Russia without Christmas
In the thirty-year post-Soviet period, Christmas had split into two, accepting 25 December of the Gregorian calendar, without conflict with 7 January of the Julian calendar of the Orthodox Church. With the war, Christians return to quarelling over the dates of the liturgical calendar, evoking how the first schism in the 2nd century was overcome thanks to Irenaeus, a saint from Asia who went to preach in Gaul, inaugurating the meeting of souls and the great currents of Christian spirituality.
Christmas 2022, after more than 300 days of war in the Ukraine, presents itself in Russia with a decidedly resigned and tattered dress, like the dirty green one of the Frost Grandfather (Ded Moroz) of paganising Old Slavic evocation, instead of the flamboyant Anglo-Saxon Santa Klaus, dressed in red by the grace of Coca-Cola, and abhorred along with all the 'false values of the West'.
There will certainly be no trace of Latin nativity scenes, except in some corner of the intimidated Catholic parishes, scattered across the vast territory of the empire at war with the world.
In the thirty-year post-Soviet period, Christmas had split into two, welcoming the 25th December of the Gregorian calendar, without conflict with the 7th January of the Julian calendar of the Orthodox Church. It was not an ecumenical opening, but a commercial invasion, in the many gigantic outlets opened in Moscow and in the main cities, which today appear almost deserted due to the flight of foreign companies, when they are not destroyed by fires, which are increasingly frequent, due to poor maintenance or perhaps damnatio memoriae.
There is no longer Ikea, Auchan, Carrefour, Obi and Bricofer, there are no longer the gadgets and catchphrases that have been launching the most vacuous and sugary business at all latitudes since the beginning of November.
Christmas, after all, has been the feast of exchanging gifts and good wishes since its institution in ancient imperial Rome, already in the Christian era and with even anti-Christian functions, later adopted by Christians in an anti-imperial function.
The Christians of the East, of Alexandria and Antioch, in the first centuries did not immediately assume this transformation, being more refractory to the Roman-Christian fusion, and celebrated Christmas on 6 January.
This was the feast that was later codified as Epiphany, although it was initially proclaimed Theophany, the mystery of all divine manifestations in the Incarnation, the Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus, the event of the true expression of Christ's divine nature before the nations.
These dates realigned historically in different ways, and the Orthodox further complicated the chronological comparison by rejecting the papal calendar of 1582. It was the Russians, who proclaimed the patriarchate of Moscow seven years later, who rose up against the Roman attempt to subjugate the whole world also in the numbering of days, and since then the distance has remained not only for Christmas and all liturgical feasts, but in broader dimensions of the spirit and historical consciousness.
Suffice it to say that the 'October Revolution' actually took place on 7 November, when the old calendar was almost two weeks late.
The Russians who had emerged from the Soviet mists, where the New Year was extolled without religion, but with much pagan folklore, had pleasantly adapted to celebrating the Western 'Christmas', called Krizmes in the Russian way, moving on after the New Year's Eve bangs to waiting for the Orthodox Christmas on 7 January.
The dance of dates has also left the 'Old New Year' (Staryj Novyj God) to 14 January, and Epiphany is solemnised on the 19th. It is the feast of Kreščenie, the Baptism of the Lord, which in Russia takes on the experience of 'extreme' Orthodoxy, immersing itself in the Iordan, the cross-shaped opening in the frozen lakes, in memory of Christ's immersion in the Jordan.
President Putin is always among the first to show himself in Bermuda shorts at -20 degrees, as he descends into the sacred pool of Russian identity of the Great Baptismal Frost, the Kreščenskye Morozi that no other people are able to practise.
Now the frost is no longer just the dimension of devotional pride, but also the cipher of the dramatic condition of the war, wanted by the Russians as an imposition on Ukraine and the entire West.
On the war front, in Bakhmut, Christmas and New Year are celebrated in basements and shelters, where Elke (Christmas trees) and all the Christian symbols of East and West, cribs and icons are installed. Russia's leaders wish the entire Western world 'the coldest winter in history', even though the weather so far seems to be on the side of Biden and Zelenskyj, who have just exchanged affectionate good wishes with gifts of Patriot missiles, arousing further resentment in the Kremlin.
Moreover, even in Russia, frost falls in homes, where there is a lack of heating due to consequences always linked to the war, from energy shortages to the absence of technicians and maintenance shifts, all being reserved for war operations.
The great New Year's Eve scenes of Soviet memory are themselves dedicated to the rhetoric of apocalyptic confrontation with the West; many governors have cancelled or reduced spending for these days, or decided to devolve collections of goods and gifts from citizens to soldiers mobilised at the front.
There is no 'Christmas truce' like the one in 1914 between the British and Germans in the First World War, if anything, a 'Christmas assault' is feared to find Victory in place of Theophany, in a mystical substitution of the Child for the People.
If Joseph and Mary had moved to Bethlehem for the census of Augustus, who intended to make the whole world one with Rome, today it is Ukrainian refugees and Asian and African migrants who must register in the identities of the new empire.
In Russia, the government has therefore decided to force all Ukrainian refugees or those forcibly relocated to destroy their documents, replacing the Trident of Kiev with the Eagle of Moscow.
Anyone still found in possession of papers with Ukrainian symbols risks 8 to 15 years' imprisonment, even if they only keep the old maps showing Crimea as part of Ukraine. The Holy People is one, the identities are summed up in that of Great Russia, as in the days of the Caesars and Tsars.
The two-headed eagle that distinguishes the flag of Russia is in fact a legacy of imperial Rome, adopted by the Russians who dreamed of the Third Rome, but also adopted by the Habsburgs, the Serbs, the Armenians and even the Indians.
It was the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, who had imagined the eagle of power looking East and West, Asia and Europe, in the new division of the empire after the foundation of Constantinople, the Second Rome.
The princes of Moscow who wanted to become Caesars received it as a gift from a Byzantine princess, Sophia Paleologa, who had been sent to Moscow by Pope Paul II at the end of the 15th century with the vain illusion of converting Grand Duke Ivan III to Catholicism.
Since then, Moscow's claim of translatio imperii has known many forms, always sealed by the imperial eagle, replaced for a few decades by the two-headed hammer and sickle, symbols of communist and Stalinist religion.
For these reasons, Ukraine chose in 1992, at the proclamation of independence and the first real affirmation of a national consciousness, a symbol that would emphasise the different Western version of the 'Russian world'.
The coat-of-arms of Ukraine became the Trizub, the Trident attributed to Prince Vladimir, the baptiser of Kievan Rus' in 988, and to the entire lineage of the Rajurikid monarchs, descendants of the mythical variegus Rajurik, the true founder of the Russian lands.
This dynasty came to an end after Ivan the Terrible's delusions of grandeur at the end of the 16th century, with the reign of Boris Godunov paving the way for the Romanovs, the Russifying tsars so hated by the Ukrainians and so extolled by Putin.
The 'passport' war will therefore also see the replacement of symbols, so as not to leave a trace of heretical and 'satanic' memories, which will tarnish the new cult that will 'save the world'.
In Ukraine, on the other hand, the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Metropolitan Epifanyj has officially decided to leave the choice of the date of Christmas, Rizdvo in the Ukrainian language, 25 December or 7 January, to all local communities, depending on traditions and customs, but also on the sensitivity of priests and parishioners.
It was an ongoing discussion ever since the delivery of the Tomos of ecclesiastical autonomy by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who in turn declared that he was willing to agree on the Christmas and Easter calendars with the Pope of Rome, in order to overcome the divisions of the past.
Christians have been quarrelling over the dates of the liturgical calendar since apostolic times, and the first schism was overcome by St Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd century, convincing the pope not to excommunicate those who wanted Easter before or after the dates set in relation to Jewish and Judeo-Christian traditions.
He was a saint from Asia who had gone to preach in Gaul, inaugurating the meeting of souls and the great currents of Christian spirituality, rediscovering the miracle of a child brought to Bethlehem from Galilee.
The Holy Family travelled from the land of the pagans to the land of the house of David, without eagles or trifurcated spears, warmed in the frost by the 'pagan breath' of the donkey (symbol of the Gentiles, according to Irenaeus) and the 'orthodox breath' of the ox, and Jesus became the incarnate symbol of peace among all peoples.
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