Russia’s assault on Ukraine is an Orthodox Christian crusade

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In its sub-stack has beenreligious historian Diana Butler Bass looks at how Christian ethno-nationalism joined across the world with reactionary Catholicism and, more importantly, hyper-conservative Russian Orthodoxy to add some watermark ancient cleric to the current depredations of Vladimir Putin.

The dream that is gripping certain quarters of the West is that of a coalition to unify religious conservatives in a sort of supranational neo-Christianity. The theory is to create a partnership between American Evangelicals, traditionalist Catholics in Western countries and Orthodox peoples under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church in a common front against three enemies – decadent secularism, a rising China and Islam. – for a glorious rebirth. moral purity and Christian culture.

In the United States, the Trumpist religion is most often presented as “Christian nationalism”. It is, in fact, that. But it is also more – it is the American partner in this broader quest for Christian internationalism. No one has expressed this more clearly than steve bannonwho, despite his legal troubles, remains a significant force as a kind of philosophical apostle in right-wing Christian circles for a new christianity.

The reaction of some quarters to Putin’s criminal war illustrates Butler Bass’ point. Rod Dreher, a “respected voice” among religious conservatives, who not so long ago basked in the arms of Hungarian strongman Victor Orban, would like you to know that this is a conflict world of a…sexy era. From the american conservative:

I know it’s distasteful to some of you to consider decadence in the United States and the West in general in this context (e.g., “Bombs are falling in Ukraine, and you’re obsessed with trannies?!? “), but you should think twice. If we are now facing a resumption of the long struggle with Russia, and probably even a struggle against China, allied to Putin’s Russia, then the leaders of Western countries had better think about how they will respond. to the demands of this fight. They have no hope of doing so with a country in which they have abused and alienated large numbers of people for the crime of being white, heterosexual, culturally conservative or clinging bitterly to their sectarian churches. We saw the other day that Justin Trudeau actually seized the bank accounts of people supporting the trucker protests, under the guise of fighting domestic terrorism. I have absolutely no doubt that Washington will try to do the same. The awakened left, after marching through institutions, arms them against parents, children, families, religious, conservatives and other deplorables.

(Thanks to Roy Edroso for bringing attention to this one-take doozy.)

Butler Bass goes on to explain the historical role that Ukraine played in the formation of the Russian state and the effect that the split between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches played in that history. And that’s not ancient history either.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine had several different Orthodox churches, only one of which had a close relationship with Moscow. In 2018, two of these Ukrainian churches and some of the Moscow-leaning Orthodox parishes united and created a new United Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a fully independent national church body under no control from Moscow, with its head in the former seat. of Orthodoxy in Kiev.

Putin and the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow protested. They claim Kiev’s 1,000 years of Christianity as their own – essentially appropriating the history of the Ukrainian Church – to the point of erecting a gigantic (and controversial) statue of Saint Vladimir outside the Kremlin.

Putin wants the weight of tradition on his side, and Saint Vladimir validates his religious and political aspirations. There should be no doubt that Putin sees himself as a sort of Vladimir the Great II, a candidate for sainthood who restores the soul of Holy Mother Russia. The Ukrainians, on the other hand, would like to remind the Russians that they were the cradle of orthodoxy and political unity in Eastern Europe.

Now Putin is about as religious as a meat cleaver, but he can smell a powerhouse from centuries past. He diligently recruited the Russian Orthodox hierarchy into his dreams of a new Russian empire. (Remember he was performing in a Russian Orthodox cathedral which got Pussy Riot in trouble with the Kremlin folks.) Butler Bass sees an old fashioned crusade hidden beneath all the tanks and cruise missiles.

The conflict in Ukraine is about religion and what type of Orthodoxy will shape Eastern Europe and other Orthodox communities around the world (especially in Africa). Religion. This is a crusade, retaking the Holy Land of Russian Orthodoxy and defeating the Westernized (and decadent) heretics who do not bend the knee to the spiritual authority of Moscow.

If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand. Who will control the geographical home, the “Jerusalem”, of the Russian Church? Moscow? Or Constantinople? And what does it mean to claim this territory for Orthodoxy in the world? Will global Orthodoxy lean towards a more pluralistic and open future, or will it become part of the authoritarian neo-Christian triumvirate?

Just what this nightmare needs: the influence of a 13th century religious conflict.

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