29 February 2024

Saying goodbye to Aleksei Navalny

Yulia and Aleksei Navalny (2015). Photo: Sefa Karacan, Anadolu Agency via Novaya Gazeta Europe.

Surveillance cameras, street patrols, and scaring students.

Security beefed up at Moscow cemetery where Navalny to be buried.

Rights group offers tips on avoiding police at funeral.

"They don't care about the optics."

Video stream of funeral, scheduled to start tomorrow (Friday) at 4 a.m. US EST.

By offering those links above, I intended to provide access to news coverage and commentary about the memorial events for Aleksei Navalny. I can't, and don't need to, compete with these sources.

Instead, I'd like to turn to one specific aspect of these events: their Christian context.

When I wrote about Al Sharpton, I framed my comments in our common identity as Christian ministers, which allowed me, as a commentator, to dare to cross lines and rush in where angels might sensibly fear to tread. My goodbye to Navalny is in a similar context. With all the differences in our social locations, political circumstances, and all that, we are brothers in Christ.

Maggie Phillips urged us, in her article in America, not to ignore Navalny's Christian faith, as the news media usually do. (Thanks to Faith on View for the link.) A fascinating sample of that faith came in the form of a statement by Navalny in a court hearing on February 20, 2021. Inga Leonova, in Public Orthodoxy, provides the full text of that statement. You can hear the original recording here, and read Leonova's article in Russian here.

These words leaped out at me:

This teaching—“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied”—appears somehow esoteric and odd, but in fact it is the central political doctrine in modern Russia. Your Honor, what is it, this phrase or slogan, the most important political slogan in Russia? Where does power lie? Power lies in truth.

The more that the principalities and powers try to distract us with lies and confusion and doubt and cynicism, the more persistent we need to be in our hunger and thirst for righteousness; the more determined we need to be to seek out truth; the more ready we need to be to admit (without wasting time shaming ourselves and each other!) when we fall short, and continue the pursuit.

This "central political doctrine" applies in this very moment in Russia, and in the USA, too. Where does it not apply?

If we Christians apply this doctrine consistently in our political involvement, we will bless our neighbors far and wide. But, for some of us at least, our first challenge may be to continue confronting the scandalous stink that too often surrounds the word "Christian" in the public arena. Where did that stink come from? Evidence suggests that some of us hunger and thirst for something else—dominance, privilege, the approval of the alpha figures of the moment. Maybe it takes the words of a contemporary martyr to recalibrate our values.

Thank you, Aleksei. Eternal memory!


"The mere sound of his name will signal hope."

Is Christianity under attack?

Minute on the Ongoing Devastation in Palestine, adopted last Saturday by the winter gathering of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Rebecca Solnit on the perennial divisions of the American Left.

Rondall Reynoso (Faith on View) on being an evangelical Democrat.

Micah Bales at Berkeley Friends Church: The only way to life is through death.

The late Mariellen Gilpin's tribute to a meeting well-stocked with Quaker elders.

An interview with Gregory D. Smithers, author of Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal, and Sovereignty in Native America.

In memory of Aleksei, my favorite blues from J.S. Bach and Mstislav Rostropovich:


Patti Crane said...

Johan, thanks for helping me engage with the sadness that Navalny's murder has triggered in me.

I recently read this article about Russian Exceptionalism in the New York Review of Books, and realized that you are the ONE person I can ask for an assessment of the concept and the article. If you get a chance, tell me what you think!

From The New York Review of Books

Russian Exceptionalism

After the fall of the USSR, liberalism, considered foreign, was overwhelmed by various types of nationalism, one of which, Eurasianism, seems to have achieved the status of a semiofficial ideology.


Patti Crane

Johan Maurer said...

Hello, Patti! Thanks for your comment.

Although I've not read the books under review, the article by Gary Saul Morson is a convenient and (I think) reliable introduction to the mix of influences that congealed into the "Russian World" version of exceptionalism.

You might enjoy this sample of the conversations that are churning inside the Eastern Orthodox community as a result of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine: "A Declaration on the Russian World Teaching."

This more recent article, "Orthodoxy, Russia's Manifest Destiny, and the Russian-Ukraine War," covers some of the same territory as Morson's article.

I may have told you this before, but in our early years in Russia, I used to ask my students whether they lived in Europe or Asia. About a fifth of them would say either "I don't know," or "somewhere in between." Most of the students were divided evenly between "We live in Europe" and "We live in Asia." I wonder if those proportions would have changed now that the issue is more politicized.

In Elektrostal, I encountered a lot of skepticism about any of these overarching "world" constructions. People, including the poets and painters of the town, were far more interested in the endless fascinations of daily life. Their patriotism tended to reflect love of Mother Russia and its natural beauty, rather than love of its political structures or conceits.