We note, first, what “salvation” actually means. As I have argued at length in Surprised by Hope, we are not saved from the world of creation, but saved for the world of creation (Romans 8:18-26). Humans were made to take care of God’s wonderful world, and it is not too strong to say that the reason God saves humans is not simply that he loves them for themselves but that he loves them for what they truly are—his pro-creators, his stewards, his vice regents over creation. To make this utterly Pauline move is not merely to adjust some nuts and bolts at the edge of his doctrine of salvation, but to shift the weight of the whole thing away from where it has been in the Western church since long before the Reformation and—without losing the necessary Western emphases on the cross—back toward the cosmic focus which Eastern Christians never lost. (Eastern Orthodoxy may have other problems, but at this point we Westerners need to learn from them. One of the greatest tragedies of the Schism of A.D. 1054 was that the West was able to develop a view of “salvation” and the East a view of “transformation,” each of which needed the other for a balanced completeness. But that is another story.) “Salvation” is from death itself, and all that leads to it and shares its destructive character (tribulation, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger weaponry) and all the powers that use those things to oppress humans and deface God’s world. “Salvation” does not mean “dying and going to heaven,” as so many Western Christians have supposed for so long. If your body dies and your soul goes into a disembodied immortality, you have not been rescued from death; you have, quite simply, died. That is why resurrection means what it means: it is not a bizarre miracle, but the very center of God’s plan and purpose. God will renew the whole creation, and raise his people to new bodily life to share his rule over his world. That is “what the whole world’s waiting for” (Romans 8:19).
-N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
A great article by Frederica Mathewes-Green on the “Pussy Riot” protesters. I usually don’t post this type of articles in my blog, but this one is worth reading.
When the “Pussy Riot” protesters were sentenced last week for their performance in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, a friend asked me why Orthodox Christians were so upset about what they’d done. For him, this was clearly a political protest. It was aimed at a too-close entwining of church and state, so it took place in a church. What’s the big deal?
But, in practice, there’s a difference. If you protest at a government building, you impact people in that government. If you protest at a business, you impact people in that business. But when you protest at a church, you don’t hit only those in power. You hit all the ordinary people, too, the ones who don’t have any influence or power. They come to church on a weekday afternoon just to pray, because they’re worried or sad about something. When someone mocks their faith it wounds them. It wounds their fellow-believers all over the world, who have no connection at all to the target of the protest.
What caused this pain was that the women sang a song that contained obscenities and a parody of a prayer. Those on the outside might not get why it was so hurtful. Well, for one thing, the altar in an Orthodox church is felt to be especially holy; it’s not like the stage of a church auditorium. Because Christianity grew out of Judaism, the altar is like the Holy of Holies in the ancient Temple.
But the form of the protest, a mocking and obscene prayer, also hit on particular, and painful, memories. My spiritual father, Fr. George Calciu, spent 21 years in communist prison. (He died in 2006). He was subjected to the brainwashing process, and they used both physical and emotional torture. They mocked everything and everyone he loved—his wife, his child, his faith. A centerpiece of the brainwashing program was to subject prisoners to parody church services, with obscene and mocking prayers.
All Christian prisoners endured this abuse. Millions of clergy, monastics, and lay people died for their beliefs. Fr. George survived, and, thanks to the efforts of Romanian expatriates like Eugene Ionescu and Mircea Eliade, he was freed in 1984.
It’s not that long ago.
The problem was the mockery of our prayers, not the protest against Putin and the official church. There are many Christians who share these women’s concerns, and our faith has a long history of prayer for deliverance from unjust rulers. A sincere prayer might have had an entirely different effect; it might have attracted allies everywhere. Sincerity is always better than mockery.
Also, the church where this happened has a sensitive history. The original Christ the Savior Cathedral was built in the 19th century, modeled on the finest Byzantine architecture and filled with treasures of art and iconography. In 1931, the Soviets destroyed it—they blew it up. You can see the footage online. Artworks were thrown in a pile and burned—destroyed specifically because of their religious content, like the Buddha statues dynamited in Afghanistan.
But in the 1990’s there grew up a popular movement to rebuild the Cathedral. A million citizens of Moscow donated to the fund. The new cathedral is identical to the one that was destroyed. So this church has a significant story: it was destroyed by the powerful, and rebuilt by the people.
The new cathedral was consecrated in 2000. It’s not that long ago.
What’s the right punishment in such a case? We could try picturing analogous incidents, imagining protesters invading a mosque or a synagogue and chanting obscene parodies of the worshippers’ prayers. But I don’t know that there’s a need for punishment. Community service would be better. These women could use their talents to gather and tell the stories of those who lived through the bad times, and the stories of those who did not make it through. That would be something we could all agree on—a project that could bring healing and understanding, and strengthen memory against future abuse.
When you’re young and strong, like these women are, it can be hard to imagine that anyone was ever weak, or suffering, or persecuted, or afraid. You might think, “It can’t happen here.” But it did happen—right there. And not that long ago. We know this from history: if you forget the times when the faithful were mocked with abusive and obscene words, it won’t be long before we’re hearing those words again.