Irreconcilable Differences

Continuing the review of Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent.   In this chapter the Gerrards give a detailed, yet succinct enough summary of Russian Church history, particularly in its opposition to “The West.”  Other scholarly reviewers criticized the Gerrards for adopting a “Huntingdonian” view of East-West differences.  Perhaps Huntingdon’s thesis is overdrawn, but I don’t see how anyone who reads any random issue of The Wall Street Journal or watches Fox News can avoid the conclusion that the West is opposed to Russia.  The Gerrards are simply stating the obvious.

That’s not to say the Gerrards do a good job on summarizing Russian ecclesial and political history in this chapter.  They do not.   In fact, many of their summaries and conclusions are painful.  Like the rest of the book when it errs, they get the general idea correct, but botch the details.  A few examples:

  • They say that Orthodoxy opposes papal infallibility because Orthodoxy traces their lineage through St Andrew “the first called apostle,” and not through Peter.   Now, any decent church history textbook can explain the difference between papal primacy and papal infallibility.  Orthodox affirm the former (at least until 1054) as a way of honoring the Roman bishop because of his good leadership and the number of martyrs at Rome.   Affirming the former, however, is not the same thing as justifying the latter (a basic logical distinction that Roman Catholics fail to see).   As to the argument of “Andrew the First-Called,” I suppose some out of the way Russian clerics hold that view, but I’ve never seen a serious Orthodox scholar advance such a view.
  • The Gerrards downplay the role of the Filioque in order to bolster their own (unique) thesis that it was the issue of Apostolic Succession, and not the Filioque, that determines the difference between Orthodoxy and Rome.  The Gerrards are to be commended, however, for noting the connections between papal supremacy and the desire to convert Russia by the sword.

Interestingly, Alexey II, the star of the book so far, is not prominent in this chapter.  They do mention the fact Aleksy used his political skill to thwart many of John Paul II’s aims against Russia.   Surprisingly for academics, the Gerrards do not criticize the Russian Church for thwarting the goals of Protestants to proselytize Russia.  This is a hard point for Westerners to understand.  Even the most backwoods conservative right-wing American, who loves Jesus and hates secularism, is a pure secularist when it comes to proselytizing Russia.  And by pure secularist, I mean someone who has thoroughly absorbed the values of the Enlightenment.     Americans simply cannot understand why Russia opposes “Christian” missionaries to her country.

Russians, and Orthodox, affirm that their view is “the truth.”  While maybe a mean statement, most conservative religious communities do the same thing as well.   If you say you are the truth, you are likewise making a value-judgment against those who are not the truth.   This is not bigotry.  This is logic.  Everyone does it. This is a rejection of the Enlightenment view that says to some religious communities, “No, you are not welcome here.”

From the perspective of Russia’s 1,000 year history and memory, precisely what do they owe the Protestants, especially the more chaotic baptist elements who themselves are splinters from splinter groups?  Also, and this usually isn’t mentioned in low-church circles, many of these proselytizers are “NGOs” whose tracts may contain bible verses on one side, but democratic propaganda on the other side.