As was noted many times, the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine is ideologically framed by a quasi-religious doctrine that promotes Russian civilizational exceptionalism and has been branded as the “Russian world.” This doctrine is not the only quasi-religious aspect of the war. Those who endorse the war try to justify it by bringing up a wide array of arguments that look religious. In my contribution to the Sweden-based Religion and Praxis blog, I argued that both Vladimir Putin and his counterparts in the Russian Orthodox Church are driven by a dualistic worldview, which is non-Christian and anti-biblical, and which sees the world in black-and-white, as being divided to essentially good and essentially evil parts. Russia, according to this worldview, incarnates the former part, while the West, the latter one. The Russian propaganda effectively appeals to and enhances this worldview among its target groups.
The same propaganda exploits some biblical references as well. For example, the TV channel Spas, owned and managed by the Moscow Patriarchate, has produced, and broadcasts a documentary series “God and the Bible.” It is based on the book with the same title by the Serbian Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović. In one of the episodes, the channel’s anchor Boris Korchevnikov and the priest at the parish affiliated with the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Fr. Igor Fomin, discussed possible biblical justifications for the ongoing war in Ukraine. They recorded the episode in Volnovakha, a Ukrainian city in Donbass occupied and almost completely destroyed by the Russian army. While standing against the backdrop of the city’s ruins, Fr. Igor mentions that “God gives a direct command to the Jewish people to cleanse the land from the peoples” that were impious and therefore destined by God to “go into oblivion,” so that other peoples could be “erected in their place.” This is nothing more but a clear justification of the Russian atrocities in Ukraine and effectively a call for the genocide of the Ukrainian people—on the Old Testament grounds.
On December 29, 2021, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate decided to establish a Russian exarchate for the entire African continent. The exarchate is to consist of two dioceses: one for northern and one for southern Africa. The title of the bishop of the northern diocese would be “of Cairo and North Africa.”
Many saw this decision as a violation of the ancient rights of the Alexandrian patriarchate. As early as in 325, at the first ecumenical council in Nicaea, which adopted the universal Christian creed, a canon of the council stated: “The ancient customs of Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis shall be maintained, according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places, since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome.” In other words, the Nicene council confirmed the territorial sovereignty of the Alexandrian church in the way similar to the territorial sovereignty of the church of Rome. Indeed, from the early centuries, the two churches followed the same pattern of the evolution of their administrative structures and prerogatives. Sometimes, the church of Alexandria set an example for its Roman peer. For example, the archbishops of Alexandria were called “popes” a century before the bishops of Rome adopted this title.
American society is polarized to an extent that one can hardly recall. It is as if we have entered a cold civil war. There is another name for this war: culture war, which is a literal translation of the German Kulturkampf. Culture wars are not proper wars, and they are not about culture. They are ideological clashes.
Ideologies are secular constructs. They emerged from the European Enlightenment as substitutes for what its inventors considered to be a delusional religious perception of the world. Ironically, these ideologies have affected not only secularized societies but also the Christian churches with which they are supposed to be incompatible. Hierarchs, priests, and theologians all too often indulge in these culture wars, throwing themselves into ideological battle.
In Russia, there is a widely spread superstition that August brings national-scale catastrophes. The mass protests in Belarus against Alyaksandr Lukashenka are seen as such a catastrophe for the regime of Vladimir Putin. Even though Mr. Lukashenka struggled to preserve some independence for his country from Russia, Belarus under his rule represented the model of a Neo-Soviet colony that Russia has tried to impose on its neighbors since Putin’s presidency began. Belarus under Mr. Lukashenka preserved many symbols and most of the ethos of the Soviet era.
The key feature of the Soviet ethos is paternalism, which means that the regime offers its subjects basic social welfare in exchange for complete obedience. The Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity in 2014 (also known as the Maidan), for example, was a revolt against this sort of paternalism. What is going on now in Belarus looks more like a revolution that started within the paternalistic framework. There are good signs, however, that eventually the Belarusian revolution will turn against paternalism as such.