09 August 2017

May the cooler heads prevail

Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in Pyeongyang

Not much can really be said for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but I will say this: it does now allow Orthodox Christians the civil right to legally worship in their own church. And that seems to be more than their neighbour to the northwest will do, at least for the present. Indeed, Gim Jeong-il himself permitted and endorsed the construction of the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in 2003 and its consecration in 2006. (Have mercy, O Lord, on the soul of Gim Jeong-il. Unsearchable are Thy judgements. Let not this prayer of mine be counted as sin, but may Thy will be done.)

So let’s set out the religious stakes and significance here. In the wake of a grim commemoration, on the day of Holy Transfiguration no less, of the blasphemous and unholy use of a weapon of mass destruction on a civilian populace which notably included both Catholic and Orthodox Christians, the threat of use of yet another of these weapons, on a country whose capital is host to one of the most recent Orthodox missions in East Asia under the Moscow Patriarchate, is – from a religious standpoint, anyway – utterly unpardonable and must be condemned. On the practical side, the Russian stance on North Korea is reassuringly cool, professional and diplomatic, as is China’s; let’s hope and pray that the cooler and more realistic heads will prevail and avert a potentially-devastating conflict between the United States and North Korea.

Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary, Venerable God-Bearing Father Herman the Wonderworker of Alaska (whose memory we celebrate today), Holy Neomartyr Sergei of Rakvere and Venerable God-Bearing Father Seraphim of Sarov, pray to God for us sinners, that a just and lasting peace may be attained.

EDIT (6:52): This post got quite a bit more feedback than I had originally planned for, from both sides. On one side of the argument, some folks were upset that I appeared to be one-sidedly apologising for a ‘crazy fat dæmon’, for making North Korea out to be anything less than a ‘hell on earth’, for not caring enough about the Orthodox Christians that Gim Jeong-eun was threatening in America and elsewhere in Asia, and for wrongly referring to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Feast of the Transfiguration to be ‘blasphemous’. On the other side of the argument, I got some pushback that my concern for the Korean people seemed to be limited to Orthodox Christians, and that I was making the fact that Pyeongyang has a Russian Orthodox mission more important than the fact that there are over two and a half million other souls, each beloved by God and each of infinite worth, living there.

To the first, I can only say this: if I truly did not care about American Orthodox Christians, who would indeed have their lives endangered, to say the least, if a conflict between North Korea and America were to start, then why would I have asked for the protection and intercession of our God-bearing Father Herman of Alaska (the patron of Orthodoxy in North America)? That said, it is true. I didn’t go nearly far enough in my characterisation of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here is what Dorothy Day had to say on the subject:
Mr, Truman was jubilant. President Truman. True man; what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was jubilant. He was not a son of God, brother of Christ, brother of the Japanese, jubilating as he did. He went from table to table on the cruiser which was bringing him home from the Big Three conference, telling the great news; “jubilant” the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We have killed 318,000 Japanese.

That is, we hope we have killed them, the Associated Press, on page one, column one of the Herald Tribune, says. The effect is hoped for, not known. It is to be hoped they are vaporized, our Japanese brothers – scattered, men, women and babies, to the four winds, over the seven seas. Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York on our faces, feel them in the rain on the hills of Easton.

Jubilate Deo. President Truman was jubilant. We have created. We have created destruction. We have created a new element, called Pluto. Nature had nothing to do with it.
As to the second claim, I can make only this answer: I was attempting to make the point precisely that there are real, concrete human beings in Pyeongyang, the same as myself or as any of my gentle readers here, that must now worry that their lives might be obliterated in a flash, in a way that I pray I never have to. As the reactions to my piece bear witness, we have gotten far too used to thinking of the North Koreans as brainwashed slaves living grey, miserable half-lives, for whom a death in nuclear fire might be preferable to rule by a ‘crazy fat dæmon’. The reality of an Orthodox mission in North Korea, I had hoped, would be more accessible and understandable to people than a mere number, large though it may be (even though, as I note, Dorothy Day herself used such a number). One of my objections to the use of the atom bomb in my ‘Hefenfelþ and Hiroshima’ piece, after all, was precisely that it was the pinnacle of the abstraction of warfare away from the human level on which solidarity is possible.

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