Nationalism, the Cleansing from Communism and the Pursuit of Wisdom
The historic roles of the former Georgian seminarian Joseph ‘Stalin’ and the former Russian seminarian General Andrei Vlasov, have recently caused controversy in the Russian Church. The former is well-known, the latter was the leader of the Second World War Russian Liberation Army formed under an unenthusiastic Hitler.
Thus, the book, ‘The Tragedy of Russia: Taboos of Twentieth Century Russian History’, written by Fr George Mitrofanov of the Patriarchate of Moscow, has called forth some extreme reactions. First, there have been some inside Russia who, conditioned by old Soviet attitudes to Stalin, have condemned the book out of hand. They still fail to understand the difference between those who for example challenged Stalin in the Ukraine, the Fascist, Banderite terrorists, who wanted (and still want) to separate the Ukraine from the Russian Orthodox Church, and those who challenged Stalin, because they wanted to free all the peoples of the Soviet Union from the Communist yoke. That difference is very simple: the Fascist, Banderite nationalists hated Holy Russia, the best of the Vlasov movement loved Holy Russia.
Secondly, there have been others, especially among small groups in the Russian emigration, former members or else descendants of former members of General Vlasov’s Army, who still unreservedly supported the Vlasov movement. Then there is the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), representing the vast majority of Russian émigrés and their descendants. In their Open Letter of 8 September (http://www.synod.com/synod/pdf/9mitrofanovletter.pdf), they thanked Fr George and called for all to look more dispassionately at the tragic history of the twentieth century, recognising the great patriotism of General Vlasov.
As one who knew closely General Vlasov’s personal interpreter as well as ROCOR clergy and laity who had undergone the horrors of Stalin’s dekulakisation in the Ukraine in the 1930s, who as children saw their families brutally massacred in front of them, I have some thoughts on the matter.
It is clear to all that Stalin was a monster, responsible for the deaths of millions and millions, many of them Church people, martyrs. It is also clear that Stalin was only part of an ideology. Lenin had gone before him and also killed millions, and the persecution of the Church went on for decades after Stalin’s ignominious death. Any attempt to rehabilitate Stalin is totally unacceptable to the Church. Whatever the ‘Sergianist’ legends about his meetings with Church people during the Second World War, it is clear from his actions after the War, not least his sadistic tortures and murders of General Vlasov and those with him, that he had not repented.
Indeed, the victory of the ‘Soviet Union’ over Hitler, that other genocidal maniac, has now largely been understood. It was not so much due to Stalin as due to brilliant generals like the believer Zhukov and above all the heroic sacrifices of the armed forces and civilians of the ‘Soviet Union’. And they were given spiritual, moral and patriotic leadership by the Russian Orthodox Church. Indeed, in many ways, many are beginning to understand that the ‘Great Patriotic War’ was won not because of Stalin, but despite him, won because of the Faith, not despite it.
Here there is a parallel with the British war leader Churchill. Long considered a great leader of the Second World War, some more recent historians now consider that his misjudgements, like the invasion of Sicily and Italy, actually delayed the end of the war by a year. This would mean that ten million lives may have unnecessarily been lost and that Stalin was able to occupy Eastern and Central Europe. Here we will not mention Churchill’s errors during the First World War or between the Wars, but we may mention his alleged acts and even criminal errors. These included allegedly concealing intelligence which allowed Coventry to be destroyed and Pearl Harbour to be attacked, his bombing policy of Germany and German civilians and the forced repatriation of over a million Russians, Ukrainians and others to Stalin in Operation Keelhaul in and after 1945.
Some inside Russia consider General Vlasov a traitor and compare him to Ivan Kurbsky, the noble who in the sixteenth century deserted Tsar Ivan the Threatening (usually mistranslated as Ivan the Terrible) and betrayed his country. But as the hierarchs of ROCOR have said, we should not look at the issue in terms of black and white, in terms of treachery and loyalty.
We do not doubt that the intentions of General Vlasov were honourable. We do not doubt that he was a patriot who wanted to free Russia from Stalin and that he had no love of Hitler and his anti-Slav Fascism. It can indeed be asserted that the real traitor to Russia was not Vlasov, but Stalin, who with the other Communists attempted to destroy everything that was best in Eternal Russia. Only those who have been brainwashed by Stalinism can maintain that Stalin was good and Vlasov was bad.
On the other hand, it is also clear that General Vlasov, a prisoner of Hitler, was in an impossible situation. And it is a fact that his attempt to free Russia from Communism failed.
It would surely be better to leave the judgement of Andrei Vlasov to a higher tribunal than can be found in this world.
Forty years ago at Jordanville, Archbishop Averky of Syracuse wrote that Vlasov’s failure had happened for the same reason that the attempts of the White Movement to combat Communism after the Revolution had failed. This was because those movements were compromised by elements of spiritual impurity, they were not movements purely devoted to the values of Eternal Russia, but compromised with a secular movement. What was that movement?
That movement was Nationalism. Nationalism is not patriotism. Patriotism can be defined as the love of one’s country; Nationalism as hatred of other countries.
And Nationalism is far from being dead. On the contrary, since the fall of Communism, Nationalism has largely replaced Communism as the ruling ideology throughout all the ex-Communist countries, whether in China, Vietnam, Cuba, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, the Baltic States, Russia or the Ukraine.
In all those countries, Communist materialism, failed and bankrupt, had already robbed many of their virtue. Therefore, ex-Communists rapidly fell to other forms of materialism. Overnight, they became Nationalists and Capitalists, enriching themselves and their cronies a thousandfold through plundering the people’s assets, sold off by bankrupt States in the great robbery of ‘privatisations’. But thieves remain thieves, whatever ‘ism’ they call their materialist ideology.
In reality, the present controversy about Stalin and Vlasov is about Nationalism, the attachment to a kingdom of this world, and not to the kingdom of God. Nationalism is also one of the many vestiges of Communism present in post-Soviet society. Such vestiges of Communism as the mafia, crime, abortion, prostitution and corruption are obvious. But there is also Nationalism. This can be seen especially in the Ukraine, where Nationalism is a curse for the country and for the Church, from which three nationalist groups have fallen away: the Uniats, the ‘Kiev Patriarchate’ and the ‘Autonomous Ukrainian Church’. This is all Nationalism. Nationalism is a clear sign that Russia, the Ukraine and all the post-Soviet countries have not yet been cleansed from Communism. Its residues still deeply stain their drinking glasses, which have not yet been cleansed by ‘living water’ (Jn. 4, 10).
Nationalism, starting in secular society, inevitably affects the Church. This is clear in the Ukraine, but this is also the case in Russia, where the above Stalin-Vlasov controversy has divided opinion. Loyalty to the Stalinist State leads people away from loyalty to Eternal Russia.
It must be said that the same Nationalism also clouds the judgements of diplomats about relations with the Vatican. Having had the simple faith, unlike certain diaspora groups, to thoroughly reject the spiritual delusions of Protestant modernism with its infantile ‘liturgical reforms’, ‘woman-priests’ and ‘homosexual marriages’, there is still the temptation of the Vatican. Only in recent days we have read the following unChurchly and spiritually impure declaration: ‘The Schism of the Christian Church, which led to Her division into Roman Catholic in the West and Orthodox in the East with its centre in Constantinople, occurred in 1054’. Translated from Roman Catholic language to Orthodox language, what was meant was: ‘The 1054 Schism ultimately led to the whole of Western Europe falling away from the Orthodox Church, centred in Jerusalem, and into the new ideology of Roman Catholicism’.
Only a spiritually impure, political and nationalistic mode of thought could suggest that the Church, the Body of Christ, could ever be divided. Only Nationalism would suggest that one nation in ‘the West’ is destined to confess one religion and another in ‘the East’ is destined to confess another religion. Only such spiritual impurity could put geographical determinism above Absolute Truth. To suggest it is to deny the words of Christ in the Gospel: ‘Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’. (Matt. 16, 18). As a rebuke to Nationalism, five verses later our Lord says: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men’. Nationalism was the sin of the Jews who crucified Christ, because he was not the nationalist leader they had expected. And it was also the sin of the Latin West, which fell away from the Church of Christ, justifying itself by its old pagan Roman Imperial mentality.
It will take ages for the countries of the Western world to cleanse themselves from their ethnocentric prejudices, for it took ages to create their spiritual disease of pride. But it will also take many years for the countries of the post-Soviet bloc to cleanse themselves from the spiritual disease of Communism, for it took many years to create it. The first phase of self-cleansing is to overcome Nationalism. After three generations of the Babylonian Captivity of the Russian Lands to Communism, which fell only in 1991, it may well take three generations for some to free themselves from the conditioning they then received.
For example, Russia and Georgia, at least, are still littered with the statues and names of mass murderers like Stalin, Lenin, Kirov etc. The objective history of the ex-Soviet Union, of Russia and of all Eastern Europe is yet to be written. Many, though not all, are still blinded by the events that happened to them, their parents, their grandparents and their great-grandparents. Let us recall: ‘I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments’ (Exodus 20, 5-6).
Indeed, thousands of thousands, living the Church way of life, loving God and keeping His commandments, have made their way to the Truth, inside and outside Russia. The criterion by which we can judge this is simple. It is whether we venerate the New Martyrs and Confessors, starting with the Royal Family. Indeed, this has been officially recognised by the whole of the Russian Church in Her glorification and veneration of the Royal Family and the victims of Communism – the New Martyrs and Confessors. It was on this basis that we were able to recognise that the Church inside Russia was free and had rejected Sergianism, for Sergianism would never have venerated its enemies, the New Martyrs and Confessors. And it was on this basis that the Church inside Russia and outside Russia ascended to Christ together, reconciled in unity.
As to individuals, some will take longer than others, whether inside Russia or outside Russia, to free themselves from the spiritual impurity of their prejudices. For there are still individuals who refuse to venerate the New Martyrs, both inside Russia and outside Russia. They have been blinded by Nationalism, whether Communist, anti-Communist, Ukrainian, Ecumenist, British, French or American. Whole ‘jurisdictional’ divisions have been caused in the Ukraine, in Estonia, in North America, in South America, in France and in England by that Nationalism. For Nationalism is precisely the attachment to inevitably divisive nations and national histories in preference to the attachment to the Church.
As Orthodox Christians, we should first of all be attached to the Kingdom of God, our nations and their histories taking second place: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6, 33). This we can do, not by the pursuit of knowledge, no matter whether the knowledge is given by Western Communism or by Western Capitalism, but by the pursuit of Wisdom. And Wisdom comes only from the Church, ‘her house, that she has hewn out of seven pillars’ (Proverbs 9, 1).
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
1/14 September 2009