Conference e-mail

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

God After Gulag – Approaches to Zukunftsbewältigung in Church, State and Society

Chair: Markku Kivinen (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland)
Discussant: Kaarina Aitamurto (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland)
Mitrofan (Badanin) (Murmansk Diocese, Russia): Novomucheniki Kol'skogo kraja [Новомученики Кольского края]
Katya Tolstaya (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands): Dokhodyaga As An Ultimate Challenge for both Zukunftsbewältigung and A Theology After Gulag
Elina Kahla
(Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland): Cults of Saints in Flux – Commemoration and Memory Politics

The goal of this panel is to approach present and future challenges of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and its collaboration with state and societal actors. Bishop Mitrofan of Severomorsk and Umba presents his extensive study on history of Christening of Kola Peninsula and the new active role the ROC has adopted in society. He focuses on the commemoration of new martyrs and confessors, especially in his own diocese. Katya Tolstaya is Founding Director of the Institute for the Academic Study of Eastern Christianity (INaSEC, 2010), and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. With an international group of scholars she is developing a Theology after Gulag. Her research question is, what theological model will work in post-Soviet contexts to contribute to processing the past? Elina Kahla is researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute, conducting research in the field of Orthodox culture and new martyrs, their canonisations and impact in church-state relations and memory politics. K. Tolstaya´s contribution is to bring a new context and a new perspective to discussions on evil and the presence of God in circumstances of extreme dehumanization. These discussions are at the core of post-traumatic theologies and of theories of transitional justice. The new perspective I bring in is a fundamental challenge of the loss of ‘everything human in man’ (Varlam Shalamov), in other words, of dehumanization, turning of a human being into a dokhodyaga. Tolstaya's thesis is that a theological account, individual and ecclesiastic, for dehumanization is a condition for speaking about God in the 21st century and for coming to terms with the traumatic past and present. This requires a rethinking of theology which takes dehumanization as its reference and focal point. And this raises a number of theoretical and methodological questions which have to be considered carefully. In this contribution, Tolstaya will outline the challenge testimonies of dehumanization bring to theological anthropology: the loss of God’s image. Subsequently, she will point out a potential within Eastern Orthodox theology. E.Kahla's focus is on the new martyrs' over-arching connection to self-understanding of what the ROC is today. “Liturgical commemoration of their feat needs to be bright, glorious, it has to unify people”, as Patriarch Kirill put it. Much of the Orthodox theology is realised in the commemoration of new martyrs. In post-Soviet years, altogether 1776 names of NMC have been glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate. Recently, this process is slowing down, and the criteria are under reconsideration. It has been questioned, whether the documentary basis, like NKVD hearing protocols, is relevant for the purpose, or should it be admitted, that this information is biased, based on torture and false accusations, authored by “man of letters” and “butcher” in the same person? Second, it has been questioned, whether the victims suffered due to their religious beliefs, or rather due to other reasons, or without any reason whatsoever? I am likely to argue, that notwithstanding debates, commemoration of NMC (new martyrs and confessors) is to be taken in account sine qua non in the work of mourning and development of a theology after Gulag. In this presentation, concrete examples on how commemoration of martyrs and victims of persecutions contribute to public and private work of mourning, to church-state relations and facing of contemporary challenges in society, will be dealt with.