The Rise of the Militant Godless

Pussy Riot descrating Christ the Savior Cathedral (Click to enlarge)

– Source: Real Clear Religion | Philip Jenkins

It sounds like a scriptwriter’s dream.

Here we have Russia, a vastly powerful country with a floundering democracy, facing the imminent threat of tyranny. That danger is personified by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB man who looks like, well, a former KGB man, as imagined by John Le Carré. Standing in his way is a gallant resistance movement symbolized by an all-female rock band, a group of punky young performance artists called Pussy Riot.

After playing for democracy in a daring public venue, they face a show trial that could send them to prison for years. Around the world, politicians and celebrities speak out, supporters organize solidarity demonstrations. The film is a natural: can we get Aubrey Plaza as the band’s leader? Will Madonna do a cameo? This is too good to be true!

And indeed it is. Putin may be a thug, and Pussy Riot might be feminist warriors for human rights, but the particular act for which they faced trial is much more controversial than is commonly reported in the West.

A good case can be made that it was a grievous act of religious hate crime, of a kind that would be roundly condemned if it happened in a country that the West happened to like. (I’m also wondering why liberals are suddenly so fond of a band that claims inspiration from the “Oi!” music invented by Far-Right British skinheads).

Last March, three members of Pussy Riot staged an unauthorized “concert” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Standing before the altar, they sang a pseudo-hymn to the Virgin, urging her to remove Putin, and condemning the Patriarch Kiril as his slavish disciple. They have now been convicted of what a judge termed “hooliganism driven by religious hatred.”

Few Western commentators have taken that religious element too seriously, but it is central to what Hollywood might term the back-story.

Look, above all, at the site of the demonstration. Historically, Christ the Savior was a central shrine both of the Orthodox faith and of Russian national pride, and for that reason, the Bolsheviks targeted it for destruction. In 1931, in a notorious act of cultural vandalism, the Soviet government dynamited the old building, leveling it to the ground, and replacing it with a public swimming pool. Not until 1990 did a new regime permit a rebuilding, funded largely by ordinary believers, and the vast new structure was consecrated in 2000. The cathedral is thus a primary memorial to the restoration of Russia’s Christianity after a savage persecution.

It’s difficult, perhaps, for Westerners to realize how bloodthirsty that government assault was. Russia in 1917 was overwhelmingly Orthodox, and in fact was undergoing a widespread religious revival. Rooting out that faith demanded forceful action by the new Bolshevik government, which had no scruples about imposing its will on the wishes of a vast majority. Government leaders like Alexandra Kollontai — the self-proclaimed Female Antichrist — illegally seized historic churches and monasteries, and used soldiers to suppress the resulting demonstration. Hundreds were killed in those actions alone.

Through the 1920s, the Bolsheviks systematically wiped out the church’s leaders. Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev perished in 1918, shot outside the historic Monastery of the Caves, while Bishop Hermogenes of Tobolsk was drowned in a Siberian river. Archbishop Andronicus of Perm was killed the following year, followed by most of his clergy. In 1920, Bishop Joachim of Nizhni Novgorod was crucified upside down from the iconostasis in his cathedral. In 1922, a firing squad executed the powerful Benjamin, Metropolitan of Petrograd/St. Petersburg. The repression was indiscriminate, paying no attention to the victims’ records as critics of Tsarist injustice and anti-Semitism.

Persecution claimed many lives at lower levels of the church, among ordinary monks and priests. We hear of clergy shot in their hundreds, buried alive, mutilated, or fed to wild animals. Local Red officials hunted down priests as enthusiastically as their aristocratic predecessors had pursued wolves and wild boar. The number of clergy killed for their faith ran at least into the tens of thousands, with perhaps millions more lay believers.

The regime also rooted up the churches and monasteries that were the heart of Russian culture and spiritual life. Officials wandered the country, vandalizing churches, desecrating saints’ shrines and seizing church goods, and murdering those who protested the acts. Militant atheist groups used sacred objects to stage anti-religious skits and processions. Between 1927 and 1940, active Orthodox churches all but vanished from the Russian Republic, as their numbers fell from 30,000 to just 500.

In the process of dechristianization, the crowning act came in 1931 with the obliteration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. For the Bolsheviks, it was the ultimate proof of the Death of God.

But, of course, Resurrection did come, so that a new cathedral would stand to mark a new century. The long nightmare was over.

Yet Russia’s new religious freedom is a very tender shoot, and the prospect of future turmoil has to agonize those believers who recall bygone horrors. These fears are all the more pressing when modern-day activists seem to reproduce exactly the blasphemous deeds of the past, and even in the precise places. When modern-day Orthodox look at Pussy Riot, they see the ghosts of Alexandra Kollontai and her militiamen, or the old Soviet League of Militant Godless. Are they wrong to do so?

I just offer an analogy. Imagine a dissident group opposed to the current governments of Poland or Hungary. In order to grab media attention, they take over one of those countries’ recently restored synagogues, and frame their complaint in the form of a pseudo-Jewish prayer. Horrified, the authorities arrest them and threaten harsh criminal penalties. Not only would international media fully support the governments in those circumstances, but they would complain bitterly if police and courts showed any signs of leniency. However serious a group’s grievances, there is absolutely no justification for expressing them with such mind-boggling historical insensitivity, and in such a place. Anywhere but there!

So no, I won’t be giving to any Pussy Riot support groups.

Philip Jenkins is a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University and a columnist for RealClearReligion. His latest book is

Philip Jenkins is a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University and a columnist for RealClearReligion. His latest book is Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses.



  1. Wesley J. Smith :

    Fr. bless:

    But two years? No, this is authoritarianism being reimposed. I suspect the prison sentence was due more to their anti-Putin message than the insult to the church. A weekend, yes. The taste was very bad and it was legitimately what we would call a “trespass.” But the punishment clearly does not fit the crime.

    • But it wasn’t an “anti Putin” message – there was a lot of vitriol and hatred for the church itself. Here are the lyrics:

      Holy shit, shit, Lord’s shit!
      Holy shit, shit, Lord’s shit!
      St. Maria, Virgin, become a feminist…
      Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
      Bitch, you better believe in God

      If they want to be anti Putin and speak out against him, fine. Why the need to desecrate a religious shrine? Why the need to defame God?

      Also, they had done this before, were pardoned by the priest and asked not to do it again…and they did. How many times do you allow people to trespass, spew profanity and get away with it?

    • macedonianreader :

      Perhaps it less authoritarian to sentence murderers to 10 to 20 years and let them out in five, or to incarcerate marijuana users to life like we do in the West? We do things right in the US with regards to our judiciary yet we put the microscope on Putin?

      My only worry about the girls is not that they didn’t deserve the two years (since they’ve done some seriously demented stuff in the past already and not in the privacy of their own homes but in public before children), it is the condition of the jails and their safety. Otherwise, two years is ample time to spend on their search for God.

      May the Holy Mother they were entreating save them (as inappropriate as their appeal to her was)

  2. I wonder whether the author over-supposes the extent to which those three young foul-mouthed women were aware of the sweeping view of history he sets forth. Young punk rockers generally aren’t notably deep thinkers, the whole genre didn’t exist until after nearly the whole of the history outlined in the article was in the books.

    I’m inclined to believe the foul-mouthed group simply didn’t like the current Russian president, noted that the current church Patriarch appears to play the role that Joe Biden plays to Barack Obama, and so chose a relatively undefended public venue to make a rant-ho video– mostly, because they could.

    Beyond all their dreams of success the hyberbolic church, and then state response propelled them from being viewed correctly as potty-mouthed malcontents into poster-children exemplifying dis-proportionate church and state repression.

    The lesson all ’round I think is that the church should speak in public spaces regarding the moral dimensions of current events, and refrain from more than personal alignment with individual political figures. Had that been the policy, there would have been little reason for the punk rockers to target the church most connected with that Patriarch– a Patriarch generally accepted to be a proxy for the political figure they didn’t like.

    That a church is close to a state isn’t a bad thing, but when the church leadership aligns institutionally with political persons in leadership the outcome isn’t good for either one. The Russian history noted in the above article suggests this, as does this present repeat in-the-small as well.


    • macedonianreader :

      Harry – as an avid self identified rocker – Ekaterina, Maria, and Nadezhda aren’t “punk rockers” they’re posers, models looking for attention in a very demented and demonic way.

      If we do a historic analysis of punk rock we find some pretty bad behavior, but also music with content and a mindful movement against a political/social system. Regardless if we believe in that message or not.

    • Michael Bauman :

      …and of course, it is up to us to decide it in the fair, eqalitarian, ahistorical and victim-as-avenger western manner. (BTW should anyone doubt, I use those words in a pejoritive and sarcastic manner).

      They invaded a holy space and descrated it. The very name they choose is a desecration of womanhood. That they neither know that anything is holy or what descration is shows the depths of their depavity. Our own lack of understanding of the presence and power of God in such places displays how lukewarm we are. Governments should protect holy places that is what religious freedom means Mr. Smith.

      Unlike the populist and utiliatarian attitude toward the altars in most Protestant churches, the last I checked the altar, ambon before it and even the nave in Orthodox Churches are not really public places. Perhaps we should return to the ancient practice of only baptized Orthodox being able to enter past the Narthex. But, OH MY how positively barbarian and uncivilized such a suggestion. That is even worse that uttering the obscene name of the group which should make us blush and not pass our lips.

      Next thing we know (well, not the exactly the next thing but in line to be sure) it will be the ‘right’ of everyone to chug-a-lug the communion cup and have drunken orgies on the altar with lesbian ‘priests’ while men are sacrficed down below for the power of their private parts.

      But, what the hey, obviously anyone who even believes in God, the holy and the sanctity of anything is obviously just a hate-monger and deserves what he gets, right?

      I can guarantee that had someone like these miscreants come into my Church when I was there, I would have done what I could to physically remove them. Likely under enlighted western law, I’d be charged with assualt for doing so and they would be charged with (hear the crickets—nothing).

      • Wesley J. Smith :

        That is a very disturbed comment, Michael Bauman.

        Ignoring your hysteria about lesbian priests and emasculation, which isn’t easy, I don’t think free societies should make blasphemy a crime, which seems to be your point. A church should be protected against trespass like any other private space. It should not be privilledged in this regard. And are we Orthodox really so weak that such clearly offensive behavior has us screaming for revenge, which I thought was the Lord’s purview.

        Now, Russia may not be free, but I don’t think we should support an authoritarian regime using an insult to Orthodoxy as justification for punishments that are really about the group with the crude name being anti-Putin.

        The Church was terribly persecuted in the 20th Century. It must not be used as a pretext for persecution now. Punish for trespass, to be sure. But two years in prison is ridiculous. Besides, this is all making martyrs of these young women who would have been forgotten if the matter had been handled in a more judicious manner. Indeed, I believe the unjust punishment does far more to hurt the Church than it protect it.

        • Michael Bauman :

          Well, Mr. Smith I am distrubed. Democracies, eventually don’t make anything illegal except virtue. The failure to defend the sacred and sacred space is precisely why we kill babies, experiment on embryoes, equate homosexual sin with marriage, fornicate our brains out, etc. All those things you don’t like. Can’t have it both ways. Governement either defends righteous order or irrighteous order.

          Didn’t you know that abortion is simply another means of free expression and, heck, it isn’t even trespass. Oh, I suppose we really shouldn’t criminalize that either, that is just sooooooooooo dark ages.

          Considering that the leader of this putative protest group has performed sex in public with children present, they are apparently dedicated to nihlism in general and that the scene I described was not all that uncommon in pagan religious celebrations, I don’t think its so much of a stretch. Especially when placed in the historical circumstances that the author has the intellectual honesty to take into account. But, according to you history is irrelevant–espeically if it is distrubing. That’s what you seem to say. Now that’s distrubing.

          The absolutist free speech is relatively recent championed by Justice William O. Douglas, but not well known before. In practice the ‘free speech’ you mention is, these days, free for everybody but those who speak for the unborn and for Christian faith and traditional virtue which is ‘hate’-speech and is gradually being placed outside government protection and under government punishment as it already has been in Canada and England. If the aging American singer and the Russian miscreants are not perpetrating hate, I don’t know who is. But, no nothing should be done about them except for the distrubed indivduals who think they are a destructive force.
          Now that’s distrubing.

          The miscreants acts are so far beyond tresapass as to make me think you don’t understand the word. Neither, I think, do you understand blasphemy. Abortion is blasphemous; embryonic stem-cell research is blasphemous as is the destruction of marriage in favor of fornication, adultery and homosexuality. But, hey, government shouldn’t do anything about those either I suppose. Now that is disturbing.

          You separate the world into sacred and profane, methinks. No such separation exists. The Soviet state realized clearly that there is no such thing as separation of Church and state, it is a secular fiction that is designed to make the Church subservient to the state. The communists violently supress, Islam with a few viloent moments, slowly and inexoribly strangles it. The enlightened west trivializes. The big libertarian solution is to just let it all go. That collapses into anarchy which always rebounds to tryanny.

          You condemn the consequences of such libertine freedom in some cases and feel just mild irritation at others when they seem far away. All of your fine words on other topics are beginning to seem like intellecutal narcissim to me I’m afraid and that is what distrubs me the most.

          But I’m sure I totally misunderstand it all in my bigotry and oppressive spriit. Got that too. Good luck to you when they arrive at your door.

        • Will Harrington :

          To be clear, they were not charged with Blasphemy. They were charged with a secular crime, hooliganism. One can only assume they went into this knowing their act could get them up to seven years and that they got what they wanted. The Church, by the way, asked for clemency.

        • “Now, Russia may not be free, but I don’t think we should support an authoritarian regime….”

          Seriously Wesley? There are serious problems in Russia- most especially corruption – but it’s hardly “unfree” or “authoritarian”. Try spending some time there. Read the papers. Talk to people. Wander around. I think you will get a sense of a society with deep problems and a sense of resignation but hardly one that is substantially unfree.

        • It’s always puzzled me how a country so very vast as Russia can possibly sustain a sense of resignation for very long. A country spanning that many timezones! So many internal possibilities, so many resources. If only they had a moral organization uplifting a serious anti-bribery, anti-corruption initiative coast to coast. Maybe if they pull it off they can send the recipe to the Greek Church? Or, vice-versa. Either way works. Sooner would be good. Probably lead to fewer folk wanting to make obscene videos in a church.

          • Michael Bauman :

            Harry, you are looking through the eyes of an American. There is a reason that Russian Orthodox spirituality emphasizes podvig.

            Russia has been ruled by some of the most spectacularly venal and bloody tyrants in the history of the world, it went from essentially the feudal system to communism without much of a break. The communists didn’t invent the Russian secret police. They’ve been running a black market economy (what we call corruption) for a long, long time. When you combine the number of Russians killed by their own government, WWI and WWII together the numbers are staggering. Most of those killed were healthy, strong, intelligent people. The very ones most countries need to build anything long term. Why should they have any opptimism especially about their govenment or the official economy.

            Then there is the weather.

            • As it’s been many years since there was a major war in Russia, and since they’ve thrown off the communist dictator-oppressors, it’s time for the Russian church to re-assess, and to identify with the local people and speak to issues. A serious anti-corruption anti-bribery campaign for reasons of morality, anti-bribery and anti-corruption on the basis of the good places it will lead, and not on the basis of what will happen if you get caught. Of course that’s been called naive as have I, but then really when you look at it the entire Christian project is similarly naive. So, you know, aim high, in for a penny in for a pound, the only way out is through, like that.

              • Harry, completely and heartily agree with you. It’s wonderful to see the Church rebuilt, but it is in vain if it does not shape the morality of the society. Of course, the morality of American evangelical organizations is so regressive – unabashed war lust, rampant health and wealthism, condemnatory moralism, etc, etc – that sometimes I feel reticent about criticizing any other religious culture as an American. But as an Orthodox Christian of Russian background, your observations resonate deeply.

                • I’m often challenged when struggling to write about these things. One sees something that has broad consequences and would lead to great stuff if it were taken on in a systematic way emphasizing the reason the effort is worthwhile, whether or not any punishment dispenser is watching. So how to go about mentioning it? No matter how it’s put the response can always be along the lines ‘leave me alone to continue on this path, noticing that you yourself lack perfection in (insert list here) ways.

                  What do I know, I’m just a guy who writes software for a living. I just look at maps of Russia and see all that land and all those resources, well the thing is just vast. There are numerous pockets of excellence in education and the arts, so one thinks ‘well this looks poised for real improvement, what’s holding them back?’ So many lives would be better off if their internal pace of progress and construction wasn’t all gummed up in dis-economic political ‘need 15 stamps and several judicious donations to walk one step down the road’.

    • Archpriest Ian Hammett :

      When Kirill was Bishop of Smolensk and Head of the Seminary in Leningrad (as it was then)the KGB dumped him in the boon docks for teaching true Christianity and Orthodoxy in the Seminary. He was brought back by Pat. Alexey II as Head of the Dept of Foreign Affairs. It is normal for a Patriarch of an Eastern Orthodox Church to be on good terms with the Leader of the Country even if that person has a dubious past(Putin was former Head of KGB). It is customary in our Churches to pray for the Head of State and for their health. In their protest these young punks did not mention Putin by namebut their choice of venue for their protest would have caused great scandal to the people of Russia who are 80% Orhtodox Christians and not just in name only but as regular participants in Church activities. The western media should leave this alone and let the Russians do what has to be done.

      • Fr. Ian: What do you find the Gospel has to say regarding due time in prison for offensive words said by unpopular people in the context of not disrupting a service, no damaged items and no injuries?

        Am I wrong that ‘an eye for a tooth’ was rejected by Old Testament in favor of ‘a tooth for a tooth’, and in the Gospel ‘a tooth for a tooth’ is rejected on first offense in favor of ‘turning the other cheek’ when insulted?

        How does it happen it is apropos for churchmen to reference current trends in the Russian civil authority over the Gospel in this matter?

        What have I overlooked?

  3. macedonianreader :

    Which is why, Wesley, if you read the news (the actual news) you would notice that the Church was for leniency from the get-go. The State is the state.

    If we take such a matter-of-fact view of Sacred places in free societies and allow their desecration, there there will soon no longer be free societies. Most of the Founders understood this, even the ones who were not believers.

    The girls were sued by the faithful, just like they are suing Madonna for trampling on an Orthodox Cross at one of her concerts.

    • Wesley J. Smith :

      Yes, I am aware of that. But I think the Church should have been opposed to the months-long jailing of the women and opposed draconian prosecution from the git go, an American colloquialism for “from the beginning.”

      As an American, I can’t fathom the suing of Madonna for the descecration. But we have a pretty absolutist view of Freedom of Speech. It means we are also free to speak, which is why you don’t see “hate speech commissions” here to punish the politically incorrect as seen in Canada or the UK, for example.

      • macedonianreader :

        How is this draconian? Were they not allowed to defend themselves? Did they not get a closing statement, have they not the entire Western media base on their side?

        The only people who really disagree with them are the Russian people, but who cares what they think? We think for them …

        • Wesley J. Smith :

          Well, this is an international story–precisely because the government was so heavy-handed and authoritarian in this instance. That trial was jumping like a kangaroo. We all have a duty to speak out against oppression. The Church most of all.

          I hope the government hearkens to the call for mercy here. Indeed, It would be splendid if the Patriarch led the protests against the imprisonment. Now THAT would show the Church believes in freedom for the Russian people, which includes proportionality and even-handedness in criminal law enforcement.

          • Michael Bauman :

            Distrubed expletive deleted.

          • Michael Bauman :

            Where is the western outcry against the continued crimes against women and Chrisitans and people in general commited by Islam (crickets). The Russian action and events are an international story because the elite media-masters in the US have gotten the line that Russia is not favored and we still think we can bully them. Don’t think that anyone actually cares.

            This isn’t oppression–not even close. Unfortuately, I can see you when the real oppression comes to this land, as it will, being among those raising their voices against those backward, oppresive, phobic Christians who need to be put in their place. Now that’s disturbing.

          • macedonianreader :

            Heavy handed, jumping like a kangaroo? Where you there Wesley? Are you trained to identify via the New York Times and Huffington Post a Kangaroo Court, or do you just take their word for it?

            The Church has the responsibility to speak out against those who blaspheme the Church, which She did. They also spoke out, one priest at a time, against the prison time.

            Masturbating in public isn’t protected speech, neither is walking into a Church (private property) desecrating it, and abusing those who are there to worship.

      • Dn Brian Patrick Mitchell :

        It wasn’t too long ago in the United States that antics like Madonna’s would have gotten her and half the people in Hollywood thrown in jail on morals charges. We had “vice squads” to crack down on pornography and public lewdness. Was that authoritarian? Did it make us un-American?

        The fact is, the “Riot” crowd is actively working to overthrow not just the Russian state but what’s left of Christian civilization, with the support of Western nations that cannot tolerate other nations not made in their own image, open to the same evils and closed to the same truths.

        And if two years sounds like a long time for anarchist criminality, including several stunts much worse than hooliganism in the cathedral, consider that the Bolshevik takeover of Russia might have been averted if the czar hadn’t been so forgiving of die-hard revolutionaries like Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky in the decades before World War I.

        Consider also that what the Church does is one thing and what the State must do to save itself and the Church is something else.

        • ‘Scorched Earth’ is always effective if you can scorch enough of it. Very peaceful. Is it good?

          Is not the approach favored in the Gospel one of increasing understanding and cooperation so that such antics do not generate supporters?

          When the cork is feeling pressure to blow up the bottle, pressing down on the cork buys time, and if nothing else is done to address the real causes the explosion later is only the larger for it.

          • Dn Brian Patrick Mitchell :

            Thank God, Harry, that He has given us not just the Church but also the state, “to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4) — in other words, to do the dirty work necessary for the preservation of civilized existence in the fallen world.

            • The closing remarks of the immediately preceding Rom12: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”[a] says the Lord. 20 Therefore

              “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
              If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
              For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”[b]

              21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

          • …and that is exactly the Russian historical precedent, or rather, nasty habit: push dissenters to the limit, beyond the pale of common discourse, where their ideology becomes hardened into destructive revolution in the absence of any hope for accommodation. The 6% of Russians who support PR/Voina more than Putin are being pushed just this way. It’s not inevitable, but when every talking head in the country points out that dissent against Putin’s coziness with Patr. Kyrill is ‘pernicious foreign hostility against the body of Holy Russia’ it becomes clear that those in charge of secular power there would have it no other way. There is no conversation possible with such men. Of course, PR are already highly marginal and toxically radical, so it’s almost too late already. But the Church could exert a positive role over the rest of the people to accommodate their dissent. So far, it looks like that is far off.

            Just the other week, Metr. Hilarion Alfeyev spoke in San Francisco’s MP Cathedral of St. Nicholas, and engaged a bit of historical revisionism in the presence of concelebrant Metr. Ilarion Kapral of ROCOR and a gathering of (mostly Russian) faithful. Alfeyev spoke of ROCOR’s previous principled break with Moscow in strictly pejorative terms, calling for thorough repentance of the very critical impulse which led to breaking communion during the Communist dominance of The Russian Orthodox Church. This bold gesture bespeaks a church with the assumed authority to re-write history to prove its current hegemony.

            From a non-Russian prospective, that amounts to dangerous hybris.

  4. Michael Bauman :

    Mr. Smith have you ever looked at the web-site of the activities of the Freedom From Religion Foundation who say that they are merely upholding the Constitutional (even though it is not) principal of ‘the separation of Church and state.”

    There name says it all, I think. So much for free speech I think too. Now that’s distrubing.

    • Wesley J. Smith :

      Well, I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing defending the free exercise of religion lately. But the fact that we are in an anti Christian era doesn’t justify authoritarian means for punishing these crude women. That will hurt the Church in my view, not help it.

      • Will Harrington :

        Um. You would prefer non-authoritarian means. All legal means of punishment are, de facto authoritarian. The alternative is usually linching, or maybe tar and feathering or other mob inspired punishments. Or no punishment at all, which is an invitation to social anarchy and increased criminality. I’m not convinced that a group with a history of public lewdness in such a way that children could be exposed would not have recieved a lighter sentence in the USA. But since its Russia viewed through our press, criminal behavior is ignored because all they are really interested in is politics. Crimes, to get attention, have to be here and either spectacular or have a pretty young white girl as the victim. Crimes in Russia? No one is dead? not one? Not important. Can it be spun as political? That will run.

      • Michael Bauman :

        Mr. Smith, I would say that the proper word is authoritative, an act of giving order to a disordered state by someone who has the authority to do so. Are you seriously questionning the authority of the Russian government and/or the Russian Orthodox Church in this matter? If you are, by what authority do you make such an claim?

        What the nihilist miscreants did was not an act of freedom. The action they took was authoritarian in nature. Once again, it seems to me that you don’t really understand the words you use or you use them in some sort of place that has a tenuous connection life as it is actually lived.

      • M. Stankovich :

        Holy cow, I had to check if I was drunk. Wesley J. Smith, I actually have your back, bro!

        I have written elsewhere reminding of the fact that in 1989, ACT UP “stormed” St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC during mass served by Cardinal John O’Connor – which, in and of itself, probably would have been tolerated – only to have “activists” make a public display of desecrating the eucharist. A large number of activists were arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, and Larry Kramer made the case for ACT UP that “lives were at stake” and that the Catholic Church was responsible for “holocaust” by refusing to distribute information about HIV/AIDS. And while this event has become a “sanctified legend,” the reality is that there was mainstream outrage, not sympathy nor support. Cardinal O’Connor and the Archdiocese played it “low-key” and let the “atrocity” speak for itself. Most importantly, such a tactic was never employed by ACT UP again, the lesson they learned did not come from the RC, but was social intolerance for their gross inappropriateness.

        The action of these women was despicable, no argument. We have every right to be morally outraged. But we do have the right to ask the courts to punish according to our moral outrage rather than the rule of law? It is more than vaguely reminiscent of Pilate’s dilemma (Lk 19), “I find no basis to bring charge against him (under the law)” “By our law he must die for making himself the Son of God.” “But, but…” Again, the activists of ACT UP were charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest; apparently, NYC has no law against desecrating the eucharist. Equally apparent, the RC did not lobby nor advocate for such a law, presumably trusting that God is capable of managing the offense Himself. The women were charged with “hooliganism.”

        “Hooliganism” was historically a cynical, purposely “spirit-breaking” crime used by the Soviets against anyone that was displeasing, for any reason, generally without explanation or justification (and while we have mayhem, there is no comparison). Along with teaching Christianity, hooliganism was the primary manner by which the Soviets “legally” persecuted the Church. So how ironic is it that the charge of hooliganism is now being employed on behalf of the Church? Authoritarian, Wesley J. Smith? It’s downright Soviet!

        As Rocky Balboa so aptly stated, “Hang around coconuts, you turn into a coconut.” Put young women in with “professional” criminals and you will not receive “penitents” on the other side. To allow this blurring of the line between Church and state will necessarily promote conflict; and while the crime occurred in a church and was morally offensive, let the punishment fit the crime according to the rule of law. As for the rest, our God is a just judge, hardly impotent, merciful, and jealous.

        • Michael Bauman :

          Whose law?

          What I find almost as morally offensive as the act itself is the ‘englightened west’ castigating Russian law and expecting that Russia use our law which we don’t even follow much any more.

        • M. Stankovich :

          Mr. Bauman,

          The last time I checked, Russia was a member of the International Court of Justice at the Haig. This would suggest they have moved beyond “feudal justice,” and it is more than reasonable to have some expectations as to their respect for principles of international law. Maybe someone could have advized the Patriarch that the decision to “re-consecrate” the cathedral – an event that attracted 100,000+ people – shortly before the trial might strike as “predictive” of the eventual outcome. Or that the punishment for a contrived offense did not fit the actual crime by any international standard of law. In our country we allow “victim impact statements” to be considered in the determination of punishment, but we rely on the wisdom of judges who, like Solomon, make decisions pursuant to wisdom and the rule of law, and not by their emotions.

  5. Michael Bauman :

    Among other things the Bishops call for no violent reaction to the despicable acts and place the acts fully in their theological and historical context.

    Have you ever thought, Mr. Smith, that had the Russian state not imposed the penalty that it did acts of retrobution and violence against the miscreants and their friends might have followed? Have you ever thought that the penalty you so decry was an act of both mercy and, in a manner of speaking, a protection of the miscreants from further harm?

    Evidently the Bishops thought it a real possibility such violence could occur or they would not even have mentioned it. But that is probably too distrubing to your finely tuned sensibilities. And certainly the barbaric Russian state and its partner in barbarism the Russian Orthodox Church would never show such mercy and concern for public order, would they?

  6. Missing from this article is that “the regime” was most recently headed by Mr. Putin assisted by Agent “Mikhailov” in his assignment to the World Council of Churches.

  7. Cynthia Curran :

    Mr Smith , I agree a less punishment but those girls are being back by George Soros who thumbs his nose at things religous.

    • Wesley J. Smith :

      Why am I not surprised. But we can’t let his attacks on decency destroy ours. Thanks.

      • Michael Bauman :

        Mr. Smith, it is obvious that you have much greater faith in democracy than I do, but how is there any relation to what Russia does within its own borders, with its own citizens responding to its own concerns? It has zero effect on our so-called democracy (i.e, our plutocracy that is every bit as corrupt as you claim Russia’s is). You sound like some sort of neo-Wilsonian, but that’s just little ol’ distrubed me.

        Soros is destroying our so-called democracy, what little remains, sponsoring and funding legislation that would glorify the licentious activities of the criminal sluts and other amoral malcontents and by buying up, as often as he can, those who control the voting process at the state level and, I’m sure, helping the efforts of our “deomcratic” government to keep as many illegal aliens as possible on the roles and allow more and more ineligible or purely fictional folks to vote. Oh, and don’t forget all the dead people in Chicago that elected John Kennedy and indirectly gave us that so so wonderful democratic leader Lyndon Baines Johnson who rose to political power due to some creative ballot box stuffing by his sponsers in Texas. And don’t forget the current resident of the White House who refuses to submit a budget, rules by executive order through Czars. Now that’s democracy in action isn’t it?

        How do you propose to stop Soros? Get a petition drive together? He is a wealthy, amoral, highly connected and skilled plutocrat. He is winning by riding the wave of our ‘democratic’ passion fest of a nation in which virtue is punished and God is some archaic idea that needs to be purged from the body politic. The poor delusional souls who still cling to that outdated notion of God, well, we need to make sure they are well cared for in their delusion. We have to ‘democratically’ reduce their importance and influence by making everything they do illegal outside the boundaries of their churches. We will invade those too eventually. The acts in Russia were a trial ballon and a preview of coming attractions in our free, enlightened and democratic nirvana.

        Sheeez, we’ve never been a democracy. Up to the Civil War we were, mostly, a constitutional republic with limited suffrage druing which most of the political class actually care about how to govern for the freedom of the citizens, not how to buy their votes with entitlements. During the Civil War we were largely a dictatorship. (And what a wonderful display of ‘democracy’ the Civil War was–kill all those folks who don’t agree with you politically, crush them economically when they are miltarily defeated forcing ‘representatives’ on them in the process and hypocritically justify it as fighting slavery and defending the union). After the Civil War we have careened from one populist plutocracy to another with increasing suffrage to be sure, but less and less meaning for those votes. Its mostly smoke and mirrors, a shadow puppet show to keep the masses entertained. Soros is just the latest Robber Baron demanding his cut of the action and control.

        The Presedential candidates essentially buy their nominations through a highly rigged system the rewards mediocrity, lack of vision and ideological commitment. Is that democracy?

        Do you really believe that stuff about ‘our democracy’ or is it just a personal fantasy that you use to keep yourself from being disturbed? Where do you actually see any that isn’t a fading residue of the non-democratic founders?

        News Flash: we are only free in our obedience to God. There is no other freedom. The best that government can do is to keep as many of its citizens from harming each other as possible while holding to account those who do harm others. Seems like Russia did a pretty good job that far surpasses the trial by combat, let’s hear it for the poor vicitmized perpetators approach that has become the norm in our evolved and enlightened ‘democracy’.

  8. I thought the article as a whole was well-written, but Mr Jenkins is mistaken on at least one matter. The Oi! scene of the late 1970s was most emphatically not the invention of “Far-Right British skinheads.” The early Oi! bands attracted some right-wing fans, but had many more left-wing and apolitical skinhead fans.

  9. Cynthia Curran :

    Well, the WCC is what wrong with the orthodox churches more than Putin. One thing I agree with Mr Smith this was crude behavior on their part but Russia and Greece should allow more religious freedom. Greece is ahead of Russia in this regard since the anti-preaching laws aim at Roman Catholics or Protestants are still on the books but not enforced.

    • Wesley J. Smith :

      I think Frederica Mathewes-Green, characteristically, hit just the right note on this in her Ancient Faith Radio podcast. She captures the righteous and just outrage, but also I think, the proper response being community service requiring the gathering of stories about the martyrs from the Soviet era.

      I have followed the arguments here and elswhere. I think Frederica captures the essence of “both sides.” Brava!

  10. Paul Stetsenko :

    OK, let’s run an imaginary experiment.
    Tomorrow I go to the National Cathedral in Washington DC, and perform a Pussy-Riot-like act, in English, singing anathema to the current President.
    What do you think will happen to me after that, hm? Two years in an American prison?

    When I left the Soviet Union 22 years ago, there were just plain commissars. Now, there are commissars in riasas. “Turn the other cheek” is not the way of the modern Russian Orthodox Church. More like, “Onward, Christian soldiers, smite them with your might!”

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Forget the National Cathedral. Christians are not an offendable category in American culture. The Muslims are. That is where you would need to go to measure reaction. (I am not advising you do this, BTW.)

  11. Cynthia Curran :

    Well, people on the right think of it as just being anti-Putin not understanding since it was done in a church its mocking religion. I agree I don’t always like church -state unions . Pussy-Riot is supported by the left since the Occupy movement has adopted them. Now liberal protestants in the WCC also like this since they hate traditional morality and don’t see eye to eye on Putin in all issues unless he’s anti-USA.

  12. They desecrated our church!
    They broke the law!
    They deserve what sentence they’ve received!

    How dare they promote their discusting way of life in our church?

    Bravo!!! To the law.


  1. […] us to our knees, we crawl to God."AnonymousIf You Were Born in Russia ☆ ☆ ☆ 2) The Rise of the Militant Godless Fr. Johannes Jacobse on Tuesday, Aug […]

  2. […] Pussy Riot descrating Christ the Savior Cathedral (Click to enlarge) – Source: Real Clear Religion | Philip Jenkins | HT: AOI Observer […]

  3. […] HT: American Orthodox Instiutte, Fr. Peter Preble Get the Word out – Share this on your Social Media page! Tweet Filed Under: Freedom Tagged With: Christ the Savior Cathedral, desecration, Persecution About Fr. John PeckI am a priest in the Orthodox Church in America, an award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and a professional business and non-profit administrator. […]

Care to Comment?