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Saint Vladimir and the Brutal Cleansing of an Empire

Since February of 2022 the world has been shocked by the devastation the Russian military has brought upon Ukraine. While state media in Russia, and some groups in America, have claimed that the death toll has been “doctored” to deliberately arouse outrage at Russian nationalism, the abundant testimony of observers and Christian aid workers on the ground plus numerous satellite photos, leads me to believe that the wanton destruction of property and the targeting of civilians is real.

The attack on a maternity hospital, the use of cluster munitions and thermobaric bombs that suck oxygen out of lungs, and the testimony of refugees who have escaped to Poland and elsewhere testify, to the “scorched-earth” policy of the Russian military. What is Russia trying to accomplish? Are they afraid that Ukraine would join NATO? Are the Russians trying to stop the alleged “Nazification” of Ukraine? Or is there something else driving the madness? 

The Real Vladimir Putin

On May 7, 2018, 65-year-old Vladimir Putin was sworn in as president of Russia for another six-year term, having been elected with 77% of the nation’s vote. The ceremony was low-key. No one realized it at the time, but Russian Orthodox head Patriarch Krill gave Putin a treasured 18th-century icon. After the ceremony, Mr. Putin attended a prayer service at the Cathedral of the Annunciation.

This would seem to be strange behavior for a communist. Aren’t they generally atheists? Is Vladimir Putin a follower of Jesus?

In a pro-war rally in March of 2022 justifying the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin said: “Words from the Holy Bible come to my head: ‘There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends,’” a paraphrase of John 15:13.

In a WorldNetDaily piece titled, “Is Putin chiefly motivated by spiritual beliefs” (3/14/22), Dr. Michael Brown argues that Vladimir Putin is really not threatened by the expansion of NATO, but by the moral degeneracy of the West. In a speech given on September 19, 2013, Putin said:

“Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually redirecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. … The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote pedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations.”

President Putin’s return to what he views as Russia’s Orthodox Christian faith has become increasingly more public and open in recent years. While zealots in America’s cancel culture are pulling down statues that enshrine past heroes, Russia is doing just the opposite.

On July 17, 2021, Vladimir Putin took part in the unveiling of a second equestrian monument honoring Czar Nicholas II, who is seen riding a horse and holding a Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) cross. He is called the “Last Christian Czar in Russia.” Putin is also seen dedicating a statue to Russian Christian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the man who spent a decade in the Russian gulag and who gave the reason for Russia’s decline as—“We have forgotten God. That’s why this has happened to us.” Surprisingly, Putin voiced displeasure with the Stalinist regime and called Solzhenitsyn “a true Russian patriot” who suffered “horrible abuse with millions of Russians under the gulag system.” Putin said, “December 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Solzhenitsyn—a day of remembrance and respect and a day to revisit his literary legacy, his social and philosophical heritage (Michael J. Matt, Remnant tv). Do you ever think President Joe Biden—or Carter, Clinton, or Obama—would dedicate a statue to a Christian hero, say Billy Graham, and praise Graham with such glowing words? 

Pride, Patriotism and Putin

A PBS News Hour Special Report, aired on 7/10/17, quoted a Russian Orthodox priest who said, “The state and my faith are united. They can’t be separated. The values of the church and the state coincide.”

What does this all mean for understanding the Russian invasion of Ukraine? PBS reporter Nick Schifrin explained and said, “In Russia faith is patriotic. The Orthodox Church criticizes liberal Western values as heresies, while Orthodox priests bless Russian weapons and endorse Putin politically and personally. The president’s faith increases his popularity.”

This seems to be a common view. Marcel H. Vanherpen writes, “Traditional values have become the rallying cry of extreme Right populist parties, which are sponsored by Moscow in its effort to undermine Western Liberal Democracy and universal human rights.” Indeed, the Kremlin has delighted in the ideological relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Nationalism. Though the ROC is much like Roman Catholicism in many ways, it is very different in that Roman Catholicism has no specific connection with any nation or political system, whereas the ROC is Russian in every way. The Moscow Patriarchate considers Moscow as the “Third Rome,” the spiritual center for all ROC believers. To be Russian is to be a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. Anything less borders on hostility against “Mother Russia.” 

“Bad Boy Zelensky”

Russia sees Ukrainian president Zelensky as a danger to traditional values. Good looking and a Ukrainian TV star, Zelensky has already had to deal with hecklers who think he is taking the country in the wrong direction and somehow receiving a payoff from George Soros. printed Zelensky’s response to an angry heckler who threw a number of charges at Zelensky. His response:

“I don’t know Mr. Soros. I’m not his toadie so I can’t continue with his tasks because I have nothing to do with them, I’m not engaged in the legislation of prostitution which doesn’t exist in the country. Legislation of anything in the country can only be implemented through Ukrainian law if changes to the legislation are approved. This means by the hands of the Ukrainian parliament and by approval of laws.”

When Zelensky saw an attack on Ukraine’s gay people coming he became visibly agitated. “Regarding LGBT—I don’t want to say anything negative because we all live in an open society where each one can choose the language they speak, their ethnicity and sexual orientation. … Leave those finally at peace, for God’s sake!”

Points For Prayer, Thoughtful Reflection and Serious Self-examination

  • Pray for Christian ministries in Ukraine and in European countries that are taking refugees, such as Poland. While Poland is a Catholic country, there are several evangelical churches providing food and shelter for refugees, and also sharing the Gospel.
  • Not everyone who quotes Jesus is doing Jesus’ work. President Putin quoted Jesus, but I do not believe Jesus is happy with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • The war in the Ukraine has persuaded many people that we need a “New World Order.” Nations with weapons—especially nuclear weapons and chemical and biological weapons—pose definite risks to the human race. No matter how the war in Ukraine turns out, Putin’s attack on a small nation gave the world a time and motive to put aside differences and stand united against the Russian bully. That sounds noble, but those who know the dangers of globalism know that world unity is a harbinger of a world government, a world economy, and a world church. Bad news, but it is coming! In Riga, Latvia, on the road in front of the Russian Embassy, there is a sign: “Putin: The Hague is waiting for you.”
  • The wanton destruction of Ukrainian lives and property by Russian troops is indeed morally wrong and must be condemned. However, Putin’s fears that Russia will be grievously harmed by the destruction of moral and religious values that are the bedrock of civilization are certainly justified. America has a serious problem that Russia doesn’t want. The Blaze News for March 8, 2022, announced: “Biden requests $2.6 billion from Congress to fund global gender equity programs.” Do we have $2.6 billion to spend for a fabricated cause when the threat of World War III is hanging over our head like Damocles’ sword? And the madness continues. U.S. troops are being brought back from their posts to be schooled in sensitivity training and the proper use of pronouns for those who have transitioned. Putin looks at stuff like this and he is horrified. So are many Americans! We should all be horrified. This is madness.
  • Vladimir Putin wants to leave a noble legacy. This desire may have been strengthened by the fact that he may be suffering from cancer. Putin has been seen with Dr. Yevgeny Selivanov, who specializes in thyroid cancer. If he is leaving this world, Putin first wants to do something noble to earn God’s love so his sins will be forgiven; second, he identifies faithfulness to God with faithfulness to Russia. He sees patriotism and godly behavior as a faithful “Russian Orthodox Christian” as part of the same package. This is a warning to conservative Christians in America. We love America and know that it is more than a place; it is also an idea. But we must never equate love for God, with love for our America. We should never feel that God has let us down if, in the next presidential election, a God-hating, America-hating candidate wins! It could happen. Despite the low scores Joe Biden is getting in the polls, America may have come so far in the wrong direction that a large number of Americans may still vote for a Joe Biden kind of a leader. I see Donald Trump as having accomplished much good despite the continual media thrashing he received, but let’s not make him a patron saint. I believe that there will be worldwide revival, but I do not believe that it will be centered in America.
  • Now is the time to heed Romans 12:1–2. It is the will of God to have the Spirit of God use the Word of God to make the children of God more like the Son of God.

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Larry Spargimino

Dr. Larry Spargimino is co-host of the SWRC broadcast and joined the ministry in 1998. Larry researches and writes books and articles for the ministry, assists on tours, and helps answer listeners' theological questions when they call the ministry. Larry holds a doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and pastors a local church.

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