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The BBC’s History of Christianity

Having just recently been shown on BBC4 and still available on the internet (BBCiplayer) at this link, the third part of this series deals with the Orthodox Church. Although it follows a generally recognisable historical outline, it is full of crass mistakes of detail. What a pity that the presenter and scriptwriter, Professor Diarmaid Macculloch, did not consult with Orthodox historians. Then he could have eliminated some of the abysmal errors.

Some of these follow the usual anti-Orthodox Western line. For example, he calls the Roman Christian Empire ‘the Byzantine Empire’ (Byzantium being a small pagan town, not the Christian Capital!). This leads him into thinking that the Roman Empire fell. It did not. Although the small, provincial Western part of the Empire fell, its centre had already been transferred to New Rome a century before its fall and when even New Rome fell, it was transferred to Russia. He clearly thinks that the Roman Empire was a geographical and racial concept, not a Christian and spiritual one.

Another area of concern is the fact that the Professor seems to view the Orthodox Church as purely Greek. He clearly has no time for the Semitic, Egyptian, Georgian and at one time Armenian input. The fact that the Orthodox Church has always been a multinational and multiracial Church seems to elude him, apart from one mention of Romania. His portrayal of Christendom in the eighth century as two halves is another familiar Western myth. The Western ‘half’ was tiny and provincial, its population barbaric And it was perhaps only one tenth of the size of the ‘Eastern’ ‘half’ in numbers. There were not two halves, there was a tenth and nine-tenths. Here is yet another example of Western ethnocentrism by a partisan Western academic.

Although the Professor mentions the Orthodox mission to Moravia, he fails to mention that it was crushed not by pro-Roman Latins, but by anti-Roman Germans. He then fails to describe the persecution against the Moravian Orthodox mission by the Germans which led to its annihilation. In mentioning the betrayal and sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the barbaric Roman Catholics (without mentioning the previous massacres of Orthodox by the Crusaders and without going into detail about the plundering and massacres in Constantinople itself), he also fails to point out that their destruction of the Roman capital led directly to the Muslim conquest of 1453. What a pity too that he does not explain that Holy Wisdom means Christ, that the Cathedral of New Rome is the Cathedral of Christ.

In the second half of the programme, the Professor shows his clear dislike of Russian Orthodox. Skipping through the spiritually heroic centuries of Baptism, invasions by Mongols, Tartars and Teutonic Knights, the Professor attributes to Ivan the Terrible (correctly speaking ‘the Threatening’) the crimes of Stalin! Unlike his contemporary, Henry VIII, responsible for wife-killing, the massacre of some 72,000 people and the rape of monasteries, depriving the poor of their social system, the sick Ivan may well have ordered the massacre of some 2,000 or even more, but not the ‘millions’ the ignorant Oxford Professor attributes to him. He certainly never massacred anything like the numbers massacred by Henry VIII.

The ill-informed academic calls the Cathedral of the Protecting Veil in Moscow ‘St Basil’s Cathedral’, without explaining the multinational significance of its domes. He also dwells at length on small sects such as the skoptsy (eunuchs) and the ‘Old Believers’ (sic) (= Old Ritualists), which he does not explain were the result of State persecution. He also dwells on Peter I. Why does he not speak of the Russian saints, rather than Russia’s westernised tyrants or minor pagan aberrations? Is his intention to be as negative as possible?

When the Professor comes to the 20th century, his history is even more wayward. Mentioning (inevitably for a prejudiced Western academic) the minor figure of the peasant healer Rasputin and as usual exaggerating his importance, he falls totally into the slanders and myths propagated about him by the aristocratic elite, whose only interest was to slander the Royal Family in an attempt to grab power for itself. His political bias becomes clear when he show that he favours the masonic Provisional Government of 1917, which so oppressed the Church during the six months it spread its anarchy. Similarly, he does not hide his love for the Western idol, the genocidal and syphilitic Lenin, who killed more people proportionately in his brief reign of terror than the Georgian gangster (at least he has one fact right), Stalin.

Clearly belittling the Orthodox Church, to which the Professor wrongly attributes 150 million believers, rather than the actual 200 million, it is obvious that the Professor cannot see beyond his prejudices. He cannot see that ‘Orthodoxy’ is Orthodox Christianity and that the ‘Orthodox Church’ is the Church. What a shame that the BBC allowed such a poorly researched and ill-scripted programme to be broadcast.

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