Main page Publications Theology and culture What is globalisation from the Orthodox point of view

Subjects of publications

The Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church

The official website of the Moscow Metropolitanate.

Address: Russia, Moscow, Rogozhsky Poselok street, 1A, 5.
Phone: +7 (495) 361-51-91
e-mail: mmitropolia@gmail.com

What is globalisation from the Orthodox point of view

The media has managed to firmly ingrain the word “globalisation” into the collective consciousness. This concept is very vague, not to mention the different attitudes towards it from the “right” and “left” sides, conservatives and liberals. It is sometimes difficult for Orthodox Christians to determine their attitude toward this process, despite the fact that Orthodox doctrine holds a position on globalisation, although it is expressed not in terms of political science, but in the appeals of the gospel and in prophecies. But, first of all, we need to formally define globalisation.

Globalisation is the erasure of world borders (political, economic, cultural, etc.) for the spread of a single, Western way of life and thinking. The erasure of political borders is the formation of international organisations and unions, visa-free policies, etc. Economic globalisation is evident in the fact that global trade and the services industry are tied to the dollar and the euro. And the entire world is aware of the Western arts community, the music industry and cinema, and seeks to imitate them – this is globalisation in the area of culture.

The open-ended definition of the concept of “globalisation” allows ideologists to exploit this concept as they please. When globalisation is defined only as “the erasure of borders”, this is only part of the concept, its tactical side. The whole world is becoming like the West; that is the strategic task of the process of globalisation. But, since the modern West adheres to the principles of secular humanism and post-Christian (and often anti-Christian) values, the issue of attitude toward globalisation can be very worrying for Orthodox Christians. The Holy Apostle Paul admonishes us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). Here, the logical choice stands before a Christian of either supporting or denying the main vector of the modern world’s political process – globalisation.

The Globalism of Orthodoxy

Orthodox Christian doctrine is global in nature:

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26–28).

All nations of the world have only one path of salvation – Christ; only one means of salvation – the Church. This feature of Orthodox doctrine is called catholicity (from Greek, meaning “worldwide, universal”). The saving sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ is addressed to every nation, regardless of their ethnic characteristics, history and cultural baggage.

Worldwide Christian doctrine, which contains the whole truth of the salvation of the soul, consists of Sacred Tradition (resolutions of the Ecumenical and Local Councils, patristic teachings and the liturgical traditions of the Church) and the Holy Scripture (which is the most significant part of Sacred Tradition).

However, the universal saving Truth is not uniform in its national and cultural manifestations; the historical experience of any one Christian nation cannot be conveyed to other nations as a condition of salvation from this world. Early Christian culture was already an alloy of several ethnic groups: Jewish, Greek and Roman; therefore it cannot be considered neither a global nor local-national phenomenon. The cosmopolitanism of Christianity is based on its appeal to all cultures without exception.

Today’s spread of Old Orthodoxy in Uganda and Pakistan is evidence of catholicity as preserved by the Old Belief. And, although most of the details of Divine worship and Christian everyday life will be borrowed by the neophytes from the Russian Old Believers, eventually newly converting Christians will develop their own nuances, shaped by their own historical experience, social and political structure, and cultural identity. This process is objective, although it can proceed along different paths: in one case, there may be a distortion of the religious doctrine due to the geographical distance from former fellow believers (as was the case with the so-called Old Eastern churches: the Monophysites of Armenia and India, the Nestorians of China); or in another case, on the contrary, at a distance from the heresies and sinful disorders subverting Christian capitals, the original doctrine and church life may be zealously preserved (such as the preservation of the two-fingered signing of the Cross and ancient worship in Rus’ when Byzantium transitioned to new rites and the three-fingered signing of the Cross).

The Anti-globalism of Orthodoxy

The anti-globalism of Orthodox Christianity manifests itself in the considerate attitude toward national identity, and in the respect for local forms of God-seeking (although this does not at all imply an ecumenical statement about the equality of religions). The legacy of the ancestors of a Christian nation is a history of sanctity, a story of life in a world centred around the Church, not a community centre, nor a tavern, nor a supermarket. The daily routine of our Christian ancestors was a consistent acquisition of sanctity, therefore, the study of history and the preservation of traditions and practices is our way of accustoming ourselves with the sacred path that was already laid out in days past.

But here it is necessary to distinguish between Christian and pre-Christian ancestors. From the point of view of the Holy Scriptures and the missionary practice of the great Apostles and preachers that were their equals, the pre-Christian past of any nation is also important in its own way for the subsequent acquisition of the saving truths of the Gospel by this nation. And in his famous speech in the Athenian Areopagus, Holy Apostle Paul emphasised that the God that preached by him is the God of “not only the Jews” and even God not only of Christians — He “in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness” (Acts 14:16-17) Therefore, any pagan nation reached out to God in their own way, forming various cults and religious-philosophical systems. Since this was done before the preaching of Christianity, but not for the sake of contradicting it, in these teachings and cultish practices there are certain elements that could be integrated into the subsequent Christian experience of a particular enlightened nation. That is how Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Cyril and Methodius acted, not preaching to the Slavs in Greek or Latin, but diligently developing the alphabets based on our original speech, full of symbols and hidden meanings. The Cyrillic alphabet is one of the greatest Christian symbols of national identity.

From the Orthodox-Christian point of view, paganism (folk belief) is a nationally felt spiritual complex consisting of:

• echoes of the original, pre-Babylonian tradition of the worship of God,

• national spiritual practices,

• moral principles evoked by an intuitive appeal to a God Who has not yet discovered,

• misperceptions and deviations from the original Truth.

Actually, this element prevails over the rest; as such, Christian preaching to pagan peoples does not begin with the Hellenistic “equalisation of the gods”, but with the “translation” of the Christian Good Word into the language of the meanings and sensitivities of the people to whom the sermon is addressed. For this reason, Orthodox Christianity has been using the national or ethnic factor from the very beginning of its preaching, and there can be no external uniformity in the expression of Orthodox doctrine by different nations. However, the feeling of belonging to the One Church – the Body of Christ, Her doctrine – is a global factor in Orthodoxy.

Issues of what is permissible and acceptable from the national forms are decided in Orthodoxy by the Local Churches on the basis of the principle of conciliarism – the key “social” principle of the Church. One of the first testimonies of conciliarism in the Scripture is the analysis of the issue of former Gentiles who accepted Christ, bypassing the Jewish Law, in the 15th chapter of the Acts of Holy Apostles, the main point of which is to: “Not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).

In general, the relationship between the local and the global in Orthodoxy was aptly expressed by the philosopher K.N. Leontiev with the words “unity in diversity.” (Someone will recall the words of Blessed Augustine: “unity in necessary things; freedom in doubtful things; love in all things.”) The unity of the Good Word is not diminished by the national particularities of Its discovery. According to the teachings of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the main components of conciliarism are: ubiquity, the integrity of dogmatic teaching, the universality of the people saved by the Church. The unity of the Church is the unity of faith, not of an organisation (political, social, cultural). The Church seeks to draw into Herself, to sanctify by Herself the particularities of national sensitivity and moral standards, which are not the invention of any nation, but are the preserved pre-Babylonian legacy of primordial monotheism. John Meyendorf wrote: “The Orthodox East has always sought after the churching of those elements of national tradition that could contribute to the development of Christianity in a given nation”.

Thus, “unity in diversity” by the very logic of its meaning excludes the absolutism of both globalism and Nazism. “Christianity <…> does not contrive any new forms – it fills everything that exists in this world with new and true content. Accepting any form, the Church returned to God that which belongs to Him, always and in everything restoring the “fallen image” ”.

Modern globalisation and Orthodoxy

Modern globalisation is a secondary, secularised child of Christianity. The world of globalisation is also called the world of postmodernism. Postmodernism can be briefly described as follows: it is the denial of modernity (with its secular humanism, secularism and anti-religiosity, belief in reason, equality and scientific and technological progress), but without returning to a traditional society (with its everyday sanctity, class system and

meaning of life centred around the afterlife). Postmodernism is a game of rationales that no one else believes in. The logic of contemporary (postmodern) secularisation is as follows: the deformation of rationales is more significant than the change of rationale-containing forms. Rationale-containing forms (in which no one believes anymore) can exist by inertia, filling up with foreign content, which will only become noticeable after some time. Secular globalisation relinquishes from Christianity the desire for universality, for a single system of rationales. However, the very Good Word about the Saviour and His Church in “secular society” is rejected, and the desire for global rationales is modified into the desire for a global uniformity of moral standards, common stereotypes and forms of behaviour. One of the modern theorists of secular globalisation writes: “Morality at the level of humanity as a whole requires that we violate the deeply rooted norms of devotion and reciprocity with regards to our own group”. The concepts of “globalisation” and “secularisation” cannot be pulled apart, otherwise each of them loses its meaning.

Postmodernists (politicians, businessmen, cultural figures, scientists and inventors) are constructing their conception of the newest world order, viewing the desire to decentre as being the point of modern globalisation. If there is no centre – Christ and His Church – as the basis for the rationalisation of any activity, but the pursuit of secularisation and the imposition of liberal-Western values has reached its highest effectiveness (owing to the leverage of the mass media), then the current globalisation process has absolutely no need for a definitive, static centre (for example, USA). The centre may be relocated; hence the political scientist S. Huntington predicted the aspiration of some civilizations to become the “centre of the world” themselves: for example, China’s current “trade war” against the United States or the militant activity of the Islamic group ISIS that is forbidden in Russia. In an environment driven by triviality and consumption, any civilization that has erased the religious roots of its originality can claim leadership.

“Decentralisation” also opens up the possibility of a worldwide anti-globalist movement striving to popularise its ideas all over the world, just as the Marxists once did. Anti-globalists have themselves become a global movement, promoting their ideas of anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, and an environmental mindset.

From a third perspective, the “decentralisation” of the world, the lack of rootedness makes many representatives of Western civilization even more active (and more aggressive) in insisting on the continuation of the project of the “Western method of globalisation”, to exploit the imperialistic nostalgia of Americans or Europeans – this has partly contributed to the recent victories of ultra-conservatives in many Western countries beginning with the USA.

As a result, all this leads to a crisis of ideas, to utter confusion. Modern globalisation has led the nations of the world to the point where almost everyone has been torn away from their traditions, but a single “brotherhood of nations” has not been formed. And now “nation has risen against nation and kingdom against kingdom”, often guided not by the material benefits of the war, as before, but by the desire to eradicate the foreigners, bearers of a different culture and religion, at all costs. From the Orthodox point of view, this process, although tragic, is in order. When the Saviour was asked about the End Times, He indicated: “When you see the abomination of desolation, standing in the holy place…” (Matt. 24:15).

Anti-globalism and Orthodoxy

Another model that the media often proclaims is nationalism – the confinement within one’s own cultural, ethnic or religious frameworks; or rather, within what remains of these frameworks after the global process has converged cultures to uniformity. This perspective is seen by some as the opposition of unipolar globalisation. Other religious figures, within the framework of their own rejection of globalisation, are seeking to recreate various pagan religions or forms of disposition – this is how so-called “Neopaganism” was born, especially the variation of it that is based on fantasies, insinuations, and speculation – “Slavic paganism”. These echoes of globalisation also fit into the Orthodox-Christian picture of the End Times.

“Those who are left shall be as the fleeing gazelle and as a wandering sheep, that a man may return to his own people and a man may seek his own country” (Isa. 13:14).

“Diversity”, from the Christian point of view, is valuable only when it provides the outlook of a single Rationale that is enriching with its versatility and varied adaptability, which for a Christian is the salvation of the soul, deification. If “diversity” is confined to the exaltation of its exclusivity, originality and self-sufficiency, from the Christian point of view this is a sin of national pride which, like every sin, leads to death and cannot be the basis for truly fruitful creativity, be it political, economic or social. Today, a special “language of anti-globalism” has even emerged, which fashions itself as a series of inversions of globalist-liberal rationales and values.

In Orthodox philosophy, the procedural history of non-uniform globalisation (interrupted by wars for world domination) and the surges of nationalism are details of a single picture that precedes the formation of a worldwide anti-Christian political space (state):

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulations and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:7-14).

The rationale behind this entire process is indeed the annihilation of the civilizational identity of each ethnic group. The end of the world will come when “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

Why then, from the Orthodox point of view, are these attempts at anti-globalism necessary if globalisation unambiguously culminates with the invariable victory of the kingdom of the antichrist? Perhaps the specific incitement to counteract globalisation will lead to the creation of so-called “Autonomous zones”, in relation to each of which a unique language of suppression and domination will be developed. Just as the “zombification” through television in our time has been replaced by the personalised influence upon each Internet or Smartphone user, taking into account their own habits and needs – so the global anti-Christian world will draw in all the nations of the world, with each being offered something of its own – according to the scenario described in the Revelations of John the

Theologian. Philosopher H. Marcuse wrote: “Technical progress, extended to a whole system of domination and coordination, creates forms of life (and of power) which appear to reconcile the forces opposing the system and to defeat or refute all protest in the name of the historical prospects of freedom from toil and domination”.

So, what is the Orthodox outlook on both globalism and anti-globalism in their differing aspects? Orthodoxy is alien to both of these ideological movements, because they lack a central purpose, directed to God. It is replaced by the desire to gain some kind of earthly status. In the words of the philosopher N.A. Berdyaev, “existence concludes within the territory of this world <…> there is nothing more, and this is very gratifying, as it makes it possible to deify oneself” [88]. Global dedeification is the purpose of the conclusion of the world’s history.

Both globalism and alt-globalism are ideological trends not merely “external” or “alien” to Orthodoxy. These are particularly hostile points of view, because, like all heresies, they emerge from the same platform as Orthodoxy, that of spiritual unity and spiritual diversity, but, having dismissed hope in Christ and His Universal Church, both of these movements form a kind of “immunity” to Christianity in the global godless domain. Now, for some nations, Christianity is becoming a symbol of globalisation, the coercion of the West against its national, intimate, and native roots. For others, it is turning into a call for some kind of “struggle for national liberation,” the anticipated result of which is not the salvation of the soul or the integration of people into the Church, but the establishment of a certain kind of secular order.

The ideal socio-political structure, from the point of view of an Orthodox Christian, is the Church of Christ, since within Her a believer is invisibly combined with the Lord Himself. Any national or political movements make sense only when they originate inside the Church, after the establishment of the Orthodox worldview, and bygone worldly focuses are dismissed, no matter how harmonious they may seem.