“Society of Labor Clergy:” Soviet Terror Against Christians

In this important and ground-breaking interview, Maria Igorevna Degtyareva, doctoral candidate, discusses her research into the so-called, “Society of Labor Clergy” (1937), which proves how the NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) falsified interrogation protocols, then condemned and sent to death innocent people, in many cases. At the same time, the fabricated case of the “Society of Labor Clergy” was used by the NKVD investigators as an exemplary one, and on its basis subsequent cases against believers were fashioned. Maria Igorevna here speaks with Inna Yurievna Fedotova, Head of the Research Department, of the Perm State Archive of Social and Political History.

Researching History

Inna Fedotova (IF): Maria Igorevna, what was it that appealed to you about this topic?

Maria Degtyareva (MD): It was just by coincidence. The area of my research interests was the history of French conservative thought. I did not imagine that I would have to engage in the study of repression. The topic came to me “as an inheritance” from my mother.

Inna Fedotova and Maria Degtyareva.

IF: Of course, we knew your mother Natalya Evgenievna. She was a long-time researcher in the collections of our archive.

MD: One of her church obedience was work in the diocesan Department of History and Canonization, connected with the collection of sources. She was a regular visitor at the Perm Archive. A person of exceptional efficiency, dedicated and reliable, her working day often ended at 10-11 pm. After returning from the archive, she would organize and put the prepared copies of documents into folders.

Mom didn’t write anything, but when selecting persons for consideration by the Commission on Canonization, she herself went through the fate of each person, every sentence, and she always regretted that so much would just sit in the repositories. It was she who drew my attention to the fact that repressions against the clergy and believers is a topic that has not been adequately studied, and yet the situation is conducive to that.

IF: What situation are you referring to?

MD: In the 1990s, a whole complex of sources was transferred from the departmental funds of law enforcement agencies for state storage at Perm Archive, including those of value to the Church – the cases of the victim priests.

All conditions for the work of historians were created in the archive, and we are grateful to the previous director of the Archive, Mikhail Gennadievich Nechaev, the current director, Sergei Vasilyevich Neganov – and all the specialists of Perm Archive for the fact that the documents were processed, put in order and placed in the electronic database. Fortunately, the archival collections are open, and restrictive measures function within the framework of Russian legislation.

IF: Was it difficult to change direction?

MD: I understood that addressing a new topic, in addition to studying the historical context of the Church, would also require some real physical effort. I was frightened by the volume of the material. I was sure that it was “not a woman’s job,” and I certainly could never do it.

IF: What made you change your attitude towards this topic?

MD: I was imperceptibly brought to it; there were no external “instructions” and “special blessings.” The well-known confessor, the elder of the Pskov-Pechersk MonasteryArchimandrite John (Krestyankin) – blessed me in due time to finish work on my doctoral dissertation.

It’s just that the course of life began to change significantly in Moscow in the early 2000s. It took time to figure it out, to understand something myself and, finally, to discover the new martyrs. A person close to me – a nun of the Novodevichy Convent – brought me to Butovo and introduced me to the history of the shooting range. After a few years, what used to be terra incognita for me became really important.

With the accession to the cathedra of Vladyka Methodius, systematic work began in our diocese to compile its history, the biographies of the confessors and new martyrs of Perm, and specialized publications for a wider audience began to appear. And, at some point, I felt that I was ready to take part in this as a historian. One of the cases requiring professional application was the Perm-Sverdlovsk case of 1937 of the so-called “Society of Labor Clergy.”

IF: How did you envision professional engagement in such work?

MD: Hagiography and source studies have somewhat different tasks. The compiler of biographies is focused on reproducing the spiritual image of the saint, the essence of his Christian service and exploit. And this is important. It is necessary to see and convey characterological traits, the “core” of the personality. However, the source text is often left behind the scenes as it were. The task of the historian is to analyze documents, correlate them with known facts and try to distinguish between the “desirable” and the real, genuine and counterfeit in the case materials.

IF: In other words, the methods of historical science allow you to reveal falsifications in the case materials?

MD: Yes, and this direction is promising.

Significance Of The Case Of “The Society Of Labor Clergy”

MD: Unfortunately, in our society, where are so opposite to what really happened, there is still the opinion that “there were no unjust sentences in the just Soviet state,” and “if they were arrested, it was not without reason.” Even in the context of the Church, I had to hear excuses from supporters of a repressive policy: “They were cutting the forest – chips fly….”

When arguments are not accepted because it is difficult to part with an idealized, familiar image of the past, documents are the only basis for dialogue. When working with them, the methods familiar to professional historians are used: comparative analysis, “cross-examination of sources,” philological analysis, paleography. When we were students, much attention was paid to the methodological aspects of work and auxiliary historical disciplines at the university.

Of course, one can confine oneself to a general statement: “The convicts were rehabilitated posthumously; numerous violations were found in the case materials by the commissions of the following years.” But places with traces of falsifications are the most impartial “witnesses.” I think this is one of the possible ways to change the attitude towards what happened in the 1920s and 1930s in our country. It is important that the rehabilitation of Christians who suffered during the years of repression should not seem to be just a consequence of the “swing of the political pendulum.”

IF: Please tell us about the features and significance of this case?

MD: The case of the Society of Labor Clergy is one of the central ones for our region, in the drama of the investigative processes of 1937–1938 – and one of the first planned “mass” cases of the period of the “great terror” in the country. Its “orbit” involved not only believers – representatives of the clergy, clergymen, children of priests – but also those who were completely outside the Church.

The “scenario framework,” developed by the Sverdlovsk and Perm investigators, put in the position of the accused people of various views, tastes and positions: believers and atheists, apolitical and partisan, “White” and “Red.”

Order No. 00447, Dated July 30, 1937

IF: How was that made possible?

MD: The case was connected with the bringing into force of the notorious operational order 00447 (of July 30, 1937) of the USSR People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs N.I. Yezhov, “On the operation to repress former kulaks, criminals and other anti-Soviet elements,” which was approved by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, that is, it turned out to be “built-into” an operation of concerted effort to combat all those that were “suspicious” in the country (or against the so-called “crusade front against Soviet power”), and implemented on the eve of the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, scheduled for December of that year. The purpose of the “operation” was to ensure “the smooth running of the elections.”

First of all, the fears of the leadership were caused by the results of the January population census, which showed that the authority of the clergy in society was still high, and the efforts of widespread atheistic propaganda were not bringing the expected results.

Despite the fact that in the Soviet Union there was officially an organization that was given the task of destroying the Church in several “five years” spans, like the “five-year plans” in the economy – the “League of Militant Atheists” led by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky. More than half of the country’s population noted in the census forms that they were believers.

The socio-political background was also unstable. The 1930s in the USSR were marked by famine, against the background of forced collectivization and numerous peasant protests against the coercion to join collective farms and the conditions created in them.

The reaction to the ruthlessness of the strategy of economic development, chosen by the Central Committee, and built on “pumping funds” from one sector of the economy to another, from agriculture to industry, through a deliberate disproportion in price policy – was criticism of the unbalanced policy by major economists and representatives of the party elite (A.V. Chayanov, N.I. Bukharin, A.I. Rykov, M.P. Tomskii).

In addition, the style of Stalin’s leadership caused a split in the highest party echelons. This is how several opposition groups replacing one another came about. An immediate consequence of this was the planned trials of the participants in the “opposition.”

Thus, the general situation filled the top management with doubts about the victorious outcome of the planned voting. In any case, in the case under consideration and similar cases in 1937, the justification for extending the investigation period, and, consequently, expanding the circle of those arrested, was the wording: “In view of the upcoming elections to the Supreme Soviet.”

Already in March 1937, in the Main Directorate of the NKVD of the USSR, a draft order was developed: “On the tasks of the third departments of state security directorates to combat sabotage in the national economy.” It listed the categories of the population that were suspicious of the Stalinist leadership, as it was said, as… possible “agents of foreign intelligence.” Among them – those who studied abroad, former prisoners of war, immigrants, former members of the CPSU, members of opposition parties, former “Whites” and kulaks.

And finally, on July 30, 1937, order 00447 was issued. The document indicated the categories to which the application of “special measures” was applied: former kulaks, “continuing to conduct active anti-Soviet subversive activities,” “escaping from camps and labor settlements,” “hiding from dispossession,” as well as “members of insurgent, fascist, terrorist and bandit formations who have served their sentences,” or escaped repression and “active anti-Soviet elements from the former kulaks.” The same list included “members of anti-Soviet parties”, former “Whites,” officials, “bandits and robbers,” sectarian activists, “churchmen,” and… criminals at large and held in camps.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church found themselves in such company (and with an indication of the place allotted to them in the sequence of “subversives”). This was the formal, “legal basis” for the renewal and toughening of the repressive policy towards the clergy and believers.

The listed groups were previously subdivided into “the most hostile” and “less active.” The first were subject to execution, the second – to camp imprisonment for a period of 8 to 10 years. In all regions of the country, special “quotas” or “limits” were introduced for the application of the order. From that moment, the investigation could be carried out in an expedited manner, and the determination of the fate of the accused, including in absentia, became the prerogative of the regional, republican and regional “troikas” of the NKVD.

Throughout 1937, social “purges” were carried out everywhere, but the chronological “framework” of the Perm process and its course indicate that representatives of the Sverdlovsk Directorate and the Perm department of the NKVD were among the “leaders of the great terror.”

“In The Bureau Of Partisans, In Secret”

IF: Please tell us about when and how the investigation began?

MD: Formally, several reasons were used to initiate the “investigation.” Firstly, the trial a little earlier, in January 1937, in Sverdlovsk. in the case of the underground “Trotskyist center,” was conducted as if it had a connection with Moscow. According to investigators, the members of the “Trotskyite-Zinovievist” organization were then people who held high party and administrative posts.

Since they managed to get confessions (how that was done is another matter) from the main accused – the chairman of the Sverdlovsk city executive committee, V.F. Golovin – the investigator Dmitriev was convinced that the new administrative center of the Urals was the place where the “underground anti-government rebel headquarters” was located, allegedly having its “branches” in different cities.

Thus, the old administrative center of the Urals – once the provincial one of Perm – was included in the “list of suspects” of the UNKVD of cities.
The fact is that during the Civil War, the old part of our city, unlike the working-class district – Motovilikha, rather actively supported the “Whites.” In Stalin’s own interpretation, in 1935, these events were called the “Perm catastrophe.”

And so. until the Great Patriotic War, when Perm became important as the center of the evacuation of the Union, and carried that service with dignity, Stalin could not “forgive” the city, and its status was “downgraded” to the value of a regional center, that is, Perm was in a “special category.”

And secondly, after Dmitriev gave a general directive to “intensify searches in the indicated direction,” at an operational meeting in Sverdlovsk, officers of the Perm NKVD put into circulation two “signals” [methods] that perfectly met the “job at hand.” Both signals, chronologically, diverged quite a lot from the release of order 0044, and it is obvious that at the beginning of 1937, having taken these signals out of “storage,” it was decided to use them “for reporting.”

The first method is obvious in the set of documents prepared by the sergeant of the Perm NKVD, Alikin. This was the surveillance case opened at the end of 1936 on a group of young believers, mainly from the clergy and children of priests who served in the Red Army, in the 9th battalion of the “rear guard” (in modern terms, in the “construction battalion”).

This group consisted of ten people and was portrayed as pretty ominous. Desperate “dissidents” in conscript service, as evidenced by the characteristics attached to them, not only “refused to read Soviet newspapers,” and “learned political studies only mediocrely,” but also “did not change their opinion on the religious issue:” they read the Gospel, “arranged collective readings of prayers,” observed fasts, “did not interrupt correspondence with the priest-fathers,” and during leave, without bothering to hide, visited Perm churches, and confessed and received communion. And all this – not only right in front of the rather apathetic bosses, but also while they were among their “consciously [politically] aware comrades.”

So, in 1937, after a “request” came from Sverdlovsk to take action on the report of investigator Dmitriev, an episode was recalled which led to the observation of this group. Sergeant Alikin reported that somehow in November 1935 (!), three “rear soldiers” entered the office of housing construction, of the plant named after Stalin, and one of them made an inspired speech, denouncing the mistakes of the leadership’s policy towards the peasantry and the difficult conditions of service in the Red Army for believers.

IF: And the second “signal” [method]?

MD: The second was the “classic” denunciation from a certain citizen named Borisova, who entered the NKVD also in 1935 (!). This was the denunciation at the workplace, by a neighbor in the apartment – of a watchmaker named Nechayev, who, as would be established by a KGB check in 1956, at that time was “listed as a Stakhanovite.”

The denunciation informed the NKVD that the Nechayevs were active parishioners and benefactors of Perm churches, maintained acquaintance with the clergy and bishops. The denunciation expressed “concern” about the political preferences of the watchmaker, who, according to the denouncer, was a “monarchist,” who had fled during the Civil War with the “Whites,” and after returning “sat for gold” [practiced parasitism, likely, “currency hoarding”].

The text of the statement was written with multiple errors, had a peculiar address (“In the partisan bureau, in secret”), and ended with an equally colorful stroke: “What I have signed, Borisova.” Apparently, the curiosity of the “style” of the informant was the reason that at the time of receipt the written denunciation was not taken seriously. However, in 1937, this absurdity was in demand as a “request from below,” to work out the hypothesis of action in Perm, allegedly “well-rooted since the Civil War, an underground anti-government network”.

The inability to establish the identity of the “applicant” and to question her on the merits of her charges did not interfere with the case, and on May 14, 58-year-old foreman Nechayev was arrested. Indeed, he had been on “trail” before – in 1924. he was arrested for a short period on suspicion of keeping currency.

NKVD: Alignment With Perm And Sverdlovsk

IF: Did I understand correctly that this case received some special status?

MD: You see, the investigation in Perm was opened in the spring of 1937, that is, it preceded the issuance of the July order 00447 (and it is possible that it was used to justify the “need” for such an issuance).

In any case, from the very beginning, the Nechayev case was really given the status of being “exemplary.” Perm and Sverdlovsk were then included in the number of “experimental sites,” where methods of building large-scale collective indictments were being worked out.

The falsified protocols of interrogations of those arrested in this case were sent to the Main Directorate of the NKVD, in Moscow, where they were replicated and sent to peripheral organizations as a methodological guide, a kind of “tracing paper.” That is, dozens, and perhaps hundreds of NKVD divisions throughout the country checked their work against them.

As documents of internal investigations of the NKVD in 1939 show, at operational meetings of the special department in Perm and Sverdlovsk in 1937, these protocols, already sent back from the cental headquarters with the very encouraging responses, were presented to the entire officer corps with instructions to “follow them,” and “the methods practiced in the investigation should be widely applied in practice.”

IF: Did the Perm investigators develop any special methodological processes for such work in 1937?

MD: Their “method” was distinguished not only by the abundance and variety of violations, but by a wide range of manipulations. Some of the mistakes, apparently, were caused by the usual “slovenliness,” unprofessionalism. But for the most part, these are quite deliberate falsifications. Before the algorithm, they worked out the so-called “pyramidal scheme” of building collective indictments, with the possibility of replacing “variables” according to the what was required and needed.

IF: Could you give a few examples of false information in the case materials?

MD: Yes of course. The surviving documents of the observation file of Sergeant Alikin indicate that his “informant” – a certain rationer O-v – did not in fact name the Red Army soldier who in 1935 (if you trust Alikin’s report) very carelessly “got into a conversation” in the office of the Stalin plant. On the margins of the sergeant’s report there was an inscription made in red pencil by the hand of one of the leaders: “Who? Gulyaev?”

So, the method and time of verification of this “fact” was not reflected in the case materials; that is, no additional testimony appeared regarding this crucial question of Georgy Gulyaev and his comrades, no confrontations were held. But just below, on the same page, was attached a typescript comment: “The materials available in the Perm NKVD established that in the office of Housing Construction Head, Stalin plant, on November, 1935, there came G.N. GULYAEV. with two of his comrades and carried out agitation in the presence of the rationing manager of the Stalin plant – O. Va. and others.”

Thus, the sanction of the Military Prosecutor Ural region, dated March 17, 1937, for the arrest of Georgy Gulyaev was given without any documented grounds for identifying him with the “author” of the speech which was pretty “cold” by that time.

Soon Sergeant Alikin and his handler – the head of the Perm NKVD civil defense department, captain of state security, Losos – received a very informative answer on the letterhead of the military prosecutor’s office, which contained not a “hint,” but a direct statement: “We forward the certificate and the decision with the sanction of the Prosecutor of URALVO for the arrest of GN GULYAEV. In the materials sent, the criminal crime figure was completely insufficiently identified with the activities of LEBEDEV, KOZHEVNIKOV, YUFEROV and CHUKHLOV. Therefore their arrest by the Prosecutor of the Ural region has not yet been authorized. The investigation in the case of GULYAEV needs to uncover the organized activities of both GULYAEV and LEBEDEV, KOZHEVNIKOV, YUFEROV and CHUKHLOV, and then again raise the question of their arrest. Inform about the progress of the investigation.”

In other words, there was no question of any presumption of innocence in the accompanying document. The question was not whether the “rear militia” believers were really guilty, but that their conversations and “old habits” (that is, religious views) should receive convincing political “framing.” Thus, the newly opened “case of Georgy Gulyaev” became the “cornerstone” in the foundation of the future collective indictments.

The Target Was Christians

IF: That is, it was “criminal” in the eyes of the investigators that these young people were believers?

MD: Yes exactly. The anti-Christian motive was the “core” of the Permian part of the process. And this is not new, the reason for delivering Christ into the hands of the Romans was also once the motive for “political security:” “He who calls himself King is not a friend of Caesar” (John 19:12). Christ was handed over to the pagans as a “political criminal.” From the point of view of the officers of the Perm NKVD, the group of believers in the Red Army was influenced by the “class-alien element” – the clergy, which meant it was “potentially dangerous.”

An important circumstance was the fact that the arrested “rear soldiers” attended services in Perm churches, and this opened up a new wide field of activity for the operatives – the possibility of a “total cleanup” of those who remained at large (after a large “wave” of arrests in the early 1930s under the pretext of a struggle against “opponents of continuous collectivization”) – namely, representatives of the Perm and Sverdlovsk clergy.

And one more example of the “groundlessness” of preparing the accusation, this time – in relation to the clergy. A striking argument in favor of the version of the existence of an “underground anti-government organization” in Perm under the leadership of the clergy was that when the priest of the Zaborsk Church, Father Mikhail Korovin, was arrested, an impressive list of Tikhonov-oriented believers compiled by his hand was seized. The title of the sheet indicated that members of the local parish community were included. The list included several hundred people. So, during the investigation, this document was presented as “material evidence of recruitment into an underground organization.”

Meanwhile, the investigation stubbornly did not notice either that compiling a list of such appointments in the form of a chart, indicating the personal data and actual addresses of parishioners and their relatives, would be complete absurdity from the point of view of “political conspiracy,” nor that the list included mainly elderly and very elderly people. Most were over 50 years old, the oldest of them were 80–85 years old.

At the same time, the investigation did not have any other “material evidence,” such as, leaflets, letters of a political nature, agent instructions prepared for transferring data to “foreign intelligence,” ammunition depots. Nothing but this list.

IF: Why did the investigators choose Georgy Gulyaev?

MD: It is impossible to answer this question unequivocally. In those conditions, one careless word, bravado of dissent, someone’s personal hostility was enough.

But a more serious circumstance cannot be ruled out. Before being drafted into the Red Army, Georgy Gulyaev served as subdeacon to Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov), and who at that time was in the Renovationist schism. During the service, Georgy kept up a correspondence with his bishop. The rupture of Vladyka Dositheus with the “Renovationists” and his return to the bosom of the canonical church structure could be the factor that put him and the people in his circle under attack from the NKVD, which was closely patronizing the Renovationist organizations.

IF: Please explain what the “pyramid scheme” of building a case means?

MD: This is a scheme in which, with the maximum expansion of the “connections” of the accused, the alleged “general leadership” is trying to “reduce to a cone,” closing it on “unwanted” figures – as a rule, very significant.

The arrest of Georgy Gulyaev seemed “promising,” since he led a group of investigators not only to the “rear militia” and Perm priests, but also to the episcopate … And in case of “success” – to the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The investigation was extended several times. The first order to extend it was issued on May 17, 1937, the next two on July 19, 1937. But even when the main part of the case was completed, many people were involved in the process of “additional investigation,” like a “funnel”- several bishops of the canonical subordination and dozens of priests and clergy from “schisms.” In the course of an internal inspection of the KGB in 1956, it is established that in this case and “in conjunction with it” in 1937-1938. more than 50 clergymen were repressed.

At the same time, in Perm and in the Urals, an “inquiry” was carried out against people not connected with the Church – from the leaders of large enterprises and Soviet organizations to ordinary employees, workers and collective farmers. Many of them were charged with having links with the “Society of Labor Clergy,” the “Ural Rebel Headquarters,” or the “Religious and Political Center” (by the way, Muslims from the village of Koyanovo were also be taken up in the general “stream,” and charged with… “connection with Japanese intelligence”).

IF: What, in your opinion, were the motives of the investigators?

MD: First of all, they acted in pursuance of the March and July 1937 orders, that is, they carried out a “purge” according to a social and ideological principle, using denunciations of “political unreliability.” In some cases (this concerns the arrests of officers) personal motives are not excluded, for example, settling scores.

The question whether the investigators themselves considered their version to be really plausible remains open to me. Judging by the recollections of the participants in the events about the “installations” at the internal meetings of the NKVD in 1937, the initiators of this case were very much “part of the makeup.”

Having at their disposal some fragmentary data, they enthusiastically “completed” the picture, inventing not only “missing links,” but also entire “blocks.” The main motive was the desire to satisfy the expectation, to “prove oneself,” that is, career considerations. So, some investigators, for example, Radygin and Zyryanov, according to an internal inspection of the NKVD in 1939, “freely handed” 10 to 15 “confession” protocols per day!

And yet there was further responsibility – to those who drew up and signed orders for large-scale “cleansing,” giving scope to the imagination of local performers.

IF: What were those arrested accused of? What was the version of the investigation, and who developed it?

MD: In the spring of 1937, the “rear soldiers” were suspected of intending to create an organization modeled on the Petrograd Orthodox brotherhoods. Indeed, such a “network” had long operated under the guise of communal apartments. Its participants worked, like all citizens of the USSR, but at the same time lived a liturgical life, that is, they confessed, received communion, and, in addition, read the Gospel and Orthodox literature, provided assistance to those who were subjected to repression or those who had lost loved ones.

It was difficult to identify such communities. In Leningrad, they were only partially disclosed by the OGPU-NKVD. The fact that it was the example of the “Petrograd brotherhoods” that inspired these young people to imitate is indicated by the protocol of the interrogation of the Red Army soldier, Ivan Kozhevnikov.

According to the texts of the first protocols of interrogations of Georgy Gulyaev and his friend Nikolai Lebedev, the young people came up with the name “Society of Labor Clergy” for their future organization. But during internal investigation by the NKVD in 1939, some of the investigators began to falsify the protocols immediately – and so we cannot rely on their texts, from the first protocol onwards.

It is possible that someone in the “center” was worried about the possibility of repeating the “Petrograd” experience in the provinces, and this whole story from beginning to end, and the very name of the “organization” were a figment of the imagination of the “specialists.” In any case, the documents of several internal investigations of the NKVD-KGB contain direct indications that the leaders of the Perm NKVD brigade themselves invented the name for the fictional organization.

From the moment of their arrest, this case did not bode well for the accused, since the confession of “religiosity” immediately received an unambiguous interpretation – it was equated with “anti-Soviet activity.” This was the substantial part of the “confessions” of Georgy Gulyaev, Nikolai Lebedev, Ivan Kozhevnikov and their comrades.

The situation was aggravated when investigators added to this a “note of relevance” in accordance with the upcoming elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. According to their version, the Perm priests, Savva Beklemyshev, Mikhail Korovin and others, arrested after the “rear militia,” were supposedly giving “instructions” to their parishioners, including those from the 9th battalion, to use completely legal (!) Conditions in accordance the Constitution of 1936 and “promoting believers in government.” And this was regarded as a “political action.”

At other times, the coming together of young believers (and even their possible discussion of the creation of a Christian community, which cannot be ruled out) could entail administrative measures, but if the case had gone to court, the terms of imprisonment would not have exceeded 5 to 7 years. In 1937, Yezhov’s “instructions” were decisive for the process.

This case acquired greater scope thanks to the leadership of the Sverdlovsk investigator, Dmitriev, and the reciprocal “creative impulse” of the representative of the Perm department of the NKVD – investigator Mozzherin. They can equally claim “authorship” in the development of a general “scenario” and are most directly related to falsifications.

Mozzherin and Dmitriev tried to give the case “conceptual completeness;” and thus the investigation simultaneously had two versions about the serious “ideological leadership of the identified organization.” The first was associated with the name of the Gomel Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov), who left the “Renovationists,” and the second – with the name of the “Metropolitan of Sverdlovsk,” Mikhail Trubin, who remained one of them.

If the investigation presented Archbishop Dositheus in the role of a “resident of Polish intelligence,” then Mikhail Trubin – as “the main ideologist of the anti-Soviet crusade front” in the Urals, allegedly uniting around himself during his visits to Perm, a whole group of bishops of completely different subordination. In this group, there were two canonical ordinations: Metropolitan Peter of Sverdlovsk (Savelyev) and Archbishop of Perm Gleb (Pokrovsky), as well as Metropolitan Peter Kholmogortsev, who was in the schism.

In addition, the Renovationist “Metropolitan” Mikhail Trubin was “identified” by the officers of the Perm NKVD as being “responsible for communication” between the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the “Renovationists” and “Grigorievites” who did not recognize it… with the representatives of the AUCPB – the leaders of the “Trotskyist center.” He allegedly provided a “connection” with the former “White Guards,” the leaders of the Osoaviakhim and officers in the ranks of the Red Army, who were “charged with the duty” to provide the “terrorist insurgent organization” with weapons and ammunition.

“Terrorism”, “Espionage”, “Propaganda Of The Fascist Idea”

IF Even for a person who is not very dedicated to the history of the Church, it all looks strange. What were these assumptions based on?

MD: These are not just assumptions. In 1937, they was brought against many people as an official charge: “anti-Soviet and sabotage activities,” “propaganda of the fascist idea,” “terrorism,” “preparation of an armed uprising,” and “espionage” – “transfer of secret information about the products of Perm defense enterprises to the residents of foreign intelligence services” (Polish and Japanese).

I have already noted that the information received by Mozzherin’s group (about the periodic visits to Perm of the Renovationist “Metropolitan” Mikhail Trubin and about his meetings with the participants in the schism, as well as about the private correspondence of the “rear militia,” Georgy Gulyaev, with the Archbishop of the now Moscow Patriarchate Dosithei (Stepanov) were completely inadequate for this kind of construction.

Investigators from the Mozzherin Brigade were in a rush, and Dmitriev’s patronage seemed to ensure their privacy. And they easily attributed to Christians violation of the commandments of the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, which forbid murder (Ex. 20, 13), violence (Matt. 7, 12; Rom. 12, 21), as well as – the covenants of Christ and the apostles about obedience to the authorities (Rom. 13, 1). Nor did they look back at the fact that in the history of the Orthodox Russian Church there was no case of “espionage” of canonical hierarchs of national origin in favor of foreign (moreover, Catholic) states.

Specifics Of The “Basis Of Evidence”

As for the “basis of evidence” of the charge, traces of rough work are visible in the case file, literally at every step. For example, as “evidence of the connection between Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov) and representatives of foreign intelligence services,” it was indicated that in Gomel he allegedly “maintained contact through agents” with the priest of the local church, Konstantin Andrekus, and also “was familiar with a certain archimandrite, who left for Palestine.” This, according to the interrogation protocols, was “testified” by Georgy Gulyaev. It was as if the bishop himself had “confirmed” all this information under pressure from the investigation.

However, the identity of the mysterious archimandrite was not established. As for the Gomel acquaintances of Archbishop Dositheus, who were indicated as “intermediaries” in his relations with Priest Konstantin Andrekus, some of these people, according to internal NKVD and KGB investigations in 1939 and 1956, were not identified and were not interrogated, and some, though indeed arrested in Gomel, did not testify against him.

The part about “active interaction” of the canonical church structure with representatives of the Renovationist and Gregorian schisms looks no more convincing either. If the “renovationists” who were losing their authority in the pre-war period sometimes sought communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, its position remained unchanged: unification according to the principle of political parties is impossible, it is only possible to unite through repentance to the canonical Church by the participants of schismatic movements who voluntarily severed ties with it.

It should be noted that the materials of the 1956 KGB inspection in this case contain testimonies of several witnesses that in Perm “…the renovationists had no relation to the Old Churchmen, they had no service separately;” and “all church issues were resolved separately by the Renovationists and Old Churchmen.”

And the accusation against the priest of the Zaborsk Church, Mikhail Korovin, who not only allegedly “organized a terrorist and sabotage group in his parish,” but also “became a member of the resident network,” digging up and transmitting information about defense products of Perm factories to Poland. In the “testimony” against Father Mikhail, one can find both the numbers of important sectors and the production rates at one of the closed Perm enterprises. But only an internal investigation of the NKVD in 1939 made it possible to establish that all this information was entered into the protocols of interrogation of “witnesses” personally by one of Mozzherin’s subordinates – the operative Ponosov.

Little by little, Mozzherin and Dmitriev got so into the “game” that they themselves could not bring everything to make sense. The “identified organization” turned out to be “about nine heads” (that is, 9 people were officially held in this case the status of “leader”), and this is not counting the priest Konstantin Andrekus, the “nameless” archimandrite who left for Palestine, and a group of convict Sverdlovsk party members.

At the same time, the two main versions about the “general management of the organization” were never brought to any logical agreement. That is why in 1956, during the next internal check of the case materials, KGB investigators literally knocked themselves off their feet in vain attempts to understand the system of “subordination” and establish which of the arrested, when and by whom was “recruited?”

Philological “Test”

IF: At the beginning of the conversation, you mentioned that it is possible to reveal falsifications in case materials using the methods of philological analysis…

MD: Indeed, lexemes – typical stylistic turns, peculiar speech “markers” – allow us to see in the interrogation protocols traces of the active participation of the “clerks” of the NKVD, unfamiliar with church vocabulary. These include ideological expressions, cliché phrases from the official press and propaganda, samples of the clerical style of those years. Obviously, a priest and a layman in the Church (and the “rear soldiers” were mostly children of priests and clergymen) could not speak such a language. If the protocols were not drawn up on record, but in the absence of the accused, the “creative gymnastics” of the sergeants and lieutenants of the NKVD, who pored over the documents, are especially noticeable. I will give a few examples as an illustration.

So, Georgy Gulyaev in one case allegedly showed that his comrade – Nikolai Lebedev (a pupil of the Makaryevsky monastery) – was going to “develop religious activities after being fired from the battalion.” In another – that “Stepanov (his bishop), on holidays often, visited the former Tsar Romanov, Nicholas,” and often conducted “politival conversations with his subdeacon,” and the priest Savva Beklemyshev “gave them instructions” to promote their delegates to the authorities in order to “pursue their counter-revolutionary agenda through these delegates.” At the same time, the “rear militia” themselves allegedly planned to contact “the leaders of the religious world in Moscow.”

Ivan Kozhevnikov, according to the text of the interrogation protocol, simply called the Perm priests, whom he knew well, “ministers of a religious cult.”

Then, there is “the praise of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other Trotskyists and Zinovievites, as real representatives of the people, fearless people and revolutionaries,” in the minutes drawn up on behalf of Christians, which were given the meaning of an independent streak in the activities of the “Society of Labor Clergy.” The work of “praising the revolutionaries” was to be carried out by the Red Army and “local priests among the civilian population.”

And there are a lot of such “markers” in the materials of this case. For greater effect, imagine someone from the current official speakers of the Patriarchate using such an expressive speech “palette.”

Results Of The “Investigation:” 37 Sentenced To Death

IF: Nevertheless, those convicted in this case received sentences of “capital punishment.” How would you comment on the discrepancy between the number of sentences and the extracts from the acts of execution [records of executions carried out]?

MD: Indeed, on August 25, 1937, by the decision of the Troika at the NKVD of the Sverdlovsk Region, orders were issued to shoot 37 people.

At the end of the 5th volume of this case, extracts from the acts on the enforcement of sentences are kept in a separate envelope. They indicate the date of the execution – August 31, 1937 – and the time – 24.00. Extracts 35. Among them there is no extract from the act of execution of Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov). There is also no extract from execution of Deacon Mikhail Bannov, who belonged to the canonical Church structure.

If documents clearly testify about Father Mikhail – he was tortured and admitted to the Perm psychiatric hospital with traces of numerous traumas, from which he died on September 5, 1937, then in the same documents the situation is somewhat more complicated for Archbishop Dositheus (in the case file he goes under his own worldly name, as Stepanov Gabriel Grigorievich).

The official response to the request of his relatives indicates that he, while serving his sentence, “died of angina on December 15, 1941.” In fact, on March 31, 1956, according to the investigation of the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Ural region, the fact of the absence of an extract from the act of execution was entered into the “register” of 12 issues requiring clarification in the 1937 investigation.

Unfortunately, checking did not resolve the issues. In the 6th volume of the case, among the documents on the investigation of abuses during the 1937 trial, there is a document under the heading:

“Heard: Stepanov Gavriil Grigorievich, born in 1883, from Khodyasheva former Laishevsky district.
Resolved: to shoot. The verdict was executed on 27. VIII. 1937-“

And the signature:

“Correct – ‟23. VI. 1956, Sverdlovsk.”

According to this document, Archbishop Dosifei (Stepanov), for some reason, “was shot” 4 days before the rest of the participants in the case. The date indicated at the end of the document – June 23, 1956 – indicates that this is, indeed, not the original extract from the act. This text combines the content of two documents – the verdict of the “Troika” of the NKVD in 1937 and the missing extract from the act of execution. Thus, the question of why the original extract from the act of execution is missing in the case remains unresolved.

When the KGB of the Sverdlovsk region received a request to verify the data on Stepanov Gavriil Grigorievich for the operational accounting of the First Special Department of the Police Commission of Leningrad (dated June 21, 1957) at the request of his relatives, a tiny form of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Sverdlovsk region appeared in the documents, in the Volume, “Correspondence,” handwritten:

“25 / VIII – 37 convicted tr. UNKVD of the Sverdlovsk region. <…> VMN. There is no information about the execution. Def. VTR Ural VO from 30 / X – 56 solution tr. from 25 / VIII – 37 canceled for lack of corpus delicti. Arch s / d no. c / d in Moscow. sod. in the Perm prison. 12 / VII 57.”

And in the “Conclusion of this issue of August 6, 1957,” it says:

“… was arrested on August 25, 1937 under Art. — of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR by the Troika of the NKVD of the Sverdlovsk region, sentenced to a military service. ‘On August 26, 1937, the sentence was executed October 30, 1956 by ruling No. 1475 of the Military Tribunal Ural region.’”

Taking into account the discrepancy in the dates indicated and the general inconsistency of the information, it is premature to give any comments in this case.

The featured image shows, “Russian priests conveyed to judgment” by Ivan Alekseevich Vladimirov, painted in 1922.

Christmas Blues

No Eric Morecambe to watch on the box,
No muscatels and no liqueur chocs,
No brandy butter (it makes me feel ill)
No chirping robin on my window sill.
No invitations to go out for sherry,
No inclinations to feel at all merry,
No need to dress up, got nowhere to go,
No-one to kiss me, got no mistletoe.
No goodwill or cheer will I share with the poor
And no pesky carols are sung at my door.
No shepherds, no mangers, no angels that sing,
No Baby Jesus, no Elvis, nor Bing.
Too numb to snarl at Her Majesty’s smile,
Too dumb to polish one’s literary style.

The image shows, “Mechanical Aid for Christmas,” by William Heath Robinson.

In The Green Reich, We Are All Jews

This is a book that everyone must read. It is brief, to the point – and utterly frightening, for it lays out the end-game of environmentalism, which will affect us all, if we blindly keep empowering it, as we are now so gleefully doing.

People often wonder how Hitler was allowed to come to power and carry out his plan? Just look at the way you vote, the way you think about humans and this planet, why you want to go green, what you demand from politicians you elect when it comes to the environment.

If you are honest about the answers that you arrive at, you will understand how evil becomes institutionalized and therefore massively murderous. Hitler famously said that he had planted the seed and no one could now predict how and when it would grow back again.

Environmentalism is that Hitlerian seed, sprouted and flourishing, and which is now so eagerly being nurtured to maturity by people who naively believe that they are doing the right thing. And once the process of evil is locked into place, its mechanisms always follow through to their bitter end. Such is the dire warning of this timely book.

The author, Drieu Godefridi, a Belgian philosopher, writes in the grand tradition of Émile Zola’s open letter, J’Accuse! Like Zola, he has shoved before our complaisance a defiant open-letter to humanity, in which he warns against the death-cult that is environmentalism, whose adherents now inhabit the highest political, social and cultural offices and positions, and who are widely regarded as the vanguards of morality. Huge money fuels environmentalism, because it is a source of profit and therefore an industry. Thus, celebrities tout it, experts hector us with its “facts,” politicians tax us over it and legalize it – and it is now a towering Moloch, to which all must bend knee, and into whose maw we must toss our humanity.

Godefridi’s original, French title was posed as a question, L’écologisme, nouveau totalitarisme? (“Ecologism, the New Totalitarianism?”). The answer to which is a ringing, “Yes!”

But this is totalitarianism in the true sense of the word, not in the muddled way that this term is commonly tossed about in popular parlance. Ecologism (or environmentalism, as is more usual in English) seeks to take total control of all aspects of human life, even to the extent of determining how many people may actually live on this planet.

Such totalizing means that human life itself can no longer be possible outside the parameters established and policed by environmentalism. Thus, the various curtailments of human liberty that we now agree as acceptable – hate speech laws, rights legislation, indigenization, the green initiative, fewer births and declining populations – these are all slow entrenchments of totalitarianism, where humanity is purely defined by the logic of environmentalism. But notice that this creed is always clothed in the appearance of morality, as being the “right” thing to do. And people for the most part love such clothing, because there yet remains a deep hunger for morality, despite avowed atheism. As such, environmentalism is the new religion whose tenets Goidefridi thoroughly explores.

The English translation of the book, recently published, bears a more sinister title, The Green Reich. The question in the original has now been transformed into a cogent warning, wherein the future is hyper-Hitlerian, in which all of humanity will be held in the same contempt as the Jews in Hitlerian ideology. And Godefridi makes it very clear that the grim program of the environmentalists is far more comprehensive and thorough than anything Hitler could imagine. But the aim is similar; only the labels have shifted – to return purity to nature, to the planet, through the destruction of verminous humanity.

Two common presuppositions that undergird all aspects of environmentalism are that the planet is over-populated, and therefore, there is overconsumption of resources. This results in harmful waste, especially CO2.

These Neo-Malthusian assumptions then proceed to fashion “solutions,” which must be implanted, in order to combat the glut of humanity. Thus, the population of the planet must first be reduced. This will greatly lessen the consumption of natural resources, which will eliminate C02. Therefore, very few humans, and perhaps none, should live on this planet, in order for earth to continue to live on into the future. Nature now is far more important than humanity, because humanity is seen as inherently unnatural, entirely alien to the planet. In effect, mankind is a terrible disease, from which earth needs to be cured.

Stark choices always construct the most powerful narratives, because they demand totalizing solutions. Thus, the deeply ingrained Christian habit of the Western world, of trying to be moral in action and thought, is weaponized against humanity, by making morality an efficient tool to achieve the goals of environmentalism. Humanity has gravely sinned against the planet and now must sacrifice itself in order to give an afterlife to mother earth. Here is the devastating consequence of Western Godlessness – sublimating redemption into self-annihilation. Thus, humanicide is the cardinal virtue of environmentalism. Since humanity is the greatest threat to the planet, humanity itself must find ways to limit its own potential to do harm. And the best limitation is self-elimination.

The book opens with a rather chilling dialogue, set in a stark future, between a father and son, after the “Great Stop” (i.e., the world, as we know it, has been stopped). It is a zero-carbon dystopia, where humanity proudly wears the badge of “Accursed Parasite,” and therefore the human population is slowly but surely being wound down. A nation of sixty-million now has 24 million – and counting.

Each human is allowed monthly CO2 rations, which means there is no travel, you must eat what is allowed, and live in prescribed accommodations. There are no schools or labor of any kind – what would be the point, since there is no world to build, let alone a future generation to prepare to inhabit it. Rather, the world is only there to be unbuilt. And the earth is worshipped as the goddess, Gaia, the all-wise mother, in whose praise the impieties of historical “Terracide” are remembered as piety, from a time when humanity was barbaric and given to robbing the earth of its wealth. Such is the new “holy” wisdom. Each human properly belongs to the “Official Altruistic Death Program” that encourages people to voluntarily “humusate” themselves (that is, made into humus, which is so very useful to Gaia). When the last human is thus composted, the planet finally will be able to recover from the destructive human presence and rejuvenate itself. Gaia utterly cleansed of humanity is the highest virtue.

The points in this dialogue are based on actual studies put out by environmentalist “scientists;” none of it is fantasy; only the conceit of the dialogue is imagined. In effect, environmentalism is an anti-human death-cult. To that end, The Green Reich makes some very disturbing connections, which should really make people question the kinds of politics that they are advocating when they hand power over to ideologues who say they want to “save the planet.”

Godefridi points out that the environmentalists’ only talking point is the vilification of CO2. Few people (voters) understand what is at stake here. Humanity is carbon, as is all of life – the very act of breathing is the constant emission of CO2. All life needs carbon; earth is dead without it. So, phrases like “carbon-neutral,” “decarbonization” and “carbon-free” become code-words for a human-neutral, dehumanized, human-free planet.

Once these code-phrases become part of everyday thinking, humanicide itself becomes that much easier to implement, because people will actually want to have a future that will have zero CO2 emissions – that is, a future without human beings.

The first stage of this program involves the end to all fossil fuels, the burning of which is held to be the greatest crime, or catastrophe. Here “local” takes on a drastic meaning, for you will only be able to travel as far as your own two feet can take you, the combustion engine having been outlawed. Thus, no cars, ships, planes or trains. And once herded into state-designated locales, humans will be that much easier to cull. Do you see how much more efficient this is over Hitler’s ghettoization of the Jews? For example, there are some environmentalists who object to relief aid for famine-stricken areas – because they see famine as a boon to the life of the planet. The more humans that can be wiped out, the better.

A localized humanity will also have to eat differently, because animals raised for food emit far too much CO2. This means that entire industries and livelihoods will be dismantled and eliminated, and a vague sort of veganism will be mandated. Food will serve no purpose, because life will no longer have intrinsic worth, which means that it will become harder and harder to justify human life as a good in itself.

Next, given the elimination of entire food groups, human health will undergo a drastic shift for the worse, as nutrition and medicine will become pointless – the end-game being depopulation. Keeping a human alive for years on end will serve no purpose whatsoever, especially since said human needs and sheds CO2 constantly. But the dystopia is not over just yet.

As already stated, the fundamental premise of environmentalism is its anti-human agenda. Thus, the direst disaster that human beings bring upon this planet is to give birth to more human beings. Babies are the greatest enemies of environmentalists, as these little, new humans produce too much CO2, and besides are guarantors of the CO2 cycle grinding on well into the future. Therefore, births must be reduced, if not eliminated, where child-bearing will be a moral and legal crime. Ultimately, environmentalism is a purified form of antinatalism, purified because human life is seen as harmful in its very essence, not simply because of its actions, or its outcomes. It is no longer about too many humans – the very fact that human life itself exists is bad – because humanity is a parasite upon the earth.

Godefridi describes the environmentalist ethic as “physisist,” where the being of the planet is more valuable than human beings. This down-grading of humanity as the least desirable type of life-form means that nature is the preferred value which supersedes any and all value that humans have given to themselves. It is now the job of environmentalist “thinkers” to brainwash humans into disavowing their own value. The planet cannot be saved with humans on it.

Such self-loathing is delivered for consumption via the education-media-culture conglomerate, where “norm criticism” (that pusillanimous mental exercise that sees every form of Western thinking to be inherently evil and fit only for eradication) is the ideology de rigueur. Thus, a habit of self-loathing is now the proper way to “think,” which makes environmentalist propaganda a breeze to disseminate. Hatred now is the most valuable cultural currency.

There are also various offshoots of antinatalism that derive their moral justification from environmentalism, such as, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and the Church of Euthanasia, both of which, as is obvious, work to rid the planet of humans, though Godefridi does not get into these. Such movements may seem laughable and loony – but notice that they are offered no real opposition. People simply accept the lie that there should not be to many people living on this planet. And it really is an elaborate lie.

This is because no objection to antinatalism is now even possible in the West, given the normalization of abortion, and now transgenderism and pedophilia. Everybody has already bought into the premise that there are too many people on this planet, and therefore people really must have fewer and fewer babies.

No one questions this assumption, let alone seeks to destroy it. No one in power disputes it – because such politicians are put into office by voters who have already accepted the Malthusian presuppositions of environmentalism. So, who will truly have the last laugh?

Many are the “philosophers” who promote this anti-human agenda, such as, Peter Wessel Zapffe, Michel Onfray, Thomas Ligotti, Martin Neuffer, Jean-Christophe Lurenbaum, E.M. Cioran, David Benatar, Gunther Bleibohm, and Julio Cabrera. Their etiology is rooted in the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. What they advocate is now no longer unimaginable; it even passes for “scientific” truth – the Chinese one-child policy is the perfect example of what can be done with the right kind of “help” from the government. Again, the basic tenets of environmentalism are accepted without question by the voting public.

It would have given Godefridi’s argument fullness if he had spent some time examining the deep connections that environmentalism has with antinatalism. However, his book is more of a philosophical essay rather than a history of those ideas that are now preparing us for mass extinction.

And, as such, Godefridi has written a stirring and urgent call to action for all humanity. We need to abandon the differences that always play so prominent a role in how we manage this world. Instead, we need to unite and confront the true enemy at the gates – the death-cult that is far too quickly gathering momentum and adding devout and powerful believers into its folds. If we do not come together and defeat this pernicious ideology, we may not survive the looming Holocaust that environmentalism is now preparing for us. This is Godefridi’s urgent message.

Indeed, environmentalism has had great successes. It has convinced the majority of the public that what it claims is scientific truth. It has convinced governments to implement anti-carbon policies, which are anti-human policies. It has convinced people not to have children. It has convinced people to panic whenever the environment is mentioned (eco-anxiety) – high emotions are the best way to bring about quick change. It has convinced people to work against their own humanity, not only their own interests.

Only time will now tell how willingly people will allow themselves to be humusated, for humanity has largely accepted the Great Myth that it is the source of all problems that are said to face the planet – because it is the “Accursed Parasite.”

Perhaps it is for this reason that Godefridi chose a more ominous title for the English version of his book, wherein the “logic” of Hitlerism concerning Jews is now extended to include all of humanity. In the emerging Green Reich, we are all indeed Jews. And for us, who constitute the Accursed Parasite, there is only the Final Solution, the ultimate Holocaust, so that the noble planet may at last be purified of its most pernicious disease. It would seem that most humans have now been conditioned to agree, because they accept everything that environmentalism preaches as the gospel-truth. Therefore, most have already decided that people really do need to disappear.

All hail the Green Reich!

The photo shows, “Doomsday Abstraction,” by Zdzislaw Beksinski.

Where Is God’s Space?

Is there a God “out there”? God is “everywhere present and filling all things,” we say in our Orthodox prayers, but is He “out there?” For what it’s worth, I want to suggest for a moment that He is not. Largely, what I am describing is what takes place in our imagination – that is, what we picture when we pray and how we think of God as we seek Him.

There are, to my mind, two primary ways of thinking and speaking about God. One is “juridical,” the other “ontological.” Juridical relationships are largely how we imagine relationships in our modern culture. We think of ourselves as individuals with rights and obligations, with a series of demands made on us by others and on others by us. The rules and laws of our society govern these forces. For us – everybody and everything is “out there.” Thomas Hobbes, writing during the years of the English Civil War, described this as the “war of all against all.” He opined that only a strong government could manage such a state of nature.

“Ontological” means “having to do with being.” My relationship with myself is ontological. I am not “out there” from myself. In the modern imagination, that is where ontology stops. There is my existence (“in here”) and everything else and everyone else is “out there.” The war goes on.

This is a deeply inadequate view of life. Consider the relationship we have with our parents. We are, quite literally, “bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh.” We share a biological reality that is itself our existence. This can be extended towards other human beings. We never(!) exist alone. We can be “considered” alone for the purposes of study and the like, but we are no more alone than any of the cells within our bodies. We are social beings, but social in a manner that has to do with our very being and not merely with juridical arrangements.

The story of Joseph Stalin’s death is an interesting case in point. His exercise of brutal force on all those around him (including members of his own family) was a triumph of juridical ideology. As he lay dying (so the story goes), no one goes to his aid. There is too much fear. In the end, relationships that are shaped along purely juridical lines fail to give life. Indeed, they foster death.

St. Silouan said, “My brother is my life.” Nothing better states the ontological character of our existence. If my brother is my life, however, what is this space between us? An image that comes to mind is leaves on a tree. The life of every leaf depends on the life of every other leaf, just as all leaves depend on the life of the tree. The “space” between the leaves exists only in an imaginary manner. They are connected in a single life. The life of one is the life of all.

The space between is part of our modern imagination. The language of rights, for example, seeks to assert connectedness by juridical means, but only increases the emptiness of the space between. It is little wonder that this juridical imagery, when turned towards God, fails to nurture the soul. What we know of “out there” is always surrounded with uncertainty and anxiety. The juridical depends, ultimately, on violence. We can only “make” (“force”) things to bridge the empty space between us. And, of course, the space remains empty, regardless.

The modern paradigm, composed of juridical relationships, is the mother of loneliness, teaching our hearts that they exist in a fragmented world of temporary, negotiated cease-fires in an otherwise war-of-all-with-all. The language of rights, rooted primarily in older warrior cultures of Northern Europe, have given us our world of contracts, but never a world of true being.

God is not “out there” in the sense imagined by the juridical mind. At its very heart, “everywhere present and filling all things” means that there can be no “out there” with regard to God. God is only “here.” The Scriptures commonly describe God as dwelling “in us.” St. Paul describes our bodies as “temples of the Holy Spirit.” The language of Holy Baptism is not one of establishing a juridical relationship. It is the language of union, as is the language of the Holy Eucharist: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (John 6:56).

All of this can easily remain little more than an intellectual distinction. My conversations over the years, however, tell me that our juridical imagination dominates how we see God. We long for a relationship with One who is “out there,” while remaining oblivious to the God who dwells in us. In a recent conversation with a young convert who was struggling with a sense of God’s absence, I said, “But you breathe Him!”

Life (and existence in all forms) has been reduced to science-facts, objects or properties of objects. In truth, all things have their existence in God (not in themselves). We live in a creation that was brought into being out of nothing – it has no being in and of itself. From an Orthodox perspective, the existence of anything is proof of the existence of God.

We recognize, however, an even greater union within human beings. Of us alone, it is said that God breathed into us and we became living souls. To know God is also to know oneself – and, we may say, we cannot know ourselves apart from God, for there is no such self.

Of all the writers in Scripture, the one who says the most about problems of being, existence, connectedness and such, is St. John. And, for St. John, the key within all of these things is love. Consider this classic statement:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

“…if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” This is the language of mutual indwelling that has no place within a juridical model of relationships. God is love. Indeed, in this passage there is a consistent blending of action and being. God not only does (He loves us) but He is what He does (God is love).

This manner of being is the image according to which we are created. Love constitutes our true being. “My brother is my life.” This is more than a moral statement: it is a reflection on the very nature of true existence. For this reason, the “space between,” must be seen as a delusional artifact of the juridical imagination. We are created to exist as love – love of God, love of the other, love of self. When we withdraw from the love of God and the love of other, then the love of self collapses into a solipsistic loneliness. Sadly, we have frequently structured the modern world to accommodate and promote the lonely self. Our neighborhoods, our cities, our mode of transportation, our world of entertainment and consumption thrive on the lonely self and seek to fill the space between. However, you cannot fill emptiness with emptiness.

“Out there” is “in here.”

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “The Eternal Father,” by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), painted in 1646.

The Secular Quest For Eden

If you lurk around social media, particularly in conservative conversations, you will have undoubtedly seen something about recent statements on the part of a minor Democratic candidate for the Presidential nomination. I have no interest in the politics of the matter. However, the exchange goes to the heart of the modern impulse and serves as an excellent example of modernity’s dangers. The exchange:

Don Lemon: Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage?

O’Rourke: Yes. There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone, any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights, that denies the full civil rights, of everyone in America. So as president, we’re going to make that a priority. And we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.

“We are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.” Of course, removing the tax-exempt status of selected religious institutions will do nothing to “stop” them from believing (and practicing) what they believe – not if their faith is worth its salt. Indeed, the comment might have been an ill-thought attempt to simply say that “we will punish those who deny these ‘rights’.” Religious people have a long history of being punished for their beliefs and a dogged propensity to dig in their heels when persecuted.

Modernity has an impulse to power that is, apparently, hard to resist. In the drive to build a better world (regardless of its definition) there is a deeply hidden belief and assumption that the world doesn’t want to be a better place. Thus, if the world is left to its own inclinations, it will lapse into a worse place. Modern thought is of a piece with the American frontier experience. The world is a wilderness in which civilization can only carve out spaces. The jungle always threatens to return and must be kept at bay – by force, if necessary.

It was a very interesting way to treat the buffalo, the trees, and whole tribes of people. Of course, it was (and is) a philosophy of devastation. It is also the most patently dangerous set of notions ever to have stalked the planet.

Technology has always been part of human existence. The first sticks were technologically improved by sharpening and we have never stopped. Modernity is the first philosophy, however, to imagine technology as the means of remaking the planet. Indeed, in a manner of speaking, technology itself has become the new planet, inhabited by minds expressed as 1’s and 0’s. In a world of artificiality, artificial intelligence, or intelligence that has been rendered artificial, is “naturally” at home. Of course, it is less than human, as well.

Human life is a traditioned event: it is handed down to us. Everything about us, down to the most microscopic level of our existence, is given to us from those who have gone before. We do not start with a blank slate, nor is the world around us a blank slate. The madness of those who are driven by the modern impulse is their refusal to acknowledge and respect what has gone before. To be the smartest generation is an arrogance unknown until rather recently in human time. Evidence continues to mount that such arrogance ill-serves our civilization.

The Christian faith, when rightly taught, has no agenda for the improvement of the world. It has the commandments of Christ, which, when practiced, certainly treat the world with kindness, mercy, love, and generosity. However, the Church has no mandate to exercise the sort of control that would nurture the modern impulse. The moments in history in which Christianity and empire have seemed to coalesce, represent temptations that have betrayed the faith as often as they have seemed to foster it. The naïve sentiment that such times were an ideal, much less, a goal, are maintained only through a refusal to look carefully at the facts.

The commandments of Christ point us towards His Father as the model for our life. He is “kind to the evil and the ungrateful.” He “makes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” If “making the world a better place” were the job description for the Father, then we would justly wonder why He fails to do so.

The work of Divine Love is a “mystery hidden from all the ages.” It is a “treasure buried in a field,” and “like a lost coin.” The death and resurrection of Christ point towards a triumphant love of God that, ironically, succeeds in failure. The modern impulse is a script for Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor

who suggests that human beings can do a far better job than God with the needs of the world.

The philosophy of control and the management of creation is deeply alluring for the simple reason that it seems to be the sort of thing that should work well and to our benefit. Indeed, there are any number of examples where such control has done quite well. The sheer power of technology creates a siren call to wield it – like a ring of power. Beto’s words, however, reveal the corruption of such power. “We are going to stop those…” Such words are not restricted to either the Left or Right: they are the voice of modernity.

The great struggles of modernity, culture wars, and ideological battles, have all been fought on the field of management. Each election cycle comes as an effort to seize power, only to find that the battle continues. Ultimately, only if the opposition is thoroughly vanquished (“we will stop them”) will the battle appear to end. The great masters of this application of power understood that weakness and gentleness with regard to power are useless. Only the ruthless win in the game of modernity. Thus, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, and their ilk, all enjoyed their moments of apparent victory. And yet, each of them is dead and their projects returned to dust.

In a quote that should be etched in stone and memorized by all, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had lived in the belly of modernity’s darkest beast, offered his wise observation: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”

There is “one small bridgehead” in the heart of every human being. That is perhaps the most hopeful statement of the 20th century. In point of fact, most human beings are not engaged in world improvement, or stopping the “improvements” of their adversaries. Most people live, work, eat, love, and die, within the relatively small margins of their existence. If the masses rush to the barricades, the madness overwhelms the world for a time. And yet, it always subsides.

There are, I think, limits set within the world that tend to protect us from our best intentions. First, we live for a limited time. Second, people would rather work, eat, love, and die rather than stand at the barricades. I have said quite frequently that in an argument with gravity, gravity will almost always win. There is a “gravity” in the world that tends towards stability rather than chaos, or that tends towards chaos when the gravity is of an unnatural form.

The New Testament speaks of two mysteries. There is the “mystery hidden from all the ages” that surrounds God’s work of gathering all things together into Christ. There is also the “mystery of iniquity” that is not so well-defined. We are told, however, that it has its own time and its own limit. One small bridgehead of good always remains.

The nations rage and imagine themselves to be the arbiters of history. The mystery of the Kingdom continues to work its way within the bridgeheads of the heart. That the world still stands is testimony to the vanity of the nations and the steadfast commitment of God to our salvation.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows a painting by Zdzisław Beksiński.

Why Do We Live In Two World?

“You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just like you. You’re wrong. Dead wrong.” — They Live

We’re living in two worlds, you and I.

There’s the world we see (or are made to see) and then there’s the one we sense (and occasionally catch a glimpse of), the latter of which is a far cry from the propaganda-driven reality manufactured by the government and its corporate sponsors, including the media.

Indeed, what most Americans perceive as life in America—privileged, progressive and free—is a far cry from reality, where economic inequality is growing, real agendas and real power are buried beneath layers of Orwellian doublespeak and corporate obfuscation, and “freedom,” such that it is, is meted out in small, legalistic doses by militarized police armed to the teeth.

All is not as it seems.

This is the premise of John Carpenter’s film They Live, which was released more than 30 years ago, and remains unnervingly, chillingly appropriate for our modern age.

Best known for his horror film Halloween, which assumes that there is a form of evil so dark that it can’t be killed, Carpenter’s larger body of work is infused with a strong anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment, laconic bent that speaks to the filmmaker’s concerns about the unraveling of our society, particularly our government.

Time and again, Carpenter portrays the government working against its own citizens, a populace out of touch with reality, technology run amok, and a future more horrific than any horror film.

In Escape from New York, Carpenter presents fascism as the future of America.

In The Thing, a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic of the same name, Carpenter presupposes that increasingly we are all becoming dehumanized.

In Christine, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a demon-possessed car, technology exhibits a will and consciousness of its own and goes on a murderous rampage.

In In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter notes that evil grows when people lose “the ability to know the difference between reality and fantasy.”

And then there is Carpenter’s They Live, in which two migrant workers discover that the world is not as it seems. In fact, the population is actually being controlled and exploited by aliens working in partnership with an oligarchic elite. All the while, the populace—blissfully unaware of the real agenda at work in their lives—has been lulled into complacency, indoctrinated into compliance, bombarded with media distractions, and hypnotized by subliminal messages beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards and the like.

It is only when homeless drifter John Nada (played to the hilt by the late Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of doctored sunglasses—Hoffman lenses—that Nada sees what lies beneath the elite’s fabricated reality: control and bondage.

When viewed through the lens of truth, the elite, who appear human until stripped of their disguises, are shown to be monsters who have enslaved the citizenry in order to prey on them.

Likewise, billboards blare out hidden, authoritative messages: a bikini-clad woman in one ad is actually ordering viewers to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Magazine racks scream “CONSUME” and “OBEY.” A wad of dollar bills in a vendor’s hand proclaims, “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

When viewed through Nada’s Hoffman lenses, some of the other hidden messages being drummed into the people’s subconscious include: NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONFORM, SUBMIT, STAY ASLEEP, BUY, WATCH TV, NO IMAGINATION, and DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY.

This indoctrination campaign engineered by the elite in They Live is painfully familiar to anyone who has studied the decline of American culture.

A citizenry that does not think for themselves, obeys without question, is submissive, does not challenge authority, does not think outside the box, and is content to sit back and be entertained is a citizenry that can be easily controlled.

In this way, the subtle message of They Live provides an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the American police state, what philosopher Slavoj Žižek refers to as dictatorship in democracy, “the invisible order which sustains your apparent freedom.”

We’re being fed a series of carefully contrived fictions that bear no resemblance to reality.

The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shootersbombers).

They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being.

They want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats.

Most of all, they want us to continue to march in lockstep with their dictates.

Tune out the government’s attempts to distract, divert and befuddle us and tune into what’s really going on in this country, and you’ll run headlong into an unmistakable, unpalatable truth: the moneyed elite who rule us view us as expendable resources to be used, abused and discarded.

In fact, a study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern University concluded that the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens. Instead, the study found that the government is ruled by the rich and powerful, or the so-called “economic elite.” Moreover, the researchers concluded that policies enacted by this governmental elite nearly always favor special interests and lobbying groups.

In other words, we are being ruled by an oligarchy disguised as a democracy, and arguably on our way towards fascism—a form of government where private corporate interests rule, money calls the shots, and the people are seen as mere subjects to be controlled.

Not only do you have to be rich—or beholden to the rich—to get elected these days, but getting elected is also a surefire way to get rich. As CBS News reports, “Once in office, members of Congress enjoy access to connections and information they can use to increase their wealth, in ways that are unparalleled in the private sector. And once politicians leave office, their connections allow them to profit even further.”

In denouncing this blatant corruption of America’s political system, former president Jimmy Carter blasted the process of getting elected—to the White House, governor’s mansion, Congress or state legislatures—as “unlimited political bribery… a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over.”

Rest assured that when and if fascism finally takes hold in America, the basic forms of government will remain: Fascism will appear to be friendly. The legislators will be in session. There will be elections, and the news media will continue to cover the entertainment and political trivia. Consent of the governed, however, will no longer apply. Actual control will have finally passed to the oligarchic elite controlling the government behind the scenes.

Sound familiar?

Clearly, we are now ruled by an oligarchic elite of governmental and corporate interests.

We have moved into “corporatism” (favored by Benito Mussolini), which is a halfway point on the road to full-blown fascism.

Corporatism is where the few moneyed interests—not elected by the citizenry—rule over the many. In this way, it is not a democracy or a republican form of government, which is what the American government was established to be. It is a top-down form of government and one which has a terrifying history typified by the developments that occurred in totalitarian regimes of the past: police states where everyone is watched and spied on, rounded up for minor infractions by government agents, placed under police control, and placed in detention (a.k.a. concentration) camps.

For the final hammer of fascism to fall, it will require the most crucial ingredient: the majority of the people will have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary.

But why would a people agree to such an oppressive regime?

The answer is the same in every age: fear.

Fear makes people stupid.

Fear is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government. And, as most social commentators recognize, an atmosphere of fear permeates modern America: fear of terrorism, fear of the police, fear of our neighbors and so on.

The propaganda of fear has been used quite effectively by those who want to gain control, and it is working on the American populace.

Despite the fact that we are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack; 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane; 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack, and 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist , we have handed over control of our lives to government officials who treat us as a means to an end—the source of money and power.

As the Bearded Man in They Live warns, “They are dismantling the sleeping middle class. More and more people are becoming poor. We are their cattle. We are being bred for slavery.”

In this regard, we’re not so different from the oppressed citizens in They Live.

From the moment we are born until we die, we are indoctrinated into believing that those who rule us do it for our own good. The truth is far different.

Despite the truth staring us in the face, we have allowed ourselves to become fearful, controlled, pacified zombies.

We live in a perpetual state of denial, insulated from the painful reality of the American police state by wall-to-wall entertainment news and screen devices.

Most everyone keeps their heads down these days while staring zombie-like into an electronic screen, even when they’re crossing the street. Families sit in restaurants with their heads down, separated by their screen devices and unaware of what’s going on around them. Young people especially seem dominated by the devices they hold in their hands, oblivious to the fact that they can simply push a button, turn the thing off and walk away.

Indeed, there is no larger group activity than that connected with those who watch screens—that is, television, lap tops, personal computers, cell phones and so on. In fact, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month.

The question, of course, is what effect does such screen consumption have on one’s mind?

Psychologically it is similar to drug addiction. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed, and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV viewing with a lack of tension.” Research also shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet discontent and pacify disruptive people. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek.

Given that the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by six mega corporations, what we watch is now controlled by a corporate elite and, if that elite needs to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers, it can do so on a large scale.

If we’re watching, we’re not doing.

The powers-that-be understand this. As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:

We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

This brings me back to They Live, in which the real zombies are not the aliens calling the shots but the populace who are content to remain controlled.

When all is said and done, the world of They Live is not so different from our own. As one of the characters points out, “The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.”

We, too, are focused only on our own pleasures, prejudices and gains. Our poor and underclasses are also growing. Racial injustice is growing. Human rights is nearly nonexistent. We too have been lulled into a trance, indifferent to others.

Oblivious to what lies ahead, we’ve been manipulated into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith, things will work out. But that’s never been true of emerging regimes. And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too late.

So where does that leave us?

The characters who populate Carpenter’s films provide some insight.

Underneath their machismo, they still believe in the ideals of liberty and equal opportunity. Their beliefs place them in constant opposition with the law and the establishment, but they are nonetheless freedom fighters.

When, for example, John Nada destroys the alien hyno-transmitter in They Live, he restores hope by delivering America a wake-up call for freedom.

That’s the key right there: we need to wake up.

Stop allowing yourselves to be easily distracted by pointless political spectacles and pay attention to what’s really going on in the country.

The real battle for control of this nation is not being waged between Republicans and Democrats in the ballot box.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the real battle for control of this nation is taking place on roadsides, in police cars, on witness stands, over phone lines, in government offices, in corporate offices, in public school hallways and classrooms, in parks and city council meetings, and in towns and cities across this country.

The real battle between freedom and tyranny is taking place right in front of our eyes, if we would only open them.

All the trappings of the American police state are now in plain sight.

Wake up, America.

If they live (the tyrants, the oppressors, the invaders, the overlords), it is only because “we the people” sleep.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book is Battlefield America: The War on the American People.

The photo shows, “Hope” by George Frederic Watts, painted in 1886.

Fixing Jesus

In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, a ghostly theologian has found himself at the very edge of heaven, having taken a bus from hell. He is invited to remain, though doing so will require that he leave behind the imaginary world of the unreal (hell), and take on the difficult task of being truly what he was created to be.

The conversation has an interesting moment when he describes his latest project: thinking about what Jesus might have accomplished had he not died so tragically young. The proposition is comic, on its surface, a misunderstanding of Christ’s work so profound as to be silly – except that it’s not. “Fixing Jesus” is a very apt metaphor for the task that secularized Christianity has set for itself. And, that I might be clear, every Christian in the modern world is tempted, at some level, to secularize his faith. We all want to fix Jesus.

As much as Jesus is admired in our culture, even quoted on occasion, He remains a bothersome and uncooperative figure. He healed the sick, but seems to have left no lasting plan or program for their long-term care. I’ve even heard the question, “Why didn’t He heal everyone?” Indeed, there is a puzzlement that He still allows us to suffer disease, and is given credit for the deep injustice of sickness itself. Why do children get cancer and Nazis live to old age in the backwoods of Brazil?

Jesus clearly spoke of justice and care for the poor. But He established no guidelines for a just economy, nor did He challenge the economic systems of His time. Sometimes He seems to have avoided the topic on purpose.

Among the most useless pronouncements in our modern culture are the statements, “Jesus never said anything about…[fill in the blank].” This is always said by people for whom what Jesus actually said already carries no weight. “Jesus never said…” means that you may not say it either, except as an example of bigoted traditionalism.

The deep drive of modern secularism has been to tame Jesus, to make Him serve the purpose of the modern project in the construction of liberal democracy. That project requires that all creeds be held in private for the greater public good. Indeed, the modern project would suggest that all religions essentially say the same thing – that liberal democracy and its prosperous peace is the goal of human progress. Inasmuch as Jesus might have done something to contribute to that project, He is useful and good.

This is much more than a culture critique, for that which we can see in the culture has also been written deep within our hearts. It is a worldview we imbibe simply by being born in this time and in this place. That worldview generally sees the world as existing for its own sake (and our lives as existing for their own sake as well). Even when those things are married to some notion of a “greater good,” that good is generally about the world for its own sake. Those things that disrupt the public good are seen as troublesome (at the very least) and needing modification.

Of course, the public good is measured only by this world for its own sake, for its wealth and our general health. Happiness (that fleeting and ever-changing thing) is the common goal of us all.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Jesus is focused on some world beyond this one. He is decidedly here-and-now (Matt. 6:34). Indeed, secularism would not exist without Christianity having preceded it. For it is in the teaching of Christ that attention is drawn directly to that which is at hand rather than to life elsewhere. In Christ’s teaching, “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). What we see today as secularism is a heresy, a false reading and distortion of the Christian tradition. It is the world, in and of itself, as a substitute for the Kingdom of God. A world without depth or meaning apart from its own self.

Christ does not abolish the world (the one that we call “secular”). Instead, He reveals it to be what it is. This material world in which we dwell, to which we are inseparably united, is shown to be the gate of heaven, the bread of life, the medicine of immortality, and so on. For all of these things are not made known to us apart from, nor in spite of their material aspects. Fr. Alexander Schmemann said quite rightly that the sacraments do not seek to replace the material: it shows material to be what it is. In St. Basil’s epiclesis we pray, “And show this bread to be the precious Body of our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ…” In the hands of Christ, all bread becomes what it is meant to be, that which alone can truly feed us.

The world does not exist in and of itself, nor is its value and meaning in and of itself. But neither does its true existence, value, and meaning exist somewhere else of which it is a non-participant or an empty shadow. The material world is the locus of the marriage of heaven and earth. In that sense, Christ draws attention to the created order in a manner without precedent. It is the de-coupling of that attention from Christ Himself and the deeper reality that underlies the created order that has given us our present delusion. It is as though all our attention were on human bodies – without souls. As such, we are the dead among the dead.

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty-million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.

The world’s efforts to “fix” Jesus are invariably directed towards either removing Him from this world, or placing Him in the world as a manageable object. Just as the world turned St. Nicholas into Santa Claus (he’s so cuddly!), so Christ becomes a religious mascot of whatever worldly value we want to promote. Solzhenitsyn, in his famous Templeton Lecture, described this process of secularization in profound terms:

Secularism is the forgetting of God, or remembering Him in a manner that is truly less than God. This is the cause of all injustice. Indeed, it is the great injustice: that human beings forget their Creator and the purpose of their existence. When we forget God, everything is madness.

Jesus, have mercy on us and fix us.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows Protestant iconoclasm. The caption reads, “Klaus Hottinger pulls down the wayside cross near the mill at Stadelhofen, in 1523.”

The Demons

In 1872, Dostoevsky published his novel, The Demons [Бесы]. It demonstrated in a microcosm, the insanity that lay within the revolutionary movements of 19th century Russia. That insanity broke upon the world in 1917 and has remained present with us, in one form or another, ever since.

The madness that he describes takes place in a small town, away from the great capitals of Russia. It involves a relatively small cast of characters (at least for a Russian novel and revolution). There is love and intrigue. But mostly there is murder and mayhem. For the only revolutionary who succeeds is the one who fears nothing himself but creates and feeds on the fear of others.

It is interesting that great theories of economics and social justice do not form a part of this novel. Dostoevsky was no stranger to Russia’s radical movements and their political and economic theories: he spent a number of years in prison under the Tsar for having participated in one such group.

But he does not make the theory out to be of much importance. He rightly recognized that the spirit of revolution is not about a struggle for a glorious future. Revolution is about the destruction of the present and the will to power. Hitler’s rise to power and Lenin’s rise to power both belong to differing ideologies. What they share in common are lies and murder.

Dostoevsky’s revolutionary sees the world as teetering on chaos. The old order is a roadblock, an encumbrance that stands in the way of progress and the forces of renewal. Every convention, every custom and practice of tradition is the enemy. The revolutionary has to be prepared to sweep everything aside for the sake of his cause.

In Dostoevsky’s Russia, the Church was a primary conserving force. Its Orthodox practice was a shrine to Tradition and custom. Every aspect of life moved in obedience to the seasons of the Church. It is thus not surprising that the Church, God and the Christian view of the world were the primary targets of his drama.

But the title of Dostoevsky’s novel is even more to the point. Though he does not say so, the actors in the small “revolution” in the provinces, are only pawns. There is a larger game afoot, and that game is revealed in the title of the novel.

The work of the demons is not an ancient conspiracy, a carefully-planned work that ultimately results in the enthronement of the anti-Christ. Demons do not seem to be driven towards the construction of great empires – that activity is particularly human.

The work of the demons (both in the novel and in the real world) is the work of destruction. Existence is the gift of God. All that we know as existing is His gift. Its order, laws, even “reasonableness,” are all reflective of God’s creative work. Non-existence, non-being is the drive of the wicked ones.

Non-existence is not something that can be achieved by created beings, for existence is the gift of God and He alone sustains all things. Thus, the work of those in rebellion is to move things “towards” non-being. Lies, murder, destruction, disarray, deception, and the like are hallmarks of their work.

The demons are not the builders of civilizations, even civilizations that seem to have evil purposes. They corrupt and distort. The farcical “opera” that was the Nazi regime was a demonic attempt at civilization, a mimicry of the true thing.

Its delusional aspects seem so obvious now that people can only wonder how anyone ever took seriously its grand productions and Wagnerian pretensions (the delusions of our own time should be considered as well). The destructive character of that regime began to manifest itself quite early. In almost every effort, its constructions were distortions, an anti-civilization.

Where do the demons lurk in our own time? Look to the places of chaos and destruction, where order is slipping away and violence triumphs. Take note of despair and mayhem, any place where the drive towards non-existence has taken hold. Occasionally these forces manifest themselves in larger eruptions.

The bizarre extremism within radical Islam has all of the hallmarks of the demonic. It is a form of madness, of chaos, unleashed. Other extremes seem bent on the destruction of traditional ideas and norms that have existed for millennia.

The Orthodox resistance to iconoclasm recognizes the true nature of this urge to destruction. For the discussion about icons has never been limited to quiet theological thoughts about the nature of images. Iconoclasm is not a theological position, it is what its Greek name says, “Smashing.”

The smashers in the modern world have multiplied. The revolution of 1917 initially swelled their ranks. Films of icon burnings and Church explosions were only the most visible expressions. The smashing of human beings, images of God, were among the most brutal in all of history.

We see as well the sad cases of individual iconoclasm. The mass murders in schools, theaters, shopping malls (which sometimes seem to occur on a weekly basis) represent the demonic collapse within a single person. The wanton destruction of strangers, murder for the sake of murder, reveals a frightening drive towards non-existence. Of course, such events involve mental illness and other social problems, all of which are exploited by the demons of our time.

But more to the point for readers of this article is the unraveling of existence within our own lives and souls. Solzhenitsyn famously said: “…the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

In the existential/spiritual terms that I’ve used here, we must recognize that the forces of disintegration and entropy war within us with the forces of order and true being. And we must recognize that true being only occurs in relationship – for it is the gift of God and has its existence in its giftedness and in its self-offering in return.

This life of receiving and offering extends not only to God but to all persons and things around us. It is nothing other than love. The Scriptures tell us that God is love. We must also understand that love is the only true existence – all else is a distraction and a distortion, a movement towards non-being.

For the individual who can walk through an elementary school and blithely shoot teachers and children, the heart has grown cold – on the order of demonic coldness. But by the same token, we ourselves can walk through any number of crowded places, our hearts filled with judgment and envy, or worse still, nothing at all. The former is only a demonic sacrament of the latter.

The demons in Dostoevsky’s novel ended their melee in an orgy of violence – a short spree that came to nothing. He wrote of other such eruptions of madness. The student Raskolnikov murdered an old woman in the name of a bizarre Nietzschean will to power. Dmitri Karamazov was convicted of murdering his father, though he was only guilty of wanting to. But in both of these latter cases, the outcome was not destruction, but repentance – in prison. Imprisonment for these Dostoevskian heroes is the place of rebirth, just as it was for the author himself.

Repentance, in prison or not, is the only way forward from the nightmare of our present demons. It is love that has grown cold. What we see in our present world is not the result of mistaken political decisions or failures of diplomacy. It is as Solzhenitsyn said – a battle within the heart of every human being. It is there that the demons must be defeated.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “The Demon Fallen,” by Mikhail Vrubel, painted in 1902.

Is Christianity Bad For The Environment?

On Boxing Day, 1966, a medieval historian delivered a paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The paper was entitled, “The Historic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” The historian was Lynn White, Jr.

The paper caused quite the stir, and by the time it was published in the March 1967 issue of Science magazine, it was already famous.

So famous that it remains a classic to this day and is used by all who want to further their various environmental agendas by bashing Christianity for being inherently anti-ecological.

In his paper, White made wide-ranging claims, which are nothing more than his own misunderstood or misrepresented notions about Christian history, Christian theology, and the history of ideas. Needless to say, he comes across as not really knowing what he’s actually talking about.

In brief, this is what White claimed to be the “truth”…

  • That the western mind is conditioned to exploit and dominate and degrade nature.
  • That western man views the whole of nature as specifically created for human use (and therefore open to exploitation at all cost).
  • That the western mind forever seeks to control nature because it is indifferent to what nature really is (a living entity).
  • That the only way to stop natural degradation is to work towards changing the western mind to a more eco-friendly one.
  • Therefore, western man is a despot because of the way he has been conditioned to think.
  • How did western man come up with such a wretched mindset –you guessed it…because of Christianity. You see, people read five verses in the Bible (Genesis 1:25-30), and launched into full exploitation mode.
  • White’s solution? Radically change Christianity, or replace it with something more kind and gentle to nature.

As is obvious, this sort of thinking has had a deep and pervasive influence in the West, with Christianity being portrayed as the chief villain, responsible for all kinds of nastiness like, “colonialism,” “patriarchy,” “racism,” “gender-bias,” and even “misogyny.”

Hence the concerted and relentless attacks on Christianity, which the emotional rather than intellectual progeny of White perceive as a roadblock to their Utopia of “green,” “sustainable,” “multicultural,” “gender-neutral,” “matriarchal” life.

But is any of this true?

Many people have tried to take White’s essay to task, but his assumptions are now protected by the hallowed cloak of being a “classic.”

Thus, all critical responses are ultimately ineffectual, since once the influence of a “classic” percolates down into popular mythology, criticisms become ineffectual and thus meaningless.

The critique that follows of White’s shallow understanding and misrepresentation is fully cognizant of its own ultimate pointlessness.

The truly sad consequence of White’s mythologization is that most Christians actually accept what he preaches and try to correct and “update” their received theology.

Of course, the minute you say a theology needs updating, you also fully accept the fact then that said theology cannot be true, because it needs updating to “fit into” what the world has now become. But that’s a side issue for now.

Let’s continue with White.

His arguments and assumptions show that he does not really understand anything outside his own narrow area of specialization (which was medieval technology). But that never really stopped anyone from formulating opinions based on what he thinks he knows, rather than on what he actually knows.

Even in his scholarly works, he is peddling assumptions that have long been proven to be incorrect, or just plain wrong. For example, in his magnum opus, Medieval Technology and Social Change, which is best left on the bookshelf unread.

So, if he can’t even get things right in his own area of expertise, is he really to be trusted when he launches into critiquing and then suggesting “viable” solutions for something he’s not an expert on – like the environment and the western mind?

One should hope not!

For example, he knows nothing about Christian history, Greco-Roman philosophy, Roman Christianity, ancient religions, scriptural hermeneutics.

And he most certainly knows nothing about theology (not even medieval theology – and he was a medievalist), philosophy, Modernism, secularism, Marxism, consumerism and postmodernism (Jacques Derrida’s seminal work, Of Grammatology came out in 1967, the same year as White’s essay).

He needed to have some acquaintance with these varied areas of research in order to actually critique Christianity, but he was tabula rasa. But he forged on regardless.

In fact, all these developments in western thought had a far more devastating role to play in environmental exploitation than five verses in the Book of Genesis.

But when White sits down to write a comprehensive analysis of what is going wrong with the world, his reach is not simply limited, it’s misguided because he can look no further than his own ignorance.

He’s like the Rev. Dean Drone, in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, who overhears someone calling him a “mugwump,” and is to be found, later that evening, going through a book, entitled, Animals of Palestine. When he can’t find the mugwump listed in said book, the reverend decides that this particular animal must have been unknown “in the greater days of Judea.”

Truth is always complex. It only becomes simple when it is misunderstood, or when it is misrepresented.

Rereading White’s highly influential essay half-a-century later make certain things immediately stand out.

There’s the habit of making sweeping statements which barely crawl past the opinion stage.

Things like:

  • that Christianity wrongly destroyed the better pagan view of seeing spirits in nature;
  • that Christianity teaches anthropocentrism and changes nature from sacred to useful;
  • that Christianity enables the exploitation of nature because the religion is indifferent to the “feelings” of natural things;
  • that Christianity bears the entire “burden of guilt” for making the West into a domineering and exploitative force;
  • and that the West needs to find a better religion, or change Christianity so can be “green” and “eco-friendly.”

Let’s have a look at what White is actually saying.

Is it better to have people believing that spirits inhabit everything, and did Christianity actually destroy it?

Briefly, what White is assuming to be “paganism” is actually “shamanism” (which is nature spirituality). He’s again confused.

Greco-Roman paganism was polytheistic, but it was not shamanistic. Yes, it had gods, but that did not translate into some sort of nature spirituality (for now, let’s just point to the Roman arenas where huge number of animals were slaughtered for entertainment)

Nature, in the Greco-Roman world was seen as chaotic and threatening and thus needed to be controlled. In other words, pollution, degradation and exploitation were rife in the pagan world (White knew nothing about it).

White’s heroes, the pagans, were happy carrying out mass deforestation, while horribly polluting water and air and soil with things like the industrial-scale smelting and mining.

So, how did the Romans become such excellent polluters, exploiters and dominators – without first being instructed, in that fine art, by Genesis 1:25-30? White is clueless.

Greco-Roman paganism was exploitative, domineering, and cruel. White is simply erecting a self-serving construct of “good” pagans so he can the more easily bash Christianity. It’s a lot easier that way.

Thinking that there are spirits everywhere does not make you into a green citizen of the world. According to the Roman example, it makes you a very effective manipulator, because you have to continually come up with strategies to control nature so it won’t harm you. You have to control nature so it kill you. Basic human survival.

Next, does Christianity teach anthropocentrism by transferring nature from the “sacred” slot to useful one, which then leads to indifferent to nature? The answer again is, No.

Once again, White doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Anthropocentrism, as the word suggests, is a Greek invention (long before Christianity). It’s what came to be called, “Humanism.”

Or, in the famous words of Protagoras, “Man is the measure of all things.” The Pre-Socratic philosophers, as well as Plato and Aristotle, knew that nature was meaningless – and useless – without the human mind.

On the other hand, Christjanity denies anthropocentrism, because it makes human beings into God’s creation, who exist in an allegorical relationship with nature.

Nature, in the Christian view, forever teaches mankind eternal truths (that’s why it’s allegorical).

This is the view of the Bible and all the Christian theologians, such as, Origen, Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, Meister Eckhart, and many others.

Thus, in the Christian view, nature is not useful, it is didactic – it is a guide, a counselor, an adviser to mankind about the mysteries of God.

This means that a Christian cannot be indifferent and hostile to nature. Such an attitude would be a denial of God’s purpose. How? Because both nature and Scripture are one and the same.

White is simplistic and wrong, because the Christian view of nature is far more sophisticated and caring than he can imagine. He just doesn’t have the proper intellectual background to discuss the issue properly. So, by default he turns to what he actually knows, like Rev Drone.

Next, did Christianity make the West into both “dominating” and “exploitative?” Again, no.

White cannot fathom the fact that any community, any culture, any civilization has the right to clothe and feed itself. Humans cannot exist without dominating and exploiting natural resources.

This is the real problem that all modern environmental activists cannot solve. How a world built according to their “green specifications” will actually feed and clothe itself?

When White extrapolates western negative character traits from Genesis 1:25-30, he is veering into territory that he doesn’t understand.

The real exploitation and domination only begins when the West cuts itself off from Christianity and pretends that it can live rootlessly.

It’s the West’s scientific secularism and atheism which changes nature into an inert thing. Therefore, mankind sets out trying to find uses for what nature has. Exploitation follows, as usefulness ramps up into consumerism, which is an extension of materialism.

Consumerism has only virtue – profit. Here the shadow of Thomas Hobbes looms large, but White can’t notice it.

So, ecological degradation is the by-product of materialism. That is where the blame really lies.

But White is hampered by his own ignorance, and the Rev. Dean Drake has to root around in his own limited knowledge in order to come up with an explanation to a very complex historical process.

As for White’s “solution” of creating a better religion than Christianity, or fixing Christianity so it becomes “better” for him, that’s all just his own fix to a problem that he himself has created.

Of course, if you’re going to say that all the world’s problems come from Genesis 1:25-30, then the fix is easy. Get rid of Genesis 1:25-30.

But what if the problem is far more convoluted than White can even imagine?

How can a man, who shows a very limited understanding of the life of ideas, actually presume to correct, and fix, what he is clueless about?

White has no solutions. He just has a faulty agenda that he wants to push as the “truth.” His “arguments” are nothing but caricatures of thinking.

Here’s the ultimate problem that White faces. He’s trying to prove the historical consequences of five scriptural verses.

In other words, he has veered into proving reception – and he’s both inadequate and incapable for the task.

White best trick is to trundle long-debunked notions, like the “Protestant Work Ethic,” which was invented by Max Weber (who wanted to understand why the West became secular and atheistic).

In other words, White tries to prove his case by relying on false data. And, importantly, he doesn’t even know that it’s false! He thinks it’s all true!

Then, there’s that annoying fact about Christianity outside of Europe – in Africa, and in all (yes, all) parts of Asia.

How come none of these Christians suddenly got into domination and exploitation mode after reading Genesis 1:25-30?

But, lest some social-justice-warriors gleefully leap into the usual Europe-bashing routine, let’s continue with another problem that White cannot address (because he’s clueless that it even exists).

The Genesis creation exists also in Judaism. Surely, given the immense amount of cultural power that White ascribes to Genesis 1:25-30, one would expect that when Jews read these words, say, in Djerba, they might paddle out into the Gulf of Gabès, looking for ways exploit and dominate?

In other words, why do people in other parts of the world react (receive) Genesis 1:25-30 differently from what White imagines? If only the words of this passage have had such a devastating effect?

But…White says nothing about such Genesis-indoctrinated Jews and Christians beyond Europe.

According to White’s scheme of things, these five Bible verses only changed Europeans into the domineering, exploitative sort. Why, of course!

Need we go on? Well, just for a bit longer.

The Genesis story also appears (wait for it…) in the Koran, in the Al-Baqarah section, where Adam is (you guessed it) given dominion over the earth, as Allah’s Caliph (or a sort of Pope), to do as he pleases – and to let loose blood and devastation, as Allah’s angels observe.

But, as might be guessed, White knowns nothing about the Genesis-Koran connection.

So, the reception of the Genesis creation story is not only “Eurocentric” and “Protestant-Work-Ethical.” It is also Asian-and-African Christian, Jewish, and Islamic.

Outside of Europe it seems, Genesis 1:25-30 couldn’t do its usual “conditioning.”

But since White seems not to know about any of this, he can safely assume that it just doesn’t exist.

Then, there’s the larger problem of how the entire book of Genesis has actually been read and understood throughout Christian history.

In Christian theology (another topic that White knows nothing about – but that has never stopped anybody when there’s an ax to grind), the term used in Genesis 1:25-30, “dominion” never meant exploitation or domination (as White assumes – which points to the fact that he’s a literalist – and you can only be a literalist if you don’t know much).

“Whiteism” is the problem with present-day literalists, as well – they read the Bible without any understanding, or knowledge of, the Magisterium, the vast tradition of learning that complements and theologically explains what is contained in the Bible. This is a problem with Protestantism, where people have to make things up as they go along.

White does the same thing – make things up as he goes along, so he can sound convincing.

In fact, in Christian theology, the word “dominion,” in Genesis, refers to controlling the passions of the body which always led to sin.

“Dominion” never had an ecological sense at all. This sense has been added by White.

Historically, Christians read the Bible allegorically, not literally (literalism is the result of secularism, which sees itself as an authority in and of itself).

In fact, when we project a literalist reading of Scripture back into time, we are only demonstrating our own ignorance.

With the rise of secularism, the intellectual tradition of Christianity has all but vanished. This results in the rootlessness of the West, which now sees its own nourishment (Christianity) as poisonous. This attitude is created by the Enlightenment.

It is secularism which launches Europe into exploitation and domination mode – not Christianity.

For example, here’s Joseph Glanvill, writing in 1665 – that the new philosophy (the Enlightenment) offers “ways of captivating Nature, and making her subserve our purposes and designments.” He continues that this will lead to “the Empire of Man over Nature.”

This has nothing to do with Genesis 1:25-30.

By the way, none of these Enlightenment philosophers adds, “I’m getting all this, in case you’re wondering, from Genesis 1:25-30 and so, God wills it, etc.”

It’s highly doubtful that White bothered much with the many, many secular philosophers during and after the Enlightenment.

White was what he was – but the reception of his critique has been long-lived, and therefore his notions need to be challenged and debunked.

Alas, most Christians today have drunk his Kool-Aid and go about lecturing everyone how Christians need to get past the exploitative and domineering message of Genesis 1:25-30.

Sadder still is the fact that both Christians and their critics are deeply ignorant of the history of western ideas.

If we do not know history, we don’t just repeat it, but we stupidly repeat the lies fed to us.

But that is the tale of the modern world – flying off into high moral dudgeon because of the rhetorical force of lies.

What is the real Christian ecological message?

Here it is: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26).

It is only when this real message of Christianity is forgotten and lost, that exploitation and domination begin.

And if people want to find the ideas that led to exploitation and wilful domination, then they need look no further than secularism.

The spoliation of the earth, and the exploitation of the weak, are both the fruits of the West’s apostasy from its true root – the redemptive message of Christianity.

Without it, the West is lost…”You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13).

 

 

The photo shows, “Chapel on the Edge of the Wood, ” by Karl Friedrich Lessing, painted in 1839.