The Orthodox church has once against assumed its traditional role in Russia, giving moral support to the reigning regime. Now in support of the Russian military intervention in Syria, the church has declared a “holy war” against terrorism.
Could any of you Orthodox readers explain the relationship between the various branches of your church? I know that there is supposed to be a doctrinal unity between them all, and they all uphold the authority of the bishops. Do the actions of these Russian bishops carry weight with you? (I know, for example, that the murdered Czar and his family members have been or are being canonized by the Russian church. So, if you are Antiochan Orthodox, are you obliged also to recognize them as saints?)
But can there really be a Christian jihad?
For many in the West, the idea that a church would take an overtly hawkish stance in the conflict in Syria is an utterly foreign concept.
But then, the Russian Orthodox Church is not of the West, says Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the church’s most recognizable spokesperson, in his spartan downtown Moscow office.
“The idea that church and state should be alienated from each other is not a characteristic of Orthodox civilization,” insists the wispy-bearded senior cleric, whose eyes almost seem to burn. “It’s a characteristic of the West.”
Not well known or understood in the West, the Russian Orthodox Church has been Russia’s chief source of spiritual identity for most of its 1,000-year existence. Though it was nearly destroyed by the communists, it has since rebounded sharply to become once again the Kremlin’s ideological bulwark.
As that relationship has solidified, the church has also integrated with the military. Russian media frequently run photos of priests blessing weaponry, including war planes, while Orthodox chaplains are embedded in most military units. And now, it is underscoring its enthusiastic backing for Russia’s military intervention in Syria – a fight Father Chaplin dramatically describes as “a holy war against terrorism.”