08 November 2017

A faith for my mixed-race children

Saint Andrei the God-Loving

So, I started writing a blog post on ‘the Eurasian face of Saint Andrei’ (who was half-Qypchaq and half-Rus’), which quickly turned into another one of my broadsides against nationalism generally. Not that the defamation and Yellow Peril yellowface caricature of one particularly complicated and ambiguous Eurasian saint of the Church, by the racist nationalist right to spite the Russians, isn’t heinous and contemptible. It is. It’s just that the most interesting point that the piece made about the incompatibility of Orthodox Christianity with the current right-wing nationalist moment got some rather short shrift, and I’d prefer to expand upon that here. The latter would be, in any event, a better way of defending the honour of Saint Andrei the Prince, given the ambiguous and complex position he occupied, straddling Asian and European cultures, values and principles.

Christianity itself is, after all, an Asian religion. Its adoption by the West immediately imbued Western pagan political institutions, categories, forms and concepts with a fundamentally ‘Eastern’ meaning and inward importance. The adoption of the languages of Roman statecraft and Greek philosophy by a messianic Jewish movement led by a nonviolent descendant of King David and hailing to the anti-Hellenistic, anti-Alexandrian Hasmonean legacy was indeed a recapitulation of all three of Imperial Rome, philosophical Athens and Old Jerusalem. But it also subverted all three: the former two ultimately more so than the last. In the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ Our God, the East in her own powerlessness gained a final spiritual triumph over the self-inflated political and intellectual pride and pomp of the West.

But, even if Christianity is unmistakeably a religion of the East in the reckoning of Saint Ilya Fondaminsky (marked by ‘solar’ monotheism and autocracy, personalism, communitarianism), it is also a true religion of the interstices. I have made mention of this multiple times, so it’s worth dwelling on a bit more at length. In life Christ dwelt in the places which both Roman statecraft and the Second Temple forgot: in the wilderness, among the lepers and disfigured, in the lands of the Syrians and Phœnicians. In death Christ hung on a Cross between two Jewish rebels, bandits, enemies of the Roman state and well left of the mainstream of the Jewish religion. Christ came from one of these interstices, a Jewish region under Hellenistic influence yet respected by neither: ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ It becomes a little too easy and a little to pat to romanticise this, among Christians of a certain kind of lefty stripe who want to make of their religion a kind of social service. There is unmistakeably that dimension too, of course, but it’s worth remembering that Christ did not come to offer merely a cause; he came to offer Himself. It was Christ Himself whom Saint Dismas accepted as he died in agony – and was lifted that very Friday into the Kingdom.

Not to get too identity-political here, but… Myself and my wife – we’re definitely working-class millennials, but we aren’t poor poor. We both have jobs. We don’t have five-figure debts. We keep our heads mostly above water every month. But we’re still an immigrant-expat family. We still exist within certain interstices and between-spaces which make our lives, our two beautiful children’s lives and all our relationships to the state complicated and ambiguous. We’re on various forms of government assistance, which makes some of these problems far more tangible to me. Ellie and Albert, by virtue of being my natural children, are citizens who weren’t born here. Ellie still gets homesick for China, and is still a bit slower than her peers to pick up English. Like Saint Andrei the God-Loving, she’s both Asian and white; and she in particular, being so young and yet aware of being both Chinese and Anglo-American, will face at least some of the difficulties he did in navigating his Qypchaq-Rus’ heritage. And yet in the eyes of the government, no matter how well-intentioned, she and her younger brother are always going to be slotted into one or the other, or else treated as ‘other’ entirely. Which, I suppose, is why the Maidanist sæcular-nationalist yellowface treatment of Saint Andrei rankles me, personally in such a deep way. Bad enough to attack a saint for not being white, which shouldn’t be done anyway. Such an attack attacks my family as well.

But to Ellie and to Albert, Christ offers Himself in the Divine Liturgy. It’s a comfort to know that we are every bit as welcome at the chalice as any Russian, Ukrainian, Rusin, Romanian, Armenian, Lebanese Arab, Japanese, African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native. In the eyes of the Church they are whole persons and living icons – and not merely ‘either / or’, not merely categories or stereotypes or fractions-of-persons – made one in the Symbol of Faith and the prayers and fasts of the Church. Thanks be to Christ our God for that. Holy Prince Andrei the God-Loving, pray to God for us sinners here.


  1. When I visited an Orthodox monastery in Greece, I saw icons of Saint Moses the Ethiopian; in the Antiochian Church in my home town there is Saint Isaac the Syrian, who in the icon there, is darkskinned. Christianity is indeed an Asian religion. The first nation to make Christianity its state religion was Ethiopia.

  2. Hi Matthew,

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  3. Hello, Anuj!

    Thank you! This is a great honour!

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  4. Hello, Partly Dave!

    Yes, it's for this reason that I have grown more and more interested in African and Asian expressions of Orthodoxy. It may be too much to hope that the canonical Orthodox Church will make John Coltrane a saint, but... who knows?