In a speech delivered on May 6 last, Patriarch Kirill – the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church – defined the Russian war in Syria as a conflict “against global terrorism” and hence suggested a “holy war” to free not only the Middle East, but also the entire Christian civilization, from this “fierce and deceitful enemy”.
Russia as a “third Rome”, after the first falling and the second failing because it surrendered to the profane world.
Patriarch Kirill believes that Christians are in terrible danger in many countries – and this is the reason why the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church cherishes good memories of the meeting he had in Cuba with Pope Francis.
A meeting that, as Patriarch Kirill said, “took place in the right place and at the right time”. After one thousand years.
The Church of Rome has realized that modern society is failing and that an alliance of religions is needed to save the world. This is an idea that the Patriarch of Moscow has always had and, after the USSR collapse, Russia can finally work freely with the West.
And Patriarch Kirill has certainly been the least pro-Soviet of the Orthodox Fathers.
In other words, the Russian Church – closely linked to the new regime of Vladimir Putin, who never forgets his role as believer – is thinking of an agreement – not necessarily hegemonic – with the Roman Church.
An agreement to overcome the “two worlds”, the East and the West, and unite and federate the Middle East, the cradle of the Faith (and of the Faiths) and strategic axis between the East and the West.
By explicit admission and also by tacit activity of the Pope, the Catholic Church has now become not only the “field hospital” of the world crisis, but the only geopolitical point of reference of the poor and miserable people of the old “Third World”, which is experiencing one financial crisis after the other.
However, we are still in a pro-Western area.
Conversely, the Russian Church intends to maintain its traditional role in the East so as to become the only “voice of the poor” against the old and new imperialism, but in a new multipolar context beyond the old US and Western hegemony.
Hence Patriarch Kirill proposal for a single anti-terrorist coalition operating in the world.
On February 19 last, in Moscow, when the Orthodox Patriarch received the Patriarch of Antioch, John Yazigi X – born in Latakia and supporter of Bashar al-Assad – he recalled that “ISIS was discrediting the image of Islam with the whole world”.
Patriarch Kirill wants to separate the jihad from mass Islam and unite the latter to make it support his interreligious dialogue project, which should manage the future distribution of power in the Middle East.
Said distribution will not be State-based, but religious and community-based – hence beyond the spheres of influence madly designed in the desert by the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
A communication strategy that, in this case, associates Patriarch Kirill with Pope Francis.
As we have seen, they both want to separate the jihad from current Islam, although it seems that they do not perceive the profound practical and theoretical transformation modern jihadism has brought about in the symbols and practice of any forms of contemporary Islamism – from the Afghan “resistance” against the Russian troops until Bin Laden.
After the current sword jihad, nothing – even in the Quietist Islam – will be the same as before.
In this case, however, separating the wheat from the chaff can allow something new: the emergence of an Islam not only peaceful, but with two other characteristics: the fact of being national, and not vaguely and violently universalist, and with a new and strong, relationship with the local and regional political authorities.
An Islam typical of the old Caliphate, but capable of having a wide echo, instead of the Islam damned and cursed by everybody and now at the end of its war with its new Caliphate.
In fact, Patriarch Kirill thinks that ISIS is “anti-Arab” and it is also “destroying the Middle East”.
In other words, the Russian Orthodox leaders – who certainly do not speak without Vladimir Putin’s permission – think that the Caliphate’s jihadism wants to weaken the current Middle East States, with a view to delivering them to non-State entities, behind which the Patriarch sees above all the New West, dissolving the old national and religious identities into a postmodern and harshly materialistic and capitalist medium.
Patriarch Kirill’s apparently “backward” ideas have a clear relationship with Orthodox Russia’s foreign policy: abortion, easy divorce, drugs, propaganda for homosexuality are all psychological warfare operations designed to destroying States, religious communities and, above all, social solidarity, with a view to paving the way for atheism but, in particular, for the post-capitalist social fragmentation and atomization.
It would be the end of the Middle East, which would be turned into a cultural desert, much more than the jihad has done so far.
As Pope Francis said at the meeting held last February with the representatives of “Economia e Unione”, overcoming capitalism is now a well-acquired fact, thus going well beyond the traditional social doctrine of the Church.
As the Pope said, capitalism “knows philanthropy, but not communion.”
According to Patriarch Kirill, whose Church is much more integrated into the Russian financial and political system than Catholicism in the West, capitalism is an asset as it produces the goods for the poor.
According to the Russian Patriarch, it is the Orthodox Church which distributes the superfluous and corrects society and its economy.
Traditionally, Orthodoxy is a Church that is not only Sponsa Christi, but bodily and practical presence of Jesus Christ among the people and in history.
The Roman Church is a different case, because it operates above all with Catholic laity and personal persuasion – in a much more anti-religious world than the one typical of the current Slavic world.
Furthermore, in the encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, the decisive mechanism for society and the economy is that of a liturgical and sacred culture that generates a gift economy.
According to Patriarch Kirill, however, peace in the Middle East can be certainly achieved with the new relationship established with the Church of Rome, but above all by reactivating the old “Orthodox Imperial Society of Palestine”, which shall reacquire all the huge and ancient Russian properties in the Middle East.
The Society also wants to reacquire the Israeli side of the Monastery of Saints Cyril and Methodius and put back in order the Monastery of Alexandrovsky in Jerusalem, as well as the other eleven churches and the three Orthodox sites still owned by the Russian Orthodox Church outside the motherland.
One of the largest and symbolically most important properties of the Churches in all the Sacred Places, which Patriarch Kirill (and Putin) will use with extreme subtlety to conquer Middle East peoples’ minds and hearts.
The cross of the Slavic Church has two inscriptions in Russian, which are very important, especially today: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet” (Isaiah, 62).
Hence Patriarch Kirill’s underlying idea is to return to the pre-revolutionary situation when there were over 100 Orthodox schools and education institutes in 50 different cities throughout Syria.
An immense cultural and political presence that no media propaganda can supplant and replace.
Currently 500 Palestinian children are already attending the Russian school in Bethlehem, opened under the aegis of the Imperial Society.
For the Slavic Orthodox Church, the destabilization strategy in Ukraine and the one in the current Middle East with the jihad is one and one only and mainly concerns the persecution of Christian peoples throughout the area, as well as in the Maghreb region.
It is related to the geopolitics of the atheistic and consumerist destabilization carried out by the Western countries that have fomented at first the Caucasus insurgency and later the “Arab Springs”.
Patriarch Kirill believes that the Westernization outside the EU and United States has already failed.
It is easy to understand how the Russian Patriarch rightly believes that the “Arab Springs” are at the origin of the current destabilization in the Middle East and of its de-Christianization.
The Western countries do nothing – or, indeed, very little – to rescue and then host the Middle East Christian migrants. Only the Russian Church and the Vatican have taken actions in this regard, in spite of the difficult conditions also caused by the presence of many migrants from Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill supports a theology of the new community and religious regionalization in the Middle East, against the globalization that has favoured a satanic “modernization”, namely that of the jihad.
Hence another asset of the Russian Church, which is preparing Russia’s expansion throughout the region, between Syria, Iraq, the Lebanon and Palestine, by taking credit for the protection of Christians, including those faithful to Rome.
As the Melchite (hence Catholic) Archbishop of Syria – Joseph Absi -– says, this leads to the additional Orthodox asset of deciding to put an end to all the rivalries between the Middle East Christian Churches, which weaken the Faith faced with a fierce and unscrupulous enemy.
Ferocious as a fanatic, modernizer as a post-modern.
Either sword jihad or pro-Western mass atheism – destroying the differences in the Middle East is not Patriarch Kirill’s nor Putin’s goal.
There are 22 local Churches in communion with the Church of Rome throughout the Middle East and many argue that – considering the needs for local autonomy in the new Middle East – the union between the Orthodoxy and the Roman Church should be based on a pluralistic project “to separate the communion from the authority”.
Patriarch Kirill’s goals also include support for the small, but growing Catholic community speaking Hebrew and operating in Israel, as well as defining fixed dates for pilgrimages to the Holy Land so as to maintain a continuous flow of faithful from abroad.
According to Patriarch Kirill, all Christian communities are protected in Israel.
And the Jewish State can develop – without losing its identity – into a political entity protecting religious minorities throughout the Middle East.
The great presence of Russian migrants in the Jewish State makes many Orthodox pilgrims “feel at home” and the current agreement between Russia and Israel on passports makes everything easier.
Also at religious level, the Russian Orthodoxy is essentially a geopolitical project to protect all Christian minorities throughout the Middle East – as “major shareholder” of Christianity – as well as to collaborate with the Vatican, which still has a pro-Western geopolitics, and finally create a cultural and religious climate to support Russia’s operations.
In short, Patriarch Kirill wants Israel to collaborate to his interreligious project. He particularly appreciates the significant presence of the Jewish State in Russia and proposes a relationship between Orthodox people and Judaism, foreshadowing – at religious level – the future bilateral and preferential relationship between Russia and Israel.
As to Saudi Arabia, the Russian Church has supported President Putin’s policy of opening, by maintaining that all the Islamic countries, often hit by ISIS, such as Saudi Arabia, must enter an interreligious alliance against extremism and terrorism in a multilateral context.
Moreover, within the framework of the complex Lebanese issue, as early as the visit paid by Patriarch Kirill in the Lebanon in 2011, the Slavic Orthodox Church has been referring to the support for Syria to defend peace and religious pluralism also in the Lebanon.
The 2001 visit had been planned with the Vatican support and the establishment of a specific relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Maronites, in particular, who have always been faithful to Rome.
Hence, while in the Greater Middle East, the Westerners ally with vast Islamic communities known as “moderates”, the Russian Orthodox Church becomes the united pole of all the Christians in the region. Furthermore, while the Vatican reduces its presence in the core of the Islamic world, to avoid retaliation or to promote dialogue with the Mohammedans in Europe, the Russian Church establishes a stable relationship with all religious faiths in the region. Finally, while Islam has its own statehood, the Orthodox Russia treats us amicably; while Judaism discusses in theological terms, the Russian Church extends the interreligious debate also to Israel.
Hence, for Russia, the construction of religious hegemony, which seems to be the necessary shadow of Putin’s project for multipolar control over the Middle East after the United States being forced to leave the region, due to the many mistakes made, thus leaving it in the hands of unreliable “friends”.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France