06/04/2021, 12.47
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Russian Church blessings for weapons

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Those used by Orthodox Christians "in the fulfilment of war duty". Some clergy also defend the blessing of nuclear weapons. Patriotic-military commitment is decisive in the tradition of Russian orthodoxy.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Patriarchate of Moscow convoked the General Consultative Assembly of the curia bodies, the so-called Mežsobornoe Prisutstvie (Inter-Conciliar Presence), from 1 to 3 June.

The body met to discuss the various pastoral and juridical dimensions of the Church's action. The main topic of the debate concerned the relationship between the Church and the Armed Forces, especially the widespread habit of blessing weapons and troops, a very common practice among Russian Orthodox priests.

As Vakhtang Kipšidze, vice president of the Department for relations with society of the patriarchate, explained "the Church does not bless the deposits of armaments, but the Orthodox soldiers and their weapons, which they use for the defence of the homeland".

The curial assembly approved a document to clearly define the issue. Entitled "On the blessing of Orthodox Christians in the fulfilment of war duty", it brings to fruition a reflection that began in 2017.

The text officially establishes the "rite of sprinkling with holy water of military wards and hospitals, of mobile chapels to accompany troops on peacekeeping missions"; it is also envisaged "to welcome the return of soldiers from their missions, at the conclusion of training in the military academy, for the granting of military degrees and special awards" and for a number of other reasons.

As the patriarchal representatives made clear to the Kommersant newspaper, the document will come into force only after final approval by the Synod of Bishops in November.

The declaration sparked lively discussions during its presentation, dividing the prelates between those who are generally opposed to the blessing of weapons and those who defend all forms of blessing, including that of nuclear weapons, such as the deputy general administrator of the patriarchate, the bishop of Zelenograd Savva (Titunov).

According to Savva, “we felt it was our duty to write a document that reflects the Church's secular practice, as it is found in liturgical and historical texts, adapting it to today's reality; in the past the Church had never had anything to do with some types of modern day weapons”.

During the synodal period, between the 1700s and the 1900s, in the absence of the figure of the patriarch, the Russian Church was subject to the state, according to the statutes approved by Peter the Great. Special prayers and moleben were then composed to support military operations.

Liturgical blessings for sidearms, such as the Cossacks’ swords or the daggers of the naval officers, were widespread at that time. Today Russian priests use texts of very varied provenance, some even written in the Soviet period during the "Great Patriotic War" of 1941-1945, when the Church was re-evaluated by the Stalinist regime precisely for its support for the patriotic military cause, in defence against invasion of the Nazis.

The document also specifies that in this matter it is not appropriate to use the term "consecration" (osvjaščenie) of weapons, because "this ritual form refers rather to objects that are blessed by God".

Instead, the more generic "blessing" (blagoslovenie) must be used, in which the weapons can be sprinkled with holy water, but only in the context of the blessing of the soldiers themselves, for whom the weapons are intended.

As Roman Lunkin, head of the Center for the study of relations between religion and society at the Academy of Sciences, comments, "the patriotic-military commitment is decisive in the tradition of Russian orthodoxy, and today the patriarchate intends to renew it with new emphasis, seeking to pay more attention to the person than to the ideology”.

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