Rethinking the world in light of the Gospel
by Stefano Caprio

Everyone desires an end to war, but it cannot just be a question of surrender or compromise, identity and dominance on the battlefield. It is an inner war, being fought in churches and consciences, in universities and schools, on the streets and in the homes of every country east and west.

According to Russian customs, spring begins in March, although winter frosts may continue to cover the land until May. The lengthening of the days, however, emboldens people to  think about the New Year, which until now has remained hidden in darkness. And in the current circumstances of the Russian war in Ukraine, frozen since November around the banks of the Dnipro river, tempers are heating up to make sense of the immense destruction and the needless loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

The great of the earth meet and brush against each other in India, where even an exchange of glances between US Secretary Blinken and Russian Minister Lavrov seems to be news. The impotence of weapons, ever more invoked and ever less effective on both sides, is consumed in the ballet of drones that are thrown back and forth between assaults on the defenceless population, and provocations to unleash the belligerent rage of those who would finally like to consume the massacre, and wipe out the enemy. Putin tremblingly observes from the bunker the unstoppable rise of the 'cook' Prigožin, the black soul of mercenary Russia, who fascinates even the teenagers in revolt.

While awaiting the moves of the armies, even the Orthodox begin their Lenten fasts and prayers, reciting in the churches of Russia and Ukraine the Great Penitential Canon of St Andrew of Crete. The very popular patristic text is composed of nine canticles, summarising the biblical accounts beginning with Creation and ending with the Assumption of Our Lord Jesus Christ, thus rewriting the entire history of mankind and first of all the history of salvation.

It is sung in four parts during Vespers on the first days of Lent, expressing the pain caused by the many sins of mankind: "On what act of my life shall I begin to weep? / What notes shall I write as a prelude to this my lament? / I did not imitate the justice of Abel / The riches of my life I have dissipated in the bottomless void / I am the wretch whom thieves assailed / And thieves are my thoughts, who strike and wound me", always concluding with the invocation "Bow down upon me, Christ the Saviour".

The Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, His Beatitude Svjatoslav Ševčuk, expressed the wish that "the whole Christian world should give a fair assessment of the ideology of the Russian World, because if this form of genocide was generated by a Christian Church, then one can doubt the whole ecclesiality, the historical form of Christianity".

The Patriarch of the Uniates, as he is reminded by his faithful in liturgies, compares the warlike-religious propaganda of the Muscovites to the expressions of radical Islamism, where 'even Muslim scholars have found the strength to reject and condemn this ideology'.

Ševčuk's call constitutes, in his words, "a challenge of the present time to the entire Christian world", which cannot be hastily dismissed as a submission of the Russian Church to the dictator's will, but must question everyone on "authentic fidelity to the Gospel of Christ for the man of the third millennium, a task that goes beyond the limits of individual Churches".

We must seek together "the antibodies of the Christian conscience", beginning in the penitential spirit of Lent to scrutinise our own souls. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonishes: "If therefore you present your offering at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then return to offer your gift" (Mt 5:23-24). Not if you have a grudge against him, but if you are aware that he is offended by you."

Without being lured into the dust of state propaganda, between the "provocations of NATO and the West" and "the domination of the economic potentates in globalisation", or the equally grotesque reflections of patriarchal propaganda against "the yielding to gender ideology" and the "destruction of traditional values", we must respond sincerely to the challenge of the Archbishop of Kiev, in the spirit of the Gospel.

What makes the Russian brother so angry at his Ukrainian brother, or at his Western brother? How can we reconcile with him, without making the conflict even more tragic?

Condemning the 'Russian world' only provokes its further affirmation by insisting on the incompatibility between Christians on both sides. Moscow's 'traditional Christian civilisation' cannot and must not be incompatible with the 'decadence' of Europe and America, prey to secularist liberalism: it is a picture blurred by the violence of power and the delusions of grandeur of untouchable castes, oligarchs and officials of political regimes, or the pretensions to success of the masters of the markets. There is no such thing as a 'sinless Russia' versus an 'immoral West', but we must return to St Andrew of Crete's admission, 'thieves are my thoughts', we are all equally guilty before God.

If there is no doubt about the roles of the aggressed and the aggressor, the invader and the resistant, in addition to these military and geopolitical considerations, the Christian conscience needs above all the demythologising of guilt and innocence, what the English historian and theologian Joshua T. Searle calls a "special theological operation".

The question must be asked whether Christian orthodoxy, and not only that of the Russians, is really so incompatible with Western liberalism.

Everyone desires an end to war, but it cannot be just a matter of surrender or compromise, identity and dominance on the battlefield. It is an inner war, taking place in churches and consciences, in universities and schools, on the streets and in homes in all countries east and west.

Searle launches the provocation that 'the secular humanism of contemporary Europe is in good substance more Christian than the religious nationalism of the Kremlin', and of many other theocratic or 'symphonic' regimes.

The latent atheism of secularism, to which Protestants and Catholics seem to conform, clashes with the sacrilegious atheism of those who bend God to a political and power project, or only to a self-assertion against the whole world.

As the professor of the multi-ethnic Sturgeon College explains, 'Christian nationalism has nothing to do with authentic orthodox Christian doctrine, and owes its appearance to a regurgitation of pagan myths about blood and land, certainly not to the biblical tradition of the dignity and freedom of man and people'.

Many have contributed to feeding the myth of the 'holy Russia' and the 'religious revival' in the West too, perhaps inspired by the prophecies of Our Lady of Fatima. The time has come to also recognise this fault, which unites Russians and Ukrainians, Europeans and Americans: wanting to reintroduce religion into today's world as a factor of conflict with other ideologies and lifestyles, or to homologate it to them, as two sides of the same coin.

Re-interpretations of ancient and medieval history, which form the basis of moral justifications for war actions, are pointless instead when a thourough confrontation on history is always necessary . Rather, what is needed is a real attitude of questioning the present, starting with one's own condition and identity, before pointing the finger at the supposed or inevitable adversary.

Putin's Holy Russia is an ideal that attracts and subjugates, in different versions, many conservative sectors of the Catholic Church and evangelical communities, scattered across the globe. Dialogue with Russia, beyond the outcomes of the war, will only be possible when one is able to confront these dimensions of the soul.

In 2014, the famous American preacher Pat Buchanan, inspirer of so much Western policy, after the annexation of Crimea, called Putin 'a true Christian crusader', who had been able to 'raise the Russian flag on the principles of traditional Christianity', and one cannot underestimate the more or less hidden streams of this mentality typical of the 'militant Church', which united Christians and communists in the last century.

It is no wonder that Putinist propaganda so easily makes inroads into Western societies, starting with the extreme fringes of right and left-wing politics, united in nostalgia for the student barricades, or the street clashes of youthful times.

The religious-ideological substratum is equally evident in what the Russians contemptuously call 'Lgbt propaganda', i.e. in the claims of rights understood as war victories, rather than recognition of personal and community reality. True liberalism does not despise or offend traditions, true traditionalism does not oppress consciences and communities, and therefore does not invade neighbouring countries.