By Dr. Michael W. Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC
The carnage in Ukraine offends the world, offends justice, and offends decency. And it has yet to make an end.
As political leaders, media commentators and academicians struggle to make sense of what must appear to many as an irrational act of an irrational man, there are some who see some things in the makeup and grand strategies of Vladimir Putin that are more than geopolitical in their nature.
The editorial leader of the February 26 issue of The Tablet: The International Catholic Weekly (London) acutely reflects on the religious roots of the current Ukraine crisis. Putin sees Ukraine as a Russian entity, an integral part of Russian history, not a cultural and political satrap of the West. Like the Russian Orthodox leadership—specifically the Muscovite leadership—Putin does not recognize the legitimacy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which broke with the Moscow Patriarchate and sees itself as autocephalous, recognized by Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and most of the other Orthodox churches, uniquely Ukrainian and not beholden to the mother church in Moscow.
Complicated, for sure, with centuries of political and theological layering, but in Putin’s view rather crystal clear. As The Tablet leader observes: “In Putin’s mind, and to varying degrees to the minds of the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church itself, “Holy Rus” is the Kingdom of Heaven, the eternal tsardom of God in heaven and earth. The land of Holy Rus is thus a holy space, a mystical “New Israel,” where the one true religion is practised and all others within its borders are not just illicit but wrong and to be banished. The rulers of such a space have a duty before God to preserve and protect it. The Tsars were ordained by God to do so. Putin seems to see himself in the same light.”
This conflation of mysticism and autocracy is a dangerous thing. Its resurgence is a warning to all that when church and state unite under one hegemonic ideology—and in this case I believe a healthy theology (and Orthodox theology is a healthy theology) has been suborned for purposes far from mystical in their genesis and consummation—we face precisely the kind of righteous savagery being played out in Ukraine at this very moment.