Friday, September 28, 2007
Published: September 23, 2007
Backlash as Orthodoxy Returns to Russia’s Schools
Sergei Kivrin for The New York Times
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
Published: September 23, 2007
KOLOMNA, Russia — One of the most discordant debates in Russian society is playing out in public schools like those in this city not far from Moscow, where the other day a teacher named Irina Donshina set aside her textbooks, strode before her second graders and, as if speaking from a pulpit, posed a simple question:
Father Vladimir Pakhachev says children should “know their history and their roots,” and that religion plays a part in that.
“Whom should we learn to do good from?”
“From God!” the children said.
“Right!” Ms. Donshina said. “Because people he created crucified him. But did he accuse them or curse them or hate them? Of course not! He continued loving and feeling pity for them, though he could have eliminated all of us and the whole world in a fraction of a second.”
Nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the return of religion to public life, localities in Russia are increasingly decreeing that to receive a proper public school education, children should be steeped in the ways of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its traditions, liturgy and historic figures.
The lessons are typically introduced at the urging of church leaders, who say that the enforced atheism of Communism left Russians out of touch with a faith that was once at the core of their identity.
The new curriculum reflects the nation’s continuing struggle to define what it means to be Russian in the post-Communist era and what role religion should play after being brutally suppressed under Soviet rule. Yet the drive by a revitalized church to weave its tenets into the education system has prompted a backlash, and not only from the remains of the Communist Party.
Opponents assert that the Russian Orthodox leadership is weakening the constitutional separation of church and state by proselytizing in public schools. They say Russia is a multiethnic, pluralistic nation and risks alienating its large Muslim minority if Russian Orthodoxy takes on the trappings of a state religion.
The church calls those accusations unfounded, maintaining that the courses are cultural, not religious.
In Ms. Donshina’s class at least, the children seem to have their own understanding of a primary theme of the course. “One has to love God,” said Kristina Posobilova. “We should believe in God only.”
The dispute came to a head recently when 10 prominent Russian scientists, including two Nobel laureates, sent a letter to President Vladimir V. Putin, protesting what they termed the “growing clericalization” of Russian society. In addition to criticizing religious teachings in public schools, the scientists attacked church efforts to obtain recognition of degrees in theology, and the presence of Russian Orthodox chaplains in the military.
Local officials carry out education policy under Moscow’s oversight, with some latitude. Some regions require these courses in Russian Orthodoxy, while others allow parents to remove their children from them, though they rarely, if ever, do. Other areas have not adopted them.
Mr. Putin, though usually not reluctant to overrule local authorities, has skirted the issue. He said in September that he preferred that children learn about religion in general, especially four faiths with longstanding ties to Russia — Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. But the president, who has been photographed wearing a cross and sometimes attends church services and other church events, did not say current practices should be scaled back.
“We have to find a form acceptable for the entire society,” he said. “Let’s think about it together.”
Polls show that roughly half to two-thirds of Russians consider themselves Russian Orthodox, a sharp increase since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. Clergy frequently take part in government events, and people often wear crosses. But Russia remains deeply secular, and most Russians say they never attend church.
About 10 to 15 percent of Russians are Muslim, most of whom live in the south, though Moscow and other major cities have large Muslim populations. With emigration and assimilation, the Jewish population has dwindled to a few hundred thousand people out of 140 million. Muslim and Jewish leaders have generally opposed Russian Orthodoxy courses, though some say schools should be permitted to offer them as extracurricular activities.
“We do not want Muslim children forced to study other religions,” said Marat Khazrat Murtazin, rector of the Moscow Islamic University. “Muslims should study their own religion.”
During imperial Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church wielded enormous influence as the official religion, and virtually all children took a Russian Orthodox course known as the Law of God.
One of the scientists who signed the letter to Mr. Putin, Zhores I. Alferov, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000, said he feared that the country was returning to those days. He recalled that his own father had to study the Law of God under the last czar, Nicholas II.
“The church would like to have more believers,” said Mr. Alferov, a member of Parliament in the Communist bloc. “But they can have their religious schools and their Sunday schools. In normal government schools, absolutely not.”
Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow, leader of the church, has repeatedly asserted that to appreciate the arts, literature, heritage and history of Russia, children need to know about Russian Orthodoxy. He described the scientists’ letter to Mr. Putin as “an echo of the atheistic propaganda of the past.”
Five years ago, Kolomna, 60 miles south of Moscow, was one of the first cities to take up the curriculum. Local church and education officials noted that before the revolution, Kolomna was a Russian Orthodox center, site of many cathedrals and monasteries that were demolished or used as warehouses and the like under Communism. Given the area’s history, they asked, is it not fitting that students learn about Russian Orthodoxy?
“The goal, I would say, is that all the powers that be, the church and the government, make sure that people, children, know their history and their roots,” said Father Vladimir Pakhachev, a church leader here who helps oversee the curriculum.
For example, Father Pakhachev said, it would be absurd to study the Russian language without learning about Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the two ninth-century brothers who are credited with helping to create Cyrillic, the alphabet used in Russian. The brothers were monks and significant religious figures, and that aspect of their lives cannot be ignored, he said.
At Public School No. 3 here, in the shadow of a restored cathedral, the courses are voluntary, but occur one period a week during the school day, and are taught by regular teachers. No parents have ever asked that their children be exempted, said a school official, Anna Kikhtenko.
“No rights are being violated,” she said. “Children from Muslim families, the parents often say, ‘We are living among Russian Orthodox people, we also want our children to understand what these beliefs are about.’ ”
Recently, Oksana Telnova, a sixth-grade teacher, described to her class how Grand Prince Vladimir introduced Orthodox Christianity to Russia in 988 after rejecting other religions, an event that the church calls the Baptism of Russia. Some children read aloud verses from the Bible.
“Sacred orthodoxy transformed and revived the Slavic soul after becoming its moral and spiritual foundation,” Ms. Telnova said, quoting Patriarch Alexy II. “Through the ages, Christianity helped to create a great country and a great culture.”
Nearby, Ms. Donshina, the second-grade teacher, led her students in reciting the Ten Commandments before pointing to a tiny tree at the front of the room with branches but no leaves.
“Faith in God is as important for every human as the root for a tree,” she said. “But our tree unfortunately has died just like a human soul can die without doing good. This is what happens to people who do not do good things and do not follow God’s laws.”
She asked the children to choose from a group of flowers, some with Christian virtues written on them, some with undesirable qualities, and attach those with the virtues to the tree.
She ended with a discussion of the Russian saints, saying that they “have shown us how one must live to be close to God.” With that, she dismissed the class, but not before giving a piece of chocolate to each child.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Visoki Decani monastery is well know for it great artistic beauty and value. Almost intact after 600 years the Monastery Church still survives with its 14th century frescoes and icons.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The Roman Catholics (World's Largest Church) Was Excommunicated From The Church Of The East (2nd Largest Church In The World), A Thousand Years Ago
The Largest Orthodox Church Building In The World - Temple of Saint Sava in Serbia.
Serbia is an Orthodox nation that has suffered great travesties at the hands of America and the West.
"God is Good, without passions and unchangeable. One who understands that it is sound and true to affirm that God does not change might very will ask: 'how, then, is it possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good, becoming merciful to those who know Him and , on the other hand, shunning the wicked and being angry with sinners.' We must reply to this, that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, because to rejoice and to be angered are passions. Nor is God won over by gifts from those who know Him, for that would mean that He is moved by pleasure. It is not possible for the Godhead to have the sensation of pleasure or displeasure from the conditions of humans, God is good, and He bestows only blessings, and never harm, but remains always the same. If we humans, however, remain good by means of resembling Him, we are united to Him, but if we become evil by losing our resemblance to God, we are separated from Him. By living in a holy manner, we unite ourselves to God; by becoming evil, however we become at enmity with Him. It is not that He arbitrarily becomes angry with us, but that our sins prevent God from shining within us, and expose us to the demons who make us suffer. If through prayer and acts of compassionate love, we gain freedom from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but rather that by means of our actions and turning to God, we have been healed of our wickedness, and returned to the enjoyment of God's goodness. To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that sun hides itself from the blind"
Written by St. Antony the Great.
To learn more about this amazing desert father, simply type his name in any search engine.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Snippet from pages 65-66 of "The Soul, The Body And Death" by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Synaxis Press.
Let us emphasize one extremely important point here. We must free ourselves from the heathenish Western ideas of hell. "Hell" [gehenna]is not an instrument of punishment created by God. That fire which is spoken of at the Last Judgment represents the love of God, and we are taught that it is the radiance of God's love which both warms and radiates and gives joy to the faithful, and burns and torments the wicked. Those persons who in this life preferred "darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil," will in the next life, after the resurrection, find no such darkness, but will not be able to hide from that light which they hated in this life. There, bathed in the everlasting light of God's love, which they rejected but cannot now escape, their conscience, which is like a never-dying worm, will torment them, and the passions they loved and heaped upon themselves in this life will be as serpents round about them. In other words, they will abide forever in the state they chose for themselves while still in this life. As the renowned Greek theologian Dr. Alexandre Kalamiros observes:
This is a theme which "needs to be preached with great insistence [for] not only the West but we Orthodox have departed [from it] in great numbers, causing men to fall to atheism because they are revolted against a falsified angry God full of vengeance toward His creatures...We must urgently understand that God is responsible only for everlasting life and bliss, and that hell (gehenna) is nothing else but the rejection of this everlasting life and bliss, the everlasting revolt against the everlasting love of God. We must urgently remember and preach that it is not a creation of God but a creation [i.e., product] of our revolted liberty, that God did not create any punishing instrument that is called hell, that God never takes vengeance on His revolted creatures, that His justice has nothing to do with the legalistic 'justice' of human society which punishes the wicked in order to defend itself...That our everlasting spiritual death is not inflicted on us by God, but is a spiritual suicide, everlasting because our decision to be friends or enemies of God is a completely free and everlasting decision of the free spiritual beings created by God, a decision which is respected by God eternally and absolutely. And indeed, our Saviour Himself says: "And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (Jn.12:46-48).
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Snippets from the Introduction pages of "The Seven Ecumenical Councils", by Philip Schaff:
Concerning Ecumenical Councils Of The Church Fathers.
AN Ecumenical Synod may be defined as a synod the decrees of which have found acceptance by the Church in the whole world. It is not necessary to make a council ecumenical that the number of bishops present should be large, there were but 325 at Nice, and 150 at Constantinople; it is not necessary that it should be assembled with the intention of its being ecumenical, such was not the case with Constantinople; it is not necessary that all parts of the world should have been represented or even that the bishops of such parts should have been invited. All that is necessary is that its decrees find ecumenical acceptance afterwards, and its ecumenical character be universally recognized.
The reader will notice that in the foregoing I have not proceeded from the theological foundation of what an Ecumenical Synod should be but from a consideration of the historical question as to what the Seven Councils have in common, which distinguishes them from the other councils of the Christian Church. And here it is well to note that there have been many “General Councils” which have not been “Ecumenical.” It is true that in ordinary parlance we often use the expressions as interchangeable, but such really is not the case. There are but seven universally recognized and undisputed “Ecumenical Councils”; on the other hand, the number of “General Councils” is very considerable, and as a matter of fact of these last several very large ones fell into heresy. It is only necessary to mention as examples the Latrocinium and the spurious “Seventh Council,” held by the iconoclastic heretics. It is therefore the mere statement of an historical fact to say that General Councils have erred. The Ecumenical Councils claimed for themselves an immunity from error in their doctrinal and moral teaching, resting such claim upon the promise of the presence and guidance of the Holy Ghost. The Council looked upon itself, not as revealing any new truth, but as setting forth the faith once for all delivered to the Saints, its decisions therefore were in themselves ecumenical, as being an expression of the mind of the whole body of the faithful both clerical and lay, the sensus communis of the Church. And by the then teaching of the Church that ecumenical consensus was considered free from the suspicion of error, guarded, (as was believed,) by the Lord’s promise that the gates of hell should not prevail against his Church. This then is what Orthodox Christians mean when they affirm the infallibility of Ecumenical Councils. Whether this opinion is true or false is a question outside the scope of the present discussion. It was necessary, however, to state that these Councils looked upon themselves as divinely protected in their decisions from error in faith and morals. This was until the division of the East and West the definition accepted by all the whole Christian world. But since the Church has been divided, while the East has kept to the old definition and has not pretended to have held any Ecumenical Councils, the Roman Church has made a new definition of the old term and has then proceeded to hold a very considerable number of synods which she recognizes as Ecumenical. I say “a very considerable number,” for even among Roman Catholic theologians there is much dispute as to the number of these “Ecumenical Synods,” the decrees of which, like those of Trent and the Vatican, have never been received by about half of the Christian world, including four of the five patriarchates and of the fifth patriarchate all the Anglican communion. According to modern Roman writers the definition of these non-ecumenically
received Ecumenical Synods is “Ecumenical councils are those to which the bishops and others entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world under the Presidency of the Pope or his legates, and the decrees of which, having received Papal confirmation, bind all Christians.” Addis and Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary, s. v. Councils. The reader will notice that by this definition one at least (I. Constantinople), probably three, of the seven undisputed Ecumenical Synods cease to be such. The reader should otherwise be at a loss to understand the anathematisms which follow the decrees, and which indeed would be singularly out of place, if the decrees which they thus emphatically affirm were supposed to rest only upon human wisdom and speculation, instead of upon divine authority.
The editor also ventures to call the attention of the reader to the fact that in this First council, as in every other of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the question the Fathers considered was not what they supposed Holy Scripture might mean, nor what they, from à priori arguments, thought would be consistent with the mind of God, but something entirely different, to wit, what they had received. They understood their position to be that of witnesses, not that of exegetes. They recognized but one duty resting upon them in this respect—to hand down to other faithful men that good thing the Church had received according to the command of God. The first requirement was not learning, but honesty. The question they were called upon to answer was not, What do I think probable, or even certain, from Holy Scripture? but, What have I been taught, what has been entrusted to me to hand down to others? When the time came, in the Fourth Council, to examine the Tome of Pope St. Leo, the question was not whether it could be proved to the satisfaction of the assembled fathers from Holy Scripture, but whether it was the traditional faith of the Church. It was not the doctrine of Leo in the fifth century, but the doctrine of Peter in the first, and of the Church since then, that they desired to believe and to teach, and so, when they had studied the Tome, they cried out: “This is the faith of the Fathers! This is the faith of the Apostles!…Peter hath thus spoken by Leo! The Apostles thus taught! Cyril thus taught!” etc.