On the banks of the Dnieper River in 988, Kiev’s grand prince Vladimir (or Volodymyr in Ukrainian) summoned the entire city for a grand baptism. With the aim of marrying the sister of Emperor Basil, leader of the Byzantine Empire, the head of Kievan Rus – the great kingdom that would become Russia – not only embraced the faith, but made Christianity the state religion. .
Through the Christianization of the territory, Vladimir would be declared a saint by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, whose faith would quickly spread across the continent, to the point that, after the invasion of Constantinople in 1453, the Russians began to consider themselves the successors of the Byzantine Empire. – the “third Rome”.
“When Christianity arrived in present-day Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, it was through emissaries from Constantinople. As a result of these missions, the empire ended up building a diocese in Kiev. Kiev is therefore the spiritual mother city of all countries. Eastern Slavs, that is, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine”, explains journalist Daniel Sender, iconographer and specialist in Eastern Christianity.
“It so happens that, around the 13th century, the Mongols, Tatars and other tribes from the East invaded all these Slavic lands and came very close to Kiev. This caused the archbishop of Kiev, who headed the entire church of these independent city-states – but still part of a confederation – to flee to Moscow, taking the archbishopric there”, explains Sender. Thus, the Patriarchate of Moscow, today called the Russian Orthodox Church, was born.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, in the 1980s, would bring new political and religious conflicts to the region: because it no longer accepted Russian interference in its territory, part of the Orthodox Church linked to the Moscow patriarchate split, forming the Kiev autonomous patriarchy. It is worth remembering that, although he does not have the same prerogatives as the pope, the maximum authority of the Orthodox Catholic Church is the Ecumenical Patriarch, who has the authority to recognize the various canonical territories and their local patriarchates.
Appointed to the post in October 1991, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I would only recognize the Kiev patriarchate in 2018, giving the Ukrainian Orthodox Church an autonomous and official character. “The problem is that the patriarchate of Moscow does not accept this decision and understands that the Ukrainian territory belongs to them”, explains Sender. “Constantinople – the ecumenical patriarchate – claims that it never ceded Ukraine to Moscow, but Russia understands otherwise.” In parallel, there is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which remains linked to the Moscow patriarchy, an alignment that Vladimir Putin himself, in his desire to rebuild the “third Rome”, could lose.
Putin’s “Third Rome” and Ukraine’s Religious Battles
In 2014, Putin cited the history of the medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus when justifying the war for the annexation of Crimea, where Prince Vladimir would have been baptized and which, therefore, would be a “sacred” land for Russia. Eight years later, the argument is used to “cancel” the invasion of Ukraine – the birthplace of Slavic Christianity.
“While the West thinks of Christianity as a weakened and declining religion, in the East it is thriving. In 2019, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, boasted that they were building three churches a day. Last year, a Cathedral for the Armed Forces was inaugurated, one hour from Moscow. Religious imagery merges with military glorification. (…) In a grand mosaic, the most recent victories – including the ‘return of Crimea’ of 2014 – are celebrated”, describe journalist Giles Fraser.
“At the center of this post-Soviet renaissance of Christianity is (…) Vladimir Putin. Many people do not appreciate the extent to which the invasion of Ukraine is a spiritual quest for him. The Baptism of Rus is the founding event in the formation of the Russian religious psyche, the Russian Orthodox Church traces its origins here. That’s why Putin isn’t very interested in some Russian-leaning districts in eastern Ukraine. His objective, frighteningly, is Kiev itself, ”explains the expert.
The problem is that even the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, linked to the Moscow Patriarchate, has wide autonomy and is increasingly… Ukrainian. No wonder Metropolitan Bishop Onufry of Kiev compared the war to the “sin of Cain”, in reference to the biblical character who murdered his brother. There are reports that, with the invasion, the Church of Ukraine stopped celebrating the Patriarch of Moscow in its prayers – which could be a harbinger of a new separation.
“Regardless of church affiliation, you have a lot of new clergy who grew up in independent Ukraine,” Alexei Krindatch, national coordinator for the Census of Orthodox Christian Churches in the United States, told the newspaper. The Independent. “Their political preferences are not necessarily correlated with the formal jurisdictions of their parishes,” said Krindatch, who grew up in the former Soviet Union.
For his part, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow reinforced his support for Putin: during his homily last Sunday (6), he said that the West would be willing to “organize genocidal campaigns against countries that refuse to host a gay parade”. A manifestation that, according to Fraser’s analysis, goes against the grain of the “Western secular imagination”:
“We show how little we understand [sobre o assunto] thinking that a bunch of sanctions will make any difference. (…) ‘Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,’ Putin said. That’s what it’s all about, ‘spiritual space – a terrifying phrase steeped in over a thousand years of Russian religious history’.
#Ukraine #important #Putins #religious #war