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RIA Novosti
April 20, 2004

MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti's political analyst Anatoly Korolyov) - The cult of suffering and self-mortification are not unusual for the Russian Orthodox tradition. A museum in the Novy Yerusalim monastery near Moscow features the fetters of the famous church reformer of the 17th century, patriarch Nikon. These are two heavy lead plates with sharp thorns, which the patriarch wore every day under his garment to remember about Christ's suffering. This cult has preserved to date in different forms.

Mel Gibson's shocking film, "The Passion of Christ," did not, therefore, stir a negative reaction of the Russian Orthodox Church or society. On the contrary, the church commended the film and recommended that it should be shown countrywide. The premiere took place on the Passion Week before Easter. The jury of the Radonezh Orthodox film festival, which was taking place on the Passion Week, even praised the film as "a major event in arts," and "an important event in the life of all Christians." And all these despite the fact that Gibson made his film relying on the Catholic tradition. Orthodox icons, for example, feature crucified Christ as if embracing the world he saved through his suffering, rather than convulsing with pain. The Russian church condemns a lot of what is shown in western films. It, for example, disapproves of showing the devil and evil spirits, too frequent heroes of "gothic" horror films. The Russian church does not encourage the Catholics' and Protestants' agitation about Jesus Christ's suffering in the last hours of his life on Earth. The Orthodox church argues that the thought that God might have abandoned him caused Christ greater suffering than the physical tortures.

Russia views Gibson's film not as totally exotic, but rather as yet unseen apotheosis of suffering shown through the "Catholic-Protestant perspective." Those who have seen this movie, which has stirred critical passions in the West, know that Christ is being turned into a bloody pulp throughout the film. Audiences shudder in horror at every whip (which always comes unexpectedly). Masterly applied face-paint and special effects help enhance the impression. Many spectators shut their eyes, cry or bless themselves, but do not leave.

What I saw in the cinema during the show of "The Passion of Christ" and nearby gives no less food for thought than the film itself.

It was a Sunday afternoon. I came to see the film to a rather unpretentious cinema in Moscow, which was packed with youngsters. They were eating popcorn, drinking beer or cola, their cellular phones kept ringing. The teenagers were not seemingly prepared to see the film, which was from the beginning to the end a tale of Christ's ascend to Golgotha, i.e. two hours of terrible suffering, continuous falls under the burden of the cross. Accustomed to deaths in Hollywood-made action movies, they might have got bored by the chronicle of only one death.

"Dirty Dancing 2" and "Starsky and Hutch," the movies that were also on that day, offered a seemingly more attractive option. However, when the film began silence fell upon the audience in the 200-seat cinema hall. Even mobile phones were switched off. Emotional strain was enormous, with some spectators going hysterical and everybody wiping away tears. Only two spectators left, but were soon back. The film has drawn capacity audiences for three weeks now. Tickets have to be bought in advance.

Unlike New Zealand, the United States and Canada, Russia has remained a country whose residents combine brutality and callousness in inter-personal contacts with compassion and the frantic cult of social justice. Russians only appreciate strength used for the good of society, which is an uncommon approach.

A dead drunk beggar was lying near the cinema entrance. Pentecostal activists were handing out free Kharisma newspapers with the image of Jesus Christ from Gibson's movie on the front page. Neither Pentecostals nor audiences, which were going to see "The Passion of Christ," were taking any notice of the poor guy.

This is because you have to meet several requirements to stir up compassion in Russians. You have to have a pure soul and be morally beautiful, which means to be nearly like Christ. These traits will allow you to enjoy unlimited power over a weeping lot, and its boundless compassion.

Jim Caveizel as Jesus in Gibson's Passion meets these requirements. He is as beautiful as a Saint and he, undoubtedly, holds the truth. You only have to look into his blue eyes gleaming with unearthly light on his bleeding face to know that he is right.

Those who are opposed to Jesus personify absolute evil. With the exception of Jesus Christ's Mother Mary, Magdalene and, probably, Pontius Pilate, Jesus is surrounded by detestable persons in the film. Roman legionaries are sadists, the Pharisees are bigots, Kaifa is an intellectual sadist, while Herod is a lustful psychopath.

The malicious masses of Jews on the screen are, probably, able of causing concerns of Jewish public and religious organisations, which have already dubbed the film anti-Semitic. Then why is Italy not protesting over Roman legionaries being shown as totally unattractive persons? Probably because Jesus did not differentiate between Romans and Jews.

Mel Gibson made a film about the holocaust of a mob over one man, Jesus Christ, rather than about Romans or Jews. And Orthodox Russia quickly accepted it without any reservations.