Written by Vladimir Moss


False love versus Real Hatred


     The Orthodox Church today is afflicted by two spiritual diseases that are opposite and equal to each other, ecumenism and nationalism. These are the Scylla and Charybdis of contemporary Orthodoxy. Like Nestorianism and Monophysitism in the fifth century, they represent two apparently opposite heresies, each leading as surely as the other to alienation from Orthodoxy and the abyss of hell. They have grown in tandem in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, spreading from Western Europe (France and Germany) to Central and Eastern Europe (Poland and the Balkans), and from Europe throughout the world. It may seem strange at first that such opposite movements should develop together; but we often find similar phenomena in history, one exaggerated and one-sided view eliciting the reaction of another, equally exaggerated and one-sided view. Orthodoxy lies, not in some compromise between the two extremes, but in a higher point of view that sees the dangers and falsehood of both. The tragedy is that many who have escaped the one disease fall into the other one, and few indeed are those who have escaped both and remained spiritually healthy.

     The origins of ecumenism lie in the eighteenth-century English and French Enlightenment. The philosophers of the Enlightenment, when they did not deny religion altogether, regarded it as outdated and unimportant. On this basis, it was a short step to the creation of a new religion, ecumenism, which accepts completely contradictory beliefs but considers these contradictions unimportant, since the only important thing is “love” – not love for the truth, it goes without saying, but love for a false peace in which there are no arguments over matters of the faith, so that people can concentrate together on the things that supposedly really matter – the improvement of the material conditions of all through the exercise of reason unhindered by superstition and ignorance.

     The origins of nationalism lie much deeper in history, perhaps in the Greek exaltation of themselves above all “barbarians”, or in the first-century Jewish rebellion against Roman power. But in modern times, the cult of the nation began in the French revolution – which, not coincidentally, also marked the beginning of the liberation of the Jews from the power of the Gentile nations. The Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 saw the nation as the supreme value, placing it above all other values as their arbiter.

     However, the French revolution contained an inner tension between the universal, internationalist values that it inherited from the Enlightenment – freedom, equality and brotherhood – and the Rousseauist cult of the nation. So on the one hand, it sought the freedom and equality of all nations and all human beings. But on the other hand, it exalted France as “the great nation” par excellence that had the right to impose her power and world-view on the rest of the world. So the internationalist phase of the revolution quickly metamorphosed into a nationalist phase under Napoleon… This metamorphosis was aided by the German war of liberation from Napoleon’s yoke in 1813-15, which gave a still sharper and more egotistical edge to the cult of the nation. German nationalism was based on the German Counter-Enlightenment, which consciously rejected the universalism of the French Enlightenment, favouring the cult of the particular as opposed to the universal, and the emotional as opposed to the rational. It was this German-led transition from nationalism as the cult of the nation in general to the cult of my nation in particular that would prove to be so fatal to the peace of the world.

     From a Christian point of view, neither form of the cult is acceptable; for in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew (Colossians 3.7); neither the nation in general nor any nation in particular is to be worshipped. Nevertheless, Christianity does not condemn a healthy love of one’s country, or patriotism, that is not pitched consciously and aggressively against other patriotisms, nor seeks to place the good of the nation above the good of the Church and the universalist commandments of the Gospel. Christ loved His earthly homeland, and wept over its fall. But He also praised the Roman centurion for having a faith greater than any in Israel; He similarly praised the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman; and He converted the Samaritan woman and portrayed Himself in the role of the Good Samaritan. Most importantly, He refused to join in or approve of the Jewish nationalist rebellion against Roman power, which was the real reason why the Jews killed Him: Christ was killed by the nationalists because He refused to be a nationalist...

     Both ecumenism and nationalism are essentially political movements aiming at earthly good things - peace and prosperity in the case of ecumenism, power and prestige in the case of nationalism. But they clothe themselves in a religious covering in order to make themselves more attractive to believers. Ecumenism clothes its rejection of dogmatic religion in a cloak of “love” – “God is love”, they say, “there are many ways to God and God accepts all of them”, “tolerance is the highest form of virtue”, “love and do what you will”. Its attractiveness lies in its removal of all conflict over questions of truth and all moral struggle against fallen passion. Nationalism rejects this wishy-washy approach to truth and reintroduces the element of struggle. But its “truth”, while clear and uncompromising, is self-evidently false: my nation is always essentially in the right and always the innocent victim of other nations, whatever minor mistakes she may make and whatever rational arguments you may produce to prove that she is wrong. As for the reintroduction of struggle, this is only apparent; for in fact the struggle for superiority over neighbouring nations is conducted through a full-scale surrender to the most evil of passions – pride and hatred. For, as Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) writes: “The nation, this collective organism, is just as inclined to deify itself as the individual man. The madness of pride grows in this case in the same progression, as every passion becomes inflamed in society, being refracted in thousands and millions of souls.”[1] Thus if ecumenism is the religion of false, sentimental love, nationalism is the religion of all-too-genuine hatred…

     Although they appear to be opposites, there is in fact a close kinship between ecumenism and nationalism. This kinship was elucidated by the Russian diplomat and publicist Constantine Leontiev, who, though an ardent philhellene, was strongly critical of the nationalism of the Greek revolution. He also thought that the Serbian and Bulgariannationalisms that motivated the other Balkan revolutions were very similar in their aims and psychology to the Greek – that is, sadly lacking in that "universalist nationalism" that he called Byzantinism. These petty nationalisms, argued Leontiev, were closely related to liberalism. They were all rooted in the French revolution: just as liberalism insisted on the essential equality of all men and their "human rights", so these nationalisms insisted on the essential equality of all nations and their "national rights". But this common striving for "national rights" made the nations very similar in their essential egoism.[2] It replaced individuality with individualism, hierarchy with egalitarianism, right faith with indifferentism (ecumenism)[3].

     Leontiev believed, as Andrzej Walicki writes, that "nations were a creative force only when they represented a specific culture: 'naked' or purely 'tribal' nationalism was a corrosive force destroying both culture and the state, a leveling process that was, in the last resort, cosmopolitan; in fact, nationalism was only a mask for liberal and egalitarian tendencies, a specific metamorphosis of the universal process of disintegration".[4] According to Leontiev, the nations' striving to be independent was based precisely on their desire to be like every other nation: "Having become politically liberated, they are very glad, whether in everyday life or in ideas, to be like everyone else". Therefore nationalism, freed from the universalist idea of Christianity, leads in the end to a soulless, secular cosmopolitanism. "In the whole of Europe the purely national, that is, ethnic principle, once released from its religious fetters, will at its triumph give fruits that are by no means national, but, on the contrary, in the highest degree cosmopolitan, or, more precisely, revolutionary."[5] The revolution consisted in the fact that state nationalism would lead to the internationalist abolition or merging of states. "A grouping of states according to pure nationalities will lead European man very quickly to the dominion of internationalism"[6] - a European Union or even a Global United Nations. "A state grouping according to tribes and nations is… nothing other than the preparation - striking in its force and vividness - for the transition to a cosmopolitan state, first a pan-European one, and then, perhaps, a global one, too!..."[7]

     In 1872 the Ecumenical Patriarchate anathematized the ecclesiastical form of nationalism known as “phyletism”. But this did not prevent inter-Orthodox nationalism between Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians and Romanians reaching a crescendo of hatred and violence in the next four-and-a-half decades. Nor did nationalist passions truly abate thereafter: in the years 1918-41, Italian and German fascism elicited considerable sympathy in Eastern Europe, especially in Romania and Croatia. From 1945 the communist conquest of most of the region served to dampen nationalist passions for a time. But after the fall of communism in 1989-91, nationalist wars broke out again in many parts of the former Soviet Union and especially in the former Yugoslavia.

     As for ecumenism, since it was not heralded by open wars and the shedding of blood, it developed in a much more insidious manner that escaped the condemnation of church authorities for a long time. It was not until 1983 that the first formal anathematization of ecumenism took place, by the Russian Church Abroad under St. Philaret of New York. As in the case of the condemnation of phyletism, this did not have an immediate effect; and to this day the great majority of those who call themselves Orthodox Christians remain immersed in the “heresy of heresies” through their participation in the World Council of Churches and the wider ecumenical movement.

     In our time, ecumenism has become interwoven with nationalism. Just as several of the communist leaders of Eastern Europe held onto power by transforming themselves into nationalist leaders, so the waning attraction of ecumenism has been recharged by association with nationalist passion.

     We can also understand this interweaving of ecumenism and nationalism in psychological terms: the feeling of guilt engendered by the involvement of the Orthodox with the western heresies through the ecumenical movement has been suppressed or compensated for by a fierce wave of anti-western (especially anti-American) nationalism.

     The first and most fundamental fact in this connection is that although the ecumenist Orthodox have now been immersed in the heresy of ecumenism for many decades, increasing numbers of them know that this is wrong. They know that this is a betrayal of the faith of their fathers, and they know, albeit obscurely, that they are no longer worthy to be called their sons. This applies more to many thinking clergy and laity, and less to the hierarchs, whose consciences are scarred and appear no longer capable of repentance. The present writer remembers a meeting of dissident clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate in Moscow late in 1989 at which there was universal condemnation of the hierarchs and a determination to escape the heresy of ecumenism. In the end, pressure was applied from above, and only one of the priests at the meeting joined the True Church; but the meeting demonstrated real and sincere feeling – a feeling that is probably no less widespread today.

     However, the failure to act in accordance with church truth over a longish period of time creates a condition of psychological and spiritual tension, of guilt, that demands resolution. Repentance is the only real way of resolving this tension. But, failing that, one of the ways seemingly to resolve the tension and justify one’s remaining in the false church is to endow the latter with the status of a national institution, a treasure that must be preserved and honoured for cultural and national reasons, if not strictly spiritual ones.

     Terminology plays an important role here. The false church is called simply “the Russian Church” or “the Serbian Church”, as if there were no other with a greater claim to the title. If repeated over time, the idea is inculcated that this is the one and only Church, to leave which would amount to individual and collective apostasy…

     Nationalism has here come to the rescue of ecumenism. “You cannot leave the ecumenist church,” goes the thought, “because she is the church of the nation. So by leaving her you will be betraying the nation. As for those zealots of Orthodoxy who leave the official church, they are proud, placing their own need for ‘correctness’ above their duty to the nation. By dividing the flock they weaken the nation, which can only go forward if it is united under its present leaders.”

     This is a false argument because the exaltation of the nation above the truth leads, not to true national greatness, but to moral and spiritual downfall. The Lord said that he who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matthew 10.37), and he who loves his fatherland more than the Lord is similarly unworthy of Him. For it is a form of idolatry. As Fr. John Vostorgov, one of the first martyrs of the Bolshevik revolution, pointed out, true patriotism can only be founded on true faith and morality. “Where the faith has fallen,” he said, “and where morality has fallen, there can be no place for patriotism, there is nothing for it to hold on to, for everything that is the most precious in the homeland then ceases to be precious.”[8]

     Both ecumenism and nationalism appeal to unity as the supreme value – in the case of ecumenism, a mythical unity of all men of good will and sense, and in the case of nationalism, a hardly less mythical unity of all men of the same blood and/or culture. Those who refuse to join these unities are categorized as mad or traitors or both. But Orthodoxy values above all unity with the truth, with God Who is the truth, and with the One True Church, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3.15). He who is in unity with the truth may find himself in disunity with almost all those around him, as did many of the holy confessors. But this is not to be wondered at; for, as St. Paul says, “let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3.4). Indeed, “when the Son of Man comes,” said the Lord, “will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18.8).


August 6/19, 2013.

The Transfiguration of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

[1] Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) of New York, Besedy s sobstvennym serdtsem (Conversations with my own heart), Jordanville, 1998, p. 33.

[2] "The Greeks have 'the Byzantine empire', 'the Great Hellenic Idea'; while the Bulgars have 'Great Bulgaria'. Is it not all the same?" ("Pis'ma o vostochnykh delakh - IV" (Letters on Eastern Matters - IV), Vostok, Rossia i Slavianstvo (The East, Russia and Slavdom), Moscow, 1996, p. 363.

[3] "So much for the national development, which makes them all similar to contemporary Europeans, which spreads petty rationalism, egalitarianism, religious indifference, European bourgeois uniformity in tastes and manners: machines, pantaloons, frock-coats, top hats and demagogy!" ("Plody natsional'nykh dvizhenij" (The Fruits of the National Movements), op. cit., p. 560).

[4] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought, Oxford: Clarendon, 1988, p. 303.

[5] Leontiev, Letter of a Hermit.

[6] Leontiev, "On Political and Cultural Nationalism", letter 3, op. cit., p. 363.

[7] Leontiev, "Tribal Politics as a Weapon of Global Revolution", letter 2, in Constantine Leontiev, Izbrannie Sochinenia (Selected Works), edited by I.N. Smirnov, Moscow, 1993, p. 314.

[8] Vostorgov, in Fomin S. & Fomina T., Rossia pered Vtorym Prishestviem (Russia before the Second Coming) Moscow, 1994, p. 400.

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