On EWTN and Family Separation: Sister Vassa channels Mother Angelica

On EWTN and Family Separation: Sister Vassa channels Mother Angelica June 23, 2018

Addressing the topic of family separation at the border, Sister Vassa Larin said today on Saturday Morning Live: “This is a very painful situation […] I don’t know of anyone who could observe this story without being deeply disturbed.”

For anyone following this controversy, I invite you to watch the full episode here:

Eastern Catholics often describe Sister Vassa as ‘the Russian Orthodox Mother Angelica’. Not only is her show Coffee with Sister Vassa popular in Christian social media today, but Sister speaks with the same moral clarity and love for Apostolic Tradition for which Mother Angelica was known when addressing contemporary social controversy.

Yet Sister Vassa’s approach as a Russian Orthodox traditionalist, theologian and social media expert could not be more different than that of EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo. As documented earlier this week by my colleague Mike Lewis at Where Peter Is, Arroyo defends the policy of family separation at the border. Or at least he praises it through faint damn.

In contrast, like EWTN founder Mother Angelica, Sister Vassa has little tolerance for partisan politics separating the letter of Christ’s gospel from its spirit.

“Jeff Sessions unfortunately tried to engage Scripture to defend this absolutely inhuman policy, saying this will be a deterrent to other people. They are breaking the law, then they will have to deal with the consequences,” Sister Vassa states. “Is that the way we look at situations of family connections and desperate people–yes desperate people coming with their beloved children?”

Previously in the episode, Sister Vassa explained the brutal persecution these refugees are attempting to escape back home.  They undertake a long and difficult passage to the border, risking life and limb, and they are not aware they will be forcibly separated from the children at the border.

Sister Vassa is no religious liberal. She belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Historically, ROCOR was a traditionalist jurisdiction founded to resist Soviet infiltration and control of the main Russian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. Communion between the two was only restored in 2007 after decades of separation.

In fact, Sister Vassa draws a parallel between communism and the current controversy when talking of incarceration and family separation. “The way it’s being done is just reminiscent of Soviet era, real underhanded brutality. [Parents] are being told sometimes ‘Your child is being taken to be bathed.’ […] They cannot even say goodbye.”

Sister is aware of the appeal to Romans 13:1 cited by those defending this policy of family separation. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” St Paul tells the Romans.

Yet as the Russian Orthodox nun points out, this principle is itself subject to the requirements of Christian Charity. “We accept [Rom 13:1] of course as Christians, however, we do not cease to love and in the spirit look beyond the letter of the law when there are special cases of human beings,” Sister Vassa explains. “There is such a thing as mercy and the softening of hearts.”

In support of the primacy of charity as the traditional Christian position, Sister appeals to Romans 13:8–which she points out is a mere seven verses past Romans 13:1. “He who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law,” St Paul states. Thus within Apostolic Christianity the law of loving one’s neighbour takes precedence over mere obedience to civil authority.

This is the same principle by which pro-life Christians in Canada (including many Catholics and Orthodox) defend the right of Evangelical grandmother Linda Gibbons.

According to the letter of the law, Linda Gibbons is a repeat criminal who has spent over 10 years in prison for peacefully picketing on a public sidewalk outside of Toronto’s most renown abortion clinic. Linda does so because, as a former victim of domestic violence, she regrets her own abortion and wishes to reach other to other women who may be experiencing the same social pressures and feelings of hopelessness that she experienced in her decision to abort.

As noted by the National Post‘s Christie Blatchford, “people convicted of gun offences, serious drug offences, sex assault, drunk driving, child abuse and manslaughter […] have done significantly less time.” To Christians and pro-life activists across Canada–including many political conservatives–the judicial treatment experienced by Linda Gibbons is scandalous. In declaring Miss Gibbons a serious and repeat criminal, the law is deprived of its human element.

Again, it is the law of the land that has convicted Linda Gibbons to over a decade in jail and declared her a repeat criminal.

As an outspoken pro-life Christian and an apologist for orthodox Christianity, Sister Vassa warns us against adopting the argument of those who would condemn Linda Gibbons or refugees seeking to escape persecution with their children.

“What happened in April was this ‘no-tolerance’ policy was announced […] that makes everyone coming through illegally a criminal,” Sister Vassa states.

She then reminds us that Christ demands a different response from his followers towards the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. These are the biblical terms for today’s refugees, women without family support, and children separated from their family.

In doing so, Sister Vassa has better channelled Mother Angelica’s Christian spirit than certain Catholic media.

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