Moral Choice and the Concept of Evil in Military Narratives of Orthodox Christians
The article contributes critically to the current discussion of militant piety in Russian Orthodox Christianity. It argues for a more historically informed use of the notion of militant piety, which can benefit from critical discourse analysis of personal narratives and the focus on lived experience and lived religion of Orthodox Christians who were involved in wars. The article analyses ego-documents collected in two recent volumes: the first showcases the stories of Orthodox clergy and believers in WWII; the second volume gives voice to army officers of late Soviet wars. Both volumes mold personal accounts into a larger narrative with the view to provide Orthodox believers with discursive means for reflection upon wars and to offer an exemplary Orthodox Christian attitude to war. In these narratives, beliefs and principles were understood by religious people not abstractly but in the context of their individual and collective experience. The first narrative reveals how the course of the Great Patriotic War changed the Orthodox Christians’ attitudes from initial self-sacrificial service in defense of the Motherland to waging the sacred war against the Antichrist forces of evil and later to ensuring the retribution for Nazi criminals who were interpretatively exempt from Christian commandment of love. The second narrative does not present a normative ideal of an Orthodox warrior but rather it sheds light on real “militant piety”, on practical religiosity of soldiers and officers, who built their relationship with God and religion in the context of their professional activity, regularly described as “work”. Christian doctrine of love and forgiveness in its abstract form would be inapplicable in this “work”. In personal accounts, however, Orthodox Christian ethics is adapted to the circumstances of the military service and is transformed into the lived religion based on the principles of self-sacrifice, loyalty, and duty.