Is Orthodoxy Christian Enough To Call White Supremacists And Neo-Nazis In Her Midst To Repentance?

Yes, the title is serious.  This week we have been blessed with an essay from Inga Leonova who raises this real problem, a problem that has, unfortunately, come to light across Facebook and so is now a real, live issue.  Given how preposterous this might sound, I should note, here, that  although I cannot verify every detail,  I have seen the threads that indicate she is correct and I trust her work here–and pray that something is going to be done about this soon on behalf of the Orthodox Church, for this is now a scandal.  As a church historian, I must admit that there is a real deep and abiding irony here.  Think of Desloge Missouri.  Or Greeks in Nebraska.  Or any other number of events in the history of American Orthodoxy when the KKK and others caught up in anti-immigration and racist sentiments ran Orthodox out of town and committed atrocities.  Perhaps I should post on such things in the future.  For now, though, I prefer not to side track us.  Everyone is made in the image of God.  Maybe not everyone will pursue the likeness of Christ, but everyone is made in God’s image.  Leonova’s essay brings home that point if nothing else (and that’s under selling it–I hope you read it).  I present it here in PDF for easier reading and dissemination:

Orthodoxy for the Whites-1

37 Responses

  1. John Carter

    The search for so-called “White Supremacy” has always been the coward’s excuse for failing to thrive in the Light. It is nothing other than scapegoating and lying … the hallmarks of evil. Sad that so many lack spiritual discernment.

  2. Dave O'Neal

    Unless we bear witness strongly to the fact that racial supremacy is antithetical to our experience of Christ, we participate with Mr Heimbach and his colleagues in their assertion that it does. If the response of the priest who received him into the church is any indication–that this is a pastoral matter–we should be deeply concerned. This ceased to be a strictly pastoral matter the moment Mr Heinbach attacked a person with the cross and claimed that his actions speak for our faith. That the priest who received him did so apparently with knowledge of the ideology that motivated him and of which he was obviously unrepentant, is further concerning.

    1. Well, it’s a both-and. It is still also a pastoral issue. That said, I agree it ceased being only a pastoral one when it wasn’t fully addressed and repented prior to chrismation and became public via the white supremacist website and Facebook. This is now very much a public situation as well. Then again, as I think about it, given the guy’s public face, repentance would have needed a public face as well. This whole thing is just tragic.

      1. I said it’s no longer strictly a pastoral matter. But the deflecting of it that has happened to me via email appeals to “pastoral issue” in the tone of “not your business.” It’s completely our business at this point.

  3. Fr John A. Jillions

    Fr Oliver and Inga,

    Thank you for publicizing this disturbing news. If the facts are correct, then we will need other voices to rise up in protest at this twisted corruption of the Orthodox Christian tradition.

    I recall hearing that in Birmingham, Alabama in the the early 1960’s the late Fr Joseph Raya (later bishop), was beaten up one night by the KKK for promoting the racial integration of his Eastern Catholic parish. Forty years later he received a phone call from one of the anonymous KKK thugs who had assaulted him. The man wanted to ask forgiveness for what he had done. He couldn’t forget Raya’s words all those years ago. As he was being beaten, the KKK kept shouting at him, “N—lover, N—lover.” And he replied, “Yes, but I love the KKK too.”

    This young man is new in the Orthodox Church. Surely he has a place here. But his ideology does not.

    1. I think it’s important to note that given the man’s public persona and transgression there should’ve been a public recantation prior to chrismation. I can’t imagine knowingly anointing a person in his situation without it. When Nightline and your own website highlights you as up and coming for white supremacy it is a very public matter for the church.

      1. David Dutko

        I agree with Father, several of my direct family members were and are Orthodox priests and my son will graduate seminary this May. I can not understand chrismating this young man without a true repentance over a lengthy, closely supervised period of time. This appears to be scandalous.

    2. Inga Leonova

      Father John, thank you for your comment. My concern is, as usual, wider than this particular ugly event. It is not accidental that these types are drawn to the Orthodox Church, and the phenomenon of “Orthodox fascism” is certainly not limited to the United States. I feel, however, that in the US we have a unique opportunity to rise to this challenge. Yet nothing meaningful will happen without the leadership of our hierarchs – the OC simply doesn’t function solely on grass root level. And their passivity coupled with the unwavering loyalty to ethnically-based church structure is what is very much at the foundation of this situation.

  4. Fr. Daniel Kostakis

    Thank you for sharing this important article. This truly goes far beyond an isolated occurrence in Bloomington, Indiana. However, this occurrence can be used to open our eyes and hearts. This is a concern for the Church world-wide, both inside and outside of Orthodoxy. We must be assertive that the vehicle for God’s love on earth is not allowed to become a vehicle of hate and destruction. The Paschal season is such an appropriate time to remind ourselves that hate and death are to be trampled underfoot as we exalt the Risen Christ. Let us unceasingly strive to maintain our sacred calling to be the icon of Christ to all and for all. There will always be blemishes in this icon, we are human, but to deliberately, or in willful ignorance, allow a blemish of this magnitude is heartbreaking.

    I never thought I would see photos of an Orthodox Christian raising a Byzantine cross in anger in my very own town…Lord, have mercy!

    I would strongly suggest that the text itself be fully posted within the blog, rather than using a PDF link. PDF links sometimes cause havoc with certain platforms.

    1. Thank you, father. I have now posted the text as text and not just as a PDF. It is true we have a scandal on our hands and this sullies the Orthodox Church in the eyes of many and should be addressed.

  5. gzt

    I think this is a very good and very important article, although one might quibble with the characterization here as being somewhat unfair:

    “His prior affiliation was with the infamous Society of St. Pius X, a schismatic Roman Catholic sect known for its extreme bigotry and anti-semitism.”

    It’s no more known for it than Orthodoxy.

  6. Dianne

    Thanks to Inga for writing this excellent summary of the situation and to you, Fr. Oliver, for posting it. I am very concerned. I am a member of this diocese, and I am hoping Bishop Anthony deals with this swiftly and unambiguously. I agree that it is “both/and,” a matter for private pastoral discipline but very seriously also a matter of public scandal now. God help us if Heimbach’s actions and public pronouncements further solidify the public perception that Orthodoxy is a welcoming home for his horrible ideology. I say “further solidify” deliberately and with great sadness, because as Inga demonstrates, the perception already exists, with all too much evidence to support it. Now Heimbach, who is not some little twerp with a grudge, an internet connection, and too much time on his hands, but a well-known rising white supremacist with a growing following, has publicly proclaimed that he thinks Orthodoxy is a natural home for racism and fascism . If this isn’t scandalous enough to warrant forceful, public, crystal-clear refutation from the priest and bishop in charge, then Lord have mercy on us all.

  7. Chris Plourde

    It seems to me that the “pastoral issue” is that no-one has explained to the young man that the Cross of Christ is not a cudgel.

  8. One thing that is shaky in modern dialog on the topic is the association between race and culture. All societies have a component of xenophobia. The problem we have is confusing race and culture, so that people who are not culturally offensive but racially different from the dominant racial group are not automatically assumed to be ‘outsiders.’ In our churches, like in America in general, there is a sense of need to preserve cultural identities that require a conscious rejection of majority social norms. This is a recipe for continued conflict and exclusion.

    Our American Orthodox communities, by the mere fact that our religious life is outside the norm of the modern American religious experience, are automatically outsiders, though we go ahead and make the differences all the more prominent by our own behaviors. This racist lad has picked up on this idea, but I don’t think he understands his delusion or the problem of him joining a Church that is culturally far less ‘white’ (Anglo-Saxon) than he yet imagines.

    He has surely torpedoed (thank God for self-inflicted wounds!) his ‘career’ in the AOA, so I predict he will find some hyper-old-calendarist group, and in a few years he will be “Archbishop-Metropolitan-Patriarch of the Aryan Orthodox Church,” complete with its own three-bar swastika.

  9. Michael Day

    Well, since the person in question went to Towson University in Maryland, I have heard of his pro-Confederate and other activities for some time.

    When I first came to Orthodoxy from atheism through the writings of Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Fr. Alexander Men, the first thing I noted was in all the prayers was that “I was the chief of sinners” and that there was something not right about how I saw the world — and I do not mean here having a scientific understanding of the world. The not-rightness in me was about how I treated others and the stranger; about my dehumanization and objectivization of the other in the name of my ego or id.

    Amazing, that everywhere today we are told about how great we are as we are, how great the status quo is, and we look for groups that will pander to us here. Yet, when encountering Christ, we come to feel not so great after all. I guess you get broken to be made anew. Part of that newness is a restoration of our person as a being that lives by communion, sorbornally, with God and Man; neighbors of all colors, creeds, and lifestyles, and indeed, with all of creation. This is part of putting off the old man, part of no longer looking at things from an all too human point of view. Certainly, our walls do not go up to heaven.

    Indeed, if she is to be true to her Lord, the Church must stand against [transcend!] all forms of triumphalism and supremacy, bigotry and racism, exceptionalism and exclusivity, while looking to the King of Glory — or were the deeds of the past two weeks just a docetic thing? And our joy docetic too?

    May our newly illumined bother Matthew come to experience such things!
    Christ is Risen!

  10. Patricia Bartlett

    When a sinner struggles to repent with the guidance of his/her pastor, that’s a pastoral matter. But when the sinner continues in his sin, proudly publicising it in social media then announces to all he wishes to become an Orthodox priest and, because of his previous public persona, becomes a very visible face of Orthodoxy, is it still a pastoral matter?

    1. A very good question. It is a both/and. A public apology and some form of repentance is now required, given the scenario as you describe, but then it is between him and his priest to begin the deeper steps of healing and change. What we have now is, as you suggest, a scandal. It should be treated as such.

  11. I could take the letter a bit more seriously if Leonova could have written it without obviously, though perhaps ignorant, telling falsehoods about the Society of St. Pius X. But since I can’t even expect my co-religionists to follow Rome’s, and our previous pontiff’s, attitude toward the Society, maybe I shouldn’t expect the same from the Orthodox either.

    From the Catholic perspective, the Orthodox are in schism; the SSPX remains in a state of canonical irregularity. The distinction is not, morally speaking, unimportant since I can fulfill my Sunday obligation at a Society chapel. I cannot fulfill that same obligation at an Orthodox Divine Liturgy. (I will note that this point is more ambiguous for those who are under the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches.)

    As for the SSPX being known for “bigotry” and “anti-Semitism,” I imagine she is referring to Bishop Richard Williamson. Williamson was silenced by the Society’s Superior General in 2009 after he made controversial remarks denying, in part, the Holocaust. After regularly disobeying the Superior General, Williamson was expelled from the SSPX.

    1. Jim Barnett

      Okay, let’s please not whitewash the tendencies of the Society of St. Pius X — a society which St. Pius X himself would be ashamed to have his name associated with. The whole purpose of the Society is to separate itself from the Roman Catholic Church as expressed through Vatican II and affirmed by the whole Church in that expression. The society was formed by an archbishop who couldn’t accept the proclamations of Vatican II and the spirit of ecumenism (a hateful word in the society) which the Holy Spirit blew upon the Church. There was a huge schism dividing the Church and the society when Archbishop Marcel decided to go against Vatican orders and ordain priests and deacons under his ultra-conservative viewpoint…and then went further to consecrate bishops under that same viewpoint against the Vatican. He and those bishops were excommunicated — a sign of schism if there ever is one, especially since the archbishop and his followers continued to press the agenda of the society over and against the Vatican — no matter what soft-shoe steps were taken to visit Rome and placate the Pope. Lifting the excommunications of the four bishops did not give credence to the society at all — it was a move by Pope Benedict to soften the dialogue, in hopes of reconciling the society back to the Vatican — not to just let things continue in the same mode.
      Just this month Fellay has criticized Pope Francis for many of his comments — stating he believes the comments from the pope were more “man-centered philanthropy” than actual strivings of the Church to reach out to all people. He even took Pope Francis to task that Catholics are not being given “sound doctrine” any more, which means Fellay actually wanted more of the society’s views pushed further.
      When Pope Benedict allowed for more use of the Latin Mass and certain prayers, he did so under much controversy from fellow bishops and Jewish leaders, since there are prayers in the Latin Rite which specifically pinpoint Jews and their “guilt” in the death of Jesus Christ. This has led for many ultra-conservative Roman Catholics to leave the teachings of Vatican II to embrace this hogwash. Of course the society would give rise to fanatics such as Heimbach and his ilk, because of the overall tone of those prayers and other such prejudices being taught within the society seminaries.
      I am Roman Catholic — a former seminarian — and one who continues to study what the Church teaches. I don’t agree 100% with all the Church teachings, but that is my right as a human being with my own conscience.

  12. Michel Vasquez

    Having glanced at the Traditionalist Youth Network Facebook site, all I can state is that Matthew Heimbach and his colleagues are evidence of how poorly Christianity, ( Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant), has taught its followers.

    1. Jim Barnett

      It may also be a sign of how poorly Heimbach and his ilk actually listened and/or studied what was being taught to them.

  13. CJ

    This is indeed disturbing, but the internet can act as a magnifying glass. Just how influential is this viewpoint among American Orthodox? For what it is worth, I’m black and have always been treated with the utmost kindness at the Orthodox parishes I’ve visited (OCA and Antiochian). People have bought me candles, helped me find my place in the service book, apologized for their screaming kids distracting me, invited me to sit with them at coffee hour, etc. It’s my prayer that my experience is the rule and not the exception.

    1. And at our parish, we have quite the racial mix. I think there are many Orthodox parishes where this is the case. I agree one risks a magnifying glass but then what is being magnified? At the moment, a very relaxed official opposition to White Supremacy. I see Fr. Peter Jon did put up a statement, so there’s something trickling out but this thing is already now a scandal from what I can see. Sad.

    2. Greg

      Many of the Orthodox parishes on the west coast are multiethnic and mutliracial – including a notable contingent of black Africans, in particular Ethiopians and Eritreans. Walking into a Russian tradition parish and seeing so much racial diversity is something that may not be the case everywhere, but in the parish I attend, there are 15 languages spoken and a very broad range of ethnicities and races.

      When I read these essays on how horrible the Orthodox are, I wonder a bit, since it seems to contrast pretty strongly with my experiences on both coasts and with quite a bit of travel. By way of contrast, my wife’s liberal Methodist parish is almost entirely a white and wealthy monoculture.

  14. Inga Leonova

    An essay by Maria McDowell.

    “Indeed, you should be asked privately by your priest and publicly by Orthodox laity and clergy every day: what does your commitment to put on Christ mean towards your fellow Christian? To all human beings made in the image of God? Will you use a cross to beat someone different than you, or will you allow yourself to be hung on it by offering your body as a substitute for the least, perhaps at the hands of the very fascists with whom you now identify?”

  15. Jane

    Frightening as this is, I wonder what dynamics in the church persuaded Matthew that exclusion and separatism would be welcome and acceptable in the Orthodox Church.

    I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s work, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, written as reflections on events in the 1960’s – communism, the JFK assassination, civil rights, and what would become known as the Vietnam war, among others. He suggested that the way to violence and injustice is paved with dehumanizing features in our own churches and communities, shown most clearly by self-righteous demonizing of those who are different by accident of birth, socioeconomic status, appearance, or (often presumed, but rarely verified) differences in politics, social issues, and religious beliefs.

    Consequently, it is hypocritical for us to appear shocked at Matthew’s actions while ignoring our own tendencies to demonize others inside and outside the church and the small acts of exclusion and competition we see in many of our own parishes and the pain they cause to others.

    1. Well, one of the things we’re trying to do here at RRO is address such demonization. That would include of Matthew, too. Hate the sin, love the sinner. It’s not easy to do, but we are called to make this distinction.

  16. Christ is Risen!

    Firstly, many thanks, Ms. Leonova, for writing this article. I am a recent convert, also, and named for the same Holy Evangelist as this misguided young man, but the Orthodox Church I converted to was one in which all people are equally welcome, which stands in solidarity with people of all ethnicities, and which stresses that we cannot be in communion with each other unless we first confess our own sins – including that of being inhospitable to strangers. You have done all of us a very great and needed service, reminding us of the demands of this Church.

    All the same, I found myself troubled by the insinuation by juxtaposition you made, that Vladimir Putin is a white supremacist, or a member of ‘those circles’. I’ve never read any credible sources asserting that he is. The white supremacist movement in Russia loathes Putin and his immigration policies with a passion, and many of the anti-Putin marches back in 2012 prominently sported the black-yellow-white tricolours of white-supremacist Russian radical nationalism. Putin is a politician, and I’m sure he is capable of sinning and of making mistakes and lapses in judgement, but is it really necessary to accuse him of a sin he hasn’t committed? Please do reconsider this last part of your otherwise excellent and timely essay.


  17. Inga Leonova

    Dear Matt,

    Thank you for your comments. I am afraid you have read into the sentence mentioning Pres. Putin what is not there. What I said is this: “support for the Russian President Putin as a “righteous defender of Orthodoxy” against “degenerate liberal Western values” – which expresses the perception of Putin in particular ultra-conservative Orthodox circles. This is perhaps not the place to sidetrack into discussing Putin’s politics, but to clarify: Pres. Putin has very skillfully tapped into the resources of the Orthodox Church in Russia which align with his present nationalistic and authoritarian policies. This unholy alliance gives rise to the perception I’ve alluded to. I hope this clarifies the inference.

    1. Dear Inga,

      Many thanks for the correction and for the clarification!

      I’ll be fully straightforward: I was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church, though I am not a wholehearted supporter of Putin’s politics (to be perfectly honest I’d prefer Russia elect someone further to the left and with stronger democratic instincts, like Mironov or Glazyev or perhaps even Udaltsov – but that’s really a pipe dream), and I can certainly see where you’re coming from with regard to how he gets perceived. I still think that perception is wrong – the radical right is seeing in Putin an ally that doesn’t exist.

      Also, I admit I do get a bit defensive about our Patriarchate. I sometimes feel we a really bad rap even from our Orthodox brothers and sisters in other jurisdictions. It’s true His Eminence Kirill has said a number of supportive things for Putin in the past, but from what I’ve read from him he’s not a simple-minded Kremlin tool the way he’s often portrayed in the media.

      Anyway, many thanks again for your brilliant essay!


  18. While we may find a truer expression of Orthodoxy in the multi-lingual worship of a multi-ethnic parish than in a multi-racial English-only Globalist Orthodox parish, the lack of indigenous American languages used regularly in the prayers of so-called “American” Orthodox parishes reminds me that we have a long way to go before we can credibly declare the various American congregations of Eastern Orthodox Christiandom to be in fact non-diasporic communities. In the same spirit of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, may our merciful God make us missionaries who can help us cultivate our fidelity to place to include serving those indigenous Americans who struggle against their ongoing genocide by those who would force them to worship in English or Greek.

    1. My understanding has been that in Alaska, indigenous languages are used. I believe we have some missions that focus on Spanish-language services down south. In general, English is the norm in America. We have some parishes that could do a better job of getting English in use, but its usage has greatly increased during the last century. Perhaps I simply haven’t seen the situation you describe.

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