01 May 2014

A few brief words on Heimbach

The recent beating on Bright Monday of a protester by a new convert to Orthodoxy with a wooden three-bar cross is a matter of deep shame and deep reflection for the whole of the Orthodox Church, and several people have written already about the incident, such as Inga Leonova here and Maria McDowell here. I can only say that they have responded firmly, graciously and with the sort of gentle, introspective reflection I have come to respect and admire amongst my Orthodox brothers and sisters.

In truth, I can’t really improve on what they’ve already written and do not have much more to add myself, except to reply with a story, really the only one I feel I am fully equipped to tell.

In 2008 and 2009, when this blog was just beginning, I was still very much an ‘angry young man’; angry with Bush and angry with an economy and society that I had the nagging suspicion was fast leaving me and my peers behind without a second look back. I had the good fortune of stumbling across the writings of Nikolai Berdyaev (whom I now consider one of my most formative religious and philosophical influences), who introduced me to a completely different and persuasive way of looking at the ideologies I’d been exposed to in college, and indeed at my own religion. Later on, when I joined the Peace Corps, my anger and dissatisfaction turned inward. In the Peace Corps, I was the outsider to everybody. I didn’t trust my co-workers, I felt I was consistently on the examination table of my supervisors, and the strain of it alienated me from my host family in ways I still feel very bad about. My greatest solace came from the church of S. Aleksandr Nevsky in Saimasai. I fear I treated my visits there much too casually, but Fr Valery was incredibly understanding even as I sputtered and hemmed and hawed in my survival Russian, and the church service and meal afterward were some of the few times in Kazakhstan when I truly felt most at peace.

The non-Russian. The heretic. The wayfaring outsider. The strange and sick in mind and heart, trusted by no one.

I could not, of course, take communion there, but Fr Valery and the matushka of the church made me welcome at the meal after the Liturgy and afterward as well. It took a long while for the impression to sink in, but sink in it did. I kept looking for what I had found there, and Orthodoxy kept beckoning me back.

In light of this, I emphatically do not want to heap hatred or judgement upon the young man who shares my Christian name, or his reasons for converting. Angry, self-disillusioned and sick in mind as I was five years ago, but for the grace of God, there might I also have gone. I can but join my own prayers to those of Ms. Leonova and Ms. McDowell that Mr. Heimbach will open himself to the healing of the Holy Spirit through the baptism he embraced.

It is true that Orthodoxy is a traditional and apostolic faith, and that in its Russian expressions particularly it did stress loyalty to right belief, to autocracy and to the nation, or narod. (Narod more accurately being a concept of ‘the people’ or ‘the masses’ that has historically had more in common with ‘left’ ideologies - as in narodnichestvo - than with ‘right’ ones, but that is another debate entirely.) But Orthodoxy at its best always welcomes the outsider in, and even the Slavophiles (like Khomyakov and Kireevsky), who so cheerfully and zealously proclaimed the special mission of the Slavs and of the Russian nation in the world, took special care to emphasise the brotherhood of all believers in sobornost’. Orthodoxy does not proclaim, at its core, racial distinctions or separations: the Patristic consensus, after all, draws upon Abba Moses and Abba Macarius as well as upon S. John Chrysostom!

Anyhow, these are just my own loosely-organised thoughts on the issue.

UPDATE: The All Saints Antiochan Orthodox Church in Bloomington, Indiana has released a statement regarding Matthew Heimbach, asking publicly that he recant the heresy of phyletism and submit to a period of penance before being readmitted into full communion. Please pray for Mr. Heimbach, for the victim of his beating and for All Saints Church.

1 comment:

  1. There was no "beating", as you've been led to believe.

    An "anti-racist" skinhead (SHARP - Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) sucker-punched Thomas Buhls, a colleague of Heimbach. The photo was taken of Buhls and Heimbach reacting to the attack, defending themselves.

    They responded only enough to subdue and repel the attacker, then carried on with their peaceful demonstration.