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Holy Russia? Believers debate Putin’s record as a Christian leader

“They even have a name for such an official: ‘a candlestick,’” Kucherskaya said.

Kucherskaya’s 2011 book, “Faith and Humor,” detailed the rebirth of Russian Orthodoxy in the 1990s after the fall of communism. But as parish attendance plateaued and church officials began collaborating with the government, she said her optimism waned.

For public officials to be credible as Christian leaders, she said, they would have to be “more merciful, caring, attentive to people’s needs.”

Deacon Andrey Kuraev, a popular blogger and critic of church-state ties, said he was skeptical of some of the government’s measures to promote Orthodoxy in modern Russia.

For the government “to defend Christian values is good, but the question is what values,” Deacon Kuraev said. “Is the right to independent thinking and freedom of religion one of these values?”

He noted that that the Russian government under Putin has restricted religious freedom for some non-Orthodox groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“The Gospel says that he who digs a pit for others may fall into it himself,” Deacon Kuraev said. “I am afraid that the laws against cults developing today with the cooperation of the church could be turned against us in the future.”

For Maria Gnevsheva, 19, a student of Danish and Scandinavian literature at Moscow State University, politics should be kept out of religion altogether.

“It is true that our president supports Orthodoxy,” Gnevsheva said. “But I can’t call him an Orthodox leader. He is a secular person, a politician. He’s got his political program. In some cases I agree with him, but sometimes not. I prefer not to mix these things.”

For other Russians, however, the mixing of politics and religion belongs to the Orthodox tradition of “symphonia,” which holds that state and church have a duty to cooperate to realize Christian ideals in society.

Putin is the only Russian leader “in 100 years who understands this role of the state,” said Konstantin Malofeev, a financier and founder of Tsargrad TV, a Russian Orthodox television channel.

Putin has a religious understanding of his office, Malofeev told CNS, and is trying to make Russia a country where “Christians can live and Christians can save their souls for eternal life.”

Putin “could be the champion for all Christians in the world,” he said, adding that, “the Catholic Church is our natural ally.”





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