Why Russians Hate the Idea of the Separation of Church and State

By severing the union between them, you don’t decrease corruption. You increase it

President Putin of Russia and President Lukashenko of Belarus in the throne room of the Moscow Patriarch. Together with Ukraine, Russia and Belarus form Holy Rus'. Note the blue and gold Ukrainian Flag displayed proudly between Putin and Patriarch Kirill, along with all the other flags of Russian Orthodox Lands.

One of the most common criticisms of organised religion is that it involves itself in the affairs of politics and war.

People say: “Why are religious leaders getting involved in political discussions? Politics is Politics, religion is religion, never should the two meet.”

Non-religious people point to the Papal States and the Spanish Inquisition as examples of religion being too political. Likewise, many religious people have reasonable concerns that religion could be corrupted by politics and used for nefarious ends.

Meanwhile, throughout history, there has always been a close relationship between the Orthodox Church and various states; this is true from the times of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire to the Russian Empire and even in modern countries such as Greece, Romania, and, of course, Russia.

“Should the Orthodox Church have a close relationship with the State?”

In Orthodox countries, the answer is obvious - of course, it should!

But should the Church involve itself in the State, which may involve itself in the dangerous affairs of politics and warfare?

Yes, because the Orthodox Church, does not see itself as much as an “invisible church, a body of the elect” but as a spiritual hospital.

Our Father Among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople says:

Enter into the Church and wash away your sins. For here there is a hospital and not a court of law. Do not be ashamed again to enter the Church, be ashamed when you sin, but not when you repent.

The Orthodox Church always saw it first and foremost as a place to heal people from a mortally ill condition, the disease of sin.

In Orthodox theology, the term mortally ill is quite literal; Orthodox people believe that death is the direct result of sin.

This is the Orthodox understanding of original sin, rather than making us all born “guilty”, we believe original sin infected the human race with a terminal illness - death, and a fondness for death.

Where are hospitals and clinics most needed in the world more than anywhere else? In places where people are the sickest, in places of war and suffering.

While the Church cherishes her dignity as an ivory tower rising from a city surrounded by seven hills and seven walls, she is also a missionary church.

Her people, especially her clergy, go where they are called and most needed.

If politics and war are where the darkest human actions are expressed, then that is exactly where the Church must be, to be a lighthouse on moonless nights to lead souls to safe harbour.

The Lighthouse-Church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker in Malorichensk, Southern Crimea

One might go as far as to say it is the opinion of Orthodoxy, especially Russian Orthodoxy, that the Church must involve itself in war and politics to prevent war and pacify the darker side of political intrigue.

Although Americans and their relatively young civilization assure the world that the Church and State must be separate, Russians actually believe that removing or separating the Church from the State destroys another ideal Americans hold very dear, namely: checks and balances.

For Russians, the Church is a moral check on the State. Were it not for the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia could have been destroyed many times by both foreign enemies and domestic fifth columns.

One could say that the Russian State - one of the most ancient states and the birthplace of patriotism - originated from the Orthodox Church because it was by the Baptism of Rus’ that Saint Vladimir of Kiev united Russia.

The Baptism of Rus' by Saint Vladimir of Kiev (on the longboat holding a cross) was the most important and seminal moment in Russian history. Everything archetypically known as Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian, and what we recognize as Russia today was born at this moment.

These two entities cannot be truly separated in Orthodox countries because in many cases it was the Church which first formed the national consciousness of the nation itself, or preserved it during times of occupation. As President Putin himself has said, it is not possible to imagine Russia without the Orthodox Church.

Moreover, Russians remember what happened when Russian revolutionaries implemented Communism, a foreign ideology (invented by German and English thinkers) which, first and foremost, tried to sever the ancient relationship between Church and State.

Communism, really foreign to the Russian context, was physically imported into Russia, when the German Empire, during WW1, secretly returned Lenin to Russia so he could spread the plague of revolution, something more effective and deadly than any biological weapon.

The Russia-hating revolutionaries tried to separate the Church from the State because they knew that it would destroy both. And because they knew they could never corrupt the State without first attacking its moral foundation.

"Eternal Russia" by Ilya Glazunov depicts the perpetual Orthodox Rus' juxtaposed amidst the storms of its ages, and ours. 

Russians remember well what it was like to live under a system that hated the Church.

When Lenin and his Bolshevik elk tried to remove the Church from ALL aspects of Russian life, these saboteurs and traitors promised that without the Church corrupting the state, politics could become truly focused on helping humanity, and Russia would thrive.

The result, however, was actually the endless destruction of Russian lives.

"The Market Place of Our Democracy" by Glazunov depicts the inevitable result of not only Communism, but the pernicious result of the "westernizing" trend we experienced in our country in the 1990's. Russia, her people, and culture were effectively prostituted like Biblical Israel in heathen Babylonian or Egyptian captivity.

It is when the Russian Church and State operate in symphony, that the reflowering of Orthodoxy in Russia becomes possible.

The Russian State and Church are like two heads on an eagle with the same body, they operate differently, but they are both crucial to the survival of the whole.

This relationship is very practical as well.

Patriarch Kirill spoke perfectly when he addressed sailors of the Northern Fleet in Severomorsk in 2016. His Holiness said the Church attaches "[a] very great importance to cooperation with the Armed Forces".

Critics immediately stop here, and use this as an example of the Church being overly politicised, or supportive of violence, but if they would only read on, they would see the Patriarch believes this relationship helps ensure peace!

The Patriarch said that the condition of servicemen’s souls is "an essential part of maintaining peace."

Have cynics ever stopped to consider that maybe if the Church were more involved with the state, and if Priests were amongst the soldiers in their darkest hours, they could bring light into the nights of war?

Russian servicemen certainly do, when asked if they wanted more Priests in their ranks, the result was an overwhelming Da!

The Church maintains the spiritual well-being of Russian servicemen because this is not only good for them and Russia, but as Russia is a nuclear power, the presence of the Church and her mission for peace amongst the Russian military is a guarantee of world peace.

Many people forget that even the war in Syria has been influenced by this relationship.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Ignatius IV of Antioch (+2012), the leader of Syrian Christians. Antioch, the ancient capital of Syria is where, according to the Bible, the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christian. (Acts 11:26). Syrian President Assad, (pictured in signs), is a protector of Christians in Syria, believing them an inseparable part of the countries history.

Patriarch Kirill urged President Putin to protect Christians in Syria, and Putin answered the call.

Just like Saint Vladimir Svyatoslavich of Kiev sent his elite Varangian “Viking” Guard to the Roman Empire to fight jihadists, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] is combating terrorism to save Christians in Syria.

If you disagree, I dare you to go to an Antiochian Orthodox Church, and ask Syrian immigrants to tell you their stories, and to ask them which country is really helping them.

What you hear may surprise you.

So next time you think to break a thousand year union, ask yourself this, when was the last time you’ve seen a western leader bow and kiss the relics of Saint Nicholas himself?

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