The religious comeback after Communist atheism

Bezbozhnik_u_stanka_15-1929The Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe strongly enforced the atheism mandated by Communist ideology.  They promoted atheism by laws, education, and brutal persecution of religious believers.  Schools taught required courses in atheism.

Churches were torn down or converted into movie theaters or (in the case of the Lutheran church in St. Petersburg) swimming pools.  Thousands of pastors were killed or consigned to the Gulags.  I talked with an Estonian who told me that her son once went inside an abandoned church because he was interested in the artwork.  He was warned never to do that again or he wouldn’t be allowed to go to university.

But 25 years ago, Communism collapsed in Russia and Eastern Europe.  Now those regions are arguably more religious than most of the countries of Western Europe.

A study by Pew Research shows the massive failure of Soviet atheism.  In the 18 former-Communist countries surveyed, 86% of the population believe in God.

And yet the temporary loss of a religious history shows.  Most citizens associate religious belief with national identity.  And they aren’t necessarily going to church all that much.

Catholics go to church more than the Orthodox.  But the Orthodox are more conservative morally when it comes to issues like homosexuality.

The Pew study describes religion in the former Communist states as “believing and belonging, without behaving.”

Read about the findings after the jump.

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Hank Hanegraff, the Bible Answer Man, joins the Orthodox Church

640px-Hank_HanegraaffHank Hanegraff, who hosts the Bible Answer Man radio show and who operates the Christian Research Institute, has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

An apologists for evangelicalism, Hanegraff and his ministry has spoken against Baptismal regeneration and the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  This has put him against Lutheranism.

But now he is embracing the sacraments and other beliefs of Eastern Orthodoxy, including the doctrine of theosis.

He is foreswearing Protestantism, but he is continuing his work with the CRI and the Bible Answer Man.

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Orthodox Church will have its “Vatican II”

The “Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church” will be held in Crete, June 16-27.  The Council, which will be attended by the leaders of all of the world’s 14 Orthodox bodies (though two are threatening boycott),  is being described as the Orthodox equivalent of “Vatican II.”  The issues to be taken up will reportedly include ecumenical relations, how to handle marriage to someone who is not Orthodox, problems of ethnic identity, achieving greater unity, and dealing with various contemporary questions.  After the jump, a story from a Catholic site with an interview of a key Orthodox player.

Orthodox readers, can you tell us more about this?  This wouldn’t have the authority of the early church councils, would it?, since it isn’t “ecumenical.”  But how would this fit in with its “conciliar” theology?  Do you expect the council to take up issues that are roiling the Western churches, such as homosexuality, gender issues, etc.?  Is the council likely to “modernize” Orthodoxy, as Vatican II did to Roman Catholicism?

UPDATE:  Five church bodies are refusing to come, including the biggest one, the Russian Orthodox Church.  So nearly half of the world’s Orthodox churches representing a majority of Orthodox Christians won’t be there.  For a good discussion of this disunity, including the big issue of the conflict between Russia and Constantinople for leadership in Orthodoxy, go here.  (HT:  Joe & McCain)

UPDATE: The Council will go on as planned, despite the absence of the Russians.  The Serbian church decided to attend after all, so only four will be absent.

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Russian Orthodox declare “holy war” against terrorism

The Orthodox church has once against assumed its traditional role in Russia, giving moral support to the reigning regime.  Now in support of the Russian military intervention in Syria, the church has declared a “holy war” against terrorism.

Could any of you Orthodox readers explain the relationship between the various branches of your church?  I know that there is supposed to be a doctrinal unity between them all, and they all uphold the authority of the bishops.  Do the actions of these Russian bishops carry weight with you?  (I know, for example, that the murdered Czar and his family members have been or are being canonized by the Russian church.  So, if you are Antiochan Orthodox, are you obliged also to recognize them as saints?)

But can there really be a Christian jihad?

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Greek soteriology?

I stumbled upon this post from 2012 on The Old Jamestown Church, a “Classical Anglican” blog, written by an ex-Orthodox, now Anglican, priest on the issues Westerners considering Orthodoxy would need to deal with.  I don’t want to stir anything up with my Orthodox friends and readers, but the author made an intriguing point–bolstered by a quotation from the distinguished church historian Alister McGrath–that I wanted to run past you for your thoughts.

He said that the Early Church worked out the important theological foundations of the Trinity and Christology.  But the next important question, soteriology–how we are saved–was not, at first, fully resolved in the same way.  St. Augustine did the heavy lifting, but the issue was still being worked out through the Middle Ages, culminating in the Reformation.  But the Greek churches were already going their own way, mostly rejecting Augustine’s work, and favoring a Hellenized take on the Hebrew Scriptures.  As a result, he says, Orthodox soteriology is very different from Western soteriology, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant.

Read the excerpt after the jump.  Can anyone speak to whether this analysis of church history is valid?  Are these differences exaggerated?  Is there a way any such differences can be reconciled, such as the effects of Baptism and Holy Communion?  Where does the “Finnish School” of Luther studies, which says that Luther advocated a kind of theosis consistent with Orthodoxy, fit into this debate? [Read more…]

Russia’s mission to restore traditional values?

Russia reportedly sees its mission as restoring traditional values to the world, over against the “libertine West.”  This is involving a new alliance between Vladimir Putin’s government and the Russian Orthodox Church.  The immediate goal is to spread the ideal of “holy Russia” throughout Eurasia.  So says Forbes contributor Paul Coyer, excerpted after the jump.

I’ve heard some conservatives  praise Putin’s administration for its opposition to gay rights and other socially liberal movements.  Can or should American Christians get behind the Russian effort?  What would be the problems with that?  I’m curious too to hear from American orthodox folks.  I realize that not all Orthodox churches are Russian Orthodox.  But are any of you in that tradition, and, if so, do you go along with “holy Russia”?  Are any of you other Orthodox in favor of what Putin is trying to do? [Read more…]