Union of Orthodox Nations
As the Soviet Union was collapsing approximately two decades ago, there were concerns among policymakers in the West that a new alliance of 'Byzantine' (i.e. Orthodox) nations could emerge from the ashes of Communism. I personally was privy to such rhetoric at the time. Consequently, when the inevitable wars began to breakout during the early 1990s in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse, for me it was obvious where the geopolitical lines were to be drawn and whom Western powers would support. The encirclement of the Russian Federation by NATO as well as by other means has been a fundamental part of the Western world's political pursuits since the fall of the Soviet Union. This is essentially because the political and financial establishment in the Western world fears the potential of the Russian nation more than it fears any other geopolitical entity on earth, including China, including the so-called Islamic threat.
Stretching virtually from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific ocean, the Russian Federation controls massive amounts of land, oil, natural gas, minerals and precious metals. Russia today is said to supply approximately 25% of the energy needs of western Europe and other Eurasian regions are more-or-less solely dependent on Russian energy distribution for survival. What's more, Moscow seems to have embarked upon a strategic agenda of investing large sums in purchasing major corporations and industrial facilities across the globe. Moscow has also given Russia's defense industry a significant financial boost and is currently in the process of modernizing its armed forces. In addition, as we have seen recently, the Russian Federation is ideally located to directly impact various political theaters such as Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East. Concurrently, the Western elite also realizes that the Western world's heavy dependence on foreign energy and the United State's destructive and costly military escapades around the world can potentially trigger the West's decline - politically, militarily and economically.
As a result of the aforementioned factors, the Russian Federation today is increasingly becoming a self-reliant superpower. And in my opinion, much more so than its Soviet predecessor.
The Russian Federation is the only serious long-term geopolitical competition/threat that Western power-brokers face today. This realization sheds light on the geostrategic dynamics of on-going conflicts in the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia. For the long-term survival of the political/financial elite in the West, Russia therefore needed to be subdued and contained. However, they first needed to breakaway (or breakup) pro-Russian satellite states in the region before they could begin directly working against Russia itself. They also took the opportunity to help Islamist separatists in southern Russia during the early 1990s to start their bloody insurgency. The long bloody conflict that played out in and around Chechnya was fundamentally a power struggle between Russia and Western/Islamic interests. The intent was to wrestle the strategic region away from Moscow's control. But Moscow has finally managed to pacify the Chechens.
Nevertheless, the effort by the West has since shifted to Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan - albeit unsuccessfully. Western interests also tried to undermine the Armenian uprising in Nagorno Karabakh during the 1990s and they have ever since been trying to detach Yerevan from Moscow. These efforts failed as Armenians - with Russian support - defeated the Azeris. The Armenian republic today is considered to be among Russia's closest allies.
Sadly, however, Western ambitions succeeded within the Balkans. With the Russian Federation unable to intervene at the time, Washington was able to spearhead a massive NATO bombing campaign against Serbia. As NATO was assisting the “Al-Qaeda" supported Muslims within Bosnia and Kosovo by killing “Orthodox Christians” they were also conveniently eliminating Serbia as the last pro-Russian bastion in Central Europe and opening the gates for NATO expansion.
Nevertheless, I am very satisfied with the fact that Orthodox Christianity is making a gradual comeback within the Russian Federation today. This is very good timing. Russia's ailing society and its weakened national identity desperately needs a Christian, Orthodox revival, as do many others in the region including us Armenians.
History has proven that healthy and stable nations need to maintain strong code of ethics and expressions of national culture. Throughout history, Christian Orthodoxy has always proven to be an effective catalyst for the aforementioned. Religion is a societal bind, bringing together the population under one spiritual and cultural banner. Religion is also a nation's moral compass, as it conditions and guides individuals in a society. Religion can also create cultural bonds and international political alliances in certain regions - as well as creating needed barriers against certain other cultures.
During Soviet times an ideology, a particular belief system, cemented "brotherly" ties between various communist peoples. In post Soviet times this ideological connection was lost as various formerly communist peoples discovered nationalism and, of course, Western Globalism and materialism. All this came at a time when Western concepts such as democracy and capitalism (represented by its military wing NATO and its financial wing the IMF/WTO) were also gaining in popularity. Due to these and other sociopolitical factors former Soviet nations fell into disarray. Recently, however, fear of the West has played a galvanizing role. Nations like Russia, Greece, Serbia, and Armenia are gradually coming closer as a result of Western aggression. I would personally like to see these newly formed loose alliances go past their reactionary nature and begin formulating a new ideological and political movement - a movement whose ethical/cultural values are firmly embedded in Christian Orthodoxy.
I think such a movement would play a fundamental role in creating new international ties between regional "Byzantine" nations as well as creating a new brotherhood amongst nations that can go past today's mere political and economic considerations.
Putin calls on Orthodox believers to vote at parliamentary polls
Russia's president called on Orthodox Christians to play an active part in the December 2 elections to the lower house of parliament, the State Duma. "I am convinced that Orthodox Christians, like other citizens, will again take an active civic position," Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with Russian Orthodox Church leaders in the Kremlin. The president, who is nearing the end of his second term, said national stability and a continuation of ongoing changes in the country would depend directly on the results of the Duma elections.
Putin promises support to Russian Orthodox Church
President Vladimir Putin promised on Monday further strong state support for the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, urging believers to be active in crucial elections in December and March. Putin, an ex-KGB spy who now portrays himself as a devout Christian, met top Orthodox clergy in the gilded St Alexander Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace to mark 90 years since the post of Patriarch was revived in the year of the revolution. "Orthodoxy has always had a special role in shaping our statehood, our culture, our morals," Putin told dozens of high-ranking black-robed priests led by Patriarch Alexiy II. The church, closely integrated with the state since the 10th century, won back its autonomy from royal control under the Communists, but suffered intense persecution. The fall of Communism in 1991 led to a strong revival, aided by state support, the return of property and considerable tax benefits. Parliamentary elections on December 2 are broadly seen as a dress rehearsal of March 2 presidential polls in which Putin's successor will be elected. The main pro-Kremlin party United Russia is expected to score an overwhelming victory in December to give Putin a stronger hand to maintain political influence after his departure. But analysts and pollsters warn that the highly predictable outcome could discourage many people from going to polls. Putin, who needs an impressive victory for the party, uses every opportunity to rally any support which could raise turnout. "We are nearing parliamentary elections which will have a big impact on stability and on chances to continue positive changes," said Putin, who has presided over eight years of strong economic growth. "I am sure the Orthodox Christians like other citizens will show strong activity." State support for the church has grown even stronger under Putin as Russia has turned away from Western-style liberalism of the first post-Soviet decade to traditional values. "We highly appreciate the church's striving to revive in Russian society ideals and values which have for ages served us as moral guidelines," Putin told the priests. The church says 80 percent of Russians are its members. The post of Patriarch, revived by the Communists, had been abolished in 1700 by emperor Peter the Great, who reserved the leadership of the church for tsars for more than 200 years.
Russia's Orthodox church regains lost groundAs its influence grows, the church seeks to retake Bolshevik-seized property. More than 6,000 sites have been returned, but hundreds more are in dispute.
Ryazan's dazzling kremlin, the ancient town fortress considered a gem of Russian architecture, seems like an unlikely venue for a bitter social conflict. But for the past three years a subterranean battle has raged here over the 26-hectare complex seized by the Bolsheviks last century. The increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church is pressuring political leaders in Moscow to return the property to church stewardship, and public passions are running high. "Society is split over this issue," says Sergei Isakov, a deputy of the regional legislature. "We need more time to listen to the people about this." It's a struggle taking place across Russia. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, about 6,000 sites nationalized by the communists have been returned to the church, but hundreds more remain under dispute. Critics say the church's appetite exceeds its ability to restore old buildings, or fill them with worshipers, and its aims are increasingly politicized. "Lately the church's ambitions have grown, and clericalism is creeping into state institutions and public organizations," says Anatoly Pchelintsev, editor of Religion and Law, a journal published by the independent Slavic Center for Law and Justice in Moscow. "We have elections coming, and the state finds it convenient to actively court the Church's embrace and seek its support."
Church's campaign for influence
The Orthodox Church has been – and remains – closely linked to the Russian state. Even before the Bolsheviks nationalized all its property and took full control over the priesthood, the church acted as the main ideological support for Russian czars. And since the fall of communism, Russian leaders have sometimes turned to the church, which has baptized some 60 percent of Russians, to boost their legitimacy. "The Russian state is undergoing a crisis of values," says Alexander Dugin, who heads the International Eurasian Movement, a nationalist group that favours stronger church influence. "Soviet ideas have been destroyed, while the democratic values of the West have been completely discredited in post-Soviet Russia. The only real source of [spiritual] support for the new Russian state is the Orthodox Church." In addition to seeking the return of its property and assets, the church has mounted an active campaign to raise its profile, lobbying for – among other things – mandatory "Orthodox culture" classes in schools. In addition, a newly formed wing of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi has held several rallies recently to "propagate religious values" among young people. "The greatest achievements of Russian history were made in the name of Orthodoxy," says Boris Yakimenko, head of Nashi's Orthodox section. "Society needs a clear spiritual orientation, and this is our calling." Though President Vladimir Putin has frequently stressed that Russia remains a secular state, he and other state leaders prominently take part in Orthodox festivals and he is often seen in company with the patriarch, the head of the Orthodox Church. In a press conference on the reunification earlier this year of the US-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad with the mother church in Moscow, Putin equated Russia's "traditional faiths" with its nuclear missile shield as "components that strengthen Russian statehood and create necessary preconditions for internal and external security of the country."
Roots of the battle
Ryazan's hilltop kremlin, a favorite local spot for promenades and picnics, has been a national park for decades. The workers at its five museums, backed by a community group that's gathered 26,000 signatures opposing the church's takeover bid, say the struggle is not just over who gets the real estate. The church already has use of two cathedrals, but few worshipers come, they say. They argue that the real goal is to evict the museums and turn the palace into a residence for its regional head, Archbishop Pavel. "The kremlin is the heart of Ryazan, the place our city sprang from, and it has great historical meaning for all citizens," says Alexander Nikitin, spokesperson for the Public Committee in Defense of Ryazan Kremlin, which lobbies against the transfer. "If you hand it to the church, the character of the place will change from a historical monument that belongs to everyone into a functioning center for a particular religion." In a telephone interview, Archbishop Pavel didn't deny that the palace is earmarked for his residence, but said the public would be welcome to continue visiting the kremlin. "We are going to open it and restore the cathedrals," he said. "People are the foundation of our Church, so regardless of nationality or religious persuasion, people may all come." Vladimir Vigilansky, head of the press service of the Church's headquarters in Moscow, says that returning property to the church will address a "moral dimension" as well. "Over the years many things were stolen or confiscated from the Church, so many museums are really just storage places for stolen items."
A struggle for Russia's soul?
The museum workers insist they are willing to cooperate with the church, whose records indicate about 60 percent of Russians are Orthodox, but oppose granting it full ownership. Some say they see themselves on the firing line in a wider struggle for Russia's post-Soviet soul. "We definitely perceive a threat to the secular state, to civil society and democracy," says Vladimir Sokolovsky, deputy director of the museum. "The church wants these buildings because it seeks a return to its traditional place as the upholder of the state, with a monopoly on the meaning of patriotism and spirituality." Giving the Church a bigger ideological role may not be a bad thing, say others. "The church can bring positive influences," says Nikolai Bulicher, a deputy of Ryazan's city council. "Our country wasn't ready for the democracy we were dreaming about. Instead we got crime, corruption, and drug abuse. Only the revival of our spiritual traditions can reverse that, and this means we must put the church back at the heart of our lives."
Tycoons to help repossess Russian church buildings in Jerusalem
The head of Russia's Audit Chamber said on Monday that two billionaires had agreed to help repossess Orthodox church buildings in Jerusalem that Israel bought from Soviet authorities 40 years ago. The two buildings - St. Sergius' church and the Ecclesiastical Mission - are part of Jerusalem's so-called Russian Compound. The churches were built in the final decades of Tsarist rule and partially sold to Israel by the Nikita Khrushchev's government in 1964. Israel paid for the assets with a shipment of citrus fruit in what went down in history as the "orange deal". Chief Auditor Sergei Stepashin, who is also head of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, said businessman Roman Abramovich, governor of the Chukotka Region and owner of London's Chelsea FC, and Russian-born billionaire Arkady Gaidamak who lives in Israel, had accepted the Russian government's request that they cover expenses for moving institutions currently accommodated in the buildings to other premises. St. Sergius' church is currently occupied by Israel's Ministry of Agriculture and government agencies for environmental protection, while the Ecclesiastical Mission houses the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court. Stepashin said the handover of the property was likely to be legally fixed next year. He said his hopes were based on "agreements reached with the Israeli side on the highest political level" and Russia's guarantees. "There are people who are ready to help those occupying the buildings leave them," Stepashin told a Russian diaspora meeting in Israel. The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society was established by Emperor Alexander III in 1882 to facilitate Orthodox Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to promote Palestinian studies and humanitarian cooperation with the peoples of the biblical region. In the Soviet era, the society was restructured as part of the National Academy of Sciences. With religious activity in the country largely suppressed during those years, it could no longer arrange pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and focused entirely on Palestine-related research, holding regular symposiums and publishing an almanac.
Putin hands over Christian relic to Russian Orthodox Church
President Vladimir Putin handed over a piece of Christ’s raiment to the Russian Orthodox Church on Monday. The piece, kept at the Moscow Kremlin museums, was handed over to Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia at a meeting with Russian Orthodox Church hierarchs on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the restoration of patriarchy. Alexy II thanked Putin and said the holy relic would be kept at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. “This is a big spiritual gift and one of the most important Christian relics,” he said. Putin said he had ordered the relevant authorities to consider the possibility of handing over the most revered Christian relics from the Moscow Kremlin museums to the church. Christ’s raiment was seized by Iranian Shah Abbas I in Georgia. In 1624 he offered it to Russian Tsar Mikhail Romanov. After its authenticity had been verified in 1625, a reliquary with Christ’s raiment was brought to Moscow and placed at the Dormition Cathedral. In the 17th century, the raiment was divided into several parts that were kept in Yaroslavl, Kostromf, the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev, and St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Cathedral.