Conservative Christianity Ascendant Among Russian Political Elite, Major Political Conference Confirms

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A unified front of Russia's most important politicians across the political spectrum declare their intent to make Russia more Christian.

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A major political conference took place in Moscow at the end of October which revealed a striking new direction among Russian political elites. The World Russian People's Council (WRPC), a patriotic and Christian political movement led by the head of the Russian church and Konstantin Malofeev (see our recent profile), a conservative Christian billionaire entrepreneur, was the scene of an unprecedented declaration of pro-Christian sentiments from Russia's top political leaders.

The conference opening with a prayer and the national anthem.

There has been a noticeable trend in Russian society and politics towards embracing Christianity since the beginning of the military conflict in Ukraine. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the dominant one has to do with the elusive concept of a Russian national ideology. Russia emerged from the chaos of the 1990s as a nation seeking to adopt the liberal democratic ideology of the West, along with its liberal social values. As Russia became increasingly disenchanted with these ideas towards the end of the 2000s, it nonetheless articulated nothing to replace it.

The conference was heavily covered by mainstream Russian media

Over the last decade or so, there has been much talk among elites that Russia needs to have a 'national idea', and ideology, something to unite and motivate the population, give them goals and values that they can identify with, like 'building Communism' did in the Soviet era. Despite a lot of talk, no one seemed to be able to articulate any such ideology, and so Russia has simply drifted along without one, all the while aware that it should have one, similar to how a person needs a worldview, a belief and value system.

Petr Tolstoy, deputy head of the Russian parliament, one of Russia's most influential and visible politicians, giving a speech.

Since the commencement of the military conflict, this need has become even more urgent, corresponding to the need to rally the nation around an idea which justifies the sacrifice in blood and treasure currently underway. One frequently encounters the following question posed in Russia's boisterous  Christian alternative media: 'What exactly are we fighting for?', and well, it is a legitimate question.

The national anthem being sung at the opening

At the same time, Russia has an already existing, traditional ideology, which if not embraced and articulated by the state, has a nation-wide infrastructure, activists, spokesmen, bureaucracy, and a long history - and that is: Christianity. Christianity was the state ideology for 800 years before the Soviet period. What one sees occurring now is that Christianity is filling the vacuum left by the absence of any other value system and worldview to present to the people. This change is reflected both in the increased political visibility of the church, a growing and energetic Christian media, and the increasing frequency with which leading politicians, including Putin and his inner circle, are espousing Christian values.

This general trend was on clear display at last month's WRPC. The council had been on a three year hiatus due to Covid, and when it returned this year, it was had taken on a whole new significance. Whereas in years past it was an interesting, but not terribly influential event, this year, many of Russia's most influential political figures headlined the event, praising the country's recent turn to traditional Christian social values.

Speakers included: Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov; one of Putin's most influential advisors, Sergei Kiriyenko, who is Putin's first deputy chief of staff; Petr Tolstoy, Deputy Chairman of the Russian parliament; Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist party which is one of the largest and most powerful in the parliament; Leonid Slutsky, head of the LDPR, another powerful party fraction in the parliament; Sergey Mironov, head of another large party in the Parliament, the Mayor of Moscow, and Alexander Dugin, the well-known Christian political philosopher, among other prominent political figures of the moment, such as Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk region a former Ukrainian region which was recently incorporated into the Russian Federation.

Dugin, who until recently was considered a somewhat fringe figure with little influence, has rocketed to prominence and influence since the start of the military conflict, as he for years has been calling for a more robust Russian military response to Ukrainian aggression against the breakaway Donbass republics (recently incorporated into Russia). The recent appalling assassination of his daughter Darya, in a botched assassination attempt against Dugin himself, dramatically increased agreement with his views, among the public  and in the Kremlin.

Christian political philosopher Alexander Dugin gave one of the most important speeches, to enthusiastic applause.

This parade of luminaries was presided over by the head of the Russian church Patriarch Kirill, together with Konstantin Malofeev, who acted as the master of ceremonies. The event was held in the rather grand Christian conference center at Russia's largest church, the Christ the Savior Cathedral, which is richly decorated with Orthodox Christian images, with the 12  apostles depicted in Orthodox style directly behind the main stage, as if they too were present at the proceedings.

The whole event had a very Christian character to it. It opened and closed with everyone standing for a sung prayer, led by monks and the Patriarch, and crossing themselves. The audience was full of ecclesiastics in their majestic robes. Many of the other speakers in the day-long program, other than the political heavyweights in attendance, were expressly on Christian topics and themes, including a lengthy speech by the Patriarch himself.  With the Patriarch and Malofeev presiding, it had the atmosphere of a Christian event as much as a political one.

Following is a machine translation of resolution of the Congress, which makes for interesting reading:

October 28, 2022.

Understanding that they are an integral part of the Russian world, of historical Russia, and a single Russian people, aware of their responsibility for their fate, the participants of the XXIV World Russian People's Council « Orthodoxy and peace in the 21st century », turn to their fellow citizens and compatriots with the following resolution:

Brothers and sisters!

The Russian world, as has happened more than once in its history, is threatened by a serious adversary. At the beginning of the XVII century, this adversary was Polish-Lithuanian interventionists, in 1812 — troops of Napoleon, in 1941 — German Nazism.

Our opponent today – is the ideology and practice of aggressive secularization, the onset of the dictate of globalist ideas. The conscious rejection of part of the global elites from faith in God and, as a result, the rejection of the principles of Christian ethics, which leads them to the denial of the individual human himself, the overthrow of the basic traditional values, and the suppression of freedom.

The Orthodox Church is currently undergoing political and physical pressure, and artificial divisions, which are trying to distort the dogmatic foundations of our faith. The idea of Orthodox universality ( collegiality, « cafoliticity » ) is replaced by secular globalism, where the source of unity is no longer God, but human sins.

All this takes on the features of a global destructive quasi-religious teaching and leads the Western world to a crisis that threatens a significant part of humanity with spiritual and even physical death. It is advisable to contrast this with a sovereign ideology that expresses the fundamental interests of the people of Russia and is based on its traditional values, the bearers of which are Orthodox Christianity and other traditional religions of Russia.

The Russian world, again, as it was two hundred and eighty years ago, is destined to become an obstacle to world destructive processes.

We all bear responsibility for our united and indivisible Church, that it preserve its unity and through this unity, show the will of God for all our people, wherever they live, — in Moscow, Kiev, Minsk or other cities of the Russian world. This is a single spiritual community, united by a single Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian world — is a historical Russia, which includes modern Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian lands, the inhabitants of which are rooted in Orthodox culture and ethics. The Russian world — is, first of all, not administrative, but a spiritual community, united by historical and moral ties of the Russian Orthodox Church. We are all — Russian, Ukrainians, and Belarusians — a single Orthodox people striving for the ideals of Holy Russia.

To prevent our civilizational development, opponents try to hit our foundation — the spiritual unity of the Orthodox peoples who are in a single Church. Today we are witnessing attempts to split the Russian world into pieces, depriving our common sacred space of historical and mystical unity.

To overcome this challenge, we should not only be aware, but also strive hard to strengthen the single spiritual space of the Russian world.

The spiritual reunification of the people begins with paying attention to issues of spiritual life.

Today, our prayer, which the Lord expects from us, is of particular importance. Through prayers, the Lord has repeatedly delivered our borders from the invasions of foreigners, internecine strife, from sorrows, troubles and evils. The Lord hears our prayers for the spiritual health of our entire united historical people. Today, our prayers are that no one shake our Christian unity and no one destroy it. We urge everyone to work in prayer and in deed to preserve this unity, each in his place — scientist, worker, teacher, doctor, official, entrepreneur, monk and warrior.

Spiritual unity is ensured only by the internal transformation of our entire society, each of us. The basic, traditional values inherent in the Russian world should return to our lives faster: faith in God, traditional family, attitude to life as a ministry, and such spiritual and moral ideals as justice, duty, honor, patriotism, reverence for parents and ancestors, chastity, sacrifice.

The spiritual transformation of our people is a necessary starting point that makes further social transformations possible: cultural, economic and demographic. Given the emergency demographic situation, we ask the Government of the Russian Federation to expedite the adoption of the Strategy for the Savings of the People of Russia until 2050, approved by the XXIII World Russian People's Council and approved by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. (A government body which coordinates policy with civic society)

Trusting in God and loyalty to the civilizational ideals of the Russian world are the basis for overcoming all current challenges.

May the Lord stop the internecine abuse, establish the spirit of brotherhood and peace in our hearts, restore love among the children of the united historical Fatherland and overthrow enemies, internal and external, who are attacking on our common and united spiritual homeland.

We pray for this today. May the Lord direct us all in this way to fulfill our ministry, so that it leads to this goal.

A small final linguistic comment: the name ‘World Russian People’s Council’ is a literal translation from the Russian, but it is one of those cases where the English rendition does not convey the sense well in Russian, for lack of good equivalents. In Russian the name is Vsemirnii (Worldwide) Russkii (Russian) Narodnii (People’s) Sobor (Council).

In Russian, the term ‘narod’ has a completely different connotation than its English equivalent, ‘the people’. ‘Narod’ means Russia’s historical native population, implying ‘ethnic Russians’, as they make up 80% of the population, so this term evokes a much more nativist meaning, similar to the German word ‘volk’, i.e. the people who embody the ethnic heart and heritage of the nation. The word ‘sobor’ means ‘council’, but in a Christian sense, a gathering of Christians, as in the Council of Nicea. Sobor also means ‘cathedral’, as in a major Christian church, a place where many Christians gather. There is another Russian word for ‘council’ when meant in a secular sense: ‘sovet’, so the use of ‘sobor’ in this case is indicating specifically that it is a Christian organization. A more precise translation of the name of the organization would be ‘World Russian People’s Christian Council.’

There is also a nativist hint in the choice of the word ‘Russkii’, as opposed to the frequently used ‘Rossiiskii’. The first means ‘ethnically Russian’, the second, ‘citizen of Russia.’ So in Russian, the name clearly conveys a nativist, Christian organization, which is completely lost in the English rendition.

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