Russian World as Fruit of Incarnation of God
“The Russian Church was the most active participant in foundation of the Russian world and its development. She is also the source of its vital energy. Therefore her spiritual experience and religious thought, shrines and spiritual centers, saints and prominent leaders are inalienable part of the Russian world.”
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia
Orthodoxy is the religion of Revelation and Incarnation of God, the religion of absolute openness of God to people in history, to all universal and personal aspects of their life, the religion of assuming human nature by God, the whole of human nature except sin. It means He took on all the forms of social existence of man too, for these are not sin too. Christianity is radically open to the whole world in its spatial-temporal distinctness and gets embodied in it to a degree that the human hypostases wish and seek. Therefore Christianity is always concrete, i.e. local and historical. There is no and has never been and never will be Christianity per se.
The Russian world in that genuine meaning Patriarch Kirill employs is not something separate from the Russian Orthodox Church, some external condition or anything else. The Russian world is a territorial-civilizational, objectively real incarnation of the Body of Christ here and now, in the space and time of our life, as well as of our ancestors, a reality though complex and controversial, tragic and militant, provocative and questionable owing to our passions, but as well salutiferous and deifying in its contents and fruit. Let me emphasize once again that I’m not referring to any kind of subordination of the Church to the earthy passionate mundane elements. We witness to the mystery of incarnation of the Body of Christ in the history of our civilizational community, which is the logical continuation of the Incarnation of the Word of God. The same mystery is being performed in the history of other Orthodox nations, who are nurtured by other local Orthodox Churches, though performed with some local peculiarities. I believe that without a faith in the actual incarnation of the Church here and now, in a given spatial-temporal historical situation, my own personal salvation, as well as salvation of other believers is impossible, for in accordance with a patristic maximum, what is not joined is not saved.
When we speak about the embodiment of the Church in history, we mean the incarnation of Christ Himself. Christ is the head of the Church, and the Church is His Body (cf. Ephesians 1: 22, 23; 1 Corinthians 12: 12, 27). The Son of God became incarnate and became man, i.e. created human nature out of the human nature of the Virgin Mary and received it into His Divine hypostasis, all except sin. After Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He sent the grace of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples, thus having joined them to His human nature and having created the Church – His Body. Thenceforth He has been embodied in the history, i.e. has been transforming men corrupt by sin, and has been joining them to His human nature in the Church, from Jerusalem all over the world.
From the very beginning Christianity was both universal and local. The ecumenical universal outreach of the Church brought actual local fruits – the fruits of the faith of Christ, hope and love. The first local Orthodox Church was founded in Jerusalem. Christ Himself preached predominantly among the sons of Israel, and told that He was sent only to them, and only after His resurrection he commanded to go and teach all nations, baptizing them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Note, not humanity on the whole, but nations, i.e. certain local collective hypostases. As the good news spread, the other Local Orthodox Churches were established after the Church of Jerusalem – the Churches of Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople etc, till it was the turn of the Russian land, inhabited mostly by East Slavic tribes, when the Russian Orthodox Church was created together with the Russian world, as a civilization territory under her spiritual guidance. In that way the embodiment of Christ in the Russian Orthodox Church has been performed and still is being performed, in that way our Orthodox nation is being built up and partakes in God. Therefore for us Russianness and orthodoxness are synonymic concepts, standing for the same reality. As Dostoevsky claimed, a true Russian is orthodox, and orthodox is Russian.
By the providence of God, finding of Orthodox faith became the reason for appropriation of the Russian civilizational identity for me and for millions of people. Having become Orthodox, we became Russian and accepted it as a gift of God. Naturally, we cannot renounce it; moreover, we consider this very idea to be blasphemous and treacherous. The God’s parable of the talents fully refers to the gift of the Orthodox Russianness, as well as to the other gifts. One cannot reject the gifts of God, the gifts are to be received and valued, to be preserved and cherished, to be grown and multiplied. It is the matter of simple gratitude and faithfulness which make a basis of a Christian life. Renouncement of a gift of God is renouncement of God Himself.
The history testifies that our ancestors, becoming Orthodox, overcame tribal separation, social, political and economic dissension and became Russian people, a unified Russian Orthodox nation (not in the ethnic national but in civilization sense), thus forming the unified Russian world. It is the Russian Orthodox Church, as our Orthodox Church that has been and still remains to be the main cementing factor of building up the Russian world, the Russian community in all its aspects, theoretical, practical, organizational, personal, familial, ethnical, national, civilizational. Herein lies her culture-creating, civilizational mission – to reunite her children with each other in Christ and for Christ’s sake. Herein the Russian Orthodox Church carries on a tradition of the Old-Testament Church, which was the determinant factor of building up, preservation and development of the ancient Hebrew nation.
Russianness as civilization identity is truly a gift of God, which believers receive in the Russian Orthodox Church, regardless of changing political realia. If all the East Slavonic states cease to exist, and the Russian Orthodox Church remains, then the Russian world will remain too. Therefore the Russian world is not a political concept, but a purely ecclesiastical one. The Russian world will exist till the Russian Orthodox Church exists. The Russian world may cease to exist if the ROC ceases to exist. However, it is possible only in the earthly history, but not in heavens. The Russians might be physically annihilated, they may be given a brainwash so that they forget their spiritual primogeniture and betray the sacred faith of their fathers, they might be crossed out from modern earthly history, but they cannot be crossed out from the heavenly Book of Life. It is impossible even for the modern falsifiers of history. In heavens the Orthodox-ecclesial Russian world has been and will be the Holy Rus - that of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church.
In this context the issue of the Ukrainian self-identity emerges. What is that and whose gift is it? Can we speak of the Ukrainian world as a counterbalance to the Russian world?
First of all, it is obvious that today there is no uniform Ukrainian self-identity. We see at least two historically developed types of Ukrainity, which are irreconcilably at enmity. The one is Galician by the place of origin and Greek Catholic by its spiritual basis, nationalist and pro-western, anti-Russian and anti-orthodox by its character and orientation [The fact that since 90-ties of the past century the schismatic pseudo-orthodox groupings (UAOC and UOC-KP) actively joined this self-identity, only proves its anti-orthodox and anti-Russian character]. Another one is Kyivan-Russian by the place of its origin, Orthodox by its spiritual foundation, and patriotic, anti-western and anti-nationalist by its orientation. If the latter has been build up directly by the Russian Orthodox Church for more than thousand years, and is a direct result of organic development of Ukraine, in spite of all historical cataclysms, the former has been aggressively inculcated at most for two hundred years of its history, under direct action of external forces (Polish, Austro-Hungarian, German, and American). It is obvious that neither of these two Ukrainities possesses any civilizational identity, but the ethnic or/and national one, in fact - the regional one, according to the degree of its spreading and influence in modern Ukraine. Correspondingly, we cannot speak about any Ukrainian world, commeasurable with the Russian world. At best, we can claim the existence of the Ukrainian country as a part of either the Euro-Atlantic, or the Russian civilization, that’s what the representatives of both competing Ukraines state today. Thus, the Ukrainity of Galician type is naturally perceived as a gift of God by Greek Catholics, pseudo-Orthodox renegades, neo-pagans and other anti-Russian and anti-Orthodox groupings; the Lesser-Russian Ukrainity type as heart of the Russian civilizational identity – by the majority of Orthodox believers.
In the course of history under the influence of external forces, secularizing processes and worldly spirit of humanist individualism, different ethnic and national communities (Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, Ruthenians) got singled out of the originally unified Russian community. In the mass they keep maintaining the one historical memory, traditional moral ethic values and Orthodox faith. Also the people and entire groups and communities stand out, rejecting their affinity with the Russian Orthodox civilization, denying its very being, both in past and present, as well as a perspective of its further development in future. The overwhelming majority of them are not members of the ROC, but some of them are. The latter believe that the ROC has to refuse any mergence with the ethnic national civilizational domain for the sake of some pure and simple Christianity, in other words, proceeding logically with this reasoning, of the earthly world at all.
Opposed to the church doctrine of the Russian world, the concept of pure Christianity, totally purified from any cultural-historical embodiment, in our view is first of all anti-historical, anti-scientist, anti-theological fantasy and utopia, and secondly, is a relapse of some kind of ecclesiological monophysitism and Manicheanism. In its content and origin this concept is typically reformation-protestant, by its character and consequences it is totally destructive and anti-Christian, which is proved by the whole history of the civilized world.
Representatives of “simply Christianity” in fact call the Russian Orthodox Church to a radical conflict with the whole world, i.e. to sectarianism with a liberal face. It proves once again that radical conservatism and liberalism are cognate phenomena in their fruits in spite of their declared contrariety, for they lead along different paths to the refusal from the all-transfiguring and sanctifying mission of the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Russian world opposes both to à-la-Protestant “simply Christianity”, as well as to secular or religious nationalism – Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, whatever. It is noteworthy that historically Protestantism together with the other factors (bourgeois relations, romanticism) directly and indirectly was and remains the most important religious prerequisite, engine and inciter of nationalism. Therefore no wonder that some opponents disguise their openly Russophobe nationalist critics of the Orthodox Russian world in the clothes of humanist liberal “simply Christianity” and vice versa - “simply Christianity” expresses solidarity with openly fascist nationalism.
In conclusion I cannot but quote a song by a bard from Lviv, who with God’s help has walked his thorny way from the nationalist darkness to the light of the Orthodox faith.