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Remembering Alexei Navalny’s Christian faith

The media coverage of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death largely omitted his conversion from atheism to Christianity, despite the significant influence his faith had on his activism. Navalny’s Christian understanding of suffering highlighted the disparity between genuine heroism and the superficial activism prevalent in contemporary social media culture. This phenomenon, often termed “slacktivism,” involves individuals engaging in simple actions without true dedication to effecting change. Navalny’s prolonged suffering in solitary confinement resonated deeply with people worldwide and strengthened their commitment to freedom and human rights.

Navalny’s letters from prison to former Soviet prisoner Natan Sharansky included biblical and religious references, underscoring the importance of his faith in his opposition to Vladimir Putin. The media’s oversight of his faith overlooks a crucial aspect of what made his activism impactful. Similarly, discussions of historical movements like the civil rights movement often neglect the theological underpinnings that provided coherence and purpose. While successful social movements don’t necessarily require explicit religious affiliations, many values driving activism originate from religious thought.

Navalny recognized the moral guidance provided by his religious faith, acknowledging its role in his political engagement. Unlike the impatience driving much of today’s activism, Navalny understood the patience required for justice to prevail. His willingness to sacrifice his life for his beliefs contrasts with the superficial actions often associated with contemporary activism. The Lenten season serves as a poignant reminder of the pursuit of justice, acknowledging that true consolation may not manifest as expected in this life.

America Magazine:

His letters from prison to the former Soviet prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky are peppered with biblical, religious and spiritual allusions. “Where else to spend Holy Week,” Mr. Navalny wrote to Mr. Sharansky, “if not in [solitary confinement]!” Mr. Navalny cites Ecclesiastes at one point, and signs off another letter to the Jewish Sharansky, “L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim,” Next year in Jerusalem,” a traditional Passover greeting. By leaving out his faith in a creed that believes in redemptive suffering, media coverage summing up his life’s work misses a key part of what made his opposition to Vladimir Putin so powerful.

Too often, activism today is driven by the fierce urgency of now. That is understandable: There are too many crimes today that cry out to heaven for justice. But Mr. Navalny understood that justice is not always swift in the eyes of the world. Rather than settling for skipping lunch or calling in sick from work, Mr. Navalny was prepared to lay down his life for something he believed in, even if, by his own admission, all he might gain from it in this world is “the consolation of having led an honest life.”

Read more here.

Image credit: Photo by Nikita Pishchugin on Unsplash

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