The Day of National Unity in Russia: Faith and Mockery

We celebrate the Day of National Unity in Russia today. It falls on the same day as the celebration of the Kazan Icon of Our Lady by the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, November 4th has been celebrated since the 17th c., after the Polish-Lithuanian intervention had been driven out of Russia by the Second Volunteer Army of Minin and Pozharsky. The occasion was first commemorated by Mikhail Romanov, the first ruler of the new dynasty on the Russian throne.

“The Russian Orthodox people have for centuries prayed to Our Lady who always defends and helps when the human powers are running low”.

In recent years the civil holiday was widely celebrated by the parades and street performances, but naturally, this year such events were out of the question. On the contrary, the faithful flocked to churches this morning. Many Russian Orthodox churches traditionally serve two liturgies on big holidays like this one, to accommodate as many believers as possible. I, too, went to the church today, although I couldn’t stay for the service.

I’m drafting a big article on satyre, the mockery of religious beliefs and the impact it has on the world today. One thing I certainly find disturbing is that we are not serious enough about the really important things. We take politics very seriously; we take economy and money-making even more seriously; and expendables, like buckwheat and toilet paper, seem the end of it all. But our world is growing exponentially void of sympathy and respect. For is there really an explanation to the fact that, while the Act of Equal Opportunities demands employment to all despite their (dis)abilities, religious beliefs, sexuality and gender, the artists and journalists demand the right to mock faith and its most important aspects? Logically, this means 1) that a person outside the titular spectrum is given a competitive advantage based on their “difference” but at the time 2) in return for the titular population tolerating their “difference” they are made to tolerate the mockery of some very important aspects of their culture, namely, faith.

Christianity has undergone this hysteria during the Reformation, when zealous Protestants whitewashed the opulent Catholic frescoes and broke the statues of saints and prophets. There has long been a taciturn consensus between the different denominations within the Christian Church, whereby the Russian Orthodox Church remains faithful to the old Byzantine order, preserving the spirit of Christianity, while Catholic and Protestant Churches have moved on pastures new, admitting in women and gay priests. The thing is very different with Islam, as according to traditional Christian thought, Muhammad is a fake prophet, hence Islam is a sect, not a religion in its proper sense of the word. It has been accepted by the civil society, by the lay order, but in terms of religious culture, there has been no acceptance. The Western culture remains largely Christian, and if if chooses to drift anywhere, it is to yoga and Buddhism, not Islam. The Muslim culture doesn’t fit anywhere, so it literally has to fight for itself. Despite this, for nearly a decade European journalists have seen to aggravating the Muslim population by producing caricatures on Muhammad and, most recently, on President Erdogan, who seemingly aspires to resurrect the Ottoman Empire. Add to this the problem of the West “making up” the palatable East and not even attempting to understand the East on the latter’s own terms, and it becomes obvious just how really tragic these caricatures are, and how oblivious is President Macron or other leaders to the real state of things.

Admittedly, Russia today is also performing a balancing act today, following the demise of the USSR and the influx of the cheap labour force from the former Soviet republics. I wrote previously about the Day of National Unity in Russia and the attempt to relegate the revolutionary past into the void of History. However, it is legally prohibited to mock or satirize anyone’s religious beliefs, and I fully support this limitations. I know some call these satirical acts the manifestation of freedom. I strongly believe that freedom is not about how far we can go, but when we choose to stop.