Today, I was at home with my younger children when I received texts from my two sons who are students at Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery and Seminary in Jordanville, New York. Because of a bomb threat, they had to evacuate the church, seminary, and monastery while the police blocked off roads and the bomb squad began the painstaking task of clearing the numerous buildings on campus. My young sons were safe, but I worried about the potential.
Just this past spring, my oldest daughter, a senior at Michigan State University, hid in a bathroom with her three roommates in their ground flour on-campus apartment while a ruthless gunman shot and killed her fellow students. We stayed on the phone, texting so that we could silently communicate with her while the entire tragedy unfolded. Now, we were waiting to find out what could be happening a thousand miles away in a small rural enclave that holds a central place in the hearts and minds of Russian Orthodox Christians like myself, like my family, like my husband who happens to be a priest. Fortunately, no bomb was found, and while I am deeply grateful, I also know that next time might be different. We are one radicalized and unstable person away from serious injury and loss of life.
I hold many people responsible but none as much as Foreign Affairs Magazine and specifically Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan who claimed that Russian Orthodox clergy was being recruited to act as spies for the government. Among other claims in their shockingly poorly fact-checked piece was that we have 2,380 parishes. This figure probably comes from a thirty-year-old estimate of the total number of faithful, that is parishioners. Not parishes. This is a strong indication of the gross failure to perform due diligence in their reporting. They state, “FBI privately warned members of the Orthodox community in the United States that Russia was likely using the church to help recruit intelligence sources in the West…” which is absurd on its face. What could American priests tell Russian intelligence operatives that could not be learned from watching the national news or reading Twitter? The Russian government could not possibly be interested in us, we are nobodies. Shouldn't the FBI know that? Shouldn't Foreign Affairs? It would be laughable if it had not led someone to decide to at least consider bombing a church and school. We should recognize the road we are on because we have traveled it before.
Americans are known for their short attention spans so it should come as no shock that we have already forgotten the Japanese internment camps. We, as a people and a nation, became so fearful that our friends and neighbors who happened to be Japanese could somehow pass along some kind of useful information to the Japanese government that we actually dispossessed them and relocated them into camps. We became no better than our Nazi enemies who established ghettos. These were ordinary citizens who had no more access to government secrets than any of their neighbors but because they were Japanese, found themselves subject to cruelty, judgment, and bizarre accusations. We stopped short of the Nazis in that we did not kill the Japanese for the supposed crime of being Japanese, and thank God for that, but we should be horrified at how like our enemy we became.
Is this what is next for Russians and American converts to Orthodoxy? Or will we find ourselves hunted down by our neighbors instead after irresponsible and click-hungry media outlets and savvy politicians looking for a pickup have whipped the electorate into a frenzy? Foreign Affairs and the other outlets that have rehashed and reheated their dubious reporting (Newsweek, I am looking you hard in the eye) are to blame for the anger that they generate in Americans and the fear that we, also Americans, feel. Words have consequences and we face them while they sit in smug comfort somewhere else not worrying about their children and their friends and their holy sights.