FaithWorld

Does McCain see real faith factor in Russia-Georgia conflict?

Russian tank rolls through Georgian region of South Ossetia, 10 August 2008/Vasily FedosenkoRecognising when religion plays a part in a military conflict can be a tricky business. Its role can easily be overemphasized, underplayed or misunderstood. Having covered several such conflicts myself, I was curious when I saw Ted Olsen’s post at Christianty Today about how John McCain stresses Georgia’s Christian heritage when talking about its conflict with Russia. When Russian forces rolled into Georgia in support of pro-Moscow separatists there,  McCain’s reaction statement noted that Georgia was “one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion.” In his televised discussion with leading evangelical pastor Rick Warren on Saturday, he said “the king of then Georgia in the third century converted to Christianity. You go to Georgia and you see these old churches that go back to the fourth and fifth century.”

John McCain and Rick Warren, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryHistory is fascinating but McCain’s use of it here begs the question whether there is an actual faith factor in this conflict or just in his presentation of it. Russia, after all, is also a traditionally Christian nation, but he made no mention of that. After the fall of communism there, the Russian Orthodox Church has resumed its traditional role there — as has the Georgian Orthodox Church in the Caucasian republic after state-sponsored atheism lost out there too. There are no obvious doctrinal disputes that divide them.

Church-to-church relations also seem reasonable. According to the Russian news agency Interfax, senior officials of the two churches spoke by telephone last week and “declared their common peacemaking position and readiness to cooperate in this field.” Patriarchs of both churches have called for a ceasefire and condemned the violence among fellow Christians. “Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love confront each other,” Russia’s Primate Alexiy II said. “What is most important (is that) we (are) united with Christian faith and must live peacefully without blood,” Georgian Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II said.

Georgian Patriarch Ilia II (r) speaks with Russian Major General  Vyacheslav Borisov in Gori, Georgia, 15 August 2008/Gleb GaranichSince Orthodox churches are organised nationally, each side naturally reflects in some way its own country’s political view of the crisis. But even in his protest letter to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, Ilia’s only reference to religion was his lament that Orthodox were killing each other.

Other religious authorities — Pope Benedict after an Angelus prayer and the World Council of Churches and Conference of European Churches in a joint statement — have also mentioned the two countries’ common Christian heritage in their calls for a ceasefire but not implied it played any role in the conflict.

Warm words hint at further Vatican-Moscow thaw

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy meet in Moscow, 29 May 2008/Alexander NatruskinWith some news events, not much happens but the atmosphere is so striking that it’s worth mentioning all the same. That was the case in Moscow this week as Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, met Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II.

Though this was an unofficial visit, the patriarch and the cardinal both took care to use language noticeable for its friendly, accommodating and even warm tone in their greetings – a continuation of what is seen as a “thaw” and “emerging cooperation” between the two churches.

“I am convinced of the necessity in an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, based on the coincidence of our positions on many of the issues facing the Christian world today,” Alexiy told Kasper. “I believe (your) interest in the life and traditions of the (Orthodox) Church will turn out to be important between our two Churches.”

Despite anti-Semitism, Russia lures back Jews

Pro-Israel meeting in a Moscow synagogue, 9 August 2006/Alexander NatruskinJews are returning to Russia. For as long as anyone alive can remember, the flow was mostly in the other direction. But Amie Ferris-Rotman and Conor Sweeney in our Moscow bureau have found a return wave, despite a persistent anti-Semitism there:

Around one million Jews fled during the Soviet era and the post-communist chaos. Those returning now from Israel, the United States and Europe hope to use their new skills and old knowledge to do business.

“Now there are services here, like in New York and Paris, but the lifestyle is more interesting than in either of them — it’s easy to understand why thousands are coming back,” said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress.