01/20/2024, 18.31
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The Baptism of Sovereign Russia

by Stefano Caprio

The final celebration of the Christmas season, which took place yesterday according to the Orthodox tradition, includes immersion in icy water in Russia as an experience of physical and spiritual rebirth. As the ritual is celebrated, the philosopher Alexander Shchipkov penned an article outlining the features of an “education in moral values", the heart of the union between religion and politics in vogue today in Moscow.

Overnight on 18-19 January, the Baptism of the Lord was celebrated in Russia, the final feast of the Christmas cycle according to the Julian calendar.

In addition to the particularity of the date, the Russian Church extols the solemnity of the Epiphany, highlighting the specific superiority of Orthodoxy in its Eastern Slavic version, with the rite of immersion in icy water, a way to remember what happened on the Jordan River that only Russians can do, since this is the coldest time of the year in the Eurasian lands.

In every eparchy and parish, the emphasis is on the rules to be observed to live together to the fullest this experience of physical and spiritual rebirth, going home with a provision of holy water for the whole year.

As Protoiereus (Archpriest) Yevgeny Ivanov, press officer of the Archeparchy of Almaty in Kazakhstan, put it: “Immersing oneself in holy water heals body and soul. Some mistakenly think that the liturgical bath washes away sins, but this is not the case; sins are purified with authentic repentance and amended by good deeds.”

In addition to these exhortations, people should "not forget safety rules", going down into the water only in designated places, monitored by doctors and liturgical lifeguards, equipped with resin slippers, towel, a change of clothes, and a thermos with hot tea.

Before the dip, "you have to do some warm-up exercises", enter to your shoulders and not get your head wet, "to avoid contractions of the cerebral vessels", and, of course, avoid drinking alcohol.

Children are only allowed to go into the ice with their parents, while chronically ill people are not allowed.

The baptismal rite resembles more a military exercise than an ascetic gesture, a connotation that is particularly appropriate and symbolic in these times of war.

Last year the weather was very cold, not only because of the temperatures well below zero, but also because of the concerns over the enemy counteroffensive, which seemed to have stopped the triumphal march of the reconquest of Ukrainian lands and the regeneration of sinners all over the world, the Orthodox-patriotic "good deed" that redeems the humiliated and offended people.

This year, however, the Holy Baptism heralds a season of national and universal glory and pride, two months before the next reconsecration of the tsar amid a whirlwind of wars and uprisings in every part of the world, signs of the salvific apocalypse that began two years ago, destroying the barriers of borders to raise new walls of defence against the devil’s assaults.

More than patriarchal homilies or presidential messages, the proclamations of prophets and ideologues stand out these days, such as the one published in the Parliamentary Gazette by one of the greatest advocates of eschatological sovereignism, the philosopher Alexander Shchipkov, rector of the Orthodox University of St John the Theologian in Moscow and vice-president of the Universal Russian People's Council, at the head of which sits the patriarch of Moscow Kirill himself (Gundyaev).

The article is entitled "Education in Moral Values and the Sovereignty of the State", explicitly formulating the union between religion and politics that characterises the Kirill-Putin regime.

“The world is currently experiencing a period of turbulence,” Shchipkov writes. “Due to a number of historical circumstances, Russia found itself at the epicentre of these processes.”

The “stability" (ustoičivost, устойчивость) of the Orthodox state represent the model of sovereignty, against multiple "challenges and threats” that must be met with a timely and adequate response.

Obviously, this requires a “defensive organisation" starting with the defence industry, and the "improvement of the information environment", traditional and hybrid warfare, without forgetting the "normalisation of cultural politics" and “demographic dynamics", rewriting history and encouraging fertility.

In order to achieve truly effective sovereignty, one must add to these important elements the defence of “moral guidelines", which must not be limited to the development of “ready-made definitions", since this is a much more global and dynamic task.

The aim of the educational process is to “teach the next generation of Russians in the spirit of unconditional involvement in the fate of their country, in the most significant, critical events of its history.”

A decisive aspect is the "inner, psychological aspect of this involvement,” turning, for example, to the "brain drain" that saw many Russian IT experts emigrate, people who today are needed more than ever to Russia’s new autarkic economy.

Specialists are drawn by the high salaries of foreign companies, and if Russian companies also try to offer raises, their competitors boost their offer in a "crazy and endless race in the international labour market.”

To overcome this impasse, the philosopher insists, it is necessary to "go beyond purely material interests" and educate citizens, including computer scientists, so that they see work not only as a "service to themselves", but also as a true service to the fatherland.

Shchipkov’s formula is to subordinate “the learning process to a system of moral values,” and in so doing, “we simultaneously solve the problem of national identity.”

Russia has inherited this problem from the many breaks in its tradition – the so-called chronoclasms of its history, such as the troubles in the early 17th century, the revolutions of the early 20th century, to which the political scientist adds the crisis of the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet regime.

These breaks have also had repercussions on the Church, through schisms and westernising and atheistic dictatorships, but the post-Soviet one is particularly worrying, since "there were many attempts to carry out a kind of Orthodox reformation,” causing “severe damage to the national identity.”

While the Bolshevik revolution destroyed the previous tradition, the article nevertheless defends "Soviet culture", considering it “a full part of Russian history and culture”, albeit “specific, interesting, ambiguous”, which must be kept together with everything else, for “It is impossible to split the national experience, just as it is impossible to split the Russian people”, which is something that “we will not allow to happen.”

Today it is necessary to rebuild a “consensus on national history”. Such a task comes in handy at present, on the eve of this year’s presidential election campaign, putting together its pieces and the “cultural and historical codes of the Russian tradition,” which include the “Orthodox, Soviet, pre-revolutionary Russian, Old Believer, folk community, as well as several ethnic and confessional codes.”

How can all these aspects, which are often opposed to one another, be brought together? “It is possible on the basis of a single and unchanging moral basis, which was present throughout all historical periods,” Shchipkov replies.

The Soviet socialist system, for example, according to his interpretation, extolled a grassroots sense of justice, “socialism from below" that was based on the conception of sobornost, of lived community. What the Soviets called "collectivism".

Today this must be found at a more universal level, that of the “historical mission of Russia, the mission of the Russian World,” that “of creating some kind of space for the salvation of the soul.”

Empire building, from Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great and Stalin, is precisely the religious purpose of spiritual salvation, so it is primarily a "moral” empire, not an assertion of power by an individual or a caste, or even of a single nation.

This is what the current emperor asserts in his speeches (often drafted by Shchipkov himself), which constitute the “programme for our future, according to which Russian citizens will have to live for the next 30-40 years.”

The philosopher therefore joins Patriarch Kirill’s Christmas call, urging Russians abroad to come back home, where their actions dictated by fear or greed will be forgiven.

In Russia they will find a new world, where "values are not abstractions, but must fill the life experience of Russians," replacing “the neoliberal or comprador” worldviews with a patriotic one, of which “we should never be ashamed.”

Internal rivalries should end to the benefit of politics or economics, so "there must be only one leader, at most two or three", and everyone else must adapt.

“The Gospel says that we must love each other and help the weak. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that we should help the strong, but leadership means helping the strong”. Once you have chosen your guide, you can rest easy for the rest of your life.

In short, even with all the necessary precautions, one must immerse oneself in the icy cross without fear, to be reborn in the light of sovereign Orthodoxy, the new synthesis of history and moral values.

What counts in morality are not codes of behaviour, but "cultural codes," which justify even the most terrible wars and feelings of hatred towards strangers, as is now the case in every part of the world, for the glory of Russia.

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