Canonization of soldiers martyrized in Chechnya reveal that Russians do need the faith and their own heroes
At the time when officials speak about spirituality, teachers dispute about introduction of religion lessons into the school curriculum, church hierarchs settle unification of churches and politicians call the church Putin's support, - the Orthodoxy in Russia is living its own life separate from Putin, politics and sometimes even from spirituality itself.
On December 22, 2003 the city court of Mozdok (Chechnya) had an out session in Moscow and gave a repeated hearing of the case on the demise of special purpose police unit soldiers from the Russian city of Sergiyev Posad in Chechnya in spring of 2001. Higher commanders - former Deputy Chief of the Moscow Interior Ministry’s Department Major-General Boris Fadeyev and former Detachment Chief of the united group of troops in Chechnya, Colonel Mikhail Levchenko are blamed for negligence that entailed death of the soldiers.
Lyubov Markelova, the widow of detachment commander Dmitry Markelov brought an icon to the court session. She says: "The icon was painted in memory of the soldiers killed in the Stavropolsky district of Grozny on March 2, 2000." There are the 17 killed soldiers dressed in camouflage and traditional mantles depicted in the icon. The icon was painted several months ago in the Troitse-Sergiyev Monastery. Relatives of the tragically killed soldiers hope the icon will help the court to get to the truth.
Saint Yeugeny – private Rodionov
Yeugeny Rodionov was drafted in 1995; in winter of 1996 the soldier was sent to an outpost on the Ingushetia-Chechnya border. On February 14, together with three young soldiers Yeugeny stopped a minibus for examination. Terrorists headed by brigadier Ruslan Khaikhoroyev got out of the minibus and defeated the young soldiers. At the same very period, older soldiers and officers were celebrating The Saint Valentine's Day; they could not hear the sound of the fight. However, when it turned out the soldiers were gone, the officers decided to accuse them of desertion to avoid any responsibility for the fate of the guys. The terrorists offered private Rodionov make choice: either to adopt Islam and fight for independence of Ichkeria or to die. The soldier refused to adopt Islam. The Chechen brigadier severely tortured him for three months, and cruelly decapitated Yeugeny on May 23, on the day when the young soldier just turned 19. The Chechens preferred the atrocious method of execution because they followed a legend saying that a decapitated victim would not come for the murderer after death. Terrorists demanded that Yeugeny's mother must pay $4,000 for the dead body of her son. The father of the young soldier died as soon as the family received the tragic news about the death of the son. The cruel murderers of Yugeny Rodionov were killed within the past years either by federal forces or by terrorists themselves.
Many people know the tragic story of private Rodionov. There are icons where Yeugeny is depicted dressed in camouflage form and with a halo around his head. The icons are popular with soldiers in Russia, Ukraine and even Yugoslavia where Russian and Serbian soldiers ask Saint Yeugeny to defend them from NATO bombing. There is even an unofficial prayer in commemoration of Saint Yeugeny. Servicemen built a chapel at one of frontier posts in Altai in memory of Martyr Yeugeny and his divine patron. During a religious procession in commemoration of Martyr Yeugeny on November 20, 2002 the icon with the image of the soldier started secreting myrrh. The official Orthodox Church is so far rather cautious about the new saint. Deacon Sergey from the Moscow Patriarchy Department for law enforcement structures and the army says: "Private Yeugeny was martyrized. In the course of time this fact may become the demonstration of his sanctity. Now, documents and evidence are being collected concerning probable canonization of the soldier. Indeed, activity of a saint is characterized with some obvious wonders he works. The only fact that some icons with the image of the soldier started secreting myrrh does not prove his sanctity."
Christ and Coca-Cola
On January 14, 2003 an exhibition called "Be careful! Religion" was opened in Moscow's Andrey Sakharov Museum. Works of 40 artists from Russia, Cuba, the US, Japan, Georgia and Armenia were exhibited in the framework of the exhibition. Some of the exhibits were extremely unusual. For instance, there was a mirror instead of Christ's head in the copy of The Lord's Supper so that any visitor of the exhibition could imagine himself in the role of the Savior. There was also a full-length icon with a cut instead of the image so that visitors could put their faces and become part of the icon. The image of Jesus Christ was depicted against the background of Coca-Cola advertising with the inscription This Is My Blood in it.
The faithful strongly criticized the exhibition, the same way as Christians often receive typical projects. In 2001, during the exhibition Art-Moscow-2001 children under 18 were not allowed to one of the exhibition halls. An icon with the image of a soldier killed in Chechnya and standing with his decapitated head in the hands and an icon with the Vladimir Mother of God dressed in camouflage uniform were exhibited in the hall. In 2002, a group of Orthodox students of the Russian State Humanitarian University brought an action against the university management because they posted a picture representing Christian apostles together with Egyptian gods. The court rejected the suit.
The exhibition in Sakharov Museum ended quite differently. On January 18, six middle-aged men (they claimed themselves to be ardent Orthodox Christians) came to the exhibition to crush the glass, the installations and spray paint on the pictures. The police detained the hooligans. Metropolitan Kirill, the chairman of the church department for public relations commented upon the incident and called the exhibition "an obvious provocation intensifying tension in the society." Even though he said that the hooligans acted inadmissibly, he was still puzzled why that exhibition was organized at all.
The exhibition was closed before the appointed time. Zamoskvoretsky Court of Moscow declared the prosecution of the six men illegal. Criminal proceedings were started instead against the organizers of the exhibition on the charges of spreading religious hostility; the investigation is not yet over.
These are not the only examples of interaction between the religion and the society. A public committee "For moral revival of the society" has been recently created to fight against organization of "bad" exhibitions on the legal basis. Unification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Orthodox Church abroad is being actively discussed. This is important that today the Russian Orthodox Church can exert much influence upon the leadership of the country as compared with Boris Yeltsin’s epoch. It is said that President Putin has a confessor of his own, archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov) from Sretensky Monastery. However, some processes do occur among the people as well. The exhibition crushing and canonization of soldiers martyrized in Chechnya reveal that Russians do need the faith and their own heroes.