Bishop JOHN (Shahovskoy) of San Francisco

On the Occasion of the Inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Message to the Russian people broadcasted to the USSR via the "Voice of America"

On January 20th the new President of the United States - 34th in order of succession - Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed power for the next four years. After taking his oath on the Bible, he addressed the following prayer to the Lord God, the Master of the world:

"Almighty God, as we stand here at this moment, my future associates in the Executive branch of the Government join me in beseeching that Thou wilt make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people in this throng and their fellow citizens everywhere.

"Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby and by the laws of this land.

"Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the people, regardless of station, race or calling.

"May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under the concept of our Constitution, hold to different political faiths, so that all may work for the good of our beloved country and for Thy Glory. Amen."

Fortunate are the countries whose rulers, in the sight of all, bow down their heads before the Living God and seek not glory for themselves or compel the people to glorify them. Happy are the nations among whom no statues are raised to men still living on earth, to be put up like idols in towns and villages. It is well for the lands where all understand that even the greatest and most powerful of men are weak and mortal and that nothing great, good and stable can come about for the people without God's blessing.

The simple, brave and kind American people freely elect men who want to have the Lord God as their leader and do not regard irrational and unconscious matter as the source of life. Moral forces which are the breath of life to man and distinguish him from brutes are close to all who see the source of their life in God.

The Russian land has always been renowned for its piety and lofty faith. Vain is the attempt to deprive Russia of faith in the Living God as the supreme Guide of the nation's life and to replace that faith by the worship of corruptible men who are alive one day and on the morrow turn to dust and disappear off the face of the earth.

We know that for years and years great destruction of souls and of churches has been going on in Russia and that at the same time an ever-increasing number of idols -- statues of believers in atheism and materialism -- was being erected throughout the country. Only in the times of ancient unenlightened paganism did men raise statues to other living men, ranking them with genii and gods. But in countries where Christ's Gospel and the good news of the Living God, the Father of all men, had been preached, no despot, no tyrant dared to put up a statue to himself in his own lifetime.

Such things had never happened before in Russia, nor can they happen in the United States of America. The highest bearer and representative of the power of the state in that country, the President, is elected only for four years, and both in the course of those years and afterwards, his words and actions are open to the free criticism of the rest of the citizens. America loves her elected President, respects him and submits to him in matters of state, but at the same time always reminds him, her president, that he too is human like everybody else and may be wrong and mistaken in his decisions and opinions. Hence there is no man-worship or man-glorification in America. There is valuable harmony between the American citizens' submission to their Government and their complete freedom of opinion about the Government's actions.

The Government of every country bears a great responsibility and fulfills important duties. And the less it defies itself and compels men to worship it, the more it should be respected. The more it does to glorify God and to show forth man's highest task of enlightenment and of rising to the One Source and Master of the world, the more respect it deserves.

It is inconceivable that any American poet should express a desire "to fall at the feet" of his national hero and the head of the state. In order to understand my meaning, recall what the poet Isakovsky says in his "A word to comrade Stalin". Isakovsky asks leave not merely to shake hands with the head of the state, but to prostrate himself before him. "Allow me" writes Isakovsky to Stalin, "to bow down to the ground before you in obeisance''. What can be the reason for such religious worship? Isakovsky wants to fall at Stalin's feet in gratitude for his "wisdom," "the purity and righteousness" (i.e. the holiness) of his life, "for his being what he is" (i.e. for his perfection), "for being everywhere with us" (i.e. for his omnipresence), "for his living upon the earth" (i.e. for his having come into life of his own accord).

But has man ever been born of his parents and come into the world through his own power and wisdom? And if he has not, why thank him for living upon the earth? And, besides, is Stalin really perfect?

"It's absurd" you will say. It is more than absurd -- it is shameful adulation, toadying, idolatry -- a violation of one of the chief Divine commandments "thou shalt make thyself no graven image." And Isakovsky's poem is not the most striking instance of the innumerable hymns of praise sung to Stalin in the Russian land.

It is wrong to deify any human being -- whether a Tsar, a president or a dictator.

It is all the more wrong to deify rulers who disbelieve in any power superior to themselves and compel their subjects to glorify them as the highest incarnation of wisdom and genius upon earth. It is wrong to glorify such men. The deadly consequences of doing so will soon fell upon the whole nation, bringing more suffering upon it. "If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch," says the Gospel (Matt. XV, 14). It is but recently that in Germany and Italy "the blind leaders of the blind," rejecting Christ's power in the world and His righteousness, led their people through every kind of privation to a supposedly secure, great and happy future, but brought them instead to the terrible ditch of ruin and destruction. No, to trust in weak and mortal man instead of in God is blindness, ruin and destruction.

This is why on the solemn day of the new American President's inauguration, the thoughts of Russians living in this peaceful country turned to their distant but beloved motherland. Listening to the prayer offered by the new President of America, we also prayed in our hearts for the long-suffering Russian people: "Lord God, enlighten the eyes of the unseeing and open the ears of those who hear not, so that all men and all nations may understand Thy will, Thy truth, holiness and power. Bless America, bless Russia, O Lord, that, renouncing all man-worship these great nations created by Thee may fraternally and of one accord worship Thee in spirit and in truth, the Only True God, the Master of the world, blessed for ever and ever!"

January 1953

Bishop John of San Francisco

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