[...W]hile much attention has been paid to the growing authoritarianism of the Kremlin and on the support for Putin’s regime on the part of the Russian oligarchs whom Putin has enriched through his crony capitalism, little has been paid to the equally critical role of the Russian Orthodox Church in helping to shape Russia’s current system, and in supporting Putin’s regime and publicly conflating the mission of the Russian state under Vladimir Putin’s leadership with the mission of the Church. Putin’s move in close coordination with the Russian Orthodox Church to sacralize the Russian national identity has been a key factor shaping the increasingly authoritarian bent of the Russian government under Putin, and strengthening his public support, and must be understood in order to understand Russia’s international behavior.
The close relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Russian state based upon a shared, theologically-informed vision of Russian exceptionalism is not a new phenomenon. During the days of the Czar, the Russian ruler was seen as God’s chosen ruler of a Russian nation tasked with representing a unique set of value embodied by Russian Orthodoxy, and was revered as “the Holy Orthodox Czar”. Today, a not dissimilar vision of Russian exceptionalism is once again shared by the ROC and the Kremlin, and many Russians are beginning to see Vladimir Putin in a similar vein – a perception encouraged both by Putin and by the Church, each of which sees the other as a valuable political ally and sees their respective missions as being interrelated.
John Schindler wrote something similar at the end of 2014: Putin’s Orthodox Jihad, while as Brian Whitmore (of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty from) wrote Vladimir Putin, Conservative Icon a few months earlier. I strongly recommend interested readers go through both of these articles as well, for much of what these authors talk about are patterns that I myself have noticed.
As many readers of this blog know, one of my co-bloggers has very strong Russian Orthodox beliefs and has exhibited on numerous occasions a type of Putin hero worship. Therefore, he and I existing on the same blog after Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year has created a rift between us, so to speak.
Fulton Sheen, many years ago predicted that in the future there would be a co-opting of Christianity to political aims. It seems to be a very constant temptation. The Russian Orthodox Church and Putin are doing this very thing. Rather than the ROC being a balancing religious voice in Russia acting as a moral brake on the excessive authoritarian tendencies of the Kremlin, it instead acts as an enforcer of the politics.
Putin has also tried to make himself look like a conservative, moral and religious man; but it's as if he is playing a part rather than living these aims. The conservatism, morality and religious sentiment is very shallow. All of it was pretty much obvious to me prior to the Ukraine invasion, but I ignored it. I thought the man is trying, I'll let him be and not criticise. After all you have to give people a chance, despite how something looks.
No more chances now, though. With everything that has happened, Putin is looking more and more like another anti-Christ than a reincarnation of St Paul, as is believed by some in Russia.