Pope: You are the descendants of Great Russia!
Last week the Pope made a video address to the 10th All-Russian Catholic Youth Assembly in St Petersburg in Friday, during which in he urged the young people to view themselves as descendants of the Russian Empire.
He said to the young people: “Never forget your heritage. You are the descendants of great Russia: the great Russia of saints, rulers, the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that empire – educated, great culture and great humanity. Never give up on this heritage, you are descendants of the great Mother Russia, step forward with it. And thank you – thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian.”
Since then the Pope has come under fire from Ukraine and the West who saw these comments as similar to the imperialist propaganda quoted by Putin himself. For example, last year Russian President Vladimir Putin compared himself to Peter the Great during an exhibition dedicated to the first Russian emperor, using the comparison to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years, On the face of it, he was at war with Sweden taking something away from it … He was not taking away anything, he was returning. This is how it was.” He added that it didn’t matter that European countries didn’t recognize Peter the Great’s seizure of territory by force.
The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said in a statement that Peter the Great and Catherine the Great are the “worst examples of imperialism and extreme Russian nationalism,” warning that the pope’s words “could be perceived as support for the nationalism and imperialism that has caused the war in Ukraine today.”
The Vatican has since rejected this interpretation of his words as instead clarified with the following statement:
“The Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great cultural and Russian spirituality, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities, cited to indicate some historical periods of reference,” While we assume that the Pope was not making overt statements in favour of Russia’s war with Ukraine, his statements demonstrate his respect for the cultural and religious heritage of Great Mother Russia – as seen particularly through the Greek Orthodox Church. The Pope was encouraging the young people at the conference view with pride, their heritage as the Eastern Orthodox Centre of the World under rulers like Peter the Great. This is not the first time that the Pope has made seemingly controversial comments about the War in Ukraine, having refused to denounce Putin by name and seemingly blame NATO for the conflict.
Religion in Russia
The fact that the Pope is cosying up to the religious heritage of Russia is an amazing sign of the times. Only a few decades ago, the Soviet Union squashed the historical religious identity of Mother Russia.
When Vladimir Lenin came to power in Russia in 1917, he held to the Marxist view that once capitalism was abolished, religion would likewise wither away. It was a slight twist on classic secularization theory, which held that as societies modernize, people lose faith. For Lenin, and for his successor Josef Stalin, atheism was not something that required much thought. It was simply the absence of religion and would come naturally in due time as the Soviet Union developed into a modern society.
In post-Soviet Russia, Orthodox Christianity gives the country a legitimacy that it was “an ancient polity with a millennial pedigree that gave it moral legitimacy,” according to Smolkin. Putin can tout Orthodoxy as the state religion although the reality is that very few of the population actually attend church.
Zubovich, a writer for a website called Religion and Politics said the following: “In 1991, just after the collapse of the USSR, about two-thirds of Russians claimed no religious affiliation. Today, 71 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox. One can now see priests giving sermons on television, encounter religious processions in St. Petersburg, and watch citizens lining up for holy water in Moscow. Even Moscow’s Darwin museum features a Christmas tree during the holidays. President Vladimir Putin has encouraged this revival and he has also benefited from it, both at home and abroad”. (https://religionandpolitics.org/2018/10/16/russias-journey-from-orthodoxy-to-atheism-and-back-again/)
Babylon’s presence until Christ’s Return
We read throughout the scriptures of a Babylonian power that would be perpetuated through the ages right until the time of Christ’s coming. For example, we read of the destruction of Babylon the Great in Rev 17:14-15 when the lamb (the Lord Jesus Christ) is sitting of the throne in the Kingdom Age. The same thing is depicted in Dan 7, with the fourth Roman beast oppresses the holy ones right up until the ancient of days comes to the earth and set up his throne. This 4th beast is representative of the Kingdom of men right up until the return of Christ. A final example of the same phenomenon is in Daniel 2 describing the famous image that terrified King Nebuchadnezzar in his dream. The iron legs of this image correspond to the Roman Empire. The feet of the image are a mixture of iron and miry clay, demonstrating the presence of a Roman power right up until the stone hits the standing image on its feet. The two legs of the image explain how the Roman empire would split into two halves. Before this split or division of the empire, Emperor Constantine, in around 300 CE moved the capital of Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople (Istanbul) – demonstration the shifting centre of gravity in the Roman world. Not long after Constantine’s death, the Empire split in half, with the Western leg being governed from Rome, and the eastern leg being governed from Constantinople. The Eastern Roman Empire survived for another 1000 years after Constantine’s death only collapsing in 1453 with the invasion of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks (this section of history is described in the sixth trumpet in the book of Revelation)
Byzantine Empire and Russia
This history is a vital part of modern Russia’s heritage, This can be seen for example in the Oxford Slavonic papers, written by Dimitri Obelensky, who was a lecturer at the University of Oxford. He writes that ‘Byzantium is the main source of Russian Civilisation. The continuing strength of the Byzantine inheritance in modern Russia has asserted itself again and again in the form of the Orthodox Christian faith. It is highly significant that Russia entered the European family of nations through her conversion to Christianity, for which she is indebted to Byzantium. The Heritage of East Rome is the main channel through which Russia become a European nation. Byzantium, (or Constantinople or Istanbul) was Russia’s gateway to Europe. Byzantium brought Russia five gifts: Her religion, her law, her view of the world, her art and her writing”This is why bro Graham Pearce wrote in the 1970s that “we ought not fix our eyes entirely on the papacy as the essence of Babylon the Great. Babylonish qualities belong to the east as well as the West. Russia is truly the heir to the old Roman Empire. We see Russia as a nation prepared by her long history to play her part in the final brief revival of the power of the Roman empire – the fourth beast of Daniel – when the saints slay the beast and take the kingdom.”
Russia’s religious revival and the Pope’s comments both this week and in the past years are an exciting sign of the times that we are living in as we wait to see how the Roman apostasy will come to breathe with both it’s lungs – in the East and the West.
This has been Daniel Blackburn joining you for this weeks edition of the Bible in the News.