Archbishop Borys Gudziak's blog_image

Archbishop Borys Gudziak's blog

My intervention at the Synod: The challenge of rebuilding trusţ in post-totalitarian or totalitarian contexts

13.10.2015, 15:03

Allow me to bring to your attention a challenge hardly recognised in the international discussion about family. This challenge is like radiation. It has no smell, no taste, it cannot be measured or counted. Yet it mutates our spiritual chromosomes and affects close to 2 billion persons who are the victims or heirs of modern totalitarianism, from Albania and Estonia to China and Vietnam. This challenge is the undermining of trust cause by fear.  It is a broad, social post-traumatic shock.

If you live in fear you cannot love. You cannot have good families if people cannot trust each other. Created in the image and likeness of a Triune personal God, we are created to be in personal relationship modelled on the Holy Trinity for which openness to the other—mutual trust, willingness to be vulnerable and committed to self-sacrifice—is a pre-condition. 

Let us start with the Word of God, the point of departure for our existence, our life, our salvation. The Biblical understanding of “trust” is for us a guide, an inspiration. In both the Old and New Testament faith and trust are deeply connected. Trust is an essential part of the definition of faith. In Hebrew the word “faith” (אֱמוּנָה emunah) has the same root as the word “Amen” (by which we say “yes” to God) and means: faithfulness, firmness, steadfastness, trustworthiness, fidelity in relationship to a person. It is not an abstract belief. It is relationship. The New Testament Greek word ἡ πίστις (pistis) means: faith, belief, trust, confidence; fidelity, faithfulness. This word is used to refer to the faithfulness of Jesus to the Father, even onto death on the Cross.

Faith based on trust is the foundation of the life of the Church and the life of the family. We need to trust each other in the Church, in the family, also in this synod.

Nations and cultures that endured or endure totalitarianism, particularly Soviet style communism, carry particular anthropological scars. Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians, Kazakhs, Turkmen, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Azeris, Armenians, Georgians, Balts, Central European Slavs, East Germans, Hungarians, Romanians, Moldovans, Albanians, Chinese, Cubans, Vietnamese, North Koreans—in their country and in their emigre communities,—were or still are ruled by a system of violence and fear and are handicapped by it, sometimes even crippled by this reflexive fear.


Totalitarian regimes systematically terrorised their populations, driving them into submission and seeking to establish maximum, if not total, control over actions, words, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. Thoroughly invasive methodologies were used to undermine the spiritual foundations and social fabric of societies. The security services systematically engaged in moral blackmail. Using detailed, intimate personal information collected by surveillance and through denunciations made by secret collaborators security services held hostage as many citizens as possible directly. Indirectly they held hostage all of their respective societies and virtually every person. At the heart of the effort was a basic undermining of interpersonal trust, the cement of all human relations, including family relations. If trust is destroyed, the person becomes disconnected, isolated, incapable of engagement and lasting commitment, and, most importantly for the system, becomes more easily manipulated. 

In the past century through war, genocides, exiles, executions, famines etc. totalitarian regimes killed approximately 150 million people driving fear deep into the DNA of surviving and descendant populations. Hiding behind masks and facades, disengaging, suspecting the other became a natural reflex of self preservation. The longer the totalitarianism lasted the deeper the fear was implanted becoming in the end a lifestyle, a characteristic of culture, communication, relationships.The fear is skin deep. Just scratch the surface and it appears. In the words of the psalmist: “Trembling seized them there, anguish, like a woman's labor" (Ps. 48:7).

The Soviet system had the opportunity to instil this almost genetic fear over three full generations.

Let me explain with a story that every person over 35 years heard during their childhood in the Soviet Union. It’s the legend (probably not true) of Pavlik Morozov –lionized by the propaganda as a hero and martyr. As a 13-year-old boy Pavlik denounced his father (and some neighbors) to the authorities for “forging documents and selling them to the bandits and enemies of the State (in Soviet legal parlance – an “enemy of the people” could be anyone)” and was in turn killed by his family “his uncle, grandfather, grandmother and a cousin.” The story of Pavlik Morozov became a foundational myth for Soviet pedagogy He became a model for the Soviet children encouraged to follow his example – in every Soviet city there was a street named after Pavlik Morozov. 

Totalitarian ideology undermines the very essence of human coexistence – you cannot trust anyone even your own family, even your children, your parents. The party indicates whom you are to love and trust, the party’s interests are above personal, family ones. God-given dignity and freedom are negated. The Christian understanding and experience of family is deconstructed. This fear and suspicion tragically embodied the words of the prophet Micah: “Put no faith in a friend, do not trust a companion; With her who lies in your embrace watch what you say" (Mic, 7:5).

The pilgrimage from post-totalitarian fear to Biblical trust and lifelong faithfulness is a difficult one for many Christians, sometimes excruciatingly so. It is not possible without grace. It is a challenge for the Church called to speak to 2 billion victims and descendants of totalitarian ideology. To call disciples to walk this journey the Church needs to understand their brokenness and show willingness to walk patiently with them in love and mercy. The Church in the contemporary world is called to trust fully in the Triune God, who makes Himself vulnerable to us, and to create places, structures, policies, and relationships of trust, fidelity, faithfulness that evoke and promote mutual openness and trust. Our vocation is to announce the victory of Christ over death, fear and sin with confidence and joy. This is especially true when poverty, forced migration, homelessness, virtuality, and the violence of war threaten and undermine trust, as today in Ukraine, the Middle East, and so many places in the world. Facing these threats  we are called to proclaim "what is the surpassing greatness of his [God’s] power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, 20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come" (Eph 1:19-21).