Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Does Russia see the Ukraine war as a clash of different Christian faiths?


It's an interesting concept, fleshed out by Pepe Escobar in his latest article.

Eurasianism – and its several declinations – treats the complex Russian identity as double-faced, between east and west. Western liberal democracies simply can’t understand that these ideas – infusing varied brands of Russian nationalism – do not imply hostility to “enlightened” Europe, but an affirmation of Difference (they could learn a bit from reading more Gilles Deleuze for that matter). Eurasianism also weighs on closer relations with Central Asia and necessary alliances, in various degrees, with China and Turkey.

A perplexed liberal west remains hostage to a vortex of Russian images which it can’t properly decode – from the two-headed eagle, which is the symbol of the Russian state since Peter the Great, to the Kremlin cathedrals, the St. Petersburg citadel, the Red Army entering Berlin in 1945, the May 9 parades (the next one will be particularly meaningful), and historical figures from Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great. At best – and we’re talking academic level ‘experts’ – they identify all of the above as “flamboyant and confused” imagery.

The apparently monolithic liberal west itself also cannot be understood if we forget how, historically, Europe is also a two-headed beast: one head may be tracked from Charlemagne all the way to the awful Brussels Eurocrat machine; and the other one comes from Athens and Rome, and via Byzantium/Constantinople (the Second Rome) reaches all the way to Moscow (the Third Rome).

. . .

So since the 8th century, Carolingian and Byzantine Europe were de facto at war across an Iron Curtain from the Baltics to the Mediterranean (compare it with the emerging New Iron Curtain of Cold War 2.0). After the barbarian invasions, they neither spoke the same language nor practiced the same writing, rites or theology.

This fracture, significantly, also trespassed Kiev. The west was Catholic – 15% of Greek catholics and 3% of Latins – and in the center and the east, 70% Orthodox, who became hegemonic in the 20th century after the elimination of Jewish minorities by mainly the Waffen-SS of the Galicia division, the precursors of Ukraine’s Azov batallion.

Constantinople, even in decline, managed to pull off a sophisticated geo-strategic game to seduce the Slavs, betting on Muscovy against the Catholic Polish-Lithuanian combo. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 allowed Muscovy to denounce the treason of Greeks and Byzantine Armenians who rallied around the Roman Pope, who badly wanted a reunified Christianity.

Afterward, Russia ends up constituting itself as the only Orthodox nation that did not fall under Ottoman domination. Moscow regards itself – as Byzantium – as a unique symphony between spiritual and temporal powers.

. . .

With the fall of the USSR, Russia found itself in a geopolitical situation last encountered in the 17th century. The slow and painful reconstruction was spearheaded from two fronts: the KGB – later FSB – and the Orthodox church. The highest-level interaction between the Orthodox clergy and the Kremlin was conducted by Patriarch Kirill – who later became Putin’s minister of religious affairs.

There's more at the link.

This may sound far-fetched, until we recall that in 2019 the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the titular (but disputed) "first among equals" of all Orthodox Patriarchs, recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as an independent Patriarchy, no longer subordinate to the Patriarch of Moscow - the same Patriarch who works so closely with Vladimir Putin.  More recently, on the Feast of St. Cyril IV of Constantinople last week, the Ecumenical Patriarch spoke openly about the situation in Ukraine:

"In our difficult days, in which Orthodox Christians massacre Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, torch cities, plunder houses, and castles, expel and force to expatriation of millions of people, energetically exclude countries and peoples, threaten with nuclear destruction the world, and generally completely overthrow the Gospel and the ethos of Christianity in a demonic way, we appeal to the help of St. Cyril, to stop the devastating war and to give His peace to the long-suffering country and the whole world!"

Those words are pretty unambiguous.  The Ecumenical Patriarch has publicly rebuked Russia for its attempt to reassert its hegemony over Ukraine and, by extension, the rest of the Orthodox Church throughout the world.  Them's fightin' words, to quote a well-known saying.  He recognizes that the Patriarch of Moscow wants to be the "first among equals" instead of the Patriarch of Constantinople - and that President Putin would like that very much, as a means to extend and increase Russian influence into every Orthodox nation.  In one sense, his words are a public rebuke to Patriarch Kirill, who has officially blessed Russia's invasion of Ukraine and justified it.

I think the Ecumenical Patriarch has confirmed, in so many words, the thesis put forward by Mr. Escobar.  It seems Russia - or, at least, its President - may well be seeing the Ukraine war from spiritual and religious perspectives, as well as geopolitical.  That opens up a whole new can of worms . . . because the Russians may now regard opposition to the war by anyone, whether Russian or foreign, as somehow "evil" or "satanic" or "against God's will".

Any student of history will confirm that wars of religion tend to be nastier, bloodier, and more catastrophic than almost any other kind.  One can only hope and pray sanity prevails in Ukraine before religious fanaticism drags that war down the slippery slope yet again.



EasyCompany said...

Well, when one see's how the Ukraine Orthodox Church does endorse all the LBGTSYDFHD+_+ craziness in an attempt to stay on elensky's good side (Which isn't working, because he wants the UOC outlawed) , who knows how much of it still Orthodox.

McChuck said...

The Russia / Ukraine war was already a religious war between Christian nationalism on the one side, and GloboPedo on the other.

uilleannman said...

Dear Peter, as an Orthodox Christian living in America, I have followed the tragic events unfolding since 2015 between Russia and Ukraine closely. This is far more complicated than I think you might realize. The creation of a new 'Ukrainian Orthodox Church' by patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was actually a response to Russia's refusal to submit to Patriarch Bartholomew's agenda... he has done many good things, but he himself has authoritarian ambitions that became clear at the pan-Orthodox council he called in 2016. Patriarch Kirill and the ROC refused to attend that council for a variety of reasons, but have not sought to control the other jurisdictions of Orthodoxy, however.
Forgive me, but you have got things backwards on that point. Bartholomew intruded into Ukraine by setting up his own Church. US has leaned on Pat. Bartholomew to fuel division within Ukraine ever after that. This new 'church' is really a tool of forced patriotism to pry traditional Orthodox Ukranians away from the historic UOC, since the historic and canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church is technically under Moscow (though granted self governance over 100yearsago). However, its head is Metropolitan Onuphry, who has publicly rebuked Putin's invasion.
The reason the whole war feels religious to the Russians is that the current Ukrainian government is woke,, leftist, and hostile to conservative Christianity at its core, as is every government within NATO.
I do not think this war is justified. But if NATO wins, it will mean the destruction of one of the few nations that at least tries to maintain an openly Christian culture, corrupt though it may be.

Old NFO said...

This is what some folks were positing day one!

Skyler the Weird said...

Next Year in Constantinople. The Russians have coveted the City for Centuries. Some Greek Orthodox Saint predicted they would take it and be forced by the West to give it to Greece.

Aesop said...

I doubt if Christianity in any form is any part of Russian motivations, as it hasn't played any notable part in general Russian life for 5 centuries, other than a spiritual tampon.