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January 08, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Roman Bagdasarov

CHRISTMAS IN NEW JERUSALEM

Vladimir Putin paves the way of pilgrimage for future leaders of Russia

In this year, Vladimir Putin was meeting Christmas at the New Jerusalem Monastery in Moscow Region. It is not only one of the most beautiful architectural monuments of the XVII century but also the incarnation of mystical revelations of the epoch of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, and certainly, of Patriarch Nikon who initiated its construction. Echoing the architecture of Orthodox monasteries in Palestine of that time, the New Jerusalem Resurrection Monastery is surrounded with mysteries until now. According to the local legend, the Monastery contains a marble plaque from the Holy Sepulchre.

Today, the Monastery is in the final phase of restoration. The long-time effort of its revival is supposed to display this pearl of Orthodox architecture in is initial grace. Along with the parishioners, Vladimir Putin attended the service in the Cathedral of Christbirth. After that, the prior, Archimandrite Nikita, accompanied the President in a walk across the monastery's territory, resembling the Holy City in a miniature.

Vladimir Putin belongs to a different generation than his predecessor at the supreme power position in the Russian state, and his address to religious traditions is essentially different from Yeltsin's style.

Boris Yeltsin was interested in Orthodoxy as an additional means of legitimization of his rule, which was often shaking at the brink of law, but the former Communist Party functionary never seriously tried to penetrate in the essence of Christianity. Displaying no confusion, he would address the Russians with the greeting "Christ has arisen!" on the day of Christmas, bluntly suggesting that the believers would appreciate the very fact of presidential attention to their faith.

Unlike Yeltsin with his pompous intervention into the "sacred space", Vladimir Putin behaves in the ecclesiastical realm as a member of the Orthodox community, and not as a ruler. He attends churches and monasteries in an emphatically private manner. "Today, my presence in holy places attracts attention, as any visit of mine, but that does not mean that I have never been in such places before", the President once said.

We remind that right after his nomination as acting President on the New Year eve of 2000, Putin attended the whole Christmas matins at the Trinity Cathedral on Vorobyov Hills. Next year, he was seen in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior; that visit was actually an international family event, as he arrived together with Germany's General Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, both leaders with their spouses. In the following years, Putin attended Christmas services far from the capital of Russia: in Agapovo, Chelyabinsk Region; in Gorodnya, Tver Region; twice on the Golden Circle – near Suzdal and in Vladimir, and once in the frosty Yakutsk.

The President's working schedule included also pilgrimage. In particular, in September 2005 he visited Mount Athos. When he made this decision, major mass media displayed their indifference to Christianity, neglecting this event. Meanwhile, the commitment of Russia's leader to visit the heart of Orthodox asceticism was more than important. After all, Putin was the first Russian leader not only among the presidents but also among the monarchs to visit the holy place.

Putin's 2001 arrival at the Valaam Isle, the cradle of Orthodox monkhood in the Russian North, associated in legends with the name of Apostle Andrew, was of similarly crucial importance, as well as his presence at the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of glorification of Rev. Seraphim Sarovsky in 2003.

In his status of President, Vladimir Putin rather dissembles than demonstrates his religious belief, as in a multi-confessional nation, he is obliged to patronize not only Orthodox Christianity but other religions of Russia as well.

Putin's superb style of attendance of religious ceremonies, as well as his systematic pilgrimage, clearly reflects the behavior of a churched person, and not just public relation considerations. One can't help noticing that Putin is consciously paving the way of pilgrimage for the Russian Presidency as such – not only for himself but for his successors as well.


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