Frustrating the liberal gun-control advocates, and driving pacifists insane, traditional Russian Church icons depict saints carrying guns, swords, axes, arrows, spears, and other weapons of war and execution. Why do they do this?
With a cross in his hand, a halo on his head, and an AK-74 automatic rifle slung over his left shoulder, the warrior St. Evgeny Rodionov is honored in Orthodox Christian icons as both a soldier and a saint.
Icons (sacred images) of St. Evgeny can be found in multiple churches throughout Russia. And he is not alone. The Orthodox Church honors numerous other warrior saints, including St. Dmitry Donskoy, Saints Peresvet and Oslyabya, and St. Alexander Nevsky.
St. Evgeny entered the Russian army in 1995, and fought honorably in Chechnya during the First Chechen War. He was eventually taken prisoner, and for the next few months he was brutally tortured by his Muslim captors. They offered to spare his life if he would renounce Christ, but he refused. He was brutally martyred on his nineteenth birthday, beheaded with a rusty saw.
Icons of St. Evgeny can now be found in dozens of Orthodox Churches across Russia and Ukraine, in places like the church of apostles Peter and Paul in the Znamenka manor near Peterhof, as well as places in the Altai, such as Aktash, Novoaltaisk, and Zarinsk. In the Russian Orthodox Church, the Astrakhan eparchy has officially glorified St. Evgeny as a locally revered Saint. And in Aktash, a temple has been built in St. Evgeny’s honor.
No doubt this is shocking to some. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of devout Christians carrying around guns and knives. But according to the Russian understanding of the Christian faith, it is both honorable and praiseworthy to wield weapons for the sake of defense.
(Meanwhile in England, guns have been banned, knives have been banned, and people are now getting arrested for carrying potato peelers in public.)
Though some may be surprised to see a saint carrying firearms, the concept is nothing new. For many centuries, Orthodox Christian icons have depicted warrior saints, carrying their weapons of war. And according to the ancient writings of many Christian Saints, there is nothing wrong with it.
St. Nicholai Velimirović, a beloved Saint from Serbia, recounts a story from St. Cyril, explaining why warfare is sometimes permissible for Christians:
In the encampment of the Saracens they asked St. Cyril: "How could Christians wage war and at the same time keep the commandment of Christ about praying to God for their enemies?"
To that, St. Cyril replied: "If two commandments were written in one law and given to men for fulfilling, which man will be a better follower of the law: the one who fulfills one commandment or the one who fulfills both?"
To that, the Saracens replied: "Undoubtedly, he who fulfills both commandments."
St. Cyril continued: "Christ our God commands us to pray to God for those who persecute us and even to do good to them; but, He also said to us: greater love cannot be shown in this world than if one lay down his life for his friends." "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (St. John 15:13). That is why we bear the insults which our enemies do to us individually and we pray to God for them; and, as a society, we defend one another and give up our lives, that you would not somehow enslave our brethren, would not enslave their souls with their bodies and would not kill them in body and soul.
— The Prologue of Ohrid, May 11
St. Athanasius, a 4th century Saint from Alexandria, agrees that warfare is sometimes necessary:
it is not right to kill, yet in war it is lawful and praiseworthy to destroy the enemy; accordingly not only are they who have distinguished themselves in the field held worthy of great honors, but monuments are put up proclaiming their achievements. So that the same act is at one time and under some circumstances unlawful, while under others, and at the right time, it is lawful and permissible.
— St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Letter 48
"Fear not, my Lord. Be firm and courageous. Go forth, fearless and resolved! The hour of conflict is near; it is inevitable. There is nothing to wait for. . . . This will be a decisive battle for them, but it will be decisive for us, too. The earth will be soaked in blood, but our entire life will be over if the enemy prevails. There will be no towns or monasteries left. Where will our books, our wisdom, our knowledge, and our faith find shelter? Centuries of slavery will predominate once more. Rus’ will never stand on her feet again. Fear neither losses nor bloodshed. On thy shoulders lies the responsibility for our land. It is a black and heavy burden. Bear up, my son Dimitry, be bold! Go. Be resolute. God will not consent to our ruin."
— St. Sergius of Radonezh
Not only did St. Sergius give St. Dimitry a blessing to go into battle, he also gave a blessing for two monks to join in the battle as well. Thus St. Peresvet and St. Oslyabya were added to the ranks of warriors.
To this day, Russian Christians continue to honor saints who valiantly defended their nation in battle. As King Solomon once said, there is a time for peace, and there is also a time for war. When someone insults us personally, we show patience, and we turn the other cheek. But when someone physically threatens our family or our neighbors, we fight like men.