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Putin’s holy war on Ukraine Russia's nationalist project has conscripted the Orthodox Church

Is God on his side? (Sergei Karpukhin/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Is God on his side? (Sergei Karpukhin/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)


July 20, 2023   7 mins

As the world watched the Wagner mercenaries make good on their mutinous threats and advance on Moscow last month, Vladimir Putin shot them down in a television address. Spitting with rage and refusing to utter Prigozhin’s name, he said that the leaders of the rebellion had “betrayed their country, their people”. Amid his invective of treachery and treason, Putin levelled another charge: apostasy. 

There’s no more defining act of the latter years of Putin’s reign than the invasion of Ukraine, where the Russian leader’s justification for the war has been as moral as it is material. In Putin’s address to the nation on the eve of the invasion last year, he spoke of needing to protect Russia from dangerous Western influences which were seeking to “destroy our traditional values, and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people, from within”. As with his charge against Prigozhin, it was a pointed signal to people both inside and outside of Russia that, to him, this was an issue far greater than mere borders. And this invocation of cosmic transgressions speaks to a deeper change happening within Russia, a tightening of the bond between the political and the spiritual. 

In spiritual terms, the merger of Orthodox Church and Russian state began long before Prigozhin launched his ill-fated mission. It’s a process that was memorialised in 2020, when the Cathedral of the Armed Forces of Russia opened in Moscow to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front. The stained-glass mosaics on the imposing building fuse saints and military heroism, while its floors are made of melted-down trophies seized from the Nazis; every time a Russian walks on them, he is “symbolically delivering a blow to the fascist enemy”. The proportions of the church are deliberately encrypted with numerology: the height of 14.18 metres, for instance, corresponds to the 1,418 days of what Russians call the Great Patriotic War. It is, as Aris Roussinos described it, “a statement of Russia’s neo-traditionalist state ideology for the next century”. 

A wartime leader calling on higher powers to fortify a nation is hardly new, but Putin’s regime appears to be increasingly leaning into the mystical as a source of its legitimacy. Last autumn, the bones of legendary commander Grigory Potemkin — Catherine the Great’s consort — were returned to Russia from the fiercely contested Ukrainian city of Kherson. The remains of Prince Alexander Nevsky, the great warrior-saint of medieval Rus, have also been handed over from the St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum to the Orthodox Church. Then, in May this year, the icon of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, a widely venerated 18th-century hermit and confessor, was flown over parts of Russia susceptible to Ukrainian advances, in an apparent bid to ward off potential drone attacks. Putin’s message to the nation would seem to be that its traditions are its strength. 

This is a country that is not yet fully mobilised, but firmly on a war footing, and one where people have been told that they must endure and suffer for the good of the motherland. The message is increasingly clear: Russia is not simply engaged in a physical battle, but a celestial one.

It was around 10 years ago that Putin began drawing heavily on Russia’s religious heritage for geopolitical reasons. This is, perhaps not coincidentally, around the time that Putin started tinkering with his borders in Crimea. “He was trying to position Russia as this geopolitical ‘democracy’ that’s different from Europe and the West because [of its] religious values,” explains Telly Papanikolaou, professor of theology. 

“The Russian Orthodox Church has backed itself into becoming nothing more than a department of the foreign ministry,” he says, adding that the church is being used as “a soft-power tool” of the regime. And Putin has squarely aimed his rhetoric at those in the West who believe that “traditional values” are under threat from abortion, gay marriage and women’s rights. But in labelling the mutiny as apostasy, Papanikolaou believes that Putin is looking inside rather than beyond his borders, attempting to “weaponise” religious heritage to eradicate dissenters.

When it comes to using the Russian Orthodox faith as a political tool, the state has a deeply fraught history. The church was central to Russian life before the Bolshevik revolution, before the Soviet state attempted to completely decouple Christianity from Russian identity. But it was impossible to unwind such a rich history. Earlier this year, declassified Swiss documents revealed that Patriarch Kirill, who has headed the Orthodox Church since 2009, worked for the KGB in the Seventies, suggesting a closer bond between church and state than is generally recognised in histories of the Cold War. And as the collapse of communism saw chaos reign, many Russians returned to religion.

During those years, however, the Orthodox Church faced serious competition for the first time. Western missionaries — labelled by the then-Patriarch as “spiritual colonisers” — had long been obsessed with reaching the godless communists. As a result, some groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, were persecuted by the state before being banned entirely. 

The spiritual remit of the Putin era favoured the Orthodox faith, but was careful not to alienate the broad collection of religions in the Russian Federation, co-opting the Islam of the Caucasus as well as Judaism and Buddhism. Religious leaders all got the same message: domesticate your boys and be a part of the state apparatus, and you’ll be fine. Crack down on the gays and western decadence, and you, too, can be a patriotic Russian. Today, that extends to the war effort, which is a highly national project.

In fact, according to a paper published by Kristina Stoeckl last year, the concept of “spiritual security” has become Kremlin doctrine. It all began in the year 2000 — shortly after Putin came to power — around the same time that the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Human Rights enshrined “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

Spiritual security became a rival to the security offered by Nato and the EU, and in time, Stoeckl says, “has become the justification for Russia’s war on Ukraine and, in an enlarged perspective, with the West”. The amendment of the Russian constitution in 2020, Stoeckl notes, saw it launch a “Declaration of Values”, in which spiritual ideals were emphasised, in speeches by academics as well as religious figures. In the 2021 update to the document, the word “spiritual” was mentioned 24 times. Stoeckl believes that this is all part of giving the FSB, successor to the KGB, a “moral mission”.

The marriage of church and secret service was consummated in 2002, when an Orthodox Church was consecrated within the infamous Lubankya headquarters of the FSB by none other than Nikolai Patrushev, Putin’s attack dog — who still heads the Russian Security Council and is reportedly positioning his son as a potential future leader of the country. At this point, Stoeckl says, church leadership and the government agreed that, among the tasks of the FSB, police and law enforcement, was the safeguarding of “Russian identity and culture against undesirable influences”. Spiritual values are discussed in terms of friends and enemies, with Russia defined always in relation to a West — and a West that Putin feels is forever closing in. 

At the same time, Russia is pushing issues that appeal to religious conservatives in the West — most successfully with its emphasis on what are euphemistically known as “traditional family values”. That Russia remains the world leader in abortions per capita by some distance is an inconvenient truth. The Levada Center, considered Russia’s most reliable pollsters even in repressive times, recently found that the number of Russians who do not support homosexual relationships has grown significantly, from 60% in 2013 to 69% in 2021. Meanwhile, next year, Russian state hospitals will open clinics for LGBT conversion therapy — a deeply held belief of the Putin regime.

The mirror image of this is playing out in Ukraine. Not exactly the natural home of LGBT allyship, Kyiv last month drafted a new civil union law that would give same-sex partnerships legal status for the first time. That Ukraine is increasingly becoming more accepting might be a political move to curry favour with the West, since those Ukrainians who might be most opposed to it are, in large part, currently occupied on the frontlines. For the Russian Orthodox Church, it is further confirmation — since the Ukrainian Orthodox Church decided to break away in 2019 — of the spiritual cleavage between the two nations.

There are now two distinct battlefronts: the horrific conflict raging beyond the Dnipro, and a culture war that has Russians making gains far beyond Bakhmut. “It’s a new East-West divide,” Telly Papanikolaou says, a fight that has replaced the Cold War dichotomy of communism versus democracy. To the Russian state, and the Russian church, it is a question of “supporting religion and traditional values against a godless, liberal, aggressively atheist West”.

It would be simple to conclude that, in bringing back faith-based politics, Putin is dictating his people’s values. But the truth is not so straightforward. Because, as in the chaotic years after the end of the Cold War, Russians do seem to be turning to God of their own volition. A few years ago, a report from the Russian Academy of Sciences found there are around 800,000 faith healers in the country — compared to 640,000 medical doctors. Two-thirds of women, and one-quarter of men, said that they had sought help from a psychic or a sorcerer at some point in their life.

Turning to God when the state fails is something that can be seen in Russia’s fellow BRIC economies, Brazil and South Africa. Emerging from similarly repressive regimes, a military dictatorship and apartheid respectively, their people rapidly took up Pentecostal Christianity, similarly doubling down on “family values”. For the millions who feel let down by the false promises of the new state, faith seems the only alternative. In Brazil, one study found that a downturn in the GDP had a direct correlation to increased church attendance.

It’s difficult to know the true thoughts of the Russian people, but there is strong evidence that Russians are losing faith in the state’s narrative and, equally, that the Putin regime is increasingly courting religion for its legitimacy. One survey found that, in the six months following the invasion of Ukraine last year, Russians watching state television fell from 86% to 65%. Russians appear to be losing faith in the “special military operation”, too.

Putin had a front row seat for the collapse of communism in East Germany; he knows all too well that when people stop believing in the system, it can be catastrophic. He also seems aware that Russians are looking to religion rather than nationalism for their moral nourishment. For now, it appears that the regime is robust enough to meet the Russian people where they are, spiritually. As Kremlin rhetoric increasingly turns to asking for suffering and sacrifice for the greater good — deeply religious notions, as much as they are national ones — those daring to challenge it will either be seen as saintly figures, or very stupid ones.


Elle Hardy is a freelance journalist who’s reported from North Korea and the former Soviet Union. She is the author of Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World.

ellehardy

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TheElephant InTheRoom
TheElephant InTheRoom
9 months ago

The collective West celebrates drag queen reading hours for toddlers, parent-free pre-pubescent sex reassignments, self-loathing, self-doubt and mental illness for everyone. Maybe worry less about the Russian Orthodox Church…

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

While Russia celebrates bombing and torturing civilians in mass rallies, and in television programs every day.
Don’t talk to me of western decadence.
Muscovy has been decadent for 800 years.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Thank you for your comment. I am so relieved there are people here able to respond to western-decadence-mongers.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Thank you for your comment. I am so relieved there are people here able to respond to western-decadence-mongers.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago

This is an outstanging article. Hats off. Like, the point that Russia has been a long standing world leader in.abortions per capita that has never been so clearly brought home to the distinguished aidience of family-values keepers
Some comments, however, show that is was a caviar to general

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago

I am.currently in Saint Petersbourg, the place where i grew up. I wish those who hold or share your opinion were seconded on a tour of Russian goulags The few ones that have not been erased yet That you would be reminded of the 20 million innocent people who lost their life in purges. My great-grandfather, who was an orthodox priest, was among them. The clergy were among the first to be exterminated.

I wish all the free thinking readers of unherd – who believe in putin as a beholder of their values – were made to stay in a country where a lonely teenager with a poster in the street risks a prolonged term in jail. Where silence has become a rule . Even remembering the victims of repressions became impossible. All while the churches being lavishly restored with hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money thrown on that
And kgb recruits preaching.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Elena R.

Sadly, no one of the stature of Solzhenitsyn has appeared.
He had real Great Russian hang-ups. But I still can’t see him countenancing this lunacy. He said he never wanted his children to fight Ukrainians.
“ĐŸŃŃ‚Đ°ĐČĐ°Đčся ĐČ Đ±Đ”Đ·ĐŸĐżĐ°ŃĐœĐŸŃŃ‚Đž…”

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Elena R.

Sadly, no one of the stature of Solzhenitsyn has appeared.
He had real Great Russian hang-ups. But I still can’t see him countenancing this lunacy. He said he never wanted his children to fight Ukrainians.
“ĐŸŃŃ‚Đ°ĐČĐ°Đčся ĐČ Đ±Đ”Đ·ĐŸĐżĐ°ŃĐœĐŸŃŃ‚Đž…”

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

While Russia celebrates bombing and torturing civilians in mass rallies, and in television programs every day.
Don’t talk to me of western decadence.
Muscovy has been decadent for 800 years.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago

This is an outstanging article. Hats off. Like, the point that Russia has been a long standing world leader in.abortions per capita that has never been so clearly brought home to the distinguished aidience of family-values keepers
Some comments, however, show that is was a caviar to general

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago

I am.currently in Saint Petersbourg, the place where i grew up. I wish those who hold or share your opinion were seconded on a tour of Russian goulags The few ones that have not been erased yet That you would be reminded of the 20 million innocent people who lost their life in purges. My great-grandfather, who was an orthodox priest, was among them. The clergy were among the first to be exterminated.

I wish all the free thinking readers of unherd – who believe in putin as a beholder of their values – were made to stay in a country where a lonely teenager with a poster in the street risks a prolonged term in jail. Where silence has become a rule . Even remembering the victims of repressions became impossible. All while the churches being lavishly restored with hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money thrown on that
And kgb recruits preaching.

TheElephant InTheRoom
TheElephant InTheRoom
9 months ago

The collective West celebrates drag queen reading hours for toddlers, parent-free pre-pubescent sex reassignments, self-loathing, self-doubt and mental illness for everyone. Maybe worry less about the Russian Orthodox Church…

Andrew Richardson
Andrew Richardson
10 months ago

Not to see that there is not only a war between Ukraine and Putin, but a battle of values between the West and Russia is to be wilfully blind. And while the invasion was awful and evil, Western values are descending into pure decadence. I have just listened to a video on Twitter of a woman battling against trans-ideology and the facilitation of medical intervention on children by official and semi-official organs of the state. How can we in the West say with any honesty that our values are superior to Russia, in the way that we certainly could during the Cold War?

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

We don’t have to.
A defensive war against an aggressor is always just.
And it doesn’t matter who’s fighting in the trenches.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago

Indeed, yet another author of a comment deserving a study visit to a goulag. It does rectify the sense of values

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

We don’t have to.
A defensive war against an aggressor is always just.
And it doesn’t matter who’s fighting in the trenches.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago

Indeed, yet another author of a comment deserving a study visit to a goulag. It does rectify the sense of values

Andrew Richardson
Andrew Richardson
10 months ago

Not to see that there is not only a war between Ukraine and Putin, but a battle of values between the West and Russia is to be wilfully blind. And while the invasion was awful and evil, Western values are descending into pure decadence. I have just listened to a video on Twitter of a woman battling against trans-ideology and the facilitation of medical intervention on children by official and semi-official organs of the state. How can we in the West say with any honesty that our values are superior to Russia, in the way that we certainly could during the Cold War?

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
10 months ago

I find it a little suspicious that this article is coming out at a time when the Ukrainian government is being accused of suppressing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and yet I can not find a single mention of the controversy in this article.

martin logan
martin logan
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Ukrainian Orthodox Church?!
Let’s be clear:
Ukraine is suppressing a few church members loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate–members who have openly encouraged Putin’s attack on Ukraine. The members of the Moscow-loyal church have dwindled greatly since the war began, for obvious reasons.
It’s a far cry from Putin’s suppression of even calling the war in Urkaine a “war.”
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is based in Kyiv, and per the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople–ultimate head of Orthodoxy–is completely separate from Moscow.

David Yetter
David Yetter
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

You misunderstand both the situation and Orthodox ecclesiology, see my earlier post re the situation.
Regarding ecclesiology: the EP is not the “ultimate head of Orthodoxy”, that is Our Lord Jesus Christ. The EP has first place of honor at councils since the Latins set up on their own in the 11th century (before that the Pope of Rome had that role), but is actually equal in authority to any bishop of the Orthodox. Our understanding of catholicity is drawn from its original meaning “according to the whole” and was stated by St. Ignatius of Antioch, who first applied the term katholike to the Church: where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church. Note, not Bishop of Rome, not Patriarch, just bishop. The authority of the episcopate, like the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, is “indivisibly divided”, being wholely present in each instance.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  David Yetter

I respect the orthodox church, and many of its communicants, whom I’ve often found to be truly good people.
But not Caesaropapism.
Subsurvience to any political authority will taint any religious community. And there is ample evidence for it in Russia.
That’s why Moscow must lose this war.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  David Yetter

I respect the orthodox church, and many of its communicants, whom I’ve often found to be truly good people.
But not Caesaropapism.
Subsurvience to any political authority will taint any religious community. And there is ample evidence for it in Russia.
That’s why Moscow must lose this war.

Zac Chave-Cox
Zac Chave-Cox
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Multiple corrections:
The “Moscow-loyal” church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) has openly denounced Putin’s invasion, called it a war, and ceased commemoration of the Patriarch of Moscow. They are governed by an independent synod of Ukrainian bishops.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was formed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from multiple groups that had left the UOC, without consulting the Patriarch of Moscow.
The Ecumenical Patriarch is not the ultimate head of Orthodoxy. His role in resolving disputed affairs in the Orthodox Church is hotly disputed. I do not know who is right, but I do know that no side of these disputes would refer to him as “the ultimate head of Orthodoxy”.
I do not know enough about the ins and outs of the dispute to give a firm opinion on whether the UOC or OCU is in the right, but such a conclusion cannot be reached without having the undisputed facts accurate in the first place.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Zac Chave-Cox

Funny then how the UOC continues to dwindle in numbers and parishes.
Like Kiril himself, fatally tainted by Muscovite history.
The suicide of a once great church began in Bucha.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Zac Chave-Cox

Funny then how the UOC continues to dwindle in numbers and parishes.
Like Kiril himself, fatally tainted by Muscovite history.
The suicide of a once great church began in Bucha.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
David Yetter
David Yetter
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

You misunderstand both the situation and Orthodox ecclesiology, see my earlier post re the situation.
Regarding ecclesiology: the EP is not the “ultimate head of Orthodoxy”, that is Our Lord Jesus Christ. The EP has first place of honor at councils since the Latins set up on their own in the 11th century (before that the Pope of Rome had that role), but is actually equal in authority to any bishop of the Orthodox. Our understanding of catholicity is drawn from its original meaning “according to the whole” and was stated by St. Ignatius of Antioch, who first applied the term katholike to the Church: where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church. Note, not Bishop of Rome, not Patriarch, just bishop. The authority of the episcopate, like the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, is “indivisibly divided”, being wholely present in each instance.

Zac Chave-Cox
Zac Chave-Cox
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Multiple corrections:
The “Moscow-loyal” church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) has openly denounced Putin’s invasion, called it a war, and ceased commemoration of the Patriarch of Moscow. They are governed by an independent synod of Ukrainian bishops.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was formed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from multiple groups that had left the UOC, without consulting the Patriarch of Moscow.
The Ecumenical Patriarch is not the ultimate head of Orthodoxy. His role in resolving disputed affairs in the Orthodox Church is hotly disputed. I do not know who is right, but I do know that no side of these disputes would refer to him as “the ultimate head of Orthodoxy”.
I do not know enough about the ins and outs of the dispute to give a firm opinion on whether the UOC or OCU is in the right, but such a conclusion cannot be reached without having the undisputed facts accurate in the first place.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well, this – obvious – misconception is exactly the fruit of a tirelles effort by the new type of preachers, the trolls, that the regime spends billions on

martin logan
martin logan
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Ukrainian Orthodox Church?!
Let’s be clear:
Ukraine is suppressing a few church members loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate–members who have openly encouraged Putin’s attack on Ukraine. The members of the Moscow-loyal church have dwindled greatly since the war began, for obvious reasons.
It’s a far cry from Putin’s suppression of even calling the war in Urkaine a “war.”
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is based in Kyiv, and per the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople–ultimate head of Orthodoxy–is completely separate from Moscow.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well, this – obvious – misconception is exactly the fruit of a tirelles effort by the new type of preachers, the trolls, that the regime spends billions on

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
10 months ago

I find it a little suspicious that this article is coming out at a time when the Ukrainian government is being accused of suppressing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and yet I can not find a single mention of the controversy in this article.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
9 months ago

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Ukrainian war, there can be no doubt Western governments and institutions are utterly decadent and depraved and it is only the small ‘c’ conservatives on both the political left and right who are holding it together, but they come largely from older generations and are no longer valued. Apres eux…?

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

AprĂšs eux, there will be imminent threats far greater that any trans community could ever possibly pose

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

EXACTLY the argument Nazis made in the 30s.
Congratulations for reviving those venerable ideas!

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

AprĂšs eux, there will be imminent threats far greater that any trans community could ever possibly pose

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

EXACTLY the argument Nazis made in the 30s.
Congratulations for reviving those venerable ideas!

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
9 months ago

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Ukrainian war, there can be no doubt Western governments and institutions are utterly decadent and depraved and it is only the small ‘c’ conservatives on both the political left and right who are holding it together, but they come largely from older generations and are no longer valued. Apres eux…?

Betty Peterson
Betty Peterson
9 months ago

I stopped reading at the second sentence when the author said Putin was “spitting with rage.” I knew right away this was going to be a push-piece of propaganda rather than a serious treatment of the issues. For whatever you think of Putin, he NEVER “spits with rage.” I expected better from Unherd.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  Betty Peterson

Yes he does ! I am in Russia and I speak Russian. Do you?
The excellent article was definitely designed to the audience, well, slightly more sophisticated than that

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  Betty Peterson

Yes he does ! I am in Russia and I speak Russian. Do you?
The excellent article was definitely designed to the audience, well, slightly more sophisticated than that

Betty Peterson
Betty Peterson
9 months ago

I stopped reading at the second sentence when the author said Putin was “spitting with rage.” I knew right away this was going to be a push-piece of propaganda rather than a serious treatment of the issues. For whatever you think of Putin, he NEVER “spits with rage.” I expected better from Unherd.

David Yetter
David Yetter
9 months ago

Not only does the article, as @Math Hindman points out, ignore the suppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UCO) under Metropolitan Onouphry (nominally, and I’ll explain why it’s only nominally in a moment, part of the Patriachate of Moscow) by the Ukrainian government (in favor Constantinople-backed Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which incidentally, was constituted in violation of Orthodox canonical norms on the territory of another canonical church, and in its creation involved recognition as Orthodox hierarchs, bishops who had been correctly deposed as schismatics by the Patriarhcate of Moscow years earlier, in an action recognized as valid by all of the autocephalous Orthodox churches — I happen to be a communicant of the Patriarchate of Antioch, and we do not recognize the OCU as a canonical Orthodox Church), it fails to mention that the very phenomenon described in the article has led the UOC to cease commemorating Patriarch Kirill in the Divine Liturgy.
This is more significant than it might seem. It means that Met. Onouphry and his Holy Synod no longer regard Patr. Kirill as Orthodox (i.e. regard him to be a heretic or apostate), and yet the Ukrainian government persecutes the UOC as being “pro-Moscow”, hardly a position supportable in light of their dropping the commemoration of Kirill. (Incidentally, we Orthodox have a name for the heresy of identifying the Church with an ethnicity or ethnically based state: it’s called ethnophylitism, and if there’s ever a proper Ecumencial Council, a lot of bishops across a lot of local churches are going to have to repent of it or be deposed.)

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  David Yetter

The only real problem is that Kiril (and much of the Moscow Patriarchate) are simply assets of the FSB, as most of their predecessors were assets of the KGB.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  David Yetter

The only real problem is that Kiril (and much of the Moscow Patriarchate) are simply assets of the FSB, as most of their predecessors were assets of the KGB.

David Yetter
David Yetter
9 months ago

Not only does the article, as @Math Hindman points out, ignore the suppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UCO) under Metropolitan Onouphry (nominally, and I’ll explain why it’s only nominally in a moment, part of the Patriachate of Moscow) by the Ukrainian government (in favor Constantinople-backed Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which incidentally, was constituted in violation of Orthodox canonical norms on the territory of another canonical church, and in its creation involved recognition as Orthodox hierarchs, bishops who had been correctly deposed as schismatics by the Patriarhcate of Moscow years earlier, in an action recognized as valid by all of the autocephalous Orthodox churches — I happen to be a communicant of the Patriarchate of Antioch, and we do not recognize the OCU as a canonical Orthodox Church), it fails to mention that the very phenomenon described in the article has led the UOC to cease commemorating Patriarch Kirill in the Divine Liturgy.
This is more significant than it might seem. It means that Met. Onouphry and his Holy Synod no longer regard Patr. Kirill as Orthodox (i.e. regard him to be a heretic or apostate), and yet the Ukrainian government persecutes the UOC as being “pro-Moscow”, hardly a position supportable in light of their dropping the commemoration of Kirill. (Incidentally, we Orthodox have a name for the heresy of identifying the Church with an ethnicity or ethnically based state: it’s called ethnophylitism, and if there’s ever a proper Ecumencial Council, a lot of bishops across a lot of local churches are going to have to repent of it or be deposed.)

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
9 months ago

Organised religions will always do for state and secular powers whatever is necessary to preserve and grow their own powerbase; give use what we need – control of children’s education, marriage, divorce, contraception, a key voice in ‘morality’ and a central role in public and state ceremonials – and we’ll give you legitimacy, moral support, votes, ‘god’s approval’, whatever. Religious principles, such as they are supposed to be, play little or no role in the arrangement.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
9 months ago

Organised religions will always do for state and secular powers whatever is necessary to preserve and grow their own powerbase; give use what we need – control of children’s education, marriage, divorce, contraception, a key voice in ‘morality’ and a central role in public and state ceremonials – and we’ll give you legitimacy, moral support, votes, ‘god’s approval’, whatever. Religious principles, such as they are supposed to be, play little or no role in the arrangement.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
9 months ago

I appreciate how this piece highlights the Russia/traditional and Ukraine/progressive dichotomy which is surely contributing to the development of significant opposition to the war among Western conservatives.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
9 months ago

I appreciate how this piece highlights the Russia/traditional and Ukraine/progressive dichotomy which is surely contributing to the development of significant opposition to the war among Western conservatives.

Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
9 months ago

I am not very supportive of the Russian neo-fundamentalism. Nevertheless, this article could be rewritten with the exact opposite narrative and thus supportive of Putin and his orthodox patriotism. Not from the (more obvious) Russian point of view, but rather let’s say a reactionary point off view of a westerner. Indeed someone can argue that there is a lot at stake that is dragged into this war, though the initial trigger was the territorial control. The west now is claiming to fight for democracy on the grounds of Ukraine. This article too is praising the LGBDQ friendly new approach of Kyiv as a democratic process. Values and ideas one can talk much about.

As for the search into the tradition of the Orthodox church, this is a big issue barely touched by Elle Hardy. Diving in the theology and tradition of the Orthodox Church can create a rejuvenation to the West. But that’s a story to be seen ahead of us. And may the best win, in the seek for truth. In the Ukrainian war may no one win. The sooner it ends the better for those fighting and for the rest of us.

Peace, via negotiations and compromise..!

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

A rejuvenation of the West is devoutly to be hoped for.
But when the Moscow Church:
1) Effectively countenances the torture and killing of civilians and POWs;
2) Stays silent while cities are daily bombarded;
3) Ignores the fact that this is an unprovoked invasion of a smaller country;
4) Ignores the mass kidnapping of Ukrainian children;
5) Stays silent when the very poorest people in the world are deprived of food, first by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, and now by the destruction of 60,000 tons of grain and much of the infrastructure (The WFP gets 80% of its grain from Ukraine)
How can one take anything they say seriously??

Mary Thomas
Mary Thomas
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

I think this is the most important comment here – actions speak louder than words to my mind, and no matter what doctrine you profess, to do what Russia is doing to civilians obliterates any claim to moral or spiritual superiority.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  Mary Thomas

So comforting to hear, amidst the dicharge of obscurantism

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  Mary Thomas

So comforting to hear, amidst the dicharge of obscurantism

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Bravo

Mary Thomas
Mary Thomas
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

I think this is the most important comment here – actions speak louder than words to my mind, and no matter what doctrine you profess, to do what Russia is doing to civilians obliterates any claim to moral or spiritual superiority.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Bravo

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

A rejuvenation of the West is devoutly to be hoped for.
But when the Moscow Church:
1) Effectively countenances the torture and killing of civilians and POWs;
2) Stays silent while cities are daily bombarded;
3) Ignores the fact that this is an unprovoked invasion of a smaller country;
4) Ignores the mass kidnapping of Ukrainian children;
5) Stays silent when the very poorest people in the world are deprived of food, first by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, and now by the destruction of 60,000 tons of grain and much of the infrastructure (The WFP gets 80% of its grain from Ukraine)
How can one take anything they say seriously??

Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
9 months ago

I am not very supportive of the Russian neo-fundamentalism. Nevertheless, this article could be rewritten with the exact opposite narrative and thus supportive of Putin and his orthodox patriotism. Not from the (more obvious) Russian point of view, but rather let’s say a reactionary point off view of a westerner. Indeed someone can argue that there is a lot at stake that is dragged into this war, though the initial trigger was the territorial control. The west now is claiming to fight for democracy on the grounds of Ukraine. This article too is praising the LGBDQ friendly new approach of Kyiv as a democratic process. Values and ideas one can talk much about.

As for the search into the tradition of the Orthodox church, this is a big issue barely touched by Elle Hardy. Diving in the theology and tradition of the Orthodox Church can create a rejuvenation to the West. But that’s a story to be seen ahead of us. And may the best win, in the seek for truth. In the Ukrainian war may no one win. The sooner it ends the better for those fighting and for the rest of us.

Peace, via negotiations and compromise..!

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
9 months ago

Interesting… Interesting… Wait, you say Russians are turning to God? Wait… you define turning to God as going to “faith healers” and psychics? That’s your concept of turning to God?

Try… orienting your heart and mind to the transcendent animating spirit that unifies all things? Try… being enabled to live differently than what the world expects in a way that motivates both self sacrifice, enlightenment, and love for the other (especially when you don’t feel like it)? Try… redeeming personal brokenness? You might try…

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
9 months ago

Interesting… Interesting… Wait, you say Russians are turning to God? Wait… you define turning to God as going to “faith healers” and psychics? That’s your concept of turning to God?

Try… orienting your heart and mind to the transcendent animating spirit that unifies all things? Try… being enabled to live differently than what the world expects in a way that motivates both self sacrifice, enlightenment, and love for the other (especially when you don’t feel like it)? Try… redeeming personal brokenness? You might try…

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

The real danger is not to Ukraine.
The real danger is Russian self harm.
Russia has entered these psychotic phases several times in its history. And when it does, Russians themselves become the main victims. Far more Russians died under Stalin than did citizens of Nazi Germany.
And with Strelkov’s arrest, the suppression machine is clearly taking on a life of its own. As we saw in Bucha and Irpin, the “officers” in charge of suppression are usually idiots, and will torture and kill people at random.
Give them carte blanche, and soon half the country will be behind bars– slowly starving to death, a la Navalny and Kara-Murza.
Doesn’t mean the West should gloat. We have our own problems.
But Russia may well turn “Raskolnik,” i.e. bar their door, and burn everyone inside to “cleanse” the nation…

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

The real danger is not to Ukraine.
The real danger is Russian self harm.
Russia has entered these psychotic phases several times in its history. And when it does, Russians themselves become the main victims. Far more Russians died under Stalin than did citizens of Nazi Germany.
And with Strelkov’s arrest, the suppression machine is clearly taking on a life of its own. As we saw in Bucha and Irpin, the “officers” in charge of suppression are usually idiots, and will torture and kill people at random.
Give them carte blanche, and soon half the country will be behind bars– slowly starving to death, a la Navalny and Kara-Murza.
Doesn’t mean the West should gloat. We have our own problems.
But Russia may well turn “Raskolnik,” i.e. bar their door, and burn everyone inside to “cleanse” the nation…

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

The fatuous posts below about “western decadence” exactly parallel similar Nazi tropes in the 30s and 40s.
I find this quite repugnant. It simply reflects the deep moral decay that has swept over Russia in the last 20 years.
To staunch it would have required a Solzhenitsyn. And sadly, no one like that has appeared in Russia–on any part of the political spectrum, although people like Zubov have tried.
I now very much fear that Russia’s moral decline is irreversible. And that will mean its physical dissolution as well.
The 90s are coming back with a vengeance.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Excellent.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Excellent.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

The fatuous posts below about “western decadence” exactly parallel similar Nazi tropes in the 30s and 40s.
I find this quite repugnant. It simply reflects the deep moral decay that has swept over Russia in the last 20 years.
To staunch it would have required a Solzhenitsyn. And sadly, no one like that has appeared in Russia–on any part of the political spectrum, although people like Zubov have tried.
I now very much fear that Russia’s moral decline is irreversible. And that will mean its physical dissolution as well.
The 90s are coming back with a vengeance.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
martin logan
martin logan
10 months ago

The Russian orthodox church has always been the passive enabler of whatever nonsense Moscow’s secular leaders purvey.
Indeed, it really dates back to Constantine, when the church became subordinate to the emperor. For the West, that stopped when the last western emperor was deposed in 476. But Caesero-Papism continued in Byzantium, and was taken over by Moscow after 1453.
So this is nothing new.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Would anyone downvoting care to challenge this analysis?

Zac Chave-Cox
Zac Chave-Cox
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Sure. I’ll throw something brief in: the church didn’t become subordinate to the emperor under Constantine. Church leaders often felt free to criticise the emperor. They were expected to work together within their own realms of proper ministry. This lapsed into caesero-papism many times, especially in the Eastern Roman/Byzantine empire, but the times of clear caesero-papism and the times of state and church working in tandem are far from co-extensive. With regards to Russia, the memory of Saint Vladimir the great and of the Passion-bearers Saints Boris and Gleb in the 11th century is testament to Russia not always having such a toxic “enabling” relationship between believing church and “secular” leaders.
I must admit to a certain degree of frustration at the persistence of “Constantine is the root of all evil” narratives.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Zac Chave-Cox

I don’t think there is any doubt that the Moscow patriarchate has been fatally tainted since Lenin came to power.
Individuals have undoubtedly led saintly lives.
But the whole structure is corrupt. Indeed, that was Solzhenitsyn’s main complaint against Orthodoxy.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Zac Chave-Cox

I’m laughing as I write this.
So Eusebius wasn’t “subordinating” himself when he neglected to mention that Constantine had murdered his wife?
And most of the late Roman emperors who were Christian were just as ruthless. Valentinian I burned people alive. Gratian had the successful general Theodosius the Elder executed–purely because of court intrigue.
The Roman empire, both east or west, had the same dysfunctional problems with favoritism and cruelty that we see plaguing Moscow today.
Empires ae made to decline.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Silence is acceptance.
And the silence of Russians–especially those in the West who know better–damns them, however much they may talk about Russia’s “spiritual values.”

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Silence is acceptance.
And the silence of Russians–especially those in the West who know better–damns them, however much they may talk about Russia’s “spiritual values.”

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Zac Chave-Cox

I don’t think there is any doubt that the Moscow patriarchate has been fatally tainted since Lenin came to power.
Individuals have undoubtedly led saintly lives.
But the whole structure is corrupt. Indeed, that was Solzhenitsyn’s main complaint against Orthodoxy.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Zac Chave-Cox

I’m laughing as I write this.
So Eusebius wasn’t “subordinating” himself when he neglected to mention that Constantine had murdered his wife?
And most of the late Roman emperors who were Christian were just as ruthless. Valentinian I burned people alive. Gratian had the successful general Theodosius the Elder executed–purely because of court intrigue.
The Roman empire, both east or west, had the same dysfunctional problems with favoritism and cruelty that we see plaguing Moscow today.
Empires ae made to decline.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

To pretend that Caesaro-Papism ended in 476 in the west overlooks centuries of papal pretention to the claim of temporal as well as spiritual authority over the western roman empire which lasts into the present day in severely truncated form at the Vatican.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Fair point, although i’m not sure there was any “pretending” – just a different take on the historical narrative.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

So when did Papal pretension become more than pretensions?
Can’t think of many instances.
Separation of secular and religious authority is one of the engines that helped the West avoid the stagnation that Russia must perpetually slide back into.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Fair point, although i’m not sure there was any “pretending” – just a different take on the historical narrative.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

So when did Papal pretension become more than pretensions?
Can’t think of many instances.
Separation of secular and religious authority is one of the engines that helped the West avoid the stagnation that Russia must perpetually slide back into.

Zac Chave-Cox
Zac Chave-Cox
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Sure. I’ll throw something brief in: the church didn’t become subordinate to the emperor under Constantine. Church leaders often felt free to criticise the emperor. They were expected to work together within their own realms of proper ministry. This lapsed into caesero-papism many times, especially in the Eastern Roman/Byzantine empire, but the times of clear caesero-papism and the times of state and church working in tandem are far from co-extensive. With regards to Russia, the memory of Saint Vladimir the great and of the Passion-bearers Saints Boris and Gleb in the 11th century is testament to Russia not always having such a toxic “enabling” relationship between believing church and “secular” leaders.
I must admit to a certain degree of frustration at the persistence of “Constantine is the root of all evil” narratives.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

To pretend that Caesaro-Papism ended in 476 in the west overlooks centuries of papal pretention to the claim of temporal as well as spiritual authority over the western roman empire which lasts into the present day in severely truncated form at the Vatican.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Would anyone downvoting care to challenge this analysis?

martin logan
martin logan
10 months ago

The Russian orthodox church has always been the passive enabler of whatever nonsense Moscow’s secular leaders purvey.
Indeed, it really dates back to Constantine, when the church became subordinate to the emperor. For the West, that stopped when the last western emperor was deposed in 476. But Caesero-Papism continued in Byzantium, and was taken over by Moscow after 1453.
So this is nothing new.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan