A recent cover of The Economist pictures Russian President Vladimir Putin dressed as a Russian czar with the caption “A Tsar is born.” Why would Putin, a career KGB officer of the atheistic U.S.S.R., identify with tsars who were Russian Orthodox Christians? Our three greatest global enemies today, Russia, Muslims, and China, are all driven to reestablish their historical status grounded in religion. [1]

A recent cover of The Economist pictures Russian President Vladimir Putin dressed as a Russian czar with the caption “A Tsar is born.” Why would Putin, a career KGB officer of the atheistic U.S.S.R., identify with tsars who were Russian Orthodox Christians? Our three greatest global enemies today, Russia, Muslims, and China, are all driven to reestablish their historical status grounded in religion. [1]

Church and State

When Jesus ascended he left no official creed or recommended organizational form for his followers. Consequently, hundreds of years of controversy and conflict ensued as His followers struggled to establish doctrine and structure. Their greatest debate and conflict concerned what we know as the Trinity e.g., essence of three persons God, Jesus, Holy Spirit.

In 312 before the Battle of the Mulvian Bridge, Emperor Constantine I [272-337 A.D.], experienced a vision of a cross in the sky with the command to battle in its name. Winning led him to adopt Christianity. After becoming sole emperor his Edict of Milan in 313 brought religious toleration-ending persecution of Christians.

The Edict did not end the argument and agitation so in 325 Constantine called a council in Nicaea to which he invited all bishops to attend, all-expenses-paid, to which 318 responded. Meeting in the imperial palace, the Council approved the mystery of the Trinity, anathematized Arius, and Constantine exiled Arius.

Constantine viewed the dispute “quite trifling,..entirely devoid of importance, problems that idleness alone raises, silly actions worthy of inexperienced children, and not of priests or reasonable men.” But, he was impressed by the comparative order and morality of Christian conduct, obedience of Christians to their clergy, their humble acceptance of life’s inequalities in the hope of happiness beyond the grave. The Christians, despite bitter oppression, had rarely revolted against the state, their teachers had inculcated submission to the civil powers, and had taught the divine right of kings. He also hoped the marvelous organization of bishops and priests could become an instrument of pacification, unification, and rule.[2]

Schism

In 330 Constantine moved the capitol 853 miles east where he built a new city named Constantinople [modern Istanbul, Turkey]. By taking leaders of society, government, and the church with him he created a governance vacuum in Rome which was eventually filled by the only organization left capable of governing e.g., Roman Church. The Roman Catholic Church became a state as well as a church and the mold in the West for the next fourteen centuries. [2]

Rome fell in 476 but the Eastern Roman Empire endured until conquered by the Muslims 977 years later. Internal strife and external threats continued, causing church leaders to consolidate and centralize control. In the West the Church dominated the state, and conversely in the East the State dominated the Church.

The Rus

The Verangians were originally Vikings from Sweden . Warring tribes unable to govern themselves sought a prince to rule over them. saying, “Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come reign as princes, rule over us.” The Rus, a Verangian tribe, responded to the appeal by migrating to what is now Russia.

In 862, Rurik and his four Rus brothers and their kin, crossed the Baltic Sea and down the Volkhov River to Novgorod, 75 miles southwest of modern St. Petersburg. Following the Dnieper River in 882, the Rus under Rurik’s relative Oleg migrated south 558 miles to and conquered Kiev [capitol of modern Ukraine]—thus establishing Kievan Rus. Being of Viking stock and obstreperous, they became river pirates and later bodyguards of the Byzantine emperor.

Baptism of Kievans

Eastern Slavs were ruled by the Rus ruler Vladimir in 980 who needed religious peace to bring unity and allegiance to his people through religion. He sent out his knights [boyars] to investigate the religions neighboring countries had adopted. None was acceptable but Eastern Orthodoxy with it relics, icons, incense, rituals and magnificent cathedral, Hagia Sophia. The envoys were bowled over and strongly recommended Eastern Orthodoxy centered in Constantinople. Byzantine Emperor Basil II and Vladimir needed each other at the moment for military reasons and struck a deal involving mutual assistance. Vladimir’s end of the bargain was to submit to Christian baptism and bring his people to the new faith in return for which he would receive military assistance and the hand in marriage of Basil’s sister.

Thus in 988 at Cherson, a suburb of Sevastopal on the southwestern coast of the Crimean peninsula Eastern Orthodox priests baptized Vladimir in the Dnieper River , renaming him Basil. This was followed by a mass baptism of Vladimir’s twelve sons, most of his boyars and the residents of Kiev who answered Vladimir’s summons, “Come to the river on the following day lest [they] risk becoming the prince’s enemies.” . By baptizing his subjects, Vladimir signaled the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity as his state religion.

In 1393 the Patriarch Antony IV of Constantinople wrote to Basis I of Muscovy, “it is not possible among Christians to have a church and not to have an emperor. For the empire and the Church have great unity and commonality, and it is not possible to separate them.” They were separated during the 75 years of the USSR. Needing the church’s imprimatur Vladimir Putin has for years now supported and sought the Russian Orthodox church’s friendship and support.

[1] The Economist, Oct. 28-Nov.3, 2017

[2] Will Durant, Caesar and Christ Part III, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1944, 655-661.