations for its future, lauding the Soviet Union for establishing a “solidarity” between its people that paved the way to “feats” such as the construction of the Baikal-Amur Railway.

“As soon as we start talking about the Soviet period, some idealize, others demonize. But was there something else that this time brought about and that today we can boldly adopt and include in our personal life philosophy? There was solidarity.”

I am a priest who serves people in a broken world.  I know the damage that life in the west does to the people I love.  They need Christ and He is here among them, blessing them and the culture that surrounds them.  Claiming that the “post-Christian” west (the quotes are there because the American culture I participate in and celebrate is VERY Christian!) is a place wholly given over to hedonism and the celebration of sin is a satanic lie.  If the Patriarch can see in radically anti-Christian Communist solidarity an image of the Christian community that can be honored and built upon in Russia, then every soul in the west should be taught to recognize that the focus on human rights and democracy in the “post-Christian” West is an example of “loving our neighbor” that can be honored and built upon here. 


  1. I’m sure you’re well intentioned, but I think you mistake suspicion with hatred. A lot of well-founded thinkers understand that the USA and the western NATO alliance have and are performing multiple covert operations around the globe, some of which are severely destroying Orthodoxy and its people. In Syria, the U.S. Is financially backing insurgent rebels who are well known for specifically targeting Christians, including several nuns and one of the Antiochian Bishops, the brother of Patriarch John. In Ukraine the west supported the Kiev rebellion which has only resulted in suffering. And in Egypt and Libya, NATO backed the Muslim Brotherhood, who in Egypt destroyed over 50 Coptic churches.

    • Thank you for your kindness, Lazarus. I am less concerned with the necessary skepticism of US policy that you point towards than I am with the very consistent anti-western message coming out of Russia. I’m not happy with the reverse from the US, but 1) Russian media sources (to include Orthodox ones) have a huge influence on American Orthodoxy, especially among converts and 2) the Russian media is less free and under greater state control than the media here. If it were only a case of “well-founded thinkers”, it would never would have made my pastoral radar (I’m a libertarian and no fan of US foreign policy). The lack of charity towards western culture has permeated Facebook and made its way into coffee hour. YMMV.

      • Father, I respectfully understand your concern, especially when it comes to these talks spilling into Orthodox fellowship. please also keep in mind that while you are ‘less concerned’ about US foreign policy, there are hundreds of thousands or even millions currently fearing their lives because of US intervention and covert operations. For the U.S. government to put billions of dollars into the hands of so-called rebels in Syria who destroy churches, kidnap nuns, and behead priests.. I suggest you seriously reconsider your position. While you may understand the grave nature of these situations, for you to marginalize the concerns that your parishioners and other Orthodox Americans have in regard for the welfare of Orthodox Christians and Coptic Christians, due to the policies of the U.S., is really confusing. Hatred is never a virtue, but neither is ignoring injustice and genocide.

        • I rarely post on straight up foreign policy, and I don’t understand how I am “marginalizing” the concerns of my parishioners (have you visited my parish?!) or anyone else. And accusing me of “ignoring injustice and genocide” is an incredibly uncharitable and false accusation. It isn’t hard to parse genuine concern about foreign policy from the kind of thing I write about it. Peace for the world? Yes, and let it begin between us.

  2. I think when Fr. Anthony said “I’m a libertarian and no fan of US foreign policy” it was misinterpreted by Lazarus to mean that Fr. is not concerned about US foreign policy. Sadly, this particular false assumption is an all-to-common occurrence, with the media’s reckless and self-serving caricaturization of libertarians.

    • Thanks – of course I do care about foreign policy. But after many years studying political science and working for the government, I honestly believe that the best thing I can do is bring peace to my heart (as per St. Seraphim), my family, and my community. Hence the career change. I do occasionally comment on things that seem political, but it rarely (if ever) has anything to do with policy. It should be noted that the post that led to this dialogue was actually about the Church’s ability to build upon touchstones within native cultures (forgive the weak metaphor).