What a cathedral and a massive military parade show about Putin’s Russia

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, center, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, at the consecration of the Cathedral of Russian Armed Forces outside Moscow, June 14, 2020. (Oleg Varov, Russian Orthodox Church Press Service via AP)

By Lena Surzhko Harned

(The Conversation) — May 9, 2022, marks the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. Victory Day has traditionally been a day to honor veterans and hold an enormous parade in Moscow to display the country’s military prowess.

Under President Vladimir Putin, May 9 has become one of Russia’s most revered holidays. Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov has described it as the “holiest holiday in our country. It has been and will remain the holiest holiday for all Russians,” according to the Defence Blog.

Many scholars have researched how World War II has become a cornerstone of Russian nationalism during Putin’s time in power. It is also reflected in Russian rhetoric about its war in Ukraine. Russian leaders have portrayed the invasion as a fight against “Neo-Nazis,” and a holy war.

This fusion of World War II, religion and Russian nationalism are embodied in one unusual building: the Main Church of the Russian Armed Forces, on the outskirts of Moscow. The massive, khaki-colored cathedral in a military theme park was dedicated in June 2020, and celebrates Russian might. The grand opening was supposed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, but it was delayed due to the pandemic.

RELATED: EU reportedly mulling sanctions on Patriarch Kirill

Conceived by the Russian defense minister after the country’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the cathedral embodies the powerful ideology espoused by Putin, with support from the Russian Orthodox Church.

As a scholar of nationalism, I see this militant religious nationalism as one of the key elements in Putin’s motivation for the invasion of Ukraine, my native country. It also goes a long way in explaining Moscow’s behavior toward the collective “West” and the post-Cold War world order.

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1 reply

  1. (The Conversation) — President Vladimir Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine has split the Orthodox Church.

    Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, a leading authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church, quickly condemned the “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

    By contrast, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has supported the war, which he claimed in a sermon was a struggle to defend “human civilization” against the “sin” of “gay-pride parades.”

    As a scholar who has spent several decades studying religion in Russia, I’m following the debates within the Orthodox Church very closely. To better understand the current conflict, it is helpful to know more about the structure and history of Orthodox Christianity.

    What is the Orthodox Church?
    Orthodoxy is the smallest of the three major branches of Christianity, which also includes Catholicism and Protestantism. There are about 1.34 billion Catholics, about 600 million Protestants and approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians globally. Most Orthodox Christians live in Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

    The word “orthodox” means both “right belief” and “right worship,” and Orthodox Christians insist on the universal truth of their doctrine and practice.

    Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church claims to be the one true church established by Christ and his apostles.


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