After the tragedy of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, most Russians rushed to express their sympathy and offer the Japanese people their help. Most, but not all.
The first to make waves was Russian Orthodox priest Alexandr Shumsky, who published an article titled “The end of the Japanese Miracle” on March 14. He wrote that the earthquake and tsunami were God’s way of punishing Japan for offending Russia.
In his opinion, the disaster was sent to the Japanese because some protesters burned Russian flags and destroyed portraits of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev after his visit to the Kuril Islands in November. The string of tiny volcanic islands north of Japan has been at the centre of a bitter territorial dispute between the two nations since the end of World War II.
The same sentiment was expressed by Elena Yampolskaya, deputy editor of Izvestia, a major Russian newspaper known for its close ties with the Kremlin. Yampolskaya said that the earthquake was proof that God protects Russia from Japanese offenders.
But the biggest splash by far was made by Nikita Sergeevich Mikhalkov, a world-renowed Russian movie director who is no stranger to controversy. On March 16, he delivered a lecture in the Moscow House of Cinema, during which he appeared to say that the earthquake and tsunami were sent to Japan to punish its citizens for their sins.
Amateur videos of Mikhalkov’s lecture spread quickly on the Russian Web, and sparked heated discussions on Russian media and blogs. While some Web users claimed that Mikhalkov was right to the point, most said that he'd lost his mind and his shame.
Two days later, Mikhalkov clarified his position on his own YouTube channel. He said that the meaning of his words had been distorted, and that the Japanese had been punished not for their own sins, but for the sins of the whole world. To his detractors, however, his statement came as too little, too late. As one of his critics ironically put it, “God punishes the Japanese with the earthquake and us, Russians, with Mikhalkov”.
In the past, similar ideas have been expressed by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, concerning other nations. In January 2010, Kirill said that God punished Haiti with the earthquake, and in August 2010 he suggested, though in much milder terms, that the August 2010 forest fires in the greater Moscow area were sent to Russians for their sins.
Post written with freelance journalist Ostap Karmodi.
“Chernobyl, the Haiti earthquake, what's happening in Japan – are warnings to mankind, reminders of how dependent and vulnerable we are”
Father Konstantin Kravtsov, 47 is a priest of the Annunciation Church in Petrovsky park, Moscow.
In the Judo-Christian tradition, the believers see the vengeful hand of God in any disaster, be it natural or social. It's a Biblical tradition. The prophets of the Old Testament predicted God’s wrath. But not just penance - absolution afterward as well. All ordeals are sent to save – a single man, a people, the humankind. It's done to show how tragic the reality is.
But by seeing God only as punishing judge and executioner, we are creating a false image of him. God’s judgment is not only judgment but also solace. Punishment is not only punishment, but also salvation. As it says in the New Testament: “He who endures to the end shall be saved”. In other words, any disaster is traditionally considered as a “visit” from God.
It's important also to note that everything connected. Let me explain: at the beginning, God created a perfect world, which he gave to man. Man used it for himself, breaking away from the creator. And this break has radically changed both human nature and the world - nature itself.
One disaster is leading to another. By rejecting supernatural, man yields to natural laws, to the blind elements. In short, it can be said that Chernobyl, the Haiti earthquake, what's happening in Japan – are warnings to mankind, reminders of how dependent and vulnerable we are.
They should make him see the world in a more realistic way, and make him start to think of life and death, of the fragility of our world. So we can call it either God's punishment or natural disaster – it’s not the choice of words that matters.
What's more important is what conclusions we make of it, will we become wiser, deeper, more human, will we be able to care for those stricken by disaster, or, – unfortunately that tendency also exists, - will we consider it as a punishment for the wicked. God doesn't punish anybody – it's Man who punishes himself. And, of course, it’s not for us to judge those who have suffered. We should pray for them, both for the dead and for the living.”
"The spirit of Mikhalkov’s judgements is far from Christian"
Hieromonk Dionisiy Pozdnyaev, 40, is a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church of St.Paul in Hong-Kong.
My personal opinion is that Mr. Mikhalkov is making theories about something that by far exceeds limits of his comprehension. I do not know why he's decided to make these judgments, but their spirit is far from Christian.”