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TOWARDS THE POS-GULAG THEOLOGY


Chapter 2

Jurgen Moltmann to whom I has already reffered several times, because he is the leader of Protestant theology-after-Auschwitz, said in 1978:"To built the bridge from the Jewish to the gentile shore and the reverse can certainly take place only in the experience of a common suffering... It is imaginable, and I expect, that Jews and Christians one day will undergo a common persecution and then will discover the redeeming love of God that binds them at the most profound level"/ibid.p 67/. It is strange enough, though understandable, that this famous German theologian overlooked that such common persecution of Christians and Jews already happened in Russia in the XX-th century. What follows, as well as what has been already said, is nothing else but results of analysis of this historical experience.

To look at my subject in another way, I would like to touch upon some historical and psychological aspects of the problem of anti-Semitism in the Russian Orthodox Church, this time in the context of the world-wide Ecumenical movement.

An important issue for the Western Ecumenical movement is the relationship between Christians and Jews. One aspect of that relationship and the dialogue which should ensue from it, is the post-Auschwitz theology, elaborated and understood by many Christians in the West as a form of atonement for "Christian guilt".

In Russia we have no analogy to this theology. We have no analogy to this theology because the Russian people underwent a different experience. Instead of Nazism, we had Communism, which, instead of the Holocaust inflicted as its largest wound on our consciousness the Gulag.

So, what we need is post-Kolyma theology (to name the location of the worst labour camps in the Gulag). It would be essential to compare the lessons from Kolyma and Auschwitz, but I reserve this task for the future in order to draw your attention solely to the situation in our Orthodox Church.

The fact is that the most conservative among Russian Orthodox Christians use anti-Semitism to oppose any kind of ecumenical dialogue - - be it Jewish - Christian dialogue or Russian Orthodox dialogue with other Christian bodies. They argue that Western Christianity, abandoning the teaching of the Fathers particularly on the Jewish problem, has been captured by Jews; and their specific evidence for this and their target is post-Auschwitz theology.

Still, before we perhaps too eagerly accuse these Russian Orthodox circles of complicity in the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews or even attribute doctrinaire anti-Semitism to them - I would like to remind you of a point I made earlier: that Russia's experience differed from that of the West. Russia did not experience Nazism, Russia experience Communism.

We must keep this in mind because that experience has kept free-speaking, open, and liberal Russian Orthodox Christians in dialogue which their conservative counterparts in the Russian Church. And this is very important, to some extent because conservatives are quite influential in the Church and through dominance in the Church affect society at large.

So, as I see it, the first and the most important ecumenical task for liberal Russian Orthodox Christians is to maintain the dialogue within our own Russian Orthodox Church. This poses great difficulties and problems; among them that of anti-Semitism.

We all know some of these difficulties and problems, especially as we identify ourselves with one side or another. It appears to me that the burden or task of initiating a dialogue lies with the liberal Christians. The isolationist or separatist tendencies of conservative inhibit conservatives from initiating dialogue, and these tendencies create certain dangers for both Church and society.

In initiating dialogue, the liberal must be open to any aspect of truth which may come from the conservatives. And the liberal must be alert to conservative premises, ready to help clarify them because often the conservative has not recognised them. Love for them, as fellow human beings, as fellow-Christians, is what establishes the need and desire to communicate with them, even when irrationality seems so evident and strong. And who knows: what if they represent our own unconsciousness).

Now, with this ground work, I return to the Jewish problem in the Russian context. As I noted, the greatest wound in Russian history is Communism. And the fact is, many Jews played an active role in the Revolution. I clearly remember that as recently as ten years ago, my Jewish relatives proudly declared that the Russian Revolution was created by Jews. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but we must have it in mind that if the Jews themselves were(and are) saying such things, it is not surprising that some Russian Orthodox would say the same thing.

We must also take into account the fact that the Communist Revolution was atheistic - that it was not only opposed to the bourgeoisie, but to the Church as well. Moreover, millions of those who were killed in the labour camps during the Russian Revolution were Christians(though not all of them, of course). Russian clergymen and monks were the first martyrs in the atheistic revolution. Already in the late thirties and especially after the war the situation radically changed and Jews themselves became the victims of Stalin's camps. But immediately after the revolution emancipated Jews, Jews who abandoned their own tradition, were the most valuable agents in the Communist attempts to destroy the Church. /Fr. Alexander Men once said: When a Jew betrays his dedication to God he betrays himself and easily finds himself in the power of dark forces. Being chosen is a great and terrible responsibility.(Vestnik RHD 117, 1976 p 113)/.

Here I would like to recall another personal experience: some of my Jewish relatives, older men, sometimes proudly, sometimes bitterly said that among GPU agents in Leningrad the second language was Yiddish. Forty per cent of the GPU officers in Leningrad in the nineteen 20-30, they said, were Jews. Whether the percentage is accurate or not is for me not so important as the memory of that account and what it says to my conscience.

So, you see, we have had an experience in Russia very different from that in the West. Of course I have no intention of justifying anti-Semites - not even on the basis of so-called "Jewish guilt" relating to the misfortunes of the Russian history. From the historical point of view, there may well be the same reasons for Jewish hatred of Christianity and the national state. Or at least there may be reasons for Jewish indifference towards both. But the worst way possible to discuss the issue at hand is to think and talk in terms of culpability. In fact, we Christians can answer that question quite simply - "Everybody is guilty because everybody has sinned". And if we try to deny this by insisting that we are responsible only for our "individual" sins, and need not repent for the sins of our forefathers, we betray them. It appears to me that one of the ways in which we truly pray for our forefathers is to accept the responsibility for their sins.

First of all, this means not repeat those sins. For Jews, this means not being an enemy of Christianity and/or the new Russian national state. For non-Jewish Russians, it means refusing to hate and to accuse the Jews; for above all moral arguments, their hatred may arose that same kind of reaction to pogroms and all manner of anti-Semitism which had occurred even before the Revolution.

Some of our conservatives, Jewish as well as Russian, see the emigration of Jews from Russia, especially sending them to Israel or the USA as the best way out of this problem. But this raises a human rights issue. Suppose a person selected for emigration does not want to leave? Must we resort to totalitarian methods to avoid a new hatred? I do not think that this can be justified.

Further, we must acknowledge the fact that such hatred is a given reality of everyday life. That is why it is so important to determine what to do about it. Jews who do not want to be hated nor to hate can leave Russia. But Russians cannot leave Russia in order to abstain from hating Jews who stay in Russia. (It would be unnatural in fact). So some conservative Christians among these Russians seriously talk about violent expulsion of Jews. Psychologically they clearly do not want to feel hatred, but it is a fact of spiritual life. Being Christians, they maybe unconsciously sense that hatred is a sin. But they cannot shake of that strong feeling of hatred which is rooted in that awful wound in Russian history the name of which is Communism and the Gulag.

I hope that this helps us to understand that modern Christian anti-Semitism in Russia with its slogan, "Jews leave Russia!" has a positive spiritual motive. Those Russian Orthodox Christians do not want to feel hatred, but they do. And to rid themselves of it, they seek violent expulsion of the Jews. They want to be in peace with themselves, but the presence of Russian Jewry confounds them.

We must formulate the problem anew. Western Christians feel guilty about such things as Auschwitz, when, after cremating Jewish children, German officers received Holy Communion, as Christians, in a nearby Church. In Russia, the situation is quite different. Here, many of the victims were Christians and many of the executioners, especially after the Revolution, were Jews. Herein lies an ideological source of hatred, of anti-Semitism. But conservative Russian Orthodox survivors of communist terror and those who share with them the burden of their past seek for the inner peace. They do not want to hate. Still it seems that history itself imposes upon them the necessity to hate, as if God sent the Jews to live in Russia to show His Christian people that they lack something.

But what is it that they lack? History would seem to doom them to hatred. But their commitment as Christians calls them to love - not only to love for their fellow Christians but also to love for their enemies. And that means to love for the Jews.

It is not enough to resolve the Jewish problem negatively only - to come to not hating Jews. This is to take the road of history, a road which finally brings Russian Christianity to hatred. This is the road which leads to the idea of the (violent) expulsion of the Jews. It is itself a product of hatred. And the case of Poland shows that expulsion of Jews does not terminate anti-Semitism.

So, we liberal Christians, may need to say our conservative brothers and sisters the following: "In our search for justice and freedom we, liberals, often forget to seek sanctity and inner peace as well. We admire you for seeking them. But it is a reality of our sinful world that someone always seek to present himself as our enemy. For you, Russians, this is the role of the Jew. But Jews are given to you by our Lord that you may learn to love your enemies. This is how he Himself lived, and died. And it is the only way for you to attain inner peace."

This does not mean, by the way, that Russian Christians must out of their own spiritual resources forgive the Jews. Human resources are absolutely inadequate for the task. Only in Christ through the Holy Spirit is forgiveness possible.

Passionless ("apatheia") wich is so dear to the heart of everybody who belongs to the Orthodox Tradition, is the goal of Christian ascetism, the gates of the contamplative life. But passionless and forgiveness are the same. It is true that only humility can bring us to that height. But those who call the Jews (or anybody else) the enemies of Christ, or the enemies of the Church, or the enemies of the Russian nation, teach to not forgive; those teachers are not only far from Christ themselves, but do not let others come to him. Those are the real "Judeoi" of today, whom Christ has convicted.


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