— The Erimtan Angle —

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The Associated Press reports that “Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a ceremony on Wednesday [19 October 2016] to inaugurate a Russian cultural center including an Orthodox cathedral next to the Eiffel Tower. Russian President Vladimir Putin had planned to attend the ceremony at the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center in the heart of the French capital but postponed his visit to Paris following a spat with French leader Francois Hollande over the war in Syria. Putin rescheduled his visit after Hollande hinted Russia could face war crimes charges for bombarding Syria’s second city, Aleppo. The French president then said that Putin put off his trip after Hollande let him know he wouldn’t take part in the opening of the new center and was only interested in talks about Syria”.[1]

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This means that Putin’s soft power designs to spread the Russian take on the world westward has now been overtaken by power-politics and the West’s apparent desire to wage war on Moscow. The academic and writer Michael Klare some time ago declared in the Nation that “[f]or the first time in a quarter-century, the prospect of war—real war, war between the major powers—will be on the agenda of Western leaders when they meet at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, on July 8 and 9 [2016]. Dominating the agenda in Warsaw (aside, of course, from the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK) will be discussion of plans to reinforce NATO’s ‘eastern flank’—the arc of former Soviet partners stretching from the Baltic states to the Black Sea that are now allied with the West but fear military assault by Moscow. Until recently, the prospect of such an attack was given little credence in strategic circles, but now many in NATO believe a major war is possible and that robust defensive measures are required . . . As a further indication of US and NATO determination to prepare for a possible war with Russia, the alliance recently conducted the largest war games in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. Known as Anakonda 2016, the exercise involved some 31,000 troops (about half of them Americans) and thousands of combat vehicles from 24 nations in simulated battle maneuvers across the breadth of Poland. A parallel naval exercise, BALTOPS 16, simulated ‘high-end maritime warfighting’ in the Baltic Sea, including in waters near Kaliningrad, a heavily defended Russian enclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania “.[2] In this way, the West has been vilifying Russia, turning Putin into a convenient bogeyman and easily recognizable global culprit.

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The journalist Antoine Blua posits that the newly inaugurated Russian cultural centre + Orthodox cathedral in Paris is nothing but “a grand expression of Moscow’s quest to project the image of a powerful, religious Russia, and assert itself as a champion of traditional values”.[3] Or, to use the concept coined in 1990 by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., it is Putin’s utilization of Russia’s resources to project the Kremlin’s soft power.[4] Blua continues that the “cathedral was reportedly first proposed in 2007 by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, the late Patriarch Aleksii II, during his historic visit to the French capital. It is part of a Russian campaign to gain control of churches and graves dating from tsarist times and reassert control over the Russian diaspora, including in France, where there are an estimated 200,000 followers of Russian Orthodoxy”.[5] The AP adds that the “complex, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral, has been built on the site of the former headquarters of France’s national weather forecasting service, near the Seine River. The site, which also includes a school and a book shop, was sold to Russia under former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government amid criticism from rights groups about France’s outreach to Putin. The Russian president visited the site in 2010 and denied reports it would be used by Russian secret services. The church was designed by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and features five onion-shaped golden domes. The biggest one weighs eight tons and is 12 meters (40 feet) high”.[6]

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President Putin has been pushing an Orthodox agenda at home ever since he came to power at the end of the year 1999. The following year, the Russian Orthodox Church presented its vision for a new social model known as “Holy Rus” [or in Russian, Svyataya Rus]. The professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island Nicolai N. Petro explains that the “Church’s immediate social agenda was laid out in 2000 in a document known as the Basics of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to this seminal document the Church ‘does not give preference to any social system or to any of the existing political doctrines’. Secular states were established by God to give human beings the opportunity to order their social life according to their own free will. Political pluralism is an important part of this, so both clergy and laity are free to choose whatever political convictions they desire, though these should not contradict ‘the faith and moral norms of the Church’s Tradition’. But while the state’s secular ambitions make non-intervention in each other’s internal affairs desirable, complete separation is not the goal. The ideal relationship between Church and state is symphonia, a relationship that the Roman Emperor Justinian (482-565) described as producing ‘general harmony’ for the human race. According to the Orthodox Church, in modern times symphonia manifests itself through a formal partnership between the Church and the state. Within this partnership the Church has the obligation to promote peace and harmony, provide charity, and promote public morality through its spiritual guidance of public institutions such as the military, media, and schools. For businessmen the Church has elaborated ‘Ten Commandments for Businessmen’ highlighting their social obligations, which include paying taxes and providing fair wages. This partnership even extends to foreign policy where the Russian Orthodox Church seeks to heighten the role of religious diplomacy, and assist in the construction of a multipolar world that respects diverse cultural worldviews. In every nation of the globe, the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill says, the Church’s task is to make that particular nation ‘a carrier of Orthodox civilization’. In the absence of any coherent secular alternative, Russian political authorities seem to have embraced the partnership model offered by the Church. Yeltsin, Putin, and Medvedev, have all spoken poignantly about the historical and cultural importance of Russian Orthodoxy, and appealed for more Church involvement in social affairs. In the past decade specific Church priorities, such as outlawing abortion, promoting family values, and expanding religious education in schools, have received both national and local government support”. [7]

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The Russian Orthodox Church has made the above-mentioned document, Basics of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been publicly accessible on the internet.[8] Under the heading ‘III. Church and State’, one can read that “[i]n church-state relations, the difference in their natures should be taken into account. The Church has been founded by God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, while the God-instituted nature of state power is revealed in historical process only indirectly. The goal of the Church is the eternal salvation of people, while the goal of state is their well-being on earth . . . Various models of relationships between the Orthodox Church and the state have developed in the course of history . . . Attempts to work out this form were undertaken in Byzantium, where the principles of church-state relations were expressed in the canons and the laws of the empire and were reflected in patristic writings. In their totality these principles were described as symphony between church and state. It is essentially co-operation, mutual support and mutual responsibility without one’s side intruding into the exclusive domain of the other. The bishop obeys the government as a subject, not his episcopal power comes from a government official. Similarly, a government official obeys his bishop as a member of the Church, who seeks salvation in it, not because his power comes from the power of the bishop. The state in such symphonic relationships with the Church seeks her spiritual support, prayer for itself and blessing upon its work to achieve the goal of its citizens’ welfare, while the Church enjoys support from the state in creating conditions favourable for preaching and for the spiritual care of her children who are at the same time citizens of the state”.[9]

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President Putin is fully aware of the essentially symbiotic relationship existing between church and state in the Russian Orthodox tradition, as he expressed in 2004 when he said that he and his administration are at pains to be “repaying the State’s historical debt to the church”.[10] In fact, the Russian President seems very aware of the mere idea of symphonia, as he described attempts made by the Moscow Patriarchate to reunite with the Russian Church abroad as constituting moves towards “restoring the lost unity of the whole Russian world, whose spiritual foundation has always been the Orthodox religion” (2007),[11] basically subjecting secular state policy to the religious demands of the Church. After all, Putin famously more than once employed the phrase “Near Abroad” to refer to the territories surrounding the Russian borders. But the Orthodox reunification also gave Putin direct access the USA. Namely, on Thursday, 17 May 2007, the “Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), which claims more than 70 million adherents, and the U.S.-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR), which is believed to be 1.5 million strong” were formally linked once more through a Canonical Communion and Reunification, by means of a ceremony in the Russian capital, attended by “[t]housands of the Russian Orthodox faithful — including several hundred who flew in from New York”.[12] The TIME reporter Yuri Zarakhovich opines that “[n]ationalism, based on the Orthodox faith, has been emerging as the Putin regime’s major ideological resource. [The 2007] rite [in Moscow] sealed the four-year long effort by Putin, beginning in September 2003, to have the Moscow Patriarchate take over its rival American-based cousin and launch a new globalized Church as his state’s main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument,” adding that “Putin’s new unified Church will also further expand in the U.S. and Western Europe as it tries to use the ROCOR’s network and congregation to become as much an arm of Russian nationalist politics as well as Russian piety”.[13] A case in point seems to be the newly opened Holy Trinity Cathedral in Paris . . .

Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir Putin

[1] “Russia opens new cathedral in Paris amid diplomatic tensions” AP (19 Oct 2016). https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russia-opens-new-church-in-paris-amid-diplomatic-tensions/2016/10/19/531bd8fe-95ff-11e6-9cae-2a3574e296a6_story.html.

[2] Michael T. Klare, “The United States and NATO Are Preparing for a Major War With Russia” The Nation (07 July 2016). https://www.thenation.com/article/the-united-states-and-nato-are-preparing-for-a-major-war-with-russia/.

[3] Antoine Blua, “Russia Set To Unveil Cultural, Orthodox Jewel On The Seine” Modern Diplomacy (17 Oct 2016). http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1820:russia-set-to-unveil-cultural-orthodox-jewel-on-the-seine&Itemid=480.

[4] Joseph S. Nye, Jr, “Soft Power” Foreign Policy, nr. 80 (Autumn 1990).

[5] Antoine Blua, “Russia Set To Unveil Cultural, Orthodox Jewel On The Seine”.

[6] “Russia opens new cathedral in Paris amid diplomatic tensions”.

[7] Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia” ISPI, nr. 21 (June 2012).

[8] “The Basis of the Social Concept” The Russian Orthodox Church. https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/.

[9] “III. Church and state” The Basis of the Social Concept The Russian Orthodox Church. https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/iii/.

[10] Quoted in Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia”.

[11] Quoted in Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia”.

[12] Yuri Zarakhovich, “Putin’s Reunited Russian Church” TIME (17 May 2007). http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1622544,00.html.

[13] Yuri Zarakhovich, “Putin’s Reunited Russian Church”.

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