76Journal of the American Academy of Religion
The Roman Catholic Church announced in the Second Vatican Councilthat it was the duty of believers to support democracy and human rights.. . . But the church in the east has never addressed these issues and founditself unprepared with the fall of Communism.—Mirko Djordjevic, retired literature professor (in Hedges 1997)
HE ABOVE QUOTATIONS shape one of the questions that this ar-ticle hopes to address: Are Eastern Orthodox Christianity and democracy incompatible? Recent images within the press might suggest a positiveresponse to this question.
Recent writings by Orthodox theologians ex-press a more ambivalent view of the relation between Orthodoxy and de-mocracy. In the early part of the century the Russian theologian SergiusBulgakov, known for his political writings, argued that there “is no dog-matic bond between Orthodoxy and any particular political system” (inHarakas 1976: 408).
Such a statement gives the impression that the Or-thodox Church gives tacit approval even to the worst forms of totalitar-ian and oppressive governments. More recently, Thomas Hopko, former
See, for example, the, by now infamous, “Russian Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Reli-gious Association.” For discussion on the law, see Witte and Bourdeaux. There is also the recent ses-sion of the Joint Russian–Iranian Commission on the “Islam–Orthodoxy” Dialogue held in Moscow in June 1999: Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and considered the number two person in the Rus-sian Orthodox Church, and Aya Mohammed Ali Tashkiri, the president of Iran’s Culture and IslamicRelations Organization, expressed their unified stance in protecting their traditions against what they perceived as an attack from western liberal values (reported by Andrei Zolotov Jr. in “Moslems, Ortho-dox Find Common Foe?”
The Moscow Times
, 8 June 1999; available at www.moscowtimes.ru/stories/1999/06/08/008.html; accessed 18 December 2002; for the communiqué issued at the end of the session,see www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/9906a.html; accessed 18 December 2002). Some might also pointto the response by the hierarchs and clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) during the wars inBosnia and Kosovo. During the Bosnian war the responses by members of the hierarchy and clergy of the Orthodox churches in Bosnia and Serbia were confused and contradictory. For such responses, seeSells and Mojzes. Since the publication of these writings, and in the midst of revising this article, theSOC has more consistently declared publicly its opposition to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošovi
and its support for the implementation of democratic reforms and structures in Serbia itself and through-out Bosnia and Kosovo (see Gall). The SOC’s (2000a, 2000b) recent position culminated in its immedi-ate acceptance of Vojislav Kostunica as the legitimate president of Yugoslavia (for the statement of sup-port for Kostunica issued by the Holy Synod of the SOC, visit www.orthodoxnews.com). Although thereexist extreme nationalist and fanatical elements within the SOC, the conflict in the Balkans during thepast decade is a manifestation of an Orthodox Church being “unprepared” to deal with the consequencesof the fall of communism and of a church in search for an understanding of its proper role in relation toa state and culture whose identity it has played a constitutive role in forming. This article hopes in partto give the SOC’s more recent pro-democracy stance theological grounding.
The Russian Orthodox Church took a similar position in August 2000 in the publication of itscomprehensive social document,
The Orthodox Church and Society: The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church
. The document reaffirms a 1994 Bishops’ Council of the RussianOrthodox Church, which declared that “the Church does not give preference to any social systemor any of the existing political doctrines” (3.7). This article argues that on inner theological groundsOrthodox churches can and must give “preference” to existing political philosophies.