Ukraine, Russia,
Orthodoxy & God

You may have noticed that Ukraine, Russia, Orthodoxy and God have been in the news recently. With the political separation of Ukraine and Russia has come the need, as it seems to their members, to separate Ukrainian and Russian Orthodoxy. Whatever the reason, it gives us viewers an opportunity to watch some of the magnificent ceremonies of these colourful religions. Who can fail to respond to the deep bass chanting of the psalms and the brilliant spectacle of service. You don’t have to believe in anything more than beauty to be deeply moved by this feast of love.

Religion, sadly, is not all beauty. Non-believers are often as fervent as believers. So belligerent can either side be that Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of UK, once forecast that future wars would be mostly religious ones. How right he was. Moderation defines some religions, perhaps most notably Buddhism. But many believers are less peaceable than Buddha’s teachings, though almost all proclaim a belief in kindness – even if their behaviour doesn’t always reflect it.

In a year when we are studying moderation it is surely right to apply the same tests to religious beliefs and practices. Humans seem to have an inherent wish to worship, to see beyond their limitations, to hope for more than 100 years of learning and earning. Aspiring to greater knowledge is a wholly desirable idea. Assuming that the greater knowledge is fact is something else again. It is an obvious – but seldom admitted – paradox that to believe requires the possibility of doubt. Believe what you like but admit you could be wrong. Without that you can have no faith.

The most intelligent comment I ever heard about faith came from an 18-year-old Singapore Management University student. Some ten years ago she and her friend were having lunch with me. The subject of religion came up. It is always a tricky one. Anyway, Amy (not her real name) said the following: ‘Religion is religion; my faith is my own.’ Such wisdom. It made me think about my own faith and, more widely, about faith itself. In the same way that the split in the Eastern Orthodox Church has prompted a few thoughts about ‘what is it all for?’.

When President Poroshenko gave the Fullerton Lecture in Singapore in 2014 in Singapore we had a chat about the problems facing Ukraine. He said he couldn’t deal with the Russian problem but he could define it. His greater problem, he said, was corruption. He was by no means certain that it was either as definable or as tractable as his neighbour’s aggression. Now the Ukraine and Russian Orthodox Churches have separated in a move partly religious and partly political. The President is struggling with both his problems, plus imminent elections to define his future.

A bit rambling, perhaps, but religion and faith are things we should ramble through. A friend of mine, a good man, who died a year ago said at the end “I don’t know what I believe but I do know what I hope for my grandchildren”. Perhaps he had reached a conclusion in his 88 years that is relevant to all of us. What we believe for ourselves is really of small relevance.

What we strive for and believe for future generations is what matters.

Whether Orthodox, Political or Deity.

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