A Theological Case for Ukraine’s European Integration: Deconstructing the Myth of “Holy Russia” vs. “Decadent Europe”

21.02.2023, 11:45
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A Theological Case for Ukraine’s European Integration: Deconstructing the Myth of “Holy Russia” vs. “Decadent Europe” - фото 1

Joshua T. Searle


Since 24th February 2022, Russia’s so-called “special military operation” has evolved into a campaign of mass extermination and demoralisation of the Ukrainian civilian population. Despite the barbarism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, several prominent Christian leaders have sought to justify the barbaric invasion by appealing to notions such as “Christian values” and “Christian civilisation.” According to this narrative, Putin’s Russia represents “traditional Christianity”, which is in opposition to the decadent forces of secular modernity, represented by the nations of Europe and North America. This exclusive narrative depicts Europe as a hostile Other, representing liberalism, superficiality and depravity, that is set against the supposedly profound “Russian values” of family, tradition and respect for authority. This perspective also presupposes that “innocent sinless Russia” is engaged in an apocalyptic struggle against the “sinful immoral West” on behalf of Christianity. This dubious claim is repeated by Russian politicians and church leaders and amplified by Russian propaganda networks. Ominously, the baseless notion of “special Slavic spirituality” is prevalent not only among Orthodox Christians, but also among some post-Soviet protestants.

The aim of this article is to deconstruct this myth in both a positive and negative sense. Firstly, in negative terms, I aim to highlight the irreconcilable contradictions of this myth of Russian moral superiority and to demonstrate its discontinuity with traditional Christian teaching. Secondly, in positive terms, I intend to demonstrate the continuity between Christian orthodoxy (lowercase “o”) and the classical (Western) liberal tradition. In other words, what I am attempting here could be described as a “special theological operation” to uncover the duplicity of the belligerent kleptocrats who purvey these dishonest claims about Russia as a benevolent holy empire that upholds “Christian values.”

Perhaps somewhat controversially, I intend to advance the claim that the secular humanism of European modernity is more authentically Christian than the kind of Christian nationalism promoted by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) hierarchy. Such a claim is not new,[1] but it assumes a new significance amid the current civilisational conflicts in today’s world. Secular humanism, notwithstanding its implicit atheism and departures from traditional theism, finds its origins in ancient Christian doctrines concerning the inherent dignity and value of every human person.[2] Christian nationalism, by contrast, constitutes a decisive break from orthodox Christian teaching and owes its provenance more to pagan myths of blood and soil than to biblical teaching concerning the dignity and freedom of human beings.[3]

This article is divided into three parts. Part One identifies the salient features of the “Holy Russia” myth with illustrations drawn from various representative figures. Part two is devoted to the defence of the European tradition in which I advance the counterintuitive argument that secular liberalism is more in continuity with orthodox Christianity than Christian nationalism. In part three, I apply these general points to the specific issue of Ukraine and its fate as a European nation.

1. The Myth of “Holy Russia”

The belief in the moral and spiritual superiority of “Holy Russia” did not originate with Vladimir Putin. The idea has roots that extend deep into Russian history. Ukraine, in particular the capital Kyiv, is seen by many Russian Orthodox believers as the cradle of Slavic Christendom. Ever since the Grand Prince Vladimir (c.958–1015) converted to Christianity and Christianised the ancient state of Kyivan Rus’ in the year 988, Kyiv has occupied a prominent place in the imagination of the Russian Orthodox Church.[4] The belief in the superiority of Russian Christianity was given a powerful impetus in the 16th century, when a Russian monk, Philotheus of Pskov (1465–1542), propagated the notion of Moscow as the “Third Rome.” This was a reference to Moscow’s alleged status as the new capital of World Christendom following the sack of Rome in the 5th century and the fall of Byzantium (the “Second Rome”) in the 15th century.[5] Nikolai Berdyaev noted that many Russians are nurtured in the belief that God has given their motherland an exceptional destiny to Christianise the world. Those who imbibe such an idea tend to regard Russia “not only [as] the most Christian, but also the sole Christian land in the world.”[6]

Yet the question of whether Russia can be considered a “Christian nation” is disputable. One of the basic lessons that we learn from the history of Christianity is that not everything that flies under the banner of Christianity is truly Christian. Many corrupt tyrants and devious charlatans from Constantine to Donald Trump have invoked the name of Christ to consolidate their political power. The latest example of a corrupt tyrant who invokes Christianity for this purpose is the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin. Since he came to power in 2000, the Russian dictator has frequently employed religious rhetoric in support of his megalomaniacal ambition to secure his legacy alongside Peter the Great in the annals of Russian history.[7] He also likes to make conspicuous shows of piety for the Russian state-sponsored media. He is frequently photographed lighting candles, receiving communion from Orthodox priests and making signs of the cross within church settings. This veneer of piety gives the dictator the opportunity to promote his Orthodox Christian credentials and to disparage the supposedly “godless” West to the Russian masses.[8]

The elevation of Russia and the disparagement of Western civilisation has become a constant feature of the Kremlin’s public utterances, especially since the first Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Putin stated that, “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”[9] Likewise, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, compared Western civilisation unfavourably with Russian values. Whereas Western societies, he claimed, had become “ever more detached from their Christian roots,” Russia under Putin “was returning to its traditional values, which are rooted in Orthodoxy.”[10] Such representative statements by senior Russian politicians demonstrate that the notion of “Holy Russia” finds expression “not only as Church doctrine but also as political ideology.”[11]

Unsurprisingly, Putin’s appeal to Christian values is fully endorsed by the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy. The Orthodox Church’s influence on the Putin regime even extends to active involvement in drafting new legislation issued by the Russian government.[12] At the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is a former KGB informer and militant Russian nationalist, Vladimir Gundyaev, who became known as “Patriarch Kirill” of Moscow and all Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in February 2009. Since becoming Putin’s Patriarch, Gundyaev has issued many public statements denouncing the alleged moral depravity of the West, which he contrasts with the purported moral and spiritual superiority of Russia. His statements include several homophobic tirades, in which he refers disapprovingly to gay pride parades that had taken place in Western countries. In March 2022, this fixation with homosexuality was apparent in a sermon he made in which he cited Ukraine’s tolerance of homosexuality as a moral justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a bizarre series of anti-Western sermons, Gundyaev touted the spiritual values of Russian Orthodoxy as opposed to the alleged materialism of Western civilisation, which is purportedly only concerned with “everyday advantages.”[13] He shares the view of Putin that Russia has been given a special role by God to save the world from the liberals and gays. He seems to believe that the war in Ukraine was “a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance”, in which Russia with its “traditional values” symbolised Good, whereas Ukraine and the West with its tolerance of homosexuality represented Evil. Gundyaev and the ROC leadership have likewise baptised Kremlin propaganda in religious language by claiming that the notion of universal human rights is a mere ideological expression of Western secularism and liberalism, whose intent is to isolate “Christian” authoritarian regimes like Putin’s Russia.[14] In this sense, the ROC continues as the ideological successor to the Soviet Union which exhibited the same kind of paranoid anti-Westernism.[15]

The ideological affinity of the Putin dictatorship and the ROC hierarchy is easy to understand. Putin and Gundyaev have inherited the notion of symfonia, which dates back to Byzantium one thousand years ago. According to the idea of symfonia, the church and state are supposedly ordained by God work in concert: the Church provides the moral authority, the State provides the political authority for the just governance of the people.[16] What is harder to explain is the sympathy in Russian society and in the non-Orthodox Christian community to the Kremlin’s rigid policy. Often there is little to separate the Russian Protestants, including Baptists and Pentecostals, from the Russian Orthodox in their political preferences. In 2014 in response to the Russian invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory in Crimea and Donbass, the Russian Baptist Union published a statement of support to Putin, which included the following commendation for Putin’s apparent defence of Christian values: “We express our special gratitude for the fact that the protection and strengthening of spiritual and moral values, which includes the traditional family, [is] identified by you as one of the priorities ... We consistently position ourselves as law-abiding citizens of the Russian Federation and are making every effort to be based on Biblical principle.”[17] In both the ROC and many of the Protestant churches, we see the same yearning for a “strong hand,” as well as anti-Western sentiments, a passive tolerance of legal nihilism, nostalgia for the Soviet communism and widespread nationalism and anti-democratic ferment.[18] In part, this can be explained by fear, in part by the lack of available information, and in part by religious traditions that encourage conformity and submission.

Part of the problem is that Christians in Russia and Ukraine have no tradition of thinking theologically or biblically about political events.[19] This helps to explain why the response of so many Christians to the autocratic, corrupt regime of Vladimir Putin has not only been devoid of a theological basis, but has sometimes directly contradicted fundamental biblical-theological principles.[20] Therefore, many were persuaded to acclaim Putin’s rise to power as “a miracle of God,”[21] and to actively support the Russian dictator, despite his obvious corruption and willingness to murder journalists, political leaders and ordinary citizens who were opposed to his rule. In the same way that most Christians in the Third Reich supported Hitler because he had promised to restore law and order and traditional family values after the chaos and perceived decadence of Weimar Germany,[22] so too did many Russian Christians decide to support Putin in the belief that he would reimpose “traditional values” after the moral degradation of the Yeltsin era. Similar dynamics can be seen in the overwhelming support of evangelical Christians for the disgraced ex-President of the USA, Donald Trump.

The invocation of “Holy Russia” has even found a receptive audience among many conservative evangelicals in the West. Putin’s Russia is viewed by some prominent Western conservative commentators as a paragon of traditional family values.[23] Following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, the well-known American evangelical, Pat Buchanan, depicted Putin as a “Christian Crusader”, who was “planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity.”[24] In the past decade, many transnational conservative organisations have collaborated closely with likeminded far-right groups in Russia that promote the view that “Russia is a bulwark of Christian values throughout the world and has a special role in the struggle against a global anti-family lobby.”[25] One example is the USA-based organisation, World Congress of Families, whose International Secretary remarked that, “Russia is defending Judeo-Christian values.”[26]

Russian propaganda has directed specific campaigns designed to appeal to the traditionalist religious instincts of many Ukrainians.[27] Essentially the message from the Kremlin to Ukrainian Christians is this: Europe is in decay, it is soulless and non-Christian; with us, even though you are poor and have almost no civic freedoms, at least our Christianity is still alive, so you had better stay away from those depraved Europeans.[28] Yet while they disparage the West for its immorality, the Russian President and his Patriarch preside over a nation that is characterised by endemic corruption, shady schemes, base populism, endemic substance abuse, criminality at every level of society (including in public institutions), and the total absence of the rule of law. Russia is consistently identified as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranked alongside certain failed states in sub-Saharan Africa.[29]

All of this begs the question: is Russia really so superior morally and spiritually to the West? Is Russia truly a special case of a virtuous Christian nation? Is the situation really so bad in Europe? If traditional Russia with its high-minded Christian values is so spiritual and profound, then something seems to have gone wrong in the conversion of this spiritual vitality into anything that would resemble public virtues, such as justice, integrity, honesty and peace. One wonders, if Christian faith is so strong in Russia, if there is as much spiritual vitality as the Kremlin and ROC claim, then why are Russian Christians so incapable of translating this faith into social virtues that would serve the public good? Why has lying become such a universal feature in a country where up to 85 percent of the population claims to follow the one who declared that he was the Way, the Truth and the Life? Why has this special profound spiritual vitality not been applied to economic development, or at least led to the creation of an independent judiciary and the overcoming of rampant corruption that continues to afflict every sphere of Russian society? Why has “secular, godless Europe” been far more successful in creating just structures of law and civil rights than “sacred, holy” Russia? If Russian people with their “traditional Christian values” are so “spiritual,” then why do they seem so incapable of converting this spiritual prowess into at least a basic respect and common courtesy for one another? It seems strange that the face of the “Antichrist in Europe” is so poorly covered and easily discerned. It is also peculiar that “Holy Russia” remains completely untouched by the same kind of malevolent influences that allegedly afflict Europe, although according to the Scriptures, the Beast “was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation” (Revelation 13:7).[30]

Upon closer examination, it is easy to discern the bogus character of the claim concerning the special spiritual depth of Russia as a holy nation that upholds “Christian values.” The invocation by Putin and his acolytes of conservative Christian values amounts to little more than a religious fig leaf for Russia’s aggressive expansionist policies towards its neighbouring territories and its repressive policies against non-conformist religious groups within its own borders and within the territories it forcibly occupies. This distorted form of Christianity, used as a tool in the Kremlin’s anti-Western propaganda war, is even further removed from orthodox (with a lowercase “o”) Christianity than secular humanism, as I will explain in the next section.

2. Why Secularism is more Christian than Christian Nationalism

In the view of the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the reason why Russia invaded Ukraine was because “external and hostile dark forces” had disrupted this consciousness of unity.[31] By the term “external and hostile dark forces”, Gundyaev was referring to such “demonic” Western notions as democratic accountability, civil liberty, free speech, universal human rights, tolerance and the rule of law. Instead of these supposedly malevolent principles, what the world really needed was the top-down imposition by the Church-State of “traditional values” of loyalty to one’s own country and family, assignment of clearly-defined gender roles, legal discrimination against sexual minorities, persecution of religious and political dissidents, and respect for autocratic political and ecclesiastical authority.

In contrast to the ROC with its tradition of symfonia, some expressions of Protestant Christianity tend to adopt a more suspicious approach to political power and the concept of a State Church. Churches that stand within the tradition of the Radical Reformation have understood that when the church and state were brought into the totality of a single authority, the church ceased to be the church.[32] Standing within this tradition, I maintain that the whole notion of a “Christian Nation” under the authority of a “National Church”, as well as ethno-centric distortions of the gospel, such as the pan-Slavic messianism, should be rejected as idolatrous distortions of the gospel. The cause of the gospel is not advanced when Christians occupy positions of privilege and power within the state. The “Christian Nation”, a “National Church” and a “God-bearing people” should be regarded not as sacred archetypes, but as oxymorons and profane illusions.[33] The alliance of Church and State and any attempt to impose “traditional Christian values” through aggressive legislation or force of arms is morally bankrupt and devoid of any biblical basis. The history of Russian Orthodoxy and ancient Rus’ right up to the present time teaches clearly that the political dominance of the Christian religion over national life leads not to spiritual revival, but merely creates a thin veneer of nationalistic religion among a people whose adherence to Christianity signifies little more than a nominal attachment to a blasphemous abstraction of so-called Holy Russia.

The history of Russia and Orthodoxy since at least the time of Ivan the Terrible (1530–1584), teaches that the state has tolerated the existence of Christianity only when Christianity has been adapted to the pattern of the world and rendered its service towards advancing the social and political ends of the state. According to orthodox Christian teaching, the gospel of Christ is set in opposition to the world order. The gospel spells the end of the false harmony of Christian piety and political power. The notion of “traditional family values” has no place in the life and teachings of Christ and was never part of his gospel message.[34] In Christ, God reveals Himself to us not in power, authority and sovereignty, but in freedom, love and sacrifice.[35] This is why the idea of the “Russian World” and “spheres of influence” (so fetishized by many religious and political leaders in Putin’s Russia) is totally opposed to the spirit of the gospel.[36] The notions of sovereignty, national security, nationalism and “traditional family values” were not part of Jesus’ message.[37] Christ was crucified in Jerusalem by the Roman Empire at the urging of the religious authorities. Christ’s gospel was such a stumbling block, a scandal to these religious custodians of “traditional values”, that they responded by killing the Son of God. The prophets of the Old Testaments inveighed against the “traditional values” promoted by the religious authorities of ancient Israel and Judah. The righteous, the prophets, apostles and Christ himself, were killed by those religious authorities who claimed that they were defending traditional religious values.

From a biblical perspective, Christian faith is neither a badge of cultural identity nor an accident of birth or geography, but involves a free and committed response to the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. We might even regard the lure of political sovereignty as one of the temptations that Christ rejected in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11) and speculate that among the kingdoms that Satan presented to Christ were all those nations and empires of the world which would later call themselves “Christian” and that would wage war in the cause of defending “traditional Christian values.”[38] The alluring prospect of imposing the Kingdom of God on a supposedly godless society has seduced Christians throughout history, but the history of Christian theocracy is a history of failure. Such Constantinian-theocratic assumptions are prevalent in the Russian war against Ukraine. The assumption is that by conquering and subduing Ukrainian territory, the Russian state, in collusion with the Russian Orthodox Church, will be able to impose its religious values and political ideology on the occupied Ukrainian populations.

Against this notion of forced imposition of religious values through the territorial expansion of “Holy Russia”, Europe stands for the principle of freedom of religion. This presents both opportunities and challenges for Ukrainian Christians. Firstly, in contrast to “Christian” Russia where Orthodox Christianity is endorsed by the state and occupies a privileged position in Russian society, “secular” Europe is pluralistic to the extent that it offers a cultural space in which there is no hegemonic religion or Leitkultur (leading culture) that is universally accepted as normative. In Europe clerical authority is not self-evident, and our claims to Christian exclusivity are looked upon with suspicion by a sceptical society. European culture also places a premium on the virtue of tolerance. This means that Christians in a secular society need to find ways of engaging compassionately with the majority of the wider population that does not share their Christian values or faith convictions. Within secular Europe, the challenge is to preserve one’s distinctive Christian witness by drawing on the riches of one’s tradition so as not to lose the distinctiveness of the gospel within a pluralistic culture. Moreover, within Europe, Ukrainian Christians will need to learn to live without either the Iron Curtain or the “fraternal assistance” of their imperialistic Eastern neighbour. Within the secular cultures of Europe, Ukrainian Christians will need to demonstrate the benefits of their faith and to defend their position in the language of debate, and not from a position of power and authority.[39]

On this point, I would argue that Ukrainian Christians should be less concerned with the symbolic and liturgical expression of the gospel within the church, but should aspire to work towards the concrete embodiment of the gospel within the world in concrete and tangible ways in the midst of so-called “secular culture.” The Vice Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Miroslav Marinovich, expressed this idea with force and clarity: “We believe that in the West, faith is in decline, and it is with horror we say that churches are being closed, because for us the most important are the external attributes. However, unlike us, in Western Europe we see ‘inculturated Christianity’ embedded in human relations.”[40] State-endorsed churches, such as the ROC, are generally content to symbolize the gospel in sacramental gestures that conform to the expectations of the state and the wider society; they are hardly concerned at all with infusing social reality with the transforming power of the gospel. One example of this is the sight of Russian Orthodox clergy wearing ornamental crosses on their chests. This has become such a part of Orthodox tradition that many Russian and Ukrainian Christians have become accustomed to regarding the cross “not as a burden on the back, but as a decoration on the chest.”[41] The cross of Russian Orthodoxy, like in some expressions of Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, has become a decorative symbol that confers status, power, and identity, whereas the cross of Christ was an instrument of torture that meant nothing but humiliation, vulnerability and estrangement.

Ukraine best represents Christian values not when it expresses the gospel in church symbols and liturgical rituals, but rather when its people actualise the Kingdom as a material reality within Ukrainian society as a whole. The Christian churches should side with the people in their legitimate aspirations for civil liberties, since freedom within the law is a much better indicator of “Christian values” than performance of religious rituals or the profession of “traditional family values.” The official Orthodox Churches in Russia and Ukraine have generally been content to symbolise and simulate the Kingdom in liturgical signs, whereas true faithfulness to the gospel requires a more material realization of the gospel values of justice, peace and compassion. A country can rightly be called “Christian” not according to the number of people who claim affiliation to a religious institution, but according the extent to which the gospel values of honesty, dignity, freedom, justice and compassion are inculturated and embedded in the mundane realities that govern social and personal relations in the nation as a whole. According to this criterion, even the most secular states in Europe, such as Sweden and Denmark with their democratic structures and independent judiciaries, are more “Christian” than “Holy Russia” with its authoritarian despotism and corrupt law courts. In connection with this argument, there is an obvious need for theological reflection: not so much on the political, but rather on the cultural, spiritual, and religious aspects of the current debate concerning the integration of Ukraine into the family of European nations. This question will occupy us in the next section.

3. Ukraine’s European Future

According to its own understanding, Europe stands for the values of human dignity and human rights, cultural diversity, democracy, justice, fairness, equality an the rule of law.[42] For many Ukrainians Europe signifies, firstly, economic development, political liberty and democratic choice; secondly, Europe exemplifies higher living standards and, thirdly, it denotes a cultural identity that has deep roots in the Christian tradition. Politicians debate about the first issue, although most Ukrainian politicians, especially since the Revolution of Dignity (2013/14), profess adherence to democratic values and principles. Nobody debates about the second, because everybody, whatever their confession, aspires to better living standards. Regarding the final point, concerning Europe’s Christian heritage, there are contentious debates and various opinions, especially among religious leaders in Ukraine.

The problem is that discussions about tolerance, minority rights, freedom and human dignity can easily progress into “culture wars.” Instead of thinking critically about the contribution that Christianity could make to the promotion of an open and free society, the discussions often get side-tracked into disputes about the fate of traditional values and the Christian heritage, which is only one step away from the demonisation of modern Europe. In order to facilitate Ukraine’s integration into European civilisation, Ukraine’s Christians will need to play their part in deconstructing the false narrative that portrays Russia as a defender of Christianity against a decadent, godless and anti-Christian Europe. Christianity can help Ukrainians to imagine the possibility of living in a country without constantly having to bribe public officials, such as is the case in Russia and many other nations of the former USSR. Searching questions need to be asked if it is even possible to live the Christian life if the entire structure of society requires people to compromise their Christian principles of honesty, openness, integrity and compassion. These questions call for the active engagement of a new generation of Ukrainian theologians who can address urgent issues in the public sphere.[43]

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians have been faced with a choice to align either with a democratic Europe or with an autocratic Russia. Ukraine is not a whole or self-sufficient entity, but is part of the European cultural space, and especially of its core: the central tradition of Christianity. If it remains outside of Europe, Ukraine will remain in a cultural limbo, where powerful forces and vested interests will seek to harness Ukraine’s economic, political and cultural resources to serve their own agendas, and the Ukrainian people will remain as pawns in an ill-fated civilizational battle between East and West. Outside Europe, all that awaits Ukraine is a new era of Russian-led serfdom: no courts, no free elections, no education, no access to modern medicine and healthcare, no free enterprise and no freedom of movement. For only in an open dialogue, in a free world of permeating cultural ties can Ukraine overcome its cultural and scientific isolation, and emerge from the cul-de-sac of economic stagnation and endemic corruption.

Ukraine must therefore be thought of as a quintessentially European nation, not primarily in terms of history and geography, but in terms of the aspirations of its people for an open and democratic society that lives under the rule of law. The “principle of Europe” is the principle of coexistence, plurality and unity-in-diversity. A new generation of Ukrainians is emerging which cherishes these values. The great Ukrainian national poet, Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861), in one of his poems, advised his compatriots to “Learn from the foreigner, but do not be ashamed of the familiar.”[44] Shevchenko was not merely a great Ukrainian poet, but also a representative European poet. This principle of openness to both the “foreign” and the “familiar” is quintessentially European: while cherishing the values of pluralism, European culture seeks to preserve for each person their special role and unique dignity.

Some might ask, what will happen to Ukrainian Christian traditions in a European future? The honest answer is that they will compete freely with other worldviews and ideologies that inhabit the Ukrainian public sphere. Churches within a pluralistic culture are required to express their convictions without invoking authority, but as they engage with other ideas and discover the riches of their Christian tradition, they grow in credibility among the general population. The church and faith will transition from being closed sacramental institutions that seek state patronage to becoming open movements on the side of justice, peace and compassion. Ukrainian Christianity will be associated with the future, rather than the past. Churches will be seen as pillars of freedom and defenders of the open society rather than closed institutions that promote the parochial interests of clerical hierarchies. There are certain risks inherent in Ukrainian Christians’ embrace of Europe, but there are even greater possibilities. There are crises and challenges, but every day that this terrible war continues, the Ukrainian people are also gaining the experience and courage that they need to overcome them. The future has its uncertainty, but it also has its hope, and the Soviet and Putinist past should no longer hold Ukraine back from its embrace of European values.

Conclusion: Looking to the Future with Hope

As Ukraine begins its long-overdue transition away from the Soviet legacy and its overdependence on Russia, one hopes that Christians in Ukraine will appreciate that Christianity is more than what any particular Christian or church group claims to know about it or how they experience it: namely, that Ukrainian Christians would see that Christian faith is diverse, and that this diversity should be valued and protected, rather than simplified inside a self-contained unity and locked within its own tradition. Authentic faith should not fear the most challenging questions posed by a sceptical and indifferent society. As Ukrainian Christians embrace freedom and democracy, there will inevitably be doubts and disputes concerning the role and place of the church in a free society, but thanks to these disagreements and debates, there will also be conscious choices. Individuality will not be suppressed and the church will be comprised of free people who consciously chose the Christian tradition, deepening their knowledge of it and continuing it in a spirit of enterprise, freedom and creativity.

Christian values will no longer be seen as abstract concepts that can be conscripted to serve nefarious political agendas, but as incarnated realities that infuse the social, cultural, political and economic space in ways that lead to the promotion of justice, peace and compassion in everyday interpersonal interactions. Within secular Europe, Ukrainian Christians will find themselves living in a perhaps unfamiliar world, where few will share their religious convictions, but this competition will make them stronger and allow them to hone their skills in “giving an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 3:15). The Christian tradition will receive the opportunity to undergo a renewal and become more relevant, and the values of Ukrainian Christians will demonstrate their power to persuade without the need for top-down impositions from church or state authorities. Ukrainian Christianity has already started to move away from the defunct and discredited Russian Orthodox tradition and towards an open future, where the risks of decline are many, but the prospects for renewal are even greater.

[1] The thesis that secularisation is the result of biblical faith and constitutes the high point of Christianity was presented by Harvey Cox in his influential and popular book, The Secular City (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965).

[2] Robert A. Markus, Christianity and the Secular (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006).

[3] For a persuasive presentation of this thesis, see Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005).

[4] Katja Richters, The Post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church: Politics, Culture and Greater Russia (London: Routledge, 2013), 99–100.

[5] Dimitri Stremooukhoff, “Moscow the Third Rome: Sources of the Doctrine”, Speculum 28:1 (1953), 84–101.

[6] Berdyaev, “The Soul of Russia”. Available on http://www.berdyaev.com/berdiaev/berd_lib/1915_007.html.

[7] Beth Admiraal, “A religion for the nation or a nation for the religion? Putin’s third way for Russia,” in Marlene Laruelle (ed.), Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia (London: Routledge, 2009), 203–17 [214]. In June 2022, Putin compared his invasion of Ukraine to the conquests of Peter the Great – see online: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/09/world/europe/putin-peter-the-great.html

[8] John Anderson, Conservative Christian Politics in Russia and the United States: Dreaming of Christian Nations (London: Routledge, 2015), 54.

[9] Putin, quoted in Patrick J. Buchanan, “Vladimir Putin, Christian Crusader?”. Online: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/vladimir-putin-christian-crusader/

[10] Lavrov, quoted in John P. Burgess, Holy Rus’: The Rebirth of Orthodoxy in the New Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 11.

[11] Burgess, Holy Rus', 11.

[12] For details of the extent to which the Russian Orthodox Church is involved in political decision-making in Putin’s regime, see John Anderson, Conservative Christian Politics in Russia and the United States: Dreaming of Christian Nations (London: Routledge, 2015), 77–83.

[13] Patriarch Kirill, Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony – Human Rights and Personal Dignity (London: Darton, Longman & Todd and the Publishing House of the Moscow Patriarchate, 2011), 71. Despite criticising the West for its preoccupation with material goods, Gundyaev set off a scandal a few years after becoming patriarch when he was photographed wearing a $30,000 watch that was subsequently photoshopped out of an official image put out by the church, even though a reflection of the watch remains visible in the picture.

[14] Alexander S. Agadjanian, Scott M. Kenworthy, Understanding World Christianity: Russia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2021), 199.

[15] “The ROC’s dislike of ‘the West’ and liberal democratic principles matches the communists’ foreign policy and their autocratic style of government” – Katja Richters, The Post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church: Politics, Culture and Greater Russia (London: Routledge, 2013), 44.

[16] Burgess, Holy Rus’, 38.

[17] Statement by the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists on 6th June 2014, cited in Karrie J. Koesel and Jekatyerina Dunajeva, “Repression, Restriction & Response in Contemporary Russia,” in Daniel Philpott and Timothy Samuel Shah (eds.), Under Caesar's Sword: How Christians Respond to Persecution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 199–228 [224].

[18] Zoe Knox, Russian Society and the Orthodox Church: Religion in Russia after Communism (Abingdon: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005), 50–1.

[19] Mykhailo Cherenkov, “Из Европы ли дьявол?” (2013). Online: https://risu.ua/ru/iz-evropy-li-dyavol_n65249.

[20] Joshua T. Searle and Mykhailo N. Cherenkov, A Future and a Hope: Mission, Theological Education and the Transformation of Post-Soviet Society (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014), 2.

[21] Gundyaev (“Patriarch Kirill”), quoted in Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, The Red Mirror: Putin's Leadership and Russia's Insecure Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 31.

[22] For more details on this key issue of what attracted German Christians to Nazi ideology, see, for example, Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and Nazi Politics (London: Routledge, 2018), 242; George M. Newlands, God in Christian Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2018), 395–96; Richard Geary, Hitler and Nazism (London: Routledge, 2000), 55–6.

[23] Douglas E. Schoen, The End of Democracy?: Russia and China on the Rise, America in Retreat (New York: Regan Arts, 2020), 57–8. For another perspective on why Putin has become popular among some Western conservatives, see Melik Kaylan, “Kremlin Values: Putin’s Strategic Conservatism”, World Affairs 177:1 (May/June 2014), 9-17.

[24] Buchanan, “Vladimir Putin, Christian Crusader?”

[25] Kristina Stoeckl, “The Rise of the Russian Christian Right: The Case of the World Congress of Families”, Religion, State & Society 48:4 (2020), 223-238 [232].

[26] Allan Carlson, quoted in Minda Holm, “What Liberalism? Russia’s Conservative Turn and the Liberal Order,” in Vibeke Schou Tjalve (ed.), Geopolitical Amnesia: The Rise of the Right and the Crisis of Liberal Memory (Montreal: McGill University Press, 2020), 82–99 [84].

[27] Gordon M. Hahn, Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West and the New Cold War (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018), 229.

[28] Searle and Cherenkov, Future and a Hope, 75.

[29] Leslie Holmes, “Corruption and Organised Crime in Putin's Russia,”, Europe-Asia Studies 60:6 (2008): 1011-1031 [1011–13].

[30] Searle and Cherenkov, Future and a Hope, 73–5.

[31] Gundyaev (“Patriarch Kirill”), quoted in Margarita Arredondas, “Patriarch Kirill: Putin’s spiritual leader who ''blesses'' war in Ukraine.” Online: https://atalayar.com/en/content/patriarch-kirill-putins-spiritual-leader-who-blesses-war-ukraine

[32] William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 194.

[33] Searle and Cherenkov, Future and a Hope, 127.

[34] Daniel Izuzquiza, Rooted in Jesus Christ: Toward a Radical Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 187.

[35] Berdyaev, Smysl Tvorchestva [The Meaning of Creativity] (Moscow: Astrel, 2011), 294.

[36] Berdyaev, Tsarstvo Dukha i Tsarstvo Kesarya [The Kingdom of the Spirit and the Kingdom of Caesar] (Minsk: Izdatelstvo Belorusskogo Ekzarkhata, 2011), 252–53.

[37] David A. Ritchie, Why Do the Nations Rage?: The Demonic Origin of Nationalism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2022), 69, 127.

[38] Berdyaev, Tvorchestbo i Obyektivatsiya [Creativity and Objectification] (Moscow: T8RUGRAM, 2018), 242.

[39] Joshua T. Searle, Theology After Christendom: Forming Prophets for a Post-Christian World (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2018), 174.

[40] Marinovich, quoted in Searle and Cherenkov, Future and a Hope, 76.

[41] Küng, On Being a Christian, translated by Edward Quinn (London: Collins, 1977), 572.

[42] Council of Europe, Competences for Democratic Culture: Living Together as Equals in Culturally Diverse Democratic Societies (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2016).

[43] Joshua T. Searle, “Freedom, Compassion and Creativity: New Points of Departure for Public Theology in the Post-Soviet Space”, The International Journal of Public Theology 14 (2020), 255–75.

[44] This is my loose translation from a passage in Shevshenko’s Kobzar. See Тарас Григорович Шевченко, Кобзарь: частина перша (Lviv: 1893), 293. The full quotation reads, “Учітеся, брати мої! Думайте, читайте, І чужому научайтесь, й свого не цурайтесь.”