05/15/2021, 15.16
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Russia marks the 800th anniversary of the birth of Saint Alexander Nevsky, father of Eurasia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Religious and civic celebrations are being held to mark the event. In Russia, the saint symbolises Victory, because he never lost a battle. He fought against Swedes and Teutonic Knights, and worked to prevent the Tatars from destroying Russian cities. He is the patron saint of “Russian exceptionalism” against the claims of the West and “the tartar yoke” of COVID-19.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – This 30 May will mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of Prince Alexander Nevsky, the holy chief who saved Kievan Rus' from the Swedes and the Teutonic Knights, who was able to strike a necessary compromise with the Tatar khans, who had invaded Russian lands in 1240.

As religious  and civic celebrations are held across Russia, Russian society looks to the ancient hero as a prophetic figure, herald of a possible future for Russia and the whole world.

Alexander is a symbol of Victory. He did not lose a single battle and went as far as Karakorum to defend his people from the Mongols, although he could have remained sheltered in Novgorod, a free and independent city even under the “Tatar yoke”.

While the Tatars destroyed Kiev, the prince fought against the Teutonic Knights who sought to conquer the northern territories of Rus’ and force them to submit to Catholic rule.

The “Battle on the Ice” of 1242 on Lake Peipus, where Alexander drowned his enemies in the freezing water, remains famous. Earlier, in 1240, he was given the title “Nevsky”. Although his enemies had three times more soldiers, he defeated the Swedes at the mouth of the Neva, where, five centuries later, St Petersburg was founded.

The Tatar Yoke was a tragic time in Russian history, dividing ancient Rus' from Moscow and then St Petersburg, yet, remaining something that cannot be purged from Russian identity, the legacy of the Asian Empire, the union of East and West.

Ancient Rus' (10th-12th century) had already become one of the largest European states. Its vast territory covered almost half of Europe. Thanks to Saint Alexander, Russia saved itself from invasion and slavery on both sides, Europe and Asia, and today still embodies Russia’s fundamental aspiration.

The topic has been the focus in various publications in recent days. Yesterday, one of Russia’s most important newspapers, Nezavisimaja Gazeta, dedicated a long section to the saint of Novgorod, who died in Vladimir, and whose remains were moved to St Petersburg by the founder of the city, Peter the Great, who chose him as custodian of the new empire.

In the 19th century, three Russian tzars took the name Alexander to honour him and the epic of Alexander of Macedon, to give Russia a universal vocation to pacify and unify peoples.

“Even today there is debate as to whether Alexander was more dedicated to protecting his people, or more attracted by the power of the Mongols,” writes Alexander Ivanov, Russia's ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN).

“However, he put his life at risk, and died at the age of 42 returning from a trip to the Tatar khan and his Golden Horde, which he made to avoid the destruction of Russian cities because of clashes with Mongol officials, and to set up a Russian-Tatar-Lithuanian alliance against the Crusader enemies”.

For Ivanov, “for us Russians of the 21st century, the holy prince is as relevant as ever. He not only saved our country from the slavery of the West, the consequences of which are still felt today, but he planned, with his providential political choice, the Eurasian self-identification of the Russian super-ethnos”. Without “his ability to sacrifice himself for our friends and for the truth, from generation to generation [. . .], there would be no Russia in the future.”

It is no coincidence that yesterday, in the name of the historical memory of Saint Alexander, the Moscow Patriarchate opened the 6th Pan-Russian Congress of Diocesan Missionaries, to discuss the current problems of the spiritual education of people in contemporary Russia.

The Congress will address the issue of new missionary methods during the age of the Asian COVID-19 pandemic, the new “Tartar yoke” of the 21st century.

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