Putin’s Attack on Ukraine Is a Religious War. Incredible insight to the schism of Russian orthodoxy

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This is an amazing insight. So many people are missing the religious orthodox beef taking place :whoo:






Putin’s Attack on Ukraine Is a Religious War


Putin’s Attack on Ukraine Is a Religious War
Russia’s aggression against its neighbor isn’t just power politics and geostrategy, it’s about core issues of faith and identity


It’s finally happened. Early today, after weeks of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on his neighbor and launched a major, multi-pronged invasion into Southern, Eastern, and Northern Ukraine. This is just the first military phase of many to come, only a small amount of the vast forces that Moscow has marshalled on Ukraine’s frontiers have entered action yet. Any judgements about the progress of the war would be premature (though this newsletter will be providing regular assessments on this conflict, Europe’s most important war since 1945).

What needs to be established is why Putin has done this. Unleashing full-scale war here represents an enormous political gamble – failure in Ukraine could unravel his two-decade rule over Russia – from a leader who’s generally been tactically adventurous yet strategically cautious. Most Western “experts” got this wrong and many seem stunned that the Kremlin has really started a major war. As Top Secret Umbra previously noted, this represents a collective failure of the Western elite, which so misread Putin, despite his being plain about his contempt for the United States and NATO for 15 years, as well as his dismissive attitude towards Ukraine as more a “region” than a bona fide country:

Putin waged a hot war of aggression against Ukraine in 2014-15, starting with Russia’s theft of Crimea by GRU’s Little Green Men, followed by the seizure of a good-sized chunk of Ukraine’s southeast by the Russian military. That conflict has ever entirely faded out, and Moscow’s de facto holding on to pieces of Ukraine means that country will never be allowed to enter NATO. Given the recent past, and the not-entirely-frozen conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk, how on earth can anybody be surprised that Putin might attack Ukraine again?

Moscow told us, most of us just didn’t bother to listen. If Western elites listened at all, they dismissed Putin’s strange analysis as the ravings of a madman, or at least someone not operating in our Western unipolar reality. As this newsletter explained further:

To such elites, all of whom fall on the spectrum of Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic, WEIRD for short, Putin represents an atavism whose motivations they cannot understand. The Kremlin strongman adheres to a distinctly throwback view of international relations where the use of force is normal, and countries protect their national interests unapologetically, with all the instruments of national power. Putin’s wholehearted embrace of religiously-infused nationalism, which boasts a venerable history in Russia, leaves WEIRDs befuddled yet has real resonance among average Russians. Western doubts that the former KGB man has “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” miss the point, but then the West has never understood Russian Orthodoxy very well. No matter what Putin really believes, his public embrace of religiously-grounded national conservatism provides his regime with an ideological anchor, one which happens to view Ukraine’s subservience to Russia as a spiritual as well as geostrategic necessity.

The West hasn’t experienced a religious war in a long time, it’s been several centuries, but that’s exactly what Moscow has delivered. This idea is so foreign to WEIRD minds that it requires a bit of unpacking. Putin’s attack on his neighbor has plenty of secular aspects, above all the idea that NATO represents a major threat to Russia, thus Ukraine’s joining the Atlantic Alliance is flatly unacceptable to the Kremlin. While this is a significant factor in Moscow’s decision-making here, this issue is hardly new. Indeed, it’s been out there for years, as my analysis of Polish rearmament in autumn 2013 made plain:

In addition to the Kremlin’s military buildup, recent Russian actions towards Ukraine, a buffer state that Poland considers vital to its security, have been ominous. As Ukraine’s government, led by the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, has seemed to favor closer economic ties to the European Union, at the expense of more engagement with Putin’s proposed Eurasian Union, the rhetoric from Moscow has heated up, culminating in an unambiguous threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Last month, in language reminiscent of that used by Milosevic’s Serbia in the early 1990s, Sergei Glazyev, a top Kremlin adviser, noted that Russia has threatened to support a partitioning of Ukraine if it signs a landmark cooperation agreement with the European Union, adding that if certain regions of Ukraine where ethnic Russians live did not wish to join the EU, Moscow “would be legally entitled” to support them. It is abundantly clear that, for Putin’s Kremlin, anything less than a satellite in Kiev is unacceptable, a development that has major implications for NATO and the EU, as well as European security, not least because Ukraine is a pivotal state that is divided right along the fault lines cited by Samuel Huntington in his famous “Clash of Civilizations.” What happens to Ukraine in the near future will set the course for all of East-Central Europe in the decades ahead, and Poland knows this.

Please note that I published that prior to Ukraine’s Maidan revolution (a “coup” in Kremlin parlance) and four months before Moscow stole Crimea from Ukraine. I didn’t realize all this because I was an intelligence officer for a long time, and I know lots of secrets. I figured it out because I know Eastern European history and I paid attention to what Putin and his top advisers actually said. That the Kremlin was obsessed with Ukraine and would resort to force to keep that country out of NATO was obvious by late 2013 to anyone bothering to pay attention. So, what’s changed? Why did Putin now decide to gamble everything and roll the dice with a massive act of aggression to bring Kyiv back under Moscow’s thumb? Indeed, since Russia’s 2014-15 war against Ukraine effectively keeps that country out of NATO indefinitely, because the Alliance will never admit countries that are in “pre-Article 5 status,” why the need for today’s bloody offensives?

Here's where religion matters. Religion is something WEIRDs seldom think about, and Russian Orthodoxy is impenetrable to them, yet understanding how religion plays into Putin’s geostrategic ambitions is vital for anyone seeking to comprehend the role of religious-civilizational thinking in Putinism. Over time, Russian Orthodoxy has assumed a central position in the Russian regime’s ideology and the Russian Orthodox Church, while not part of the state de jure, plays an important role in supporting Putin and vice versa. That Putin is a public believer legitimizes the ROC’s prominent role in the regime and its aims. None of this is new, I’ve been writing about it for years, and the only innovation here given Russian history is that Putinism has added a doctrine termed “spiritual security” which gives the ROC a mission in defending Russia from negative Western spiritual influences, in partnership with Moscow’s intelligence agencies. Calling this doctrine strange is an understatement, given that the KGB shattered the Orthodox Church under Bolshevism, murdering or imprisoning most of its clergy, but many aspects of Putinism are difficult for outsiders to comprehend.

Nevertheless, Russian Orthodoxy provides a sort of glue for the Putin regime, and the ROC supports the Kremlin on a wide range of issues. A prototypical figure representing this odd fusion of Putin-approved nationalism, Orthodoxy, and anti-WEIRDness is Aleksander Zaldostanov, known as “the Surgeon,” who heads the Night Wolves biker gang, which is Russia’s answer to the Hell’s Angels, if the Hell’s Angels spent a lot of time preaching about Orthodoxy, mystical Russian nationalism, and the evil of “f*ggots.” Zaldostanov, who is close to Putin, uses the Night Wolves to further Russian influence abroad, with help from the “special services,” and Zaldostanov has been active in Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine. “The Surgeon” denounced the Maidan revolution with the slogan “death to f*ggots” and suggested that Russia’s war in Ukraine is fundamentally about resisting America’s “Global F*ggot Empire.”

Senior Russian Orthodoxy clergy use more measured language, but they agree with Zaldostanov about the centrality of Ukraine in their religious-civilizational mission. Some of this is subsumed in the so-called “Russian World” project, which has ROC backing, and posits the essential unity of all Russians across the former Soviet Union. Although the ROC has officially stated it no longer espouses the historical “Third Rome” concept, there can be no doubt regarding the centrality of Ukraine in the Kremlin’s view of Orthodox destiny. As Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the ROC, explained in early 2019, “Ukraine is not on the periphery of our church. We call Kiev ‘the mother of all Russian cities.' For us Kiev is what Jerusalem is for many. Russian Orthodoxy began there, so under no circumstances can we abandon this historical and spiritual relationship. The whole unity of our Local Church is based on these spiritual ties.”

What spurred Patriarch Kirill to make that statement was the separation of much of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Russia in early 2019 with the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, with go-ahead from the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (i.e., Istanbul: who is the not-a-pope of world Orthodoxy, where national churches are self-governing). This involved the transfer of thousands of parishes and millions of believers from the long-existing Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which has been under the ROC since the seventeenth century, to the brand-new OCU. The UOC-MP is self-governing under Moscow and there wasn’t much spiritual demand in Ukraine for independence from Russia, what Orthodox term autocephaly.

However, the pressures of the not-quite-frozen conflict with Russia after 2015 made church issues a political football, and Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko made autocephaly his pet project, with backing from Ukrainian nationalists, who found it offensive that the UOC remained under Moscow, where the church is a vehicle for Putinism, Russian nationalism, and anti-Ukrainian aggression. Advocates of the new OCU had a valid point there, and they were also correct that, since autocephaly is the norm in the Orthodox world, why didn’t Ukraine have its own, fully independent national church?

The answer there, that Orthodoxy tends to move on “Orthodox time” which appears glacially slow to secular minds, thinking more in terms of centuries than years or even decades, was unedifying to advocates of the OCU, who got their wish in early January 2019, when the Ecumenical Patriarch granted autocephaly to Ukraine’s new national church. What followed was predictably messy and politicized, with fights across Ukraine over parishes and clergy. This issue is neither simple nor clear-cut: the OCU is considered broadly nationalist (with exceptions) while the UOC, despite its Russian connections, has many laypeople who are Ukrainian patriots who don’t feel they belong to a “foreign” church. Moreover, this issue birthed a schism in global Orthodoxy that has reverberated on several continents, most recently in Africa. The OCU-UOC split has even caused heartburn among American Orthodox believers.
 

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PART 2:
Putin’s Attack on Ukraine Is a Religious War

Above all, the schism rendered Moscow white-hot with rage. The ROC viewed this as a direct attack on its “canonical territory” and on world Orthodoxy itself. The Kremlin, too, made no effort to conceal its outrage here. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov quickly denounced the Ecumenical Patriarch as Washington’s puppet: “His mission, obviously, is being prepared by the Americans and they do not hide that they are actively cooperating with him, using the slogan of ‘freedom of religion and belief’…Bartholomew’s mission, obviously, is to bury the influence of Orthodoxy in the modern world.” A few weeks later, Lavrov added fuel to the fire by castigating the OCU as "this travesty of history, and pursuing the objective of sowing discord between Russia and Ukraine in addition to preventing our peoples from being friends are essentially a crime [by the current Ukrainian regime] against their citizens.” A few months after that, Lavrov reiterated that this tragedy was all America’s fault: the ROC “is currently under tremendous pressure from a number of Western countries, primarily the United States, which set itself the goal of destroying the unity of world Orthodox Christianity.”

It's an article of faith in the Kremlin that the creation of the OCU is an American project designed to destroy world Orthodoxy and harm Russia. It’s painful for me to state this but the Russians have good reason to think this. Unlike absurd Kremlin propaganda lines about “Ukrainian Nazis” perpetrating “genocide” against Russians, the idea that Washington wanted the split of Orthodoxy in Ukraine is a reasonable inference upon examination of recent U.S. Government conduct. What’s the evidence?

Our Kyiv embassy congratulated the OCU for its birth and the selection of its first primate, then the State Department in Washington amplified the same. Celebrating Constantinople’s grant of autocephaly, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed it as a “historic achievement for Ukraine” which represented America’s “strong support for religious freedom.” Pompeo’s statement left no doubt about America’s backing the OCU against the UOC. Pompeo’s position in the worldwide Orthodox schism was made clear by his subsequent meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch, whom the Secretary of State hailed as “a key partner as we continue to champion religious freedom around the globe.” Neither was this a partisan project, since the position of the Biden administration on this issue is identical to its predecessor’s. Four months ago, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also met with the Ecumenical Patriarch, reaffirming U.S. commitment to religious freedom, which in Moscow unsurprisingly looked like support for the OCU.

Since very few Americans, and functionally no non-Orthodox ones, noticed any of this, it’s worth asking why the State Department felt compelled to take a public position on any of this. Does Foggy Bottom side with Sunni or Shia? What about Lutheranism versus Methodism? Who in Washington thought it was a good idea to throw its weight behind the OCU, since anybody who knew anything about Putinism and its religious-civilizational mission had to be aware that such statements were guaranteed to raise Moscow’s ire.

That ire has now taken the form of air strikes, missile barrages, and advancing tank battalions. Just last month, Lavrov restated his government’s position that the United States stands behind the “current crisis in Orthodoxy.” As he explained without any word-mincing, Washington caused “the most serious dispute in the entire Orthodox world,” adding, “The United States of America had an immediate hand in the current crisis in Orthodoxy. They created a special mechanism, a special agency for the freedom of religious confession, which actually is not dealing with freedom but most actively set up and financed Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew so that he conducted a device for schism, particularly in Ukraine, in the first place, for creating there the schismatic, uncanonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”

We should not indulge Muscovite conspiracy theories nor countenance Russian aggression. However, the facts are plain enough. Simply put, by recognizing the OCU and hailing its creation, Washington changed the Kremlin’s game in Ukraine, making Putin’s long-term plans for his neighbor untenable. Without a united Orthodox Church across the former lands of Rus, answering to Moscow, the “Russian World” concept falls apart. Every secular geostrategic challenge cited as a reason for Putin’s aggression – NATO expansion, Western military moves, oil and gas politics – existed in 2014, yet Putin then chose to limit his attacks on Ukraine to Crimea and the Southeast. What’s changed since then that makes his effort to subdue all Ukraine seem like a good idea in the Kremlin? The creation of an autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2019, with official American backing, is the difference, and Moscow believes this was all a nefarious U.S. plot to divide world Orthodoxy at Russia’s expense. Clearly Putin has decided that reclaiming Ukraine and its capital, “the mother of Russian cities,” for Russian Orthodoxy is worth a major war. Make no mistake, this is a religious war, even if almost nobody in the West realizes it.

:ohhh:
 

GnauzBookOfRhymes

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Click bait.

Midterm elections, economic instabilities abroad, shortages, inflation, pandemic, Biden at 40% approval, Boris Johnson in bed w/ Russians, no more Merkel in Germany, Russia in much stronger financial/economic position to withstand sanctions. This was the perfect time to do this.
 

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Click bait.

Midterm elections, economic instabilities abroad, shortages, inflation, pandemic, Biden at 40% approval, Boris Johnson in bed w/ Russians, no more Merkel in Germany, Russia in much stronger financial/economic position to withstand sanctions. This was the perfect time to do this.


Those are called opportunities

The article is describing a motive.

Motive x opportunities not motive = opportunities
 

GnauzBookOfRhymes

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Those are called opportunities

The article is describing a motive.

Motive x opportunities not motive = opportunities

While the orthodox church is incredibly important to russia/putin, it is only a means to an end (social/cultural control and legitimacy) not a fundamental motivation. Russia's issue with the schism is that it diluted its ability to project POWER (cultural).

This is no different than saying bin laden was motivated by a desire to spread islam, as opposed to driving western powers out of the middle east.
 

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While the orthodox church is incredibly important to russia/putin, it is only a means to an end (social/cultural control and legitimacy) not a fundamental motivation. Russia's issue with the schism is that it diluted its ability to project POWER (cultural).

This is no different than saying bin laden was motivated by a desire to spread islam, as opposed to driving western powers out of the middle east.


The cultural projection is right in line with tbe religious hegemony.

In putins mind as well as a large number of russians the religious principles are the basis for a cultures foundation

This rings even stronger when its kiev is the capital of the eastern orthodox church. And the perception is that the west usurped and fractured the church, thus fracturing russian cultural identity.
 

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While the orthodox church is incredibly important to russia/putin, it is only a means to an end (social/cultural control and legitimacy) not a fundamental motivation. Russia's issue with the schism is that it diluted its ability to project POWER (cultural).

This is no different than saying bin laden was motivated by a desire to spread islam, as opposed to driving western powers out of the middle east.
No one is saying this is a sole motivation, but NO ONE is talking about this.

Putin's speech was dripping in this blog and soil shyt.

You can't have a "greater Russia" without a religious through line.

Plus, are we gonna ignore the US State Department exploiting that wedge? And Lavrov noticing it it? Like a dozen times? :francis:
 

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Click bait.

Midterm elections, economic instabilities abroad, shortages, inflation, pandemic, Biden at 40% approval, Boris Johnson in bed w/ Russians, no more Merkel in Germany, Russia in much stronger financial/economic position to withstand sanctions. This was the perfect time to do this.




Next year in Kyiv?
Next year in Kyiv?
When it comes to Russian Orthodoxy, Kyiv is essentially Jerusalem, and this is a conflict over who will have control of Orthodoxy — Moscow or Constantinople.
Diana Butler Bass

webRNS-Ukraine-Russia1-022422-807x486.jpg

Traffic jams are seen as people leave the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

February 24, 2022

By

(RNS) — While the secular media tries to guess Vladimir Putin’s motives in Ukraine, one important aspect of the current situation has gone largely ignored: religion.

I’m no expert in Eastern European history, but my training in church history offers a lens into the events in Ukraine. In effect, the world is witnessing a new version of an old tale — the quest to re-create an imperial Christian state, a neo-medieval “Holy Roman Empire” — uniting political, economic and spiritual power into an entity to control the earthly and heavenly destiny of European peoples.

The dream gripping some quarters of the West is for a coalition to unify religious conservatives into a kind of supra-national neo-Christendom. 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 of moral purity and Christian culture.

In the United States, Trumpist-religion is most often framed as “Christian nationalism.” It is, indeed, that. But it is also more — it is the American partner of this larger quest for Christian internationalism. No one has articulated this more clearly than Steve Bannon, who, despite his legal troubles, remains a significant force as a kind of philosophical apostle in right-wing Christian circles for a neo-Christendom.

There have been a few bumps on the way to this Humpty Dumpty hope of reassembling a Christian Roman Empire, however. Interestingly enough (and I’ll leave this to future historians to sort out), American evangelicals bought into this neo-medieval project wholesale, having been prepared for far right nationalism by their fondness for racial and gender hierarchies. The most democratic form of Protestantism will evidently sell its soul to keep Black people and women in their “place.”

The hardest partner to recruit to neo-Christendom has been the Catholic Church. The election of Pope Francis in 2013 proved a major stumbling block for the emergence of a right-wing global political order. The new pope eschewed all such schemes in favor of opening up the church to the poor, outcasts and the marginalized with a social vision that questions capitalism and the destruction of the Earth. Neo-medieval Catholics — often referred to as “trad Caths” — haven’t taken this well and have mounted a decade of resistance to Francis that may well culminate in something like the Avignon schism of the 14th century. So far, however, Pope Francis remains in charge.

webRNS-Photos-Week07-041720.jpg

An aerial view of the ancient Kiev Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Until recently, it appeared Vladimir Putin had successfully co-opted Orthodoxy into this globalist triumvirate, making for a surprising love fest between American evangelicals and the Russian strongman. Just this week, former Secretary of State and stalwart evangelical Mike Pompeo praised Putin. Outside observers might think Putin was firmly in control of the future of Orthodoxy vis-a-vis neo-Christendom.

Except he wasn’t. The Ukrainian Orthodox had other ideas.

And that’s a real problem. Because when it comes to Russian Orthodoxy, Kyiv is essentially Jerusalem.

More than a thousand years ago, in the 980s, the pagan Prince Vladimir of Kyiv consolidated the Rus people of modern-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine into a single realm. When his emissaries reported back to him on the glories of Christian Constantinople, Vladimir converted to their religion, brought his people into the Byzantine church through a mass baptism and married a Christian imperial princess. Under his rule, Kyiv became a prosperous and peaceful city at the heart of a new Christian empire, complete with churches, courts, monasteries and schools, as well as civic programs to care for the poor. Known as Vladimir the Great, he was eventually canonized as St. Vladimir and his memory is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Anglicans and some Lutherans.

In the 1200s, however, Kyiv suffered a number of assaults from rival Rus princes and Mongol invaders. Many Rus people moved north and east to the newer cities of Vladimir and Moscow where, under the czars, the Russian church eventually grew to be one of the richest, most powerful churches in the Orthodox world. With the shift, an Orthodox tradition founded under the auspices of Constantinople became a church under the authority of a patriarch in Moscow.

This has created tension between Ukraine and Russia for centuries, in some ways brought to a head in the Soviet period, with rival forms of Orthodoxy either choosing to resist communism or cooperate with Moscow. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine had several different Orthodox churches, only one of which was in close relationship to Moscow.

RELATED: Why church conflict in Ukraine reflects historic Russian-Ukrainian tensions

In 2018, two of those Ukrainian churches and some of the Moscow-leaning Orthodox parishes joined in a union and created a newly unified Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a fully independent national ecclesial body under no control from Moscow, with its head in the ancient seat of Orthodoxy in Kyiv.

webRNS-Orthodox-Split2-103118.jpg

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, center right, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, sits with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, center left, prior to their meeting at the Patriarchate in Istanbul on Aug. 31, 2018. Orthodox Patriarchate’s Metropolitan Emmanuel of France says “there’s no going backwards” in granting Ukrainian clerics full ecclesiastic independence from the Russian Orthodox Church to which they have been tied for hundreds of years. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Putin and the Moscow Russian Orthodox church authorities protested. They’ve been claiming the 1,000 years of Kyiv Christianity as its own — basically appropriating Ukraine’s church history — to the point of erecting a gigantic (and controversial) statue of St. Vladimir outside of the Kremlin. Putin wants the weight of tradition on his side and St. Vladimir validates both his religious and political aspirations. There should be no doubt that Putin sees himself as a kind of Vladimir the Great II, a candidate for sainthood who is restoring the soul of Holy Mother Russia. The Ukrainians, on the other hand, would like to remind the Russians that they were the birthplace of both Orthodoxy and political unity in Eastern Europe.

Further infuriating Putin is the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as an independent body. While this fight between Moscow and Kyiv is internally significant for Russians and Ukrainians historically, it also has larger global ramifications for the future. Katherine Kelaidis at Religion Dispatches explains:

On one side of the conflict is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the culturally and linguistically Greek cleric, who has historically claimed leadership of Orthodoxy. For the better part of a century, the Patriarch of Constantinople has moved toward the West and arguably many of its values. Today’s incumbent on the Apostolic Throne of St. Andrew speaks the language of human rights, religious freedom, and trust in science. This position arises in no small part from the Patriarchate’s own precarious role as a representative of minority religion in Turkey.

At the same time, the Patriarch of Moscow, having reclaimed much of his post’s former political influence in a post-Soviet Russia, has taken to spearheading not only the traditionalist Orthodox cause, but acting as support and symbol to religious conservatives around the world.

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

If you don’t get that, you don’t get it. Who is going to control the geographical home, the “Jerusalem,” of the Russian church? Moscow? Or Constantinople? And, what does claiming that territory mean for Orthodoxy around the world? Will global Orthodoxy lean toward a more pluralistic and open future, or will it be part of the authoritarian neo-Christendom triumvirate?

We don’t know how this is going to unfold. But — here’s the key point — economic sanctions are unlikely to work if you believe your side is divinely sanctioned. That’s what Putin thinks he’s got: the approval of God.

You just know he wants to celebrate Easter — this one or next — in Kyiv.

For more on the connection between Bannon and Putin, listen to yesterday’s episode of “Ruining Dinner,” my podcast with Tripp Fuller. Fuller is research fellow in theology and science at the University of Edinburgh and host of the “Homebrewed Christianity” podcast.

(Diana Butler Bass is an award-winning author of 11 books, including her most recent, “Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence.” This article was originally published at her substack “The Cottage.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
 
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Make no Mistake, if There’s a War Between Russia and Ukraine, it Will be a Religious War | Religion Dispatches

Make no Mistake, if There’s a War Between Russia and Ukraine, it Will be a Religious War
Katherine KelaidisFebruary 21, 2022
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Russian Orthodox Church. Image: Angelina Kazakova/Unsplash
Russian Orthodox Church. Image: Angelina Kazakova/Unsplash
Putin has now ordered Russian troops into Donetsk and Luhansk. The first major conflict between two Orthodox Christian nations since the War of the Stray Dogsin 1925 has likely just begun. That conflict (the resolution of which was incidentally perhaps the only significant accomplishment of the League of Nations) was clearly and plainly a territorial dispute. On its surface so is the current conflict in Ukraine. But appearances can be deceiving. Make no mistake about it, if there is a war between Russia and Ukraine, it’ll be a religious war. The sooner those in the West recognize this reality and catch up on the details the better.

There is a very recent precedent for this. In the early part of this century, in the aftermath of 9/11, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism was—quite justifiably to be clear—given a significant amount of attention. At the same time, many rushed to assure the world that those young men who flew planes into buildings and stoned unveiled women in the street, did not represent “the real Islam.”

Far fewer made the much more accurate observation that both Osama bin Laden and Abdolkarim Soroush represent real and legitimate positions within Islam, because traditions are complicated and people with vastly differing worldviews can believably lay claim to the same historical community. If you need further proof of this, remember that both Greg Locke (who believes witches have infiltrated his church) and leshia Evans (who peacefully stared down police at a protest of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) are both devout Christians.

This reality sometimes leads to conflict, particularly in historical epochs characterized by significant change and instability. Western Christianity saw its tensions boil over during the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent Counter-Reformation, which not only resulted in permanent fissures within Western Christendom, but the Thirty Years’ War, which killed between 25% and 40% of the entire German population.

These conflicts also provided much of the ideological impetus for modern European colonialism, as a depleted Catholic Church went out in search of new converts (a la the Spanish conquistadors) and self-assured Calvinists (a la the Pilgrims of Plymouth) went looking for land on which to build their new Jerusalem, ensuring that lots of non-Western Europeans suffered and died as a consequence of this internal conflict.

Similarly, the tensions that motivated the terrorists in New York, Paris, and London, were largely internal to Islam, festering trouble as to how Muslims ought to respond to Western modernity, after centuries outside, and frequently in opposition to, its powerful allure. As the uprisings of the Arab Spring suggested, the conflicts of the early 21st century were not a “clash of civilizations,” but a clash within a civilization, the crescendo of a forty-year conflict.

This same drama is being played out within Orthodox Christianity at this very moment. Just like Muslims, Orthodox Christians have spent the better part of the modern age in an uncomfortable dance with the West. Throughout this time, Orthodox Christians have disagreed about what their relationship should be to the liberal, secular, rationalist world. And this conflict has come to a head, breaking along old ethnic and national lines that have so long defined identity in the Orthodox world.

On one side of the conflict is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the culturally and linguistically Greek cleric, who has historically claimed leadership of Orthodoxy. For the better part of a century, the Patriarch of Constantinople has moved toward the West and arguably many of its values. Today’s incumbent on the Apostolic Throne of St. Andrew speaks the language of human rights, religious freedom, and trust in science. This position arises in no small part from the Patriarchate’s own precarious role as a representative of minority religion in Turkey.

At the same time, the Patriarch of Moscow, having reclaimed much of his post’s former political influence in a post-Soviet Russia, has taken to spearheading not only the traditionalist Orthodox cause, but acting as support and symbol to religious conservatives around the world.

Let the fight begin.

Ukraine has been an early and persistent hotspot in this conflict. In 2018, the Patriarch of Constantinople granted independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (a status known in the Orthodox world as autocephaly). The fallout has been significant—though it isn’t obvious to most observers that the fallout is either significant or related. Most recently, on December 29, 2021, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, the leading body of the Russian Orthodox Church, announced its decision to establish a Patriarchal exarchate in Africa—essentially a colonial outpost—which is expected to include 102 clerics in eight countries.

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that all of the clerics newly under the patronage of Moscow were formerly members of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Moscow Synod is explicitly tying its decision to create the new exarchate and welcome these clergy to the Patriarch of Alexandria’s decision to acknowledge the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Now that the conflict has moved to Africa, its political implications have become even more stark. The Orthodox Church in Africa is neither wealthy nor large. With the exception of some significant Greek communities in Egypt and South Africa (who are decidedly not in the market for a new Russian bishop), the relatively few African convert communities on the continent are neither financially affluent nor politically powerful—yet.

Modern Russia also has designs on Africa, where it seeks to compete with China and the Western powers for influence on a continent of natural resources and growing markets. And there’s little doubt that Russia has, in recent years, sought increasingly to use the Russian Orthodox Church as an instrument of foreign influence: in Ukraine, Serbia, Western Europe, and the United States. A tactic only made possible by the Patriarchate of Moscow’s desire to establish itself as the leader of the conservative Orthodox cause.

This makes the small indigenous African Orthodox community a highly valuable geo-political asset, in addition to being a religious one. And in turn, this new African battleground highlights why it’s high time that those outside the Orthodox world start paying much closer attention to the conflict between Moscow and Constantinople, because it’s both the source of the trouble and a proxy war. Everything you need to understand about Russia’s current conflict with the West—politically, economically, and culturally—can be found in this pitched battle between black-robed clerics.

And while the history may be unknown and the context strange to most of those living in Europe and North America, there is a history and a context here that can no longer be ignored. Because, as we learned the hard way during the War on Terror, if we pretend that a conflict outside the West is all about the West, we run the risk of missing important nuances that leave us open to grave disappointment and loss in the years to come.
 
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