Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Orthodoxy is the third-largest branch of Christianity, after Catholicism and Protestantism. Today, there are approximately 260 million Orthodox Christians in the world, according to a new Pew Research Center report.
Orthodoxy, or Eastern Christianity, formally split from Roman Catholicism (known then as Western Christianity) in 1054 over a host of theological issues, high among them disputes over papal authority.
The nominal head of the Eastern Orthodox Churches is the Patriarch of Constantinople. However, he is only first among equals and has no real authority over Churches other than his own.
There were 15 ‘autocephalous Churches,’ in 2008, listed in the order of precedence.
Churches 1-9 are led by Patriarchs, while the others are led by Archbishops or Metropolitans:
- Church of Constantinople (ancient)
- Church of Alexandria (ancient)
- Church of Antioch (ancient)
- Church of Jerusalem (ancient)
- Church of Russia (established in 1589)
- Church of Serbia (1219)
- Church of Romania (1925)
- Church of Bulgaria (927)
- Church of Georgia (466)
- Church of Cyprus (434)
- Church of Greece (1850)
- Church of Poland (1924)
- Church of Albania (1937)
- Church of Czech and Slovak lands (1951)
- The Orthodox Church in America (1970)
In October 2018, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church officially split from its Russian counterpart, after more than 300 years.
The decision, which was approved by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the symbolic “first among equals” of the world’s Orthodox churches, triggered a major fallout within the Orthodox world, possibly the most serious in 1,000 years.
The same month the declaration was made, the Russian Orthodox Church announced that it would break off relations with the Patriarchate.
The process was ratified in a ceremony in Istanbul on Orthodox Christmas Eve, 2019, when the Metropolitan of Kyiv, the young Epiphanus I received Tomos from the Constantinople Patriarchate. The document granted autocephaly to the newly-formed and newly-recognised Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
For Ukraine, this was a major moment, as it represented another step in breaking away from political, economic and religious subservience to Russia.
The 44 million in Ukraine many of whom may have seen the atrocities arising from the recent Russian invasion will not find the Russian Orthodox Church a force for good, especially after what Patriarch Kirill of Moscow had to say after the invasion. Likewise, at the present time, the rest of the world is also not seeing the tacit approval of the Patriarch, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, as force for good.
Epifaniy and Onufriy, rival leaders of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, issued statements condemning the invasion. The latter, normally loyal to the Moscow patriarchate, called this a “fratricidal war.” He even likened it to the biblical story of Cain, who killed his brother Abel: the subtext is that Ukraine is the innocent Abel.
The strongest condemnation comes from the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, in Constantinople (Istanbul), a long-time opponent of the Moscow patriarchate. He not only condemns the war as an unprovoked invasion, but calls it a “violation of human rights and the brutal violence against our fellow human beings.”
But Patriarch Kirill had other ideas, see the article: War in Ukraine is a ‘metaphysical’ battle against a civilization built on ‘gay parades,’ Russian Orthodox leader says.
When organized religion distorts reality and gaslights, except for the devout believers, people do not see it as a force for good. A columnist for the Conversation wrote: “Patriarch Kirill used Forgiveness Sunday to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a defense against anti-Christian values. The mental acrobatics required for his sermon are difficult to fathom.”
The vast majority of Orthodox Christians around the world say homosexuality should not be accepted by society. In nearly every country surveyed, with the exception of Greece and the United States, Orthodox majorities feel this way. These views are particularly strong among Orthodox populations in former Soviet republics. Orthodox majorities in the countries surveyed also oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, although the U.S. is an exception to this pattern.
So, it was convenient for Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to suggest that homosexuality was the cause of Russian invasion of Ukraine: Russian Orthodox Church blames Ukraine war on ‘sinful’ Pride parades?
It is expected that 71% of the Russian total population of 144 million, who are Orthodox Christians, will agree or at least be silent about it. Clearly, we need to be able to identify our blind spots and call gaslighting by its real name, when we see it: Learn your fallacies: Red Herring and Ted Talk: How Can We See Past Our Own Biases?
The Catholic Church now has more than a billion followers.
Is the Catholic Church a force for good? The thousands of child abuse cases that have come to surface in the last few decades are obviously not goodness in anyone’s estimation. Nevertheless, Pope Francis’ recent efforts against the unjust and unprovoked war in Ukraine have enjoyed general approval. Listen to the following debate as one contender outlines the goodness in the Church and the other the evil: Tony Blair Versus Christopher Hichens: Is Catholic Church Force for Good?
To the non-partisan the conclusion is obvious that there is no realistic totalitarian white wash, when the institution achieves some goodness, it is good but when it creates disorder, mischief and usurps human rights including violation of gender equality, it is a force for evil.
Another clear issue that will escape the Christians or agnostics and atheists raised in the West is that whenever an institution distorts reality it has secular and spiritual consequences. For example: This Day in History, on Feb 17, Giordano Bruno Burnt Alive, at the Stake in Rome was a human and scientific tragedy.
To the Muslims, it is self evident that Jesus is not Divine and only a noble prophet of God, if this be true, then Catholic Church has also to face the spiritual consequences of its dogma, wherever those have drifted from the Truth.
But, here it is not just the Catholic Church, which is guilty, rather any organized religion, wherever it drifts from the perfect reality, it is guilty, be it a denomination in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion or lack there of.
We can stretch the debate further and try to see if religion or Monotheism of Abrahamic faiths is a force for good? For example, here is a two hour debate among two well known scholars, Alan Keyes and Alan Dershowitz: Debate: Human Morality, Monotheism and Organized Religion?
Hamas has been labelled as a terrorist organization by the US state department and I never condone killing of any innocent life for any reason, for I know that according to the Quran (5:32/33) every human life is precious and sacred. Nevertheless, Hamas developed its social welfare program by replicating the model established by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. For Hamas, charity and the development of one’s community are both prescribed by religion and to be understood as forms of resistance. In Islamic tradition, dawah (lit. transl. ”the call to God”) obliges the faithful to reach out to others by both proselytizing and by charitable works, and typically the latter center on the mosques which make use of both waqf endowment resources and charitable donations (zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam) to fund grassroots services like nurseries, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens, women’s activities, library services and even sporting clubs within a larger context of preaching and political discussions. In the 1990s, some 85% of its budget was allocated to the provision of social services.
Hamas has been called perhaps the most significant social services actor in Palestine. By 2000, Hamas or its affiliated charities ran roughly 40% of the social institutions in the West Bank and Gaza and, with other Islamic charities, by 2005, was supporting 120,000 individuals with monthly financial support in Gaza. Part of the appeal of these institutions is that they fill a vacuum in the administration by the PLO of the Palestinian territories, which had failed to cater to the demand for jobs and broad social services, and is widely viewed as corrupt.
No organization is perfectly good or completely evil. It can be perfectly good only if it is perfectly true and infallible, which is a logical impossibility.
Iran is a country of 85 million, they cannot be perfectly good or completely evil. Same can be said about their leadership or their organized religion, Shiite Islam.
Israel is a country of 9.45 million. Is Israel, Zionism or Judaism force for good? Are they all the same thing? Obviously not! What I said for Iran will hold true for Israel as well.
Over time organized religion or nationality becomes our identity. Short comings of our nationality or our sect move to our blind spots and we cannot see them easily.
But, nothing can be perfectly good or completely evil. Is it too hard to conceive?
Michael Servetus (29 September 1509 or 1511 – 27 October 1553) was a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and Renaissance humanist. He was the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation, as discussed in Christianismi Restitutio (1553). He was a polymath versed in many sciences: mathematics, astronomy and meteorology, geography, human anatomy, medicine and pharmacology, as well as jurisprudence, translation, poetry, and the scholarly study of the Bible in its original languages. He was tried in Geneva by John Calvin for heresy for he had written two books to refute Trinity and was a genuine Unitarian, he was burnt alive atop a fire of his own books at the Plateau of Champel at the edge of Geneva.
Please, carefully read the above quote by him and it is in following him that we can escape the distortions of totalitarianism created by organized religions. No organized body can be wholly a force of good, because humans are not perfect.
In my own Ahmadiyya Muslim community after an audio recording of a conversation of a sexual victim Nida Ul Nassar with the Worldwide Head of the community hit the social media, many became dogmatic apologist for the community, living in a reality of us being angelically perfect. I had to write an article: Use and Misuse of Surah Nur by the Muslims, Before and After Nida Ul Nasser’s Allegations.
Is Ahmadiyya Muslim Community a force for perfect good?
Perhaps a multivolume book can be written to argue the for case and some detractors or critics may return the favor. I will make just one point here.
A few years back we ran a public relation campaign in USA:
We advertised widely in the country that True Islam is a religion that…
- Wholly rejects all forms of terrorism
- Believes in Non-Violent Jihad of the self and of the pen
- Believes in the equality, education and empowerment of women
- Advocates freedom of conscience, religion and speech
- Advocates for the separation of mosque and state
- Believes in loyalty to your country of residence
- Encompasses the universal declaration of human rights
- Believes in all verses of the Quran and forbids lying
- Recognizes no religion can monopolize salvation
- Believes in the need for unified Muslim leadership
- Rejects the concept of a bloody Messiah
The points 2-9 are generally well recognized principles of secularism, broadly supported by a vast majority of progressives all over the world. So in a way the above are a firm promise from us to the whole of humanity, if and wherever we fall short of these promises or evade these responsibilities in that much we do not remain a force for good.
The point number 2 and 4 above, “Believes in Non-Violent Jihad of the self and of the pen,” and “Advocates freedom of conscience, religion and speech,” provide license for me to write this article, to articulate my deeply held beliefs and thoughts, so I am not apprehending any criticism from within.
If we deny any human rights, distort reality, dogmatize or gaslight then in that much we are not force for good.
Totalitarianism never was, never is and never will be a force for good. For example: Islam: A Totalitarian Philosophy or One Teaching at a Time? The point number 9 above of True Islam also recognizes this fact: “Recognizes no religion can monopolize salvation.” Suggested listening: NPR Audio: Churchill, Orwell And The Fight Against Totalitarianism.
Totalitarianism invariably leads to dictatorship. We have to examine each teaching of Islam and each action of ours independently, separated from all else to make an honest and wholesome judgment. If we fail to do that we may be violating a cardinal principle of the Quranic justice:
O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do. (Al Quran 4:135/136)
— The Muslim Times (@The_MuslimTimes) March 9, 2022
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