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Holy War in Ukraine

Frederick Lauritzen

18th November 2022


Vasilii Vasiljevič Veršagin. Pobeždennie. All night vigil for the dead. (1877-1878)

Василий Васильевич Верещагин. Побежденные. Панихида по убитым (1877-1878)

Putin has declared on 30th September that the West was practising ‘pure satanism’. Medvedev on 4th November claimed the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine is a Holy War. That same day, Alexander Dugin referred to the war as ‘the final apocalyptic battle against the antichrist’. On 15h October there was a mass shooting at a recruitment office in Soloti, Valuysky District, Belgorod Oblast, Russia. Three Tajiks said that the operation was not a Holy War since, according to Islam, it can only be between Muslims and infidels, while Lt. Lapin had claimed that the special operation was a Holy War. Thirty people died in the shooting which emerged from the disagreement of what is a Holy War.

Putin and Medvedev are Orthodox Christians. Their belief is that Moscow represents the third Rome and is the heir of Ancient Rome and New Rome, Constantinople. The latter was the capital of the Byzantine Empire and the source of Christian belief and practice for Orthodox Christians. One of the preeminent saints and church fathers of the Orthodox Church, Saint Basil, wrote a rule (canon 13) that said that priests could not fight in battle or war. It is for this rule that Anna Comnena (1083-1153), the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, looked in horror at the western practice of priests fighting during the first Crusade (1096-1099):

“For the rules concerning priests are not the same among the Latins as they are with us; For we are given the command by the canonical laws and the teaching of the Gospel, ‘Touch not, taste not, handle not! For thou art consecrated’. Whereas the Latin barbarian will simultaneously handle divine things, and wear his shield on his left arm, and hold his spear in his right hand, and at one and the same time he communicates the body and blood of God, and looks murderously and becomes 'a man of blood,' as it says in the psalm of David. For this barbarian race is no less devoted to sacred things than it is to war. And so this man of violence rather than priest, wore his priestly garb at the same time that he handled the oar and had an eye equally to naval or land warfare, fighting simultaneously with the sea and with men”. (Anna Comnena Alexiad 10.5)

A priest cannot fight according to Orthodox Christianity since there is nothing holy in war. This has been a tradition since the 4th century, for over 1600 years.

Putin and Medvedev do not seem to know or understand that war cannot be holy. Even patriarch Kirill of Moscow has had to admit that ‘war cannot be holy’. Those who are consecrated cannot participate or endorse war. The Byzantines did not have the notion of 'just war' which originated in the writings of Saint Augustin, a Western, Latin and chiefly Catholic saint. The reason the Byzantines could hold such an opinion is that they believed that war was the realm of the secular world, not of personal belief and faith. It is a tragic outcome of political interaction between humans and societies, and nothing to do with the divine or the afterlife. They basically thought of war as the continuation of political interaction by other means, as Clausewitz said in 1832.

Medvedev has also indicated that the special operation is a holy war against Satan. He stated on 4th November that the aim was to “stop the supreme ruler of hell, whatever name he uses -- Satan, Lucifer, or Iblis”. He has claimed that each official religion in the Russian Federation identifies the same object with different names. This notion is known as structuralism and interprets each religion as a different expression for the same being. This is a notion which originated in the West and was also typical of Soviet thought about religion. It seems that Putin, Medvedev, and Dugin are expressing their longing to (ab)use western categories of thought which are unknown in traditional Orthodox thought.

Indeed, the special operation is not only a form of intellectual disregard of Orthodox belief but has become an attack against fellow Orthodox Christians (the Ukranians). The permanent reference to the Satanist West led by Anglo Saxons is disguising the fact that Orthodoxy is fundamentally in favour of peace (like many religions) and that one of the countries in favour of defending Ukraine, the United Kingdom is led by a Hindu, Rishi Sunak.

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