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Orthodox Internationalism: State and Church in Modern Russia and Ethiopia

  • Tobias Rupprecht (a1)

Russia and Ethiopia, both multiethnic empires with traditionally orthodox Christian ruling elites, from the nineteenth century developed a special relationship that outlived changing geopolitical and ideological constellations. Russians were fascinated with what they saw as exotic brothers in the faith, and Ethiopians took advantage of Russian help and were inspired by various features of modern Russian statecraft. This article examines contacts and interactions between the elites of these two distant countries, and the changing relations between authoritarian states and Orthodox churches from the age of European imperialism to the end of the Cold War. It argues that religio-ethnic identities and institutionalized religion have grounded tenacious visions of global political order. Orthodoxy was the spiritual basis of an early anti-Western type of globalization, and was subsequently coopted by states with radically secular ideologies as an effective means of mass mobilization and control.

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1 Sandal, Nukhet and Fox, Jonathan, Religion in International Relations Theory: Interactions and Possibilities (London: Routledge, 2013); Snyder, Jack, ed., Religion and International Relations Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).

2 Modern globalization is defined here as the expansion of global commerce, communication, and cultural exchange onward from the late nineteenth century. This definition is in line with much recent scholarship, which speaks of two waves of modern globalization: one from the age of European imperialism, interrupted by the Great Depression and the ensuing nationalist isolationism, and another from the 1970s. For an overview of this scholarship, see Mark, James and Rupprecht, Tobias, “The Socialist Camp in Global History: From Absentee to Victim to Co-Producer,” in Middell, Matthias, ed., The Practice of Global History (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, forthcoming 2018).

3 Osterhammel, Jürgen, Die Verwandlung der Welt: Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts (München: C. H. Beck, 2009), 1239–78; Bayly, Christopher, The Birth of the Modern World 1780–1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 326–64.

4 For example, Dobe, Timothy S. and Faqir, Hindu Christian, Modern Monks, Global Christianity, and Indian Sainthood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Woodberry, Robert, “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” American Political Science Review 2 (2012): 244–74; Marty, Martin, The Christian World: A Global History (New York: Random House, 2007); Ward, Kevin, A History of Global Anglicanism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Ahmed, Nazeer, Islam in Global History: From the Death of Prophet Muhammed to the First World War (Concord: American Institute of Islamic History and Culture, 2000); Walters, Jonathan S., Finding Buddhists in Global History: Essays on Global and Comparative History (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1998).

5 Makrides, Vasilios N., “Why Are Orthodox Churches Particularly Prone to Nationalization and Even to Nationalism?,” St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 3 (2013): 325–52; Wessel, Martin Schulze, ed., Nationalisierung der Religion und Sakralisierung der Nation im östlichen Europa (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2006); Chumachenko, Tataiana, Church and State in Soviet Russia: Russian Orthodoxy from World War II to the Khrushchev Years (London: Routledge, 2002); Pospielovsky, Dimitry, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1998). An exception, with a contemporary rather than historical outlook, is Agadjanian, Alexander, ed., Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the 21st Century (Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2006).

6 Beljakova, Nadežda, “Kontrolle, Kooptation, Kooperation: Sowjetstaat und Orthodoxe Kirche,” Osteuropa 9 (2009): 113–31; Vovchenko, Denis, “Modernizing Orthodoxy: Russia and the Christian East 1856–1914,” Journal of the History of Ideas 3 (2012), 295317 ; Mitrokhin, Nikolay, Russkaja Pravoslavnaja Tserkov': Sovremennoe Sostojanie i Aktual'nye Problemy (Moskva: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2006); Shkarovskij, Mikhail, Russkaja Pravoslavnaja Tserkov’ v XX veke (Moskva: Lepta, 2010), 283337 . The only exception comes from theologians of the (Ethiopian) Orthodox Church: Persoon, Joachim, Spirituality, Power and Revolution: Contemporary Monasticism in Communist Ethiopia, with an Overview of the Orthodox Church during Communism by Vásclav Ježek (Volos: Volos Academy for Theological Studies, 2014).

7 For the Soviet Union's use of Islam in foreign policy, see Kane, Eileen, Russian Hajj: Empire and Pilgrimage to Mecca (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015); Ro'i, Yaacov, Islam in the Soviet Union: From the Second World War to Gorbachev (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), esp. 175–78, 584–89.

8 Mark and Rupprecht, “Socialist Camp.”

9 Morée, Peter, “Allies against the Imperial West: Josef L. Hromádka, the Ecumenical Movement, and the Internationalization of the Eastern Bloc since the 1950s,” in Kunter, Katharina and Albers, Christian, eds., Globalisierung der Kirchen: Der Ökumenische Rat der Kirchen und die Entdeckung der Dritten Welt in den 1960er und 1970er Jahren (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014), 169–88; Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 428.

10 Vovchenko, “Modernizing Orthodoxy,” 317.

11 Bayly, Birth of the Modern World, 349.

12 Kan, Sergei, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999); Slezkine, Yurij, “Savage Christians or Unorthodox Russians? The Missionary Dilemma in Siberia,” in Diment, Galya, ed., Between Heaven and Hell: The Myth of Siberia in Russian Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993), 1531 .

13 Vovchenko, “Modernizing Orthodoxy,” 298.

14 Burnakin, A., O sudbakh slavianofilstva (Petrograd: Otečestvennaja Tip., 1916), 1114 , quoted in Vovchenko, “Modernizing Orthodoxy,” 315.

15 Blakely, Allison, “African Imprints on Russia: An Historical Overview,” in Matusevich, Maxim, ed., Africa in Russia, Russia in Africa: Three Centuries of Encounters (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2007, 3759).

16 Wilson, Edward, Russia and Black Africa before World War II (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1974), 1012 .

17 Uspenskij, Konstantin (Porfirij), Vostok christianskij: Bogosluzhenie abissincev (Kiev, Izdatel'stvo Kievskoj duchovnoj akademii, 1869); Abissincy, ich tserkov' i religioznye obryady (Kiev, Izdatel'stvo Kievskoj duchovnoj akademii, 1866).

18 The Italian fascist army destroyed most of Ethiopian political archives in the 1930s; documentation on earlier periods is accordingly scant. The section here is based on the following, mostly older, scholarly assessments: Khrenkov, Andrej, Rossisko-efiopskie otnoshenija v XIX–nachale XXv (Moskva: Izdatel'stvo RAN, 1998); Patrick Joseph Rollins, Russia's Ethiopian Adventure 1888–1905 (PhD diss., Syracuse University, 1967); Jésman, Czeslaw, The Russians in Ethiopia: An Essay in Futility (London: Chatto and Windus, 1958); Seltzer, Richard, The Name of Hero (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1981) (a novel based on the life on Bulatovich); Zaghi, Carlo, I Russi in Etiopia (Napoli: Guida Editori, 1972); Krasnov, Petr, Kazaki v Abissinii: Dnevnik nachal'nika konvoja Rossiskoj Imperatorskoj Missii v Abissinii (Sankt-Peterburg: Zacharov 2013 [1898]); Elec, Ju., Imperator Menelik i vojna ego s Italiej: Po dokumentam i pokhodnym dnevnikam (Sankt-Peterburg: N. S. Leont'eva, 1898); Volgin, F., V strane chernykh khristian (Sankt-Peterburg: Tip P. P. Sojkina, 1895); Ascinoff, Nicolai, La Spedizione Ascinoff nel Mar Rosso (Roma: Min. Esteri, 1887); Bolotov, Vasilij, “Neskolko stranits iz tserkovnoj istorii Efiopii: K voprosu o soedinenii abissin s pravoslavnoj tserkovju,” Khristianskoe Chtienie 3–4 (1888): 450–69.

19 Matusevich, Maxim, No Easy Row for a Russian Hoe: Ideology and Pragmatism in Nigerian-Soviet Relations, 1960–1991 (Trenton, Africa World Press, 2003), 1618 .

20 Nepomnyashchy, Catherine Theimer, Svobodny, Nicole, and Trigos, Ludmilla, Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2006).

21 Zewde, Bahru, A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855–1991 (London: James Currey, 2001), 106.

22 Metropolitan Sergij told Izvestia in a February 1930 interview, “As before, there is no persecution of believers in the USSR … only against actions against the government.”

23 Shkarovskij, Mikhail, Obnovlencheskoe dvizhenie v Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi XX veka (Sankt-Peterburg: Nestor, 1999); Roslof, Edward, Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy and Revolution, 1905–1946 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002).

24 Shkarovskij, Mikhail, Russkaja Pravoslavnaja Tserkov’ pri Staline i Khrushcheve: Gosudarstvenno-tserkovnye otnoshenija v SSSR v 1939–1964 godakh (Moskva: Krutintskoe Patriarshee podvor'e, 1999), 195216 .

25 Anderson, Paul, “The Orthodox Church in Soviet Russia,” Foreign Affairs 2 (1961): 299311 .

26 Shkarovskij, Russkaja Pravoslavnaja, 284; Stricker, Gerd, Religion in Russland: Darstellung und Daten zu Geschichte und Gegenwart (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Mohn, 1993).

27 Metodiev, Momchil, Between Faith and Compromise: The Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Communist State (1944–1989) (Sofia: Institute for Studies of the Recent Past/Ciela, 2010).

28 Beljakova, “Kontrolle,” 116.

29 Stricker, Religion in Russland, 97.

30 Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West (Eastbourne: Gardners Books, 2000); “Russian Patriarch ‘was KGB spy’: James Meek in Tallinn on a Secret Document that May Prove Alexy II's Role as a Soviet Agent,” Guardian, 12 Feb. 1999. It should be noted that all consecrated bishops in the USSR had to have some form of working relationship with the secret police, and the extent of Ridiger's collaboration with the KGB remains a disputed issue.

31 Richter, Hedwig, “Der Protestantismus und das linksrevolutionäre Pathos,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 3 (2010): 408–36, 417.

32 “Reform Breeze Stirs in Ethiopia: Swirls about Selassie's Palace,” New York Times, 11 Aug. 1961.

33 Pankhurst, Richard, The Ethiopians (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 228.

34 Shkarovskij, Russkaja Pravoslavnaja, 309; Eide, Ovind, Revolution and Religion in Ethiopia: A Study of Church and Politics with Special Reference to the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, 1974–1985 (Stavanger: Misjonshogskolens Forlag, 1996), 33.

35 Shkarovskij, Obnovlencheskoe, 317; Izvestia, 26 Jan. 1974.

36 Author's interview with Abune Timotios, Dean of Theological College Holy Trinity, student of theology in the Soviet Union from 1966 to 1974, Addis Abeba, 11 July 2014.

37 Zewde, History of Modern Ethiopia, 228–35.

38 Konrad Raiser, “Report on a Visit to Ethiopia,” 13–20 Oct. 1974, World Council of Churches Archives in Geneva, P 848, General Secretariat, Dr. K. Raiser, Ethiopia.

39 Pankhurst, Ethiopians, 230.

40 Ghebresillasie, Girma, Kalter Krieg am Horn von Afrika: Regional-Konflikte. Äthiopien und Somalia im Spannungsfeld der Supermächte 1945–1991 (Baden Baden: Nomos, 1999), 156–86.

41 Luknickaja, Vera, Pust' budet zemlja: Povest' o puteshestvennike (Moskva: A. V. Eliseev, 1985) (about the Eliseev mission); Katsnelson, Isidor, ed., Leonid Artamonov: Cherez Efiopiju k beregam Belogo Nila (Moskva: Nauka, 1979) (about another Russian explorer in Ethiopia); Katsnelson, I. and Terekhova, G. I., Po neizvedannym zemlyam Efiopii (Moskva: Nauka, 1975) (about Bulatovich's journey).

42 The document in the WCC's holdings contains a translator's note to this effect: “The Amharic word used literally means ‘hit them,’ which may also be taken as a euphemism for liquidation.” Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, Ministry of Information & National Guidance, “The Anti-Revolutionary Nature of Religion,” transl. from a government directive to all political cadres, in Amharic, n.d., WCC Archives, 42.4.023, General Secretariat. There has been some dispute over the authenticity of this document, which was smuggled out of the country and translated by Abune Matthias (= Matewos), archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, and from 2013 patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but the regime's actions only confirmed what was announced in it.

43 Ibid.

44 Philipp Potter, letter to Fidel Castro, 13 Oct. 1978, WCC Archives, 42.3.003, General Secretariat.

45 Festnahmen im Gottesdienst, “Christenverfolgung in Äthiopien: Mengistu setzt weiter auf Terror/Auch Piloten erschossen,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20 Jan. 1979: 3.

46 Ghebresillasie, Kalter Krieg, 156–86.

47 Andrej Federov (author) and Sergej Krajnev (director), Ruka Moskvy v Afrike, documentary film, B. C. Grafika prodakšn, Russia, 2014.

48 Westad, Odd Arne, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 251–53; quote 279.

49 Author's interview with an Ethiopian Orthodox theologian and student in Zagorsk from 1981–1986, Addis Abeba, 10 July 2014.

50 Donham, Donald L., Marxist Modern: An Ethnographic History of the Ethiopian Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 130.

51 Ibid., 143.

52 Patman, Robert, The Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa: The Diplomacy of Intervention and Disengagement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 209.

53 Kaplan, Steven, “The Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo Church,” in Leustean, Lucian, ed., Eastern Christianity and the Cold War, 1945–1991 (New York: Routledge, 2010), 299313 , 306.

54 WCC memo, W. Schmidt to K. Raiser, “Brief Account of My Visit to Ethiopia,” 8 Dec. 1978, WCC archive, P 848, General Secretariat, Dr. K. Raiser, Ethiopia.

55 Shkarovskij, Russkaja Pravoslavnaja, 333; Larebo, Haile, “The Ethiopian Orthodox Church,” in Ramet, Pedro, ed., Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Durham: Duke University Press, 1988), 375–99, quote 396.

56 The reference is to the Russian Orthodox and other Eastern Orthodox churches in Eastern European countries. Provisional Military Government, “Anti-Revolutionary Nature of Religion.”

57 Persoon, Spirituality, 199.

58 Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregores of Delhi, report on a visit to Ethiopia, Mar. 1978, WCC Archives, 42.3.003, General Secretariat.

59 Eide, Ovind, Revolution and Religion in Ethiopia: A Study of Church and Politics with Special Reference to the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus 1974–1985 (Stavanger: Misjonshogskolens forlag, 1996), 206.

60 Head office of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to Philipp Potter, WCC, 5 Feb. 1979; Potter‘s answer to Abba Takla Haymanot, 8 Mar. 1979; both in WCC Archives, 42.4.023, General Secretariat.

61 George Tsetsis, memo to WCC, 15 Feb. 1980, WCC Archives, 42.3.003, General Secretariat.

62 Abba Behane Selassie (London), letter to WCC General Secretary Emilio Castro, 7 Nov. 1986, WCC Archive, 42.41.13, Personal Files Todor Sabev, Correspondence with Oriental Orthodox Churches.

63 Clapham, Christopher, Transformation and Continuity in Revolutionary Ethiopia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 96.

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