RUSSIA - Orthodox Church Mixes War and Christianity

J. Froese

Russia’s Cathedral of the Armed Forces was consecrated in 2020. It sits in Patriot Park, a military theme park in Kubinka, around 60km to the west of Moscow. The church is khaki green, topped with a gold Orthodox cross. The diameter of the main dome, at 19.45m, references the end of the second world war. Nazi tanks were melted to make the floor. Angels gaze down on Russian soldiers in a mosaic commemorating the country’s role in Syria’s civil war, the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. 

In Russia, church and military go hand in hand. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, implicitly supports Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He spouts Kremlin propaganda, claiming that Russia is not the aggressor and that genocide is being perpetrated by Ukrainians against Russian speakers in the Donbas. Nor is his endorsement of this war unique. During his tenure, Russian priests have blessed bombs destined for Syria and Crimea. Bishop Stefan of Klin, who presides over the Cathedral of the Armed Forces, leads the church’s department for cooperation with the army. Before taking holy orders he was an officer in the missile-defense force. 

In 2015, 71% of Russians identified as Orthodox and 57% said following the faith was an important part of what it meant to be Russian. Many perceive the church to be of growing importance in their lives, although few attend. This makes it a powerful tool of propaganda—a conduit through which to promote a single vision of Russian values, at odds with Western liberal societies. 

Patriarch Kirill is a staunch ally of Mr Putin. In 2012, he described his presidency as a “miracle of God.” It has certainly benefited the church. On Mr Putin’s watch, Russia has passed laws that restrict the rights of rival religious groups, retrieved religious artefacts that were sold off under communism, and built thousands of churches. All that has bolstered the power that church leaders have to influence large swathes of the population. In 2007 the church reunited with many Russian parishes outside the country, healing a rift of 80 years. This boosted its power as a tool of foreign policy in the diaspora too. 

The patriarch has begun to cast the conflict as a holy war, with implications that he says go beyond politics. “We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance,” he warned the faithful in his sermon on Forgiveness Sunday, the last day before Lent in the Orthodox calendar. The Armed Forces Cathedral’s mosaic commemorating the Russian wars that God has supposedly smiled upon leaves room for future conflicts. Ukraine may soon join the list.

-www.economist.com, 21 March 2021

Commentary

This unholy alliance of church and state is troubling for us believers because these—at least nominally—Christian leaders in Russia are supporting a war against another nominally Christian country, Ukraine, which from our outside perspective appears to be an unjust war. It is particularly interesting how Putin, an avowed atheist by virtue of his position in the Soviet Communist Party, and these supposedly Christian leaders have made strange bedfellows in advancing nationalistic interests.

Scripture is to be applied to believers and the wider Church before the world. Thus, Paul’s warning in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” is particularly relevant when it comes to these leaders. 

Thankfully, not all Russian Orthodox agree, as mentioned later in the article: “This untempered support of Kremlin propaganda has divided the church. More than 280 Russian Orthodox priests from around the world have signed an open letter condemning the invasion.” Also, as we continually point out, Jesus said, “I will build my Church,” and indeed there is a lively and growing—though often unseen—evangelical movement in Russia, as in China and other parts of the world that might surprise us.

However, the application should be for us to examine our assumptions and beliefs about the righteousness of our governments in the so-called Christian West, and especially any affinity for military forces that conflates their job with actual spiritual warfare. These clearly allegorical passages are intended for believers, such as the subsequent verses in Ephesians 6: “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God … the breastplate of righteousness … the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” This does not refer to physical armaments or geopolitical warfare on earth. (By J. Froese)

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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