Dangerous Alliance Between Church and State
Published: August 7, 2013 (Issue # 1772)
Russia officially celebrated Paratroopers Day on Friday. For more than 1.5 million men who serve or served as paratroopers, the day is a holiday, moreover one that is totally different than every other military holiday. On this day, paratrooper veterans have carte blanche to do strange things, which include getting drunk in the morning, fighting, and ritually bathing in the city fountains. On this day in provincial cities, careful mothers tend to lock their teenage daughters inside — and for good reason. Even Wikipedia warns that “the festivities are accompanied by fights, pogroms and public disorder.”
But this year Paratroopers Day had a new twist. On all the billboards and posters in Moscow, the holiday had a dual title: “Paratroopers Day — Elijah’s Day.” The Orthodox Church does, in fact, commemorate the Prophet Elijah on Aug. 2. But it’s hard to understand what the ascetic hermit Elijah — aka “the first virgin of the Old Testament,” who certainly never jumped out of a plane in a parachute — has in common with paratroopers who, by definition, aren’t what you’d call pacifists.
Nevertheless, this isn’t the first attempt of the Russian Orthodox Church to interfere in the traditions of public and military holidays. Not long ago, the authorities in Voronezh region officially prohibited celebration of the ancient Slavic holiday of Ivan Kupala. A few days ago, the church pressured the Navy to drop several traditions from Navy Day. In the past, actors played Neptune, mermaids and other creatures who, in the words of an anonymous representative of the Navy “were not on Noah’s Ark during the Flood,” as Interfax reported.
Declaring Neptune a persona non grata in the Navy may be comical, but it is indicative of the recent creep of clericalism into cultural and public life in Russia. Groups of aggressive Orthodox activists and Cossacks regularly attack art exhibitions showing “blasphemous” paintings and demand that theatrical performances be banned.
The Orthodox Church is attacking science as well as culture. In June, the opening of a theology department at the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute provoked good-natured protest from scientists. When a Proton rocket failed to launch properly on July 2, bloggers joked: “They cancelled physics and introduced theology. The missile hit the heavenly bodies and fell from the sky.”
An entire school of pseudo-scientists have appeared, regularly bombarding the mass media with the sensational results of their “scientific research.” For example, they have proven that reciting the Lord’s prayer over a glass of water while making the sign of the cross “lowers the amount of harmful bacteria by 7, 10, 100 and even 1000 times.”
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