Russia’s Crimean gambit does revive the specter of a Cold War between Moscow and Washington, and that’s unfortunate because Russia is a very different place than the Soviet Union. That difference is perhaps most graphically illustrated by the fact that Russia has in recent years rediscovered its Orthodox roots. According to a recent survey by the Levada Centre, an independent research organization, some 68 percent of Russians now identify as Russian Orthodox, up from 17 percent in 1989. That four-fold increase hasn’t exactly translated into widespread practice of the Orthodox faith – most respondents said they don’t regularly attend the Divine Liturgy, for instance – but it has help propel the Russian Orthodox Church back into prominence following 70 years of Communist rule and official persecution.
The rebirth of Orthodoxy has aided the nationalist politics of Vladimir Putin, who has long claimed to be a devout Christian. It has also provided him with a cudgel with which to pound the secular, liberal West. Just last January, for instance, Putin excoriated the “many Euro-Atlantic countries [who] have moved away from their roots, including Christian values.” Putin added, “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.”
Few Catholics will argue that the moral character of the West isn’t degraded, perhaps hopelessly so, just as few Orthodox would argue that Putin’s Russia is somehow a beacon of Christian hope in a dark world. Still, it is a shame that two putatively Christian nations should come to loggerheads, at least in any lasting way. For decades, Catholics around the world prayed for the conversion of Russia in response to calls by Our Lady of Fatima and Pope Pius XI. If the Levada Centre’s numbers are accurate, those prayers may be in the process of being answered.
So, here’s a suggestion for Lent: let’s avoid turning Vladimir Putin into another bogus Hitler. This way of thinking only serves the interests of politicians, pundits, and corporations who profit from war, whether hot or cold. Instead, let’s pray that the conversion of Russia will continue. And while we’re at it, let’s pray for the conversion of the United States, too. We could use it as much as Russia could – and perhaps even more. Finally, let’s pray for the people of Ukraine, the “Janus of Europe,” that their two faces – one Eastern and one Western – will turn toward each other without bitterness or bloodshed.
Mark Gordonis a partner at PathTree, a consulting firm focused on organizational resilience and strategy. He also serves as president of both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Providence, and a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Mark is the author of Forty Days, Forty Graces: Essays By a Grateful Pilgrim. He and his wife Camila have been married for 30 years and they have two adult children.