Saturday, August 27, 2016

Russian Orthodox Church Views Paganism as Inherently Nationalist and Separatist

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 27 – According to the Russian Orthodox hierarch in Chuvashia, a Christian Turkic republic in the Middle Volga, Chuvash nationalists are seeking to revive traditional pagan faith to promote their separatist agendas, a view that reflects the views of the Moscow Patriarchate and one that bodes ill for followers of such faiths across Russia.

            Regional specialists, republic officials and leaders of the traditional pagan faith of the Chuvash combined their meetings a month ago, provoking local representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church to step up their criticism of paganism as a form of nationalism and separatism (

            Vitaly Stanyal, one of the organizers of these meetings said that the Chuvash have been doing this kind of thing for the last 25 years, that is, since the collapse of the communist system, and people in Chuvashia, scholars, activists and followers of the traditional pagan faith look forward to such meetings. 

            But Russian officials and the Russian church don’t, he continued, don’t.  “For many centuries, [they] have been struggling with ethnic religious with fire and sword. They have driven the Chuvash faith into the underground.” But “in spite of the diktat of Orthodoxy, the Chuvash popular faith lives in the memories and spirits of people.”

            What Russian Orthodox priests are saying now reflects the views articulated a year ago by Father Maksim Kurlenko, a priest who heads the youth department of the Cheboksary bishopric.  He said at that time that there was no real pagan faith anymore and that “the national intelligentsia is reviving it artificially.”

            “What is the result from ethno-religions?” he asked. “What is their contribution to culture.”  According to Father Maksim, those who appear under its banner don’t talk about religious issues but rather make “political demands,” including the expulsion of non-Chuvash from the republic and even its independence from Russia.

            In short, he said, “paganism is closely connected with nationalism. Pagan-nationalist organizations in essence are all separatist in attitude. As a result they are leading to the disintegration of a united Russia.”  For that reason if for no mother, Christianity and ethno-religions “cannot” coexist.

            The representative of Russian Orthodoxy continued: “The Church does not impose its worldview on anyone.” But these political demands are unacceptable. Any Chuvash can remain Chuvash and be “completely Orthodox” at the same time. “Any ethno-religion can grow up to the level of Orthodoxy” because “Orthodoxy is higher than paganism” in its holiness.

            Stanyal rejected these arguments and says they reflect the ignorance and arrogance of those offering them.  “If there is a nation, then anything that belongs to it is national. The respected propagandist of Christianity … approaches other faiths in a Nazi-like fashion, with hatred” and lies.  To say Orthodoxy has not been imposed on non-Russians is absurd.

            Vyachceslav Orinov, Chuvashia’s deputy minister for culture, nationalities and archives, agrees with Stanyal: “A Chuvash who does not know and respect his traditions is not a Chuvash. We are not mankurts and therefore we must preserve out name, our culture and our language” even as its members respect others.

            The Chuvash do respect others, including, he said, including “the Christian God, the Russian Orthodox Church, Allah and Islam. But this doesn’t mean that we must give up our own cultural traditions … When people respect nature and turn to God for support and help is that by definition paganism?  For God is one and he certainly is glad for all honest toilers.”

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