01/06/2024, 14.11
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The Second Birth of Orthodox Russia

by Stefano Caprio

In Russia, Christmas falls on 7 January following the Julian calendar, highlighting especially this year, the proclamation by the Moscow Patriarchate that it is the "one true Church”. Yet, the revival of patriotic faith is not the only definition of Russian Orthodoxy today. There is also the path of those who, like the exiled Protoiereus Andrey Kordochkin, pray with the words: “Give me back my mother!”

This year's Orthodox Christmas festivities further underscore the contrast between the Churches and peoples of Russia and Ukraine. After the decision taken in Kyiv to make 25 December the official day of the statutory holiday, celebrated in the Church jurisdictions of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic Church, the observance of 7 January as the date of Christmas in the Julian calendar highlights the proclamation by the Moscow Patriarchate that it is the "one true Church", in contrast to all the depravities, not only moral, but also liturgical, of the heretical and schismatic West.

In fact, Russians are not alone in remaining faithful to the old calendar, a choice that dates back to the time of the very creation of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The new calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, and seven years later the patriarchate was established in Moscow, a new ecclesiastical entity that was to shine as the "Third Rome”, called to save the world with "traditional" dates, as well as ancient dogmas and moral and social values.

Today many Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on 7 January (25 December in the Julian calendar) in no particular order, according to the degree of faithfulness to local customs and the assertion of their own specific identity, perhaps precisely to distinguish themselves from other expressions of the same Orthodoxy, as has historically happened to various Greek-speaking, Romanian, Slavic, or Syriac jurisdictions, and as evinced today by the tragic break between Russians and Ukrainians.

For Russians, this year is thus a repeat of the very birth of the Patriarchate of Moscow, the first historical identification of Church and People, after a millennium and a half during which the Churches tried to avoid ethnonational overlap, both in the East and in the West.

Paradoxically, the analogy with the choice imposed by Tsar Boris Godunov led to the Protestant schism by Martin Luther and to the anti-papal principle of the royal cujus, ejus religio, which was defined in the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Habsburg – who, like the Russians, sought an effective translatio imperii to determine the imperial religion between Lutheranism and Catholicism. Communities who professed confessions different from that of the princes to whom they were subject had to either adapt or emigrate.

The most explicit definition of this rediscovery of the imperial patriarchate was provided recently by Archbishop Savva (Tutunov) of Zelenograd, a loyalist of the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill and his episcopal vicar.

On his Telegram page Cogito ergo sum, he describes Christmas 2024 as "the second birth of Orthodox Russia, the Russian Orthodox people”, adding that “the Slavic tribe will merge under the double-headed eagle”.

Taking stock of the past year, Savva mentions, first of all, the losses, “Our warriors and our civilians, right up to the very last days.” In this view, this should not lead to despair for “their loss strengthens us. They are witnesses to our glory, strength, and unity.”

Tutunov is not just another puppet used by the fiery patriarch, accustomed to raising and discarding his closest aides at a hectic pace. Born in the suburbs of Paris to a family of Russian émigrés of highbrow aristocratic origin (descendants of Prince Golitsyn), the 46-year-old Sergey (his birth name) began to attend the Russian cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in Paris, the heart of the Constantinopolitan jurisdiction created for Russians who emigrated after the revolution, which Patriarch Bartholomew suppressed in 2018 shortly before approving Ukrainian autocephaly, so that it no longer has direct ties to Russia.

After earning a B.A. in mathematics at the University of Paris, Sergey entered the Orthodox seminary in Moscow, taking monastic vows in 2001 with the name of Savva in honour of the homonymous "defender of Moscow" Savva Storozhevsky, a monk who at the start of the 15th century inspired the armies of Prince Dmitry Donskoy against the Tatars camped in Zvenigorod, near the capital.

He returned to Paris to serve the Western European Russian Church under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, but shortly thereafter he was recalled to Moscow and joined the team of the then Metropolitan Kirill (Gundyayev), at the Department for External Church Relations of the Patriarchate, becoming archimandrite at the young age of 30.

After the break with Constantinople, Savva was one of the most determined leaders in convincing priests and bishops in Europe to join the Russian patriarchate, and was rewarded by Kirill in 2019 with the post of bishop of Zelenograd, created especially for him, and vicar of the patriarch of all Russia.

He therefore represents the most obvious model of ecclesiastical affirmation of the Russkiy mir, the Russian world, which gathers all its offspring anywhere in the world: a Franco-Russian who does not accept the Western shift of the other Orthodox Churches and reasserts his true identity.

It is the dogmatic-canonical variant of the hymn Ya Russky! "I'm Russian!" by the singer Shaman, which has now also become the jingle of the tsar's new election campaign.

Savva writes that “This year, perhaps, the Russian idea has been formulated as a first approximation, but the main thing is that it has been said about whom the Russians are.

“Russians are an ethnic group of those who consider themselves Russian whether by birth or by sincere bonding.” It is “those who love Russian culture and history, honour Russian customs, know or respect the Russian language, share Russian spiritual ideals, are Orthodox, or treat Orthodoxy with respect as our nation-forming faith.”

Ethnic Russians are “the core of the Russian people, that is, the multicomponent people of Russia,” using the neologism “multicomponent”, mnogosostavnyj. According to the young archbishop, “every Russian can say about himself: I am Russian, and a military leader even today can say: we are Russians – God is with us.

In order to stress the relationship with patriotic music, Savva pins a prophetic text that seems to herald Shaman’s rock, namely a 1908 poem by Jakov Arakin, written at the time of the Russian occupation of Harbin (China), where the poet lived and died.

The identity of Russians abroad is at the centre of the literary piece:

I am Russian, and my native north / Dear to me are the midday countries, / And I believe in my beloved land, / In the victorious kingdom of the Slavs!

I believe that the time will come / When under the double-headed eagle / The Slavic tribe will merge (Savva’s wish for this Christmas).

Ending with the refrain:

I am Russian, and God of the Fatherland, / I pray for halcyon days, / And my Rus' is more than my life / I love you, I love you with all my heart!

The revival of patriotic faith, however, is not the only definition of Russian Orthodoxy today. Many other Russian priests have been disowned and cursed for their rejection of the warlike interpretation of religion. They too have sent their greetings – to alternative sites, mostly from abroad, where they continue to carry out their ecclesial service in Churches that have not aligned themselves with the Moscow Patriarchate, not only in Ukraine, but across the Orthodox world, following a path that is diametrically opposed to that of Bishop Savva.

One of them is Protoiereus[*] Andrey Kordochkin, who, on Meduza’s YouTube channel, says: “A year ago, I was walking through the streets of Belgrade, and I saw a graffiti on a wall with a nasty caricature of Vladimir Putin's face, with an inscription next to it: Give me back my mother!

“This is what many people around the world feel, young and old, believers and non-believers. Many are calling for the return of people overwhelmed by the war, but perhaps that graffiti asked for the return of the real Mother Russia, betrayed by those who have now made it an unrecognisable monster.”

Father Andrey acknowledges that “the Church – at least I personally – does not have an answer to these requests, but we can try to get closer, in the light of the Gospel."

The clergyman, a former secretary of the Spanish-Portuguese Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate, from which he was expelled, cites the episode of the man in the Gospel of John, who was born blind, whom the pharisees and priests question as if they were members of the FSB (Russia’s security service), instilling fear in the parents of the miraculously cured man.

“They know that anyone who openly shows their faith in Christ will be expelled from the synagogue.” Eventually, the blind man is sent away because "when a blind person begins to see, they become one too many, they become dangerous.”

According to Father Andrey, this is what is meant today when people talk about “the defence of traditional values, which are not highlighted in the Gospel, because, for Christianity, these values are not to be defended and inculcated – they are self-evident, and must simply be lived.”

This is the difference between “patriotic” faith and “ecumenical” faith, or simply Christian faith. For Kordochkin, it is a matter of “not imposing answers, but of listening to questions, making oneself available for the miracle of healing, recovering one's sight.”

The man who was born blind is a symbol of Pascal baptism, the true content of Christmas, and the true rebirth of Russia, the rebirth of man.


[*] Protopriest.

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See also
Eviction notice at the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves
29/03/2023 16:31
Thirty-five years of the new Baptism of Rus'
29/07/2023 21:15
Volodymyr's succession at the helm of Ukrainian Church already under discussion
Kirill appeals to the pope and UN against the 'systematic persecution' of Russian churches in Ukraine
15/12/2018 13:41
Alexander, a bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate, supports autocephaly for the Kyiv Patriarchate
14/05/2018 19:19


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