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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Orthodox Russians Blast Holiday




While Russia celebrated one of its favorite holidays, International Women's Day, on Monday, some Orthodox Russians were boycotting it and calling it dangerous.


Despite the chocolates, flowers and glorification of women's traditional roles that are part of present-day March 8 celebrations in Russia, the holiday's left-wing, feminist origins are repulsive to the more traditionalist and patriarchal members of the church.


With the growth of the church's arch-conservative wing in the past several years, there has been increased debate about whether members of the faith should celebrate March 8.


Tamara Maximova, a teacher of English, has ignored the holiday since her conversion to Orthodoxy in the late 1970s. Since March 8 is the eve of the day when the Orthodox Church marks the discovery of the head of St. John the Baptist - who, according to the Gospels, was beheaded at the request of Salome - the holiday glorifies "this whore who killed the great prophet."


But more importantly, she said, she wanted to distance herself from her nonreligious Soviet past when March 8 was an important holiday.


But as if one theory was not enough, last year a prominent young Orthodox theologian and missionary, Deacon Andrei Kurayev, published an article which argued that March 8 was the Jewish festival of Purim under another name.


He wrote that German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin, who established the holiday, was Jewish and had chosen a date commemorating the survival of Jews who had been marked for death in fifth century B.C. Persia. Esther, a Jewish wife of Persian King Ahasuerus, uncovered the plot of chief minister Haman to annihilate her people. She used her influence with the king to have Haman hanged and obtained a verdict allowing Jews throughout the Persian empire to massacre their enemies.


In articles published in the nationalist magazine Russky Dom and on the Internet (http://www.trimo.com/kuraev/article/8march.htm),Kurayev has argued that Zetkin picked Esther as the rebellious woman-heroine.


"It is not right for Christians to celebrate Purim, even under another name," Kurayev wrote. "When I became a practicing believer, I came to love the Orthodox 'women's day,' the Sunday of Myrrh-Bearing Women, which is celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter. So I wrote this article not to have somebody think less of Clara Zetkin and her people, but so that respect for our Orthodox traditions would return."


Irina Siluyanova, an Orthodox woman and professor of medical ethics at the Russian Medical University, said the real reason for fundamentalists' opposition to Women's Day was their opposition to the honoring of socially active women per se. "When a woman's status is raised, they feel it can deform the traditional family role," she said.


When asked last week about his views on Women's Day, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, said he had congratulated his female staff for Women's Day on Friday.


"We regard the civil women's day as normal and congratulate women, but we remember our church days too when we honor women," he said.