Notoriously Antisemitic "Blood Libel" in the News of the Leading Russian State Channel

The UCSJ presents here the analytical information from our Ukrainian expert Vyacheslav Likhachev and expresses strong indignation at public verbalization of notorious antisemitic “Blood libel” made by ROC Patriarch Kirill. We are also surprised by the very mild response of FJCR and an absence of protest voices from other Russian Jewish organizations.  

Larry Lerner, UCSJ President


August 31, 2012

Vyacheslav Likhachev


Kirill and Gavriil: the Media, the Teaching of the Church, and “Blood Libel”

On August 18th, 2012, during his visit to Poland, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All the Rus' Kirill (secular name Gundyayev) visited one of the Orthodox centers of this predominantly Catholic country – the city of Belostok. According to the official website of the Russian Orthodox Church website, “in the Nikolsky Cathedral Church, the Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All the Rus' Kirill and His Beatitude, Metropolitan of Warsaw and All of Poland Savva have venerated the honest hallows of the child martyr Gavriil of Byelostok.”

The state channel “Russia” gave a comment to this news item, in which they informed its audience that “the holy child Gavriil was born in 1684 in a family of peasants in the Belostok district of the Grodnenska province. In 1690, Gavriil was kidnapped by a Jew and taken to Byelostok, where he was brutally tortured.”

It is probably not necessary to remind one that false accusations towards Jews of ritually murdering Christian children are a common anti-Semitic plot in many stories, usually known under the common name of “blood libel.” Despite the absence of evidence and multiple debunkings of these accusations, in the past, blood libel has led to an outburst of anti-Semitic feelings and to loss of life.

Let the mistake of using the Russian imperial administrative territorial division in the context of the XVII century be on the heads of the journalists, even though this mistake is in many ways telling. But blood libel in the news of the leading Russian state channel is harder to let pass. Even the loyal Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) has expressed its “great surprise and disappointment at the unprofessional and bizarre comment of the ‘Russia 24’ channel, one of the leading Russian media outlets, on the visit of the Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All the Rus' Kirill to the Nikolsky Cathedral Church in the city of Byelostok.”

Of course, the journalists are directly responsible for the information they disseminate through the masses, and in this case the material was obviously presented improperly. But, admittedly, “great surprise and disappointment” are also inspired by the FJCR comment. If one takes the time to think deeper about it, the true issue is not with the comment, but with the fact itself – the Primate of the modern Russian Orthodox Church sees no problem with the fact that a young boy was beatified by the Russian Orthodox Church two hundred years ago for being murdered by the Jews. And if he venerated the “honest” hallows of this boy, then it does not matter whether any comments had been made.

The current “Orthodox Encyclopedia,” positioned as “one of the most complete bodies of knowledge on the Orthodox Church and the history of religion,” the publishing of which was commenced with the blessing of the previous Patriarch, Alexei II, and continues with the blessing of the current Patriarch, Kirill (who is also sometimes listed as the editor due to his reputation as an important theologist and thinker), provides the readers with the following treatise on the subject: “On September 11, 1690, G. was kidnapped by the village tenant Shutko, a member of a Judaic zealot sect, taken to Belostok and tortured: the boy was crucified, then stabbed, and his blood was slowly released until he perished [...] His martyrdom became the subject of a court process, the results of which were recorded in the legal books of the Zabludovska town (under Magdeburg Rights – trans. Note). While it is easy to note that the text contains a hint that not every Jew practices ritual murder, it can still be said that the official position of the modern Eastern Orthodox Church implies blood libel. The book references given at the end of the dry Orthodox encyclopedic article (and thus, in the literature recommended by the encyclopedia authors to study the subject deeper) everything is relayed much simpler and without these hypocritical attempts at subterfuge: “an innocent boy fell victim to evil and Jewish zealotry” (and then a graphic description of the “circumstances of the ritual murder committed by the Jews”).

Encyclopedias are, of course, read by few. But the Liturgy is an important and necessary part of the life of every religious person, and the “he who was murdered by Jews” is still a part of liturgical practice. And the troparion to the martyr Gavriil, to whom it is recommended to pray in case of child illnesses, for instance, also speaks of “truly beastly Jews.”

Of course, once a saint has been canonized, whatever the historic circumstances of this event were, he cannot simply be removed from church canon. However, the Western Church does have such precedents, including under absolutely equivalent circumstances. For example, in 1965 the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church suppressed the cult of Simon of Trent, also well known as an example of blood libel, as based on malevolent mystification, and removed Simon of Trent from Catholic martyrology. The Anglican Church had done the same thing earlier with the veneration of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln. And William of Norwich, the first and most famous of the medieval Christian babies “murdered by Jews,” despite the existence of a cult, has never been officially beatified. In all fairness, the cult of Gavriil of Byelostok de facto exists in the Catholic parishes of the region, but he is only canonized in the Russian Orthodox Church.

For a variety of reason both of a mental and a purely technical character, it is much more difficult to revise separate elements of the creed in the Eastern Orthodox church than in Western Christianity. But the fact remains that “blood libel” is part of the teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Primate of the Church shows through his actions that he finds nothing wrong with that. In this situation, it is scarcely fair to place the blame for disseminating backward and medieval slander entirely on the journalists, who, in their comments of the Patriarch's actions, reproduce the official point of view of the Church which he leads.