Art and Faith

Monday, 5 November 2007

Do Not Murder!

Do Not Murder!

Post-Soviet Russian poster



This poster makes a crucial distinction. The Decalogue does not say, “Thou shalt not kill”. Rather, it commands us, “Thou shalt not murder”. Unfortunately, this distinction is lost in most English translations. Therefore, the current noise in some circles that the Church condemns warfare per se isn’t founded in fact. If we look at the actual practise of the Church as compared to recent pronouncements by such groups as the “Orthodox Peace Fellowship”, we see that far from being pacifistic, the Church has blessed Christian warriors many times during its history. The forces of the Christian Roman Empire (mistakenly called the Byzantine Empire in most sources) bore the cross upon their shields, and the host was blessed many times not only by priests and bishops, but also, by patriarchs. Throughout their history, the forces of both Christian Rome and Russia carried the icon of Christ upon their banners into battle, and such usage wasn’t considered sacrilegious at the time, nor is it a profanation of the sacred today. Indeed, there were many times when the sword defended the faith. Do remember the example of the boyar Dmitri Pozharsky and the blacksmith Kuzma Minin in leading the Orthodox host in defence of faith and motherland in the early seventeenth century. If they’d been pacifistic, Russia would be a Catholic country today. Indeed, the monks of the St Sergius-Trinity Lavra actively helped defend their monastery against the Poles, and none of them were excommunicated for doing so.

Earlier, in the fourteenth century, we have the example of the heroic schemamonks Peresvet and Oslyabya at the Battle of Kulikovo against the Golden Horde. I’ll not comment on them at present, for there are stirring artworks featuring them, and that would be the proper time to cover them in depth. Before departing for the field of battle, Grand Prince St Dmitri Donskoi went to receive the blessing of St Sergius of Radonezh, the greatest elder of the time. He wasn’t refused. There are icons depicting this, and St Dmitri is shown in full armour, bearing his weapons. Of course, there is also the fact that the Church glorified St Dmitri as being amongst the choir of saints. I’ve seen photographs of Patriarch Sergei Stagorodsky blessing the troops of the Dmitri Donskoi Tank Brigade. There are also photos of religious processions at the front, priests receiving decorations for bravery in battle with the partisans, and of Patriarch Sergei calling on the people to resist the invader. The Church was NOT pacifistic. If Russians had been pacifistic, the Nazis would be ruling Russia as a colony today.


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