The golden spires of the Church of Our Savior, one of the cherished Russian churches demolished by the Soviets, once again has risen proudly above the Moscow skyline. On my peacemaking trip to the Russian Republic in 1989 I visited a 1000-year memorial to the birth of the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the year before. Three years later atheistic Communism collapsed. The Russian people, with prayers of Babushkas (Russian grandmothers) and secret baptisms of infants, had kept the historic faith of their fathers and mothers. Their devotion to their Russian Orthodox faith originated in the medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus’ in 988 AD when Prince Vladimir was baptized in the Dneiper River. Afterward, this Rus’ Ukrainian prince made Orthodoxy the official religion of his kingdom.
Vladimir Putin not only inherits the name of that famous Rus prince but he was also secretly baptized by his devout Russian Orthodox Christian mother. Putin considers himself to be the righteous warrior, the defender of the true Russian world that includes all of that old Rus’ Empire. He, therefore, inherits the militant religious nationalism of Czar Peter the Great, whose czarship Putin emulates with the collusion of the Moscow Patriarchy. Putin has used his wealth to finance building churches, up to three new churches a day around Russia. One of those churches is called The Church of the Russian Armed Forces. Moscow Patriarch Kirill supports Putin in his current messianic military endeavors, because Kirill seeks to reclaim the Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarchy after it broke away from the Moscow Patriarchy in 2019. Publicly, Kirill admonishes Putin to do “everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.” Will he pay attention to a letter written to him and signed by 300 Orthodox priests asking him to intervene to end Russia’s war of aggression? Probably not. Kirill too was once a KGB agent and believes that Ukraine is his canonical territory.
Russia’s brand of militaristic nationalistic Christianity began when the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. He saw the Cross of Christ over his troops when going into battle. When Pope Urban II in 1095 urged taking up arms under the Cross to reconquer Jerusalem from the Muslims, four devastating, destructive, debilitating crusades followed.
When Pilgrims fled religious persecution and violence in England, another country where political ideals and Christian values through the state related Anglican Church mixed, they sought to worship in the New World without state interference. Wisely America’s founding fathers tried to steer our newly formed government away from adhering to a national religion, that is until recently when Dominionism— defined as conservative Christians claiming to be called to exercise dominion over or take control of American political and cultural institutions— reared its ugly head. Note those who during the January 6, 2021 insurrection carried American flags along with a Cross or Bible with their Trump signs. These Christians had formed an alliance with then president Donald Trump, because Trump, like Putin, claimed he was the savior of America and pledged to make it great again for glory of God. Both Trump and Putin have found it politically advantageous to have willing bedfellows with an aberrant form of Christianity. Their unholy alliances can only lead to division, destruction, more bloodshed, and human misery.