Tag Archives: Basis of the Social Concept

Religious Persecution in Russia

9News in Australia reports that

A Russian court has sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to six years in jail in one of the most severe crackdown on religious freedom in the country in recent years.

The court found Danish man Dennis Christensen guilty of extremism, making him the first Jehovah’s Witness in Russia to be sent to prison.

Mr Christensen was detained during a police raid on a local prayer meeting he was leading in May 2017.

Many Christians (Orthodox and others) would say the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult. Whether or not the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult or not I can’t say. What I can say is that the Orthodox Church affirms freedom of conscience and condemns attempts by the secular authorities to deny such freedoms.

For example, in their 2000 document The Basis of the Social Concept, the Moscow Patriarchate wrote the following (emphasis in orginal):

IV. 6. The idea of the inalienable rights of the individual has become one of the dominating principles in the contemporary sense of justice. The idea of these rights is based on the biblical teaching on man as the image and likeness of God, as an ontologically free creature. «Examine what is around you», writes St. Anthony of Egypt, «and see that princes and masters have power over your body alone, not over your soul, and always keep this in mind. Why when they order, say, to kill or to do something else, inappropriate, unrighteous and harmful for the soul, it is not proper to obey them, even though they torture your body. God has created the soul free and self-ruled, and it is free to do as it wills, good or bad».

The Christian socio-public ethics demanded that a certain autonomous sphere should be reserved for man, in which his conscience might remain the «autocratic» master, for it is the free will that determines ultimately the salvation or death, the way to Christ or the way away from Christ. The right to believe, to live, to have family is what protects the inherent
foundations of human freedom from the arbitrary rule of outer forces. These internal rights are complimented with and ensured by other, external ones, such as the right to free movement, information, property, to its possession and disposition.

God keeps man free, never forcing his will. Contrary to it, Satan seeks to possess the human will, to enslave it. If the law conforms to the divine truth revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ, then it also stands guard over human freedom: «Where the Spirit is, there is liberty» (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore, it guards the inalienable rights of the personality. Those traditions, however, which do not know of the principle of the freedom of Christ, often seek to subject the human consciousness to the external will of a ruler or a collective.

Bad as the verdict is, and it is grossly unjust, the situation will be made worse if the verdict is not challenged and so allowed to stand.

This is also a moment for the Orthodox Church of Russia to reaffirm the Church’s commitment to religious freedom for all. The can only do this by condemning the decision and supporting the legal process to overturn the decision. They must also add their voice to the voices of those who work to change the laws that have allowed for this abuse of human rights.

To borrow from Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (Letter from the Birmingham Jail).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Virtue of Chastity

What is most needed both in the Church and in the culture, is an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. The Catholic priest-psychologist Adrian van Kaam writes that chastity is “love purified” of all that is self-aggrandizing “and disrespectful of concerns of others.”[1] Chastity is that virtue that refuses to exploit for one’s own advantage the weakness of others. What we need to foster then is a respectful and appreciative acceptance of human limitations, both those of our neighbors’ and our own.

In the text below, I explain more fully what I mean by chastity. It is from my monograph for the Acton Institute, The Cure for Consumerism (Grand Rapids, MI: Acton Institute, 2015), 130-131.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

[1] Adrian van Kaam, Formation of the Human Heart (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1986), 47.divider-37709_960_720Although often overlooked today, St. Paul encourages all Christians to remain unmarried. Like St. John Climacus’ discussion of poverty, the apostle counsels celibacy in the service of both practical and spiritual freedom: “But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord— how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world— how he may please his wife” (1 Cor. 7: 32– 33). Nevertheless, just as not all Christians are called to material poverty, not all Christians are called to celibacy. “[E]ach one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.… [A]s God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk” (7: 7, 17). Akin to poverty, the key to chastity is not whether the person is married or not. Rather, within the tradition of the Church the virtue “of chastity … is the basis of the inner unity of the human personality, which should always be in the state of harmony between its mental and bodily powers” (Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, 10.6). Sin, such as fornication and adultery, “inevitably ruins the harmony and integrity of one’s life, damaging heavily one’s spiritual health.” Likewise, the absence of chastity “dulls the spiritual vision and hardens the heart, making it incapable of true love.” While the synod fathers are speaking here of sexual morality, it is not much of a leap to see that the same vices that make the “happiness of full-blooded family life … unattainable” also foster consumerism and disrupt the virtuous functioning of the economic order. “Sins against chastity,” they write,

also lead to negative social consequences. In the situation of a spiritual crisis of the human society, the mass media and the products of the so-called mass culture sometimes become instruments of moral corruption by praising sexual laxity, all kinds of sexual perversion and other sinful passions. Pornography, which is the exploitation of the sexual drive for commercial, political or ideological purposes, contributes to the suppression of the spiritual and moral principles, thus reducing man to an animal motivated by instinct alone. (Basis, 10.6)

Avarice and sexual immorality both result in unwholesome forms of consumption that hinder rather than foster human flourishing and Christlike holiness. With only minor changes, the synod fathers’ condemnation of “pornography and fornication” are equally applicable to avarice. Just as “the Church does not at all call to abhor the body or sexual intimacy as such,” it does not condemn wealth or property. Instead, in the sexual and economic aspects of our lives, what is rejected is “the tendency to turn chaste and appropriate relations”— and economic activity—“as God has designed them” into occasions “of humiliating exploitation,” characterized by “egoistic, impersonal, loveless and perverted pleasure” that is “completely divorced from personal and spiritual communion, selflessness and all-round responsibility” for my neighbor (Basis, 10.6).

Property Law in Orthodox Social Thought

A right that can’t be enforced isn’t particularly valuable. As we’ve seen, the canons of the Church assume a basic right to property. The question now is whether Orthodox Social Thought (OST) offer more than merely theoretical support to property.

Reminiscent of John Locke’s argument that property rights emerge when the person mixes his labor with natural resources, the Basis of the Social Concept of the Orthodox Church affirms property “as a socially recognised form of people’s relation to the fruits of labour and to natural resources.” And like contemporary economic theory, property rights in Orthodox Social Teaching are actually a bundle of rights. Specifically this means the power “of an owner … to own and use property, … to control and collect income, … to dispose of, lease, modify or liquidate property (VII.1).

Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller...

Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Oil on canvas. 76×64 cm. Britain, 1697. Source of Entry: Collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To be sure, and again as in Locke, there are moral limits to property rights. For Locke individual property rights are legitimate so long as “there is enough, and as good, left in common for others” to own (Second Treatise on Government, 5:27). OST has its own version of the Lockean proviso. After affirming the moral and soteriological importance, and limitations, of the material dimension of human life the Basis remind the reader that

The attitude of Orthodox Christians to property should be based on the gospel’s principle of love of one’s neighbour, expressed in the words of the Saviour: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another” (Jn. 13:34). This commandment is the basis of Christian moral behavior (Basis, VII.1).

Charity however also includes a respect for law—civil to be sure but also canonical. And so for both Christians and all men of good will, the regulation of “interpersonal relationships, including property,” (Basis, VII.1) is a moral imperative. It is something that must be done and done not simply out of concern for a just society but also love. Both just and love are (or should be) the fruit of humanity’s gratitude to God.

According to the teaching of the Church, people receive all the earthly blessings from God who is the One who holds the absolute right to possess them. The Saviour repeatedly points to the relative nature of the right to property in His parables on a vineyard let out to be used (Mk. 12:1-9), on talents distributed among many (Mt. 25:14-30) and on an estate handed over for temporary management (Lk. 16:1-13). Expressing the idea inherent to the Church that God is the absolute owner of everything, St. Basil the Great asks: “Tell me, what do you have that is yours? Where from did you take it and bring to life?” The sinful attitude to property manifested in the conscious rejection of this spiritual principle generates division and alienation among people (Basis, VII.1, emphasis in original).

This means that far from being a matter of mere utilitarian social organization, the “various forms of ownership” are in the service of both justice and charity. This is possible however only if ownership, and the laws governing property, are rooted in gratitude to the Creator and respect for human freedom and creativity. While they are all the result of contingent socio-historical factors, “Public, corporate private and mixed forms” of ownership as well as intellectual property rights are all morally legitimate ways of creating and using wealth (Basis, VII.3).

Finally, law not only protects an individual or a community’s right to property. As with law in generally, the legal protection of private property right can advance the Gospel. This happens not by “turn[ing] the world lying in evil into the Kingdom of God, but to prevent[ing] it from turning into hell” (Basis, IV.2).

However, in the cases where the human law completely rejects the absolute divine norm, replacing it by an opposite one, it ceases to be law and becomes lawlessness, in whatever legal garments it may dress itself. For instance, the Decalogue clearly states: “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Ex. 20:12). Any secular norm that contradicts this commandment indicts not its offender but the legislator himself. In other words, the human law has never contained the divine law in its fullness, but in order to remain law it is obliged to conform to the God-established principles, rather then to erode them (Basis, IV.3, emphasis in original).

In the case of property, respect for God’s law means rejecting “the alienation and re-distribution of property” in ways that violate “the rights of its legitimate owners.” While an exception can
be made “for the alienation of property based on the law [i.e., eminent domain], conditioned by the interest of the majority of people and accompanied by fair compensation” this must be done carefully and with respect for the demands of justice and charity rooted n thankfulness to God. Otherwise, and as “Russian [and American] history has shown” the State’s “violation of these principles” can (and has) result “in social upheavals and people’s suffering” (Basis, VII.3).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory