The BBC reported the interesting direction portrayed in President Putin’s campaign for re-election in March of this year: Man of the Church.
This to the “enlightened” Western media is undoubtedly taken as a quaint or primitive gesture, but in today’s Russia, this is a significantly important theme, whether a person is a believer in the Russian Orthodox Church or not.
It is no secret that the Russian Orthodox Church is an astounding fixture in the life and culture of the Russian people, and it has been so for over 1,000 years since the Baptism of Kyivan Rus’ accomplished under the rule of Great-Prince Vladimir in 988, commemorated in the Church as a Saint to this day.
It is also no secret that the self-same church was fiercely persecuted under Communism, in pogroms and state actions that would make the Nazi Holocaust look almost tame. In fact, had the Nazis not invaded Russia, the status of the Church in Russia might have become even more dire, but General Secretary Stalin had to make the move to reopen churches in his country to get people to pray and to motivate them to fight the invaders.
In the years since the attempted reforms and eventual fall of Communism, the Russian Orthodox Church has experienced a significant renaissance. At the time immediately preceding the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Church had about 85,000 parishes and small chapels, 112,629 priests and deacons, and over 1,000 monasteries, almost evenly divided between men and women. At the lowest point of the Red Terror, in 1939, the number of open parishes fell below 500, with no open monasteries at all in the country. Most of the clergy and monastics were shot, or sent to concentration camps to be worked to death.
Between 12 and 20 million Orthodox Christians were put to death by the Communist regime over its history.
Now the Church is quite resurgent, with an estimated 40,000 parishes as of October 2017, with the rate of construction or restoration at about 1,000 churches per year, or about three per day. Moscow has 1,154 parishes as of October 2017, with at least 200 more in planning and development stages, and these churches are privately funded, by individuals and businesses who contribute money to build them.
Clearly this is something of great importance to the Russian people, so it is understandably resonant that President Putin has a very visible presence in the Orthodox Church. The West often considers this sort of religious observance to be a con job, a political ploy to gain favor with the people. This is only because the Western mindset about Christianity is at best “respectful of meaningless traditions.” Even the BBC’s own piece makes its skeptical point of view clear in this assertion which leads the article:
With elections looming in March, leading state-controlled TV channels are roping in religion to cast him as a national saviour who healed Russia’s historical divisions and rescued the nation from chaos.
The Voice of America has long been far more damning in its approach to the resurgence of Orthodoxy in Russia. In this video below, the simple statement that “we are not involved in politics!” is smoothly ignored, and despite the real story being a cooperative effort between American and Russian Orthodox Christians to develop American Church singing, VOA just had to call it all a sham.
There are many Russian people who are skeptical of President Putin’s authenticity about his religious faith, and some do think it is a show. But the people that say this are usually not believers themselves, in my experience. The more deeply someone involves themselves in the Russian Orthodox Church, the more they see President Putin’s role in the world as sort of the last bastion of sanity. Many American Orthodox Christians revere him for his consistent support of Christianity, and those that don’t often don’t because the American press is loath to show President Putin as anything other than some corrupt thug.
Censorship of the media in the USA is astounding, and it often takes leaving the USA sources to begin to see just how pervasive it is. The American public has begun to see it more clearly in the similarly damning coverage of its own president, Donald Trump, as most recently noted. The President spoke at the annual March for Life in Washington DC, and he was the first American president ever to do so in the 45 year history of this event. MSM Media coverage of this event is zero. Not even does Fox News’ website have a headline about it, though they do cover the nasty Women’s March; and for CNN nothing Trump does is any good, anyway.
So, from a culture that is truly steeped in anti-Christian sentiment at many levels, the notion of Putin’s link to the Church is meant to mock him. However, his approval rating in Russia remains around 80%, and it is widely expected here that he is going to win a new term. Some candidates have tried directly to attack even the Church line, as has Ksenia Sobchak from St Petersburg, but here the very deep conservative attitude that you do not disrespect a Church edifice even if you are not a believer, remains strong.
It is probably not right to say that Putin is seen as a saviour of Russia because he is in the Church. It is probably closer to the truth to say that he is seen as a true leader because he himself is humble to the Church and supports it, and goes to services a lot. He is seen as an example and this imagery helps unite him to his nation all the more.
This is something the West refuses to understand.