Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Russian Church ponders practice of blessing weapons

(Canberra Times) - Russian priests should refrain from the practice of blessing nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction that can inflict indiscriminate loss of life, according to new guidelines being discussed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

During two decades in power, President Vladimir Putin has aligned himself with the Orthodox Church, which has also developed closer ties with the ministry of defence.

Russian priests have long appeared in images sprinkling holy water on submarines, ballistic missiles, Soyuz space rockets and other pieces of hardware as part of rituals to bless them.

But some of that is set to stop if the church approves a document drawn up by an Orthodox Church commission.

"The blessing of military weapons is not reflected in the tradition of the Orthodox Church and does not correspond to the content of the Rite," the document, on the Moscow patriarchate's website, says.

Blessing or sanctifying weapons that can kill an "indefinite number of people" must be excluded from pastoral practice, it says.

The proposals will be discussed until June 1 and the public should also take part in the debate, the church's Moscow branch said.

In a striking symbol of close defence-church ties in Russia, the armed forces are building their own sprawling cathedral at a military themed park outside Moscow. It is set to be one of the tallest Orthodox churches in the world.


  1. Good. Perhaps an exorcism instead.

  2. I wonder about this seemingly peacenik instinct. I recall years ago (this was early 2000's I think - maybe late 90') when Jim Forest, Met. Timothy Ware and others (including my current priest who was a newly converted neophyte and member of Forest's reform group) penned a letter to the then Serbian Patriarch arguing that he too should remove this rite and tradition. I never heard if the Serbian Patriarch replied to Met. Ware.

    These facts make one wonder about the veracity of this documents assertion that these sorts of practices are "not reflected in the tradition of the Orthodox Church. Heck, even David Bentley Hart (who himself it can be argued has 'pacifist' instincts) penned a piece in Touchstone during the 2nd Gulf War saying the pacifist inclinations of modern (particular english speaking) Orthodox had more to do with their own inclinations than history and the Tradition itself.

    The documents assertion of the moral distinctions of different kinds of weapons - for example, a nuclear weapon is morally distinguished from say a rifle that is presumably a targeted, limited, and thus morally different sort of weapon - is problematic and has a poor record/history in recent moral thought.

    Hopefully, the Russian synod will put in the effort to work through the philosophy and background of this "commission" and its recommendations...

  3. Forgive me, I'm no theologian, but isn't the Christian position on war and fighting clear from the mouth of our Lord in Luke 6:29 "To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either."

    I'm not naïve about what Christians and the church has done and will do in war, with armies, etc. and what the church might have do by economia, but is blessing weapons in any way justifiable as an official position

    1. "...but isn't the Christian position on war and fighting clear from the mouth of our Lord in Luke 6:29 "To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either."


    2. Apparently the Lord didn't know what He was talking about ;-)

    3. No one is claiming the Lord didn't know what He was talking about. Rather there is an obvious necessity to not simply read Scripture in a superficial manner without the commentary of the Fathers. Taking one quote and claiming it founds a position does not work in our Tradition, otherwise you would have to claim that the Lord contradicted Himself when He said in John 15:13 that, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
      God gave us the Fathers so that (among other things) we might better understand Holy Scripture — let's not ignore what God has given us.

    4. Absolutely with you on the need to be informed by the Fathers. I would love to learn what they said about the church's position on wars and weapons, particularly if it could shed some light on the practice of blessing weapons. I'm ready to concede that "it's complicated", but any leads/glimmers would be appreciated.

    5. "An Antiochene Orthodox priest of my acquaintance recently told me, with every appearance of sincerity, that he had converted to the Eastern Church because he was a pacifist. For a moment, I was uncertain as to whether he was attempting to baffle me with some cunningly constructed paradox.

      I would have found it a no more impenetrable non sequitur had he announced that he had joined the local Elks’ lodge because of his passion for beautiful young women, or that he enjoyed reading Calvin for the witticisms. But it soon became clear that he had meant his remark not only in earnest, but without any sense at all of its absurdity; indeed, he was somewhat disconcerted to discover that, in my own conversion to Orthodoxy almost two decades earlier, I had not been inspired in the slightest by similar motives.

      It strikes me as a singular sort of delusion to imagine that the Eastern Orthodox tradition is any more hospitable to pacifism than the Western Catholic tradition, given the utter absence of pacifist tenets from Orthodoxy’s teachings, liturgy, or history. And yet, apparently, it is a delusion shared by a not inconsiderable number of (Western) Eastern Christians at present...."

    6. I like to translate this passage with current English - replacing the anachronistic "sword" with its functional and current equivalent:

      35 And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?”

      So they said, “Nothing.”

      36 Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no assault rifle, let him sell his garment and buy one. 37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be [e]accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.”

      38 So they said, “Lord, look, here are two assault rifles.”

      And He said to them, “It is enough.”

  4. My father told me as a child that these priests were blessing them so that by God's grace they would never be used

    1. An appropriate and "true" explanation for a child I think. Even if you want to follow a "lessor evil" moral theology (such as Fr. Stanley Harakas used to argue for - is he still alive?), the blessing of weapons can be seen in the light of a "may they never be used, and if they are may they always be used toward a 'lessor' evil..."

  5. To give a historical example of the Orthodox view on warfare

    “While fighting with the Byzantines, the Saracens argued that Christians disobeyed Christ's commandment to love ones enemies. During a peace negotiation they challenged:

    "Why do you Christians disobey Christ's commandment to love your enemies, but instead persecute and kill us?"

    Byzantine representative Cyril responded

    "If in a certain law, there are two commandments that must be fulfilled, which man shall be more righteous, he who fulfills both commandments or he who fulfills only one of them?"

    Saracens: "He that fulfills both, of course."

    Cyril: "As individuals we forgive our enemies, but as a community we lay down our lives for one another. For the Lord has said that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one' neighbor. As a community we protect one another and lay down our lives for one another. Not only is your aim to enslave us physically, you also aspire to enslave us spiritually. It is for this reason that we defend ourselves. This therefore is justified."

  6. If any weapon needs a blessing, it is these. We should pray that they are only used as deterrents, and never in an actual war.

  7. Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy is fully backed by both the Russian Church and the Russian state. The Moscow Patriarchate has even designated St. Seraphim of Sarov as the patron saint of Russia's nuclear weapons. Although it's interesting that at least some within the MP now find themselves in something of a moral quandary, it seems highly unlikely that the Russian Holy Synod will change course now.

    1. The author of that article appears to be a modern cultural marxist, and the real complex relationship of religion, culture, and state is beyond him and his narrow/reductionist presuppositions about anthropology and "power".

      This is not to say that there can not be a fruitful debate about these relationships, but a claim of "Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy" is not an example...

  8. Yes, and the author of that article also takes a dim view towards a Russian Orthodoxy that supports and sanctifies nuclear weapons stockpiling. Although it appears the Russian Church is now re-examining this practice with a proposal that the blessing nuclear arsenals be stopped, nonetheless this doesn't really seem to be a option for Russia. As Fr. John Whiteford notes above, "If any weapon needs a blessing, it is these." The current Russian Orthodox doctrine that nuclear weapons protect Orthodoxy, and Orthodoxy protects nuclear weapons, isn't a doctrine that's going away.

  9. There is an essay written by my son 16 years ago that examines the issue. It is on Orthodoxy Today:. The Christian Warrior by Garrison Bauman.

    Here is a key point: There is an icon of St. Demetrius of Thessolonica on which he is killing a Persian soldier. Not possible to 'spiritualize' it.

    Also if you read the works of Fr. Alexander F C Webster you will find a great deal of info.

    Many years ago I ask Jim Forest personally about the "sword" verse and he flat out said he did not know what to do with that verse.

    Bottom line, it is not a doctrinal issue. It is an existential moral dilemma answered in different ways at different times.

    Out and out modern pacifism does not hold as the Christian variety popular in many peace churches relies on a Calvinist God as dictator foundation.

  10. Oh, and let us consider St. George, one of the most popular saints and marytrs in all Christian history. He was not martyred for refusing battle. On the contrary, Caesar himself was honoring St. George for the saints prowess in battle. St. George was martyred because as Caesar was honoring him, St. George refused to worship Caesar as god with even a small pinch of incense.

    Then there is the story of St. George appearing to British and American soldiers the night before the critical WWII battle of El Alemein. He encouraged them to fight hard with courage.

    Hardly the act of a pacifist.