“Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom!” said Russian monk Philotheus (Filofey) of Pskov in 1510 to their son Grand Duke Vasili III. At the time, the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire had just fallen to the Ottomans, radically altering the global geopolitical order at the time. Many holy Christian relics had been moved from Constantinople to Moscow to protect them from the Muslim invaders. The tsars of the Rurik dynasty took on this mantle of authority and expanded imperial Russia all of the way to the shores of California. The Russian Orthodox Church was intimately woven into the affairs of state and wielded extraordinary power. One line of thought suggests the name “Romanov”, which the new tsarist dynasty called themselves after the death of Ivan the Terrible’s heir, came from the idea of a third Rome (although some dispute this.)
The Russian Revolution of 1917 changed the trajectory of Russian history. The church was persecuted, and an atheistic mantra was preached by the communists. The leaders of the church were exiled or executed. “We killed our best people,” an embarrassed Russian told me recently of his view of Soviet Russia. However, the one element of historical Russian society that survived the Soviet experience was the church. Russians worshipped in secret across the Asian continent for decades. Today, if one visits Moscow or any other Russian city or village, one of the main things you notice is the number of churches. They are on almost every corner. The onion domes dot the skyline. It is reminiscent of driving through the American south, like Dothan, Alabama, and seeing steeples everywhere.
The western media has failed to pick up on this phenomenon. That may be intentional or not; however, Putin has also intimately connected the Russian Orthodox Church into the halls of power. The jailing of several members of a punk rock activist band was based on their “hooliganism” of spouting an anti-Putin song in a church. The arrests served the dual purpose of stifling the opposition but also placated church officials, whom Putin relies on for some of his political support. The anti-homosexual law that was hyped so much by Obama and other world leaders does not ban homosexuality in Russia. It only states that homosexual propaganda cannot be legally given to children. This was also not well reported by the western press.
As Putin slowly expands the borders of the Russian Federation and recovers ancient territory of imperial Russia, he believes he is expanding the Third Holy Roman Empire. He frequently talks of his faith. I have visited the Kremlin and walked the grounds. Only a hundred yards from Putin’s residence stands the Cathedral of the Archangel. Russian tsars carried the icon of the Archangel Michael in front of their troops, leading them into battle. The cathedral also serves as the imperial necropolis. Ivan the Terrible and his two sons are buried there. One could be forgiven for wondering if Putin at times strolls through the cathedral for inspiration.
In a recent state of the nation address, Putin railed against the “genderless and infertile” immorality of the West. He believes Russia now has the moral authority that the West claimed during the Cold War. He also recently pushed a law through the Duma, or parliament, that required all immigrants seeking to reside or work in Russia to learn Russian and be well-versed in Russian Christian history and values. He sees Russia as the new home of “family values.”
Whether or not you believe Putin is sincere, the end result is the same. He has successfully harnessed the motivations of the vast Russian populace who are believers. He is using this newfound moral authority to expand Russian influence around the world. The West is struggling to find a way to contain this religious imperialism. Obama keeps talking about consequences for Russia. I wonder if Putin is laughing as he picks up the icon of the Archangel Michael for his next military campaign. Onward Christian soldiers.