Many of my Western colleagues and friends try to understand the phenomenon of Russia (or the "Russian Soul") primarily through the prism of Eastern Orthodoxy. This approach, I believe, is basically wrong. It is a kind of intellectual trap which is rooted in different ideological constructions (such as Holy Russia or Moscow as the Third Rome concepts) and the images of Russian art (such as masterpieces by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky). However, the key to understanding the "Russian Soul" is not Orthodoxy, adopted quite superficially in Moskovia, but paganism. The point is that the dark aspects of this pagan worldview very often have determined the behavior of the Russian people during the ages and continue to do so today. How does this influence express itself? Here are three demonstrative examples.
1. Worshiping political power and violence is the cornerstone of the social life in Russia, where the people have always deified their political rulers. The choice between Christ and Caesar has always been a sharp issue for that culture. In spite of resistance from true Christians and secular descendants, the choice of the majority remains unaltered: Caesar is god, while Christ is merely a kind of attribute, a figure of speech.
The Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko lived in Saint Petersburg as an artist and was exiled to the Kazakh steppes as a soldier. He described this inclination of the Russian people to deify the tzar in his poem “The Neophytes” (1857) through typological parallels between 19th-century Russia and pagan Rome:
And so to all the governors they wrote
Throughout the empire: As an oat's an oat,
Caesar’s a god, more than a god is he.
And so they hired a sculptor for a fee,
To cast this god in bronze; ’mid orders many,
They added as a sort of nota bene
That this bronze Caesar, in response to prayer,
Would grant requests.
Furthermore, Shevchenko sharply criticized this anachronistic and perverse reality using the terms of Christian theology:
But woe to you! Whom do you now entreat?
You bring your tears, but to what creature's feet?
You bring your hopes, but woe to you blind slaves!
Is he, O humble ones, a god that saves?
Can marble grant you mercy? Pray alone
To God and Truth! Deaf are the ears of stone.
Bow down to none but God, whom Heaven adores!
All else are false, both priests and emperors!
(Translated by C. H. Andrusyshen and W. Kirkconnell)
2. Compromise with evil represents the next manifestation of the pagan worldview. According to this, evil is necessary. It is complementary to the good. Evil accomplishes useful work in the universe. No one can avoid it. This worldview is antagonistic to the statement “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” because it always has some room for darkness.
Average people, advocates of such a worldview, justify the war of aggression, terror or genocide as necessary steps. “Nothing is clear”, “Nobody is innocent”, “I was only following orders”, “You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs” – these sayings are typical for worshipers of evil. Those Russian people who support the aggression against Ukraine recognize that it is evil. However, in their universe this evil is necessary and justified.
3. Opportunistic morality represents the third component of this pagan worldview. It is based on the simple principle: everything which is utilitarian for me is correct. Utility and profit determine every step. In this context, one should remember the massive false denunciations of neighbors in the Soviet period, the joy of moving into an apartment of "enemies of the people" who were arrested and shot, millions of anonymous letters and reports against colleagues which were sent to the KGB by average Soviet citizens. The horrifying details of this everyday hell were described in the texts of the Ukrainian prisoners and decedents – Ivan Bahrianyi, Vasyl Stus, Ivan Svitlychny and many others. Nowadays many Russian soldiers are bombing and shelling residential areas of Ukrainian cities, guided by the “simple” desire to repay the loan or get a trophy for their summer houses (dachas).
Therefore, instead of the advertised Russian Orthodox Renaissance of the last 30 years we see the strengthening of archaic paganism in its worst manifestations. (One must not forget about the decent people of ancient Greece and Rome). In fact, the "symphony" of the Church and the State, the servility before the sponsors and oligarchs, replacement (substitution) of the Gospel by the ideology of the “Russian world” has led to the real abomination of desolation. Ukrainian Christians have to take a lesson from this clash. Similar temptations to serve the State or some attractive ideology might arise before them after the war.
Roman Bilyashevych, Assistant Academic Dean