01/21/2023, 10.07
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The Russian plunge into a frozen apocalypse

by Stefano Caprio

On the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, just past according to the Orthodox calendar, the Russian rite of immersion in the water of the kupel, through an opening in the frozen ice in the form of the Cross: if one survives the triple immersion in the water of icy death, then one can truly hope for new life.

With the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which according to the Orthodox calendar is celebrated on January 19, Russia also concluded its Christmas liturgical itinerary, preparing to face the harshest part of winter.

The Kreščenskye Morozi, the "baptismal frosts," are the door that opens wide into the unknown, as the cold could prove so intense as to prevent the arrival of spring, and the rebirth of life.

Indeed, in many regions of Russia and Central Asia, these days are marking record negative temperatures, with averages of 20 degrees below zero and peaks below 40, creating huge problems of energy supply and efficiency for large masses of people.

The weather conditions, even with all the setbacks of climate change, keep up the motivation that makes Baptism almost the greatest feast of Russian Orthodox devotion, superior even to the Easter rites.

Immersion in the frozen water, in the kupel (baptismal font) with the cross-shaped opening on the ice of the lakes, is an almost exclusive rite of the Russians, certainly evoking many pagan and apotropaic traditions, but maintaining its own dimension of "apocalyptic spirituality": if one survives the triple immersion in the water of icy death, then one can truly hope for new life.

If at Russian Easter few attend the long liturgies, but large numbers line up around churches to bless eggs and sweets, at Russian Baptism the pilgrimage destination is not even the church, but the kupel in the woods.

According to Interior Ministry figures, nearly ten thousand outdoor "baptismal events" were staged this year, where one and a half million people immersed themselves.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reassured the population by assuring them that President Putin immersed himself "in Moscow province, according to its tradition," although some puzzlement remained over the absence of videos and photos of the leader in the ice, which in past years attested to the tsar's physical and moral integrity.

The treacherous Zelenskyj took the opportunity to mock his Russian rival, speaking to the political and financial elite in Davos, to say that "I'm not even sure Putin is alive."

In the past, the Putin bath has indeed raised several questions, as the leader's moves seemed inconsistent and diverse at times, particularly in the uncertainties over the sign of the cross, once even made in the Latin manner.

After all, suppositions about the president's many doppelgangers multiplied during the Covid years, when Putin's few exits from the bunker outside Moscow suggested the use of "avatars" to avoid risks of infection.

Now the Baptism ushers in the season of the possible "end of the regime," due to the great risks of military operations and not-so-subterranean political clashes around the Kremlin.

Already the Christmas liturgy showed the loneliness of the leader in bulletproof bodice and mournful gaze in the Kremlin's Annunciation chapel, suggesting that by now "Putin can only talk to God," according to Leonid Gozman's comments in Novaja Gazeta.

The leader's public appearances, net of possible replacements, have become increasingly grotesque, with press conferences (now increasingly rare) in which journalists stand "three streetcar stops away," according to a popular expression, tables a kilometer long, New Year's greetings against the backdrop of motionless soldiers (perhaps a video montage).

As early as a few years ago, satirical writer Vladimir Vojnovič, who died in 2018, assumed that "Putin has already been assumed into heaven, and from there he communicates with the people entrusted to him."

Others consider him the embodiment of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novels, such as "The Autumn of the Patriarch" or "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

His stay in the "bunker" became a regular acronym during the pandemic, and the ongoing war further reinforced this similarity to the last Hitler, or even more so to Stalin's trembling conduct during the Nazi invasion.

The many assumptions about his failing health, or death with subsequent transfiguration, or possible psychic degradation, certainly do not help to understand what future awaits Russia, beyond ruinous feelings.

Overcoming the frost already envisions itself as a grandiose new war mobilization of the population, if only by extending compulsory military conscription to at least half of the adult males who have not yet fled the country.

Putin's terror is transmitted to all Russians, to the point of creating an awareness of the impending end, reiterating in speeches and exhortations that the true purpose of life is "to die for the Fatherland."

An apocalyptic message reiterated, for that matter, even in the homilies of Orthodox hierarchs.

Patriarch Kirill reiterated this "final" perspective during the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, in the liturgy he presided over not in the large Cathedral of the Savior, but in the smaller Church of the Epiphany in Elokhovo, in a less central district of Moscow, which served as the patriarchal seat in Soviet times.

He proclaimed that "the Lord appeared in the world to renew the consciousness of men, helping them to form a new system of values, moral and spiritual, thanks to which humanity has achieved great goals."

This path has not been "progressive," but full of obstacles to overcome, but "we here today, in the Moscow of the 21st century, feel the power of divine grace."

Without divine energy "humanity would not have existed for a long time," the patriarch warned, "and today we know that there are new threats to the world and to our country, which endanger all humanity."

According to the head of the Russian Orthodox, "foolish men have thought that the great power of Russia, which possesses extraordinary weapons, inhabited by strong men, motivated to victory from generation to generation and who have never surrendered to any enemy, but have always emerged victorious, that it is possible to defeat this people, or as some claim, we can reformat them," in the sense of imposing foreign values that "cannot even be called values," so that they become like everyone else and submit to those who think they control the whole world.

So today "we need to pray to the Lord to enlighten these madmen, because every desire to annihilate Russia entails the end of the world."

A new awareness is therefore needed, Kirill urges, that of "mutual dependence" that takes into account the fragility of the world in which we live, and unites everyone in the recognition of "authentic values," those represented by the Orthodox faith. In conclusion, the patriarch said he is certain that "the Lord will not abandon the Russian land, He will be at the side of its leaders and our Orthodox president, our army."

While it will not be necessary to "permanently resolve differences and conflicts," eventually everyone will be able to reconcile and calm down, and "the world will be better."

Even the refrains of incessant propaganda - in the state media and all Russian social structures, beginning with the school - are increasingly conforming to the apocalyptic notes of the president and patriarch, along with other state and church leaders.

The Christmas season marked a fracture of consciousness, heightened precisely by the concluding feast of Baptism and the unknown about the impending spring "final offensive." The retreat from Kherson and the Khar'kov region in November led to imagining no longer really the conquest of Ukraine and its "purification," but a transformation of the war into the birth of a "new civilization" in which Russia is joined by Indochina, Africa and Latin America.

A "non-West," the nie-Zapad that is increasingly reiterated at every opportunity: not a geographical opposition, but a spiritual and global one; Russia is the true East and the true West at the same time. And this new civilization is created by destroying false values, even at the cost of its own demise.

Many analysts are trying to understand whether the spring offensive will descend from northern Belarus, to isolate Ukraine from Poland, or head toward Kiev to resume the initial goal of establishing a new government loyal to Moscow, and whether it will be possible to contain these threats with new weapons and new strategies.

One should remember the tactics by which the Russians won over Napoleon, who had invaded the empire with nearly a million soldiers reaching as far as Moscow, to watch from the walls of the Kremlin as the capital burned. The choice was to self-destruct in order to defeat the enemy.

The most prophetic of Russian philosophers, Vladimir Solov'ev, after vainly proposing a great union of peoples and religions, foresaw an epilogue of history that he described in the "Legend of the Antichrist," in which only a very few believers refused to submit to the emperor, at the final council in Jerusalem.

The apotheosis of power opens wide the gates of the Sheol, the biblical hell, and the few survivors retreat to Mount Zion, guided by the appearance of the "Woman clothed with the sun," to begin again a new Christian era, without pretensions to globalization or imperial civilization. The philosopher died in 1900, and by then we are already in World War III, waiting for real peace.


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