Contrary to what most people think, I see few signs of the neo-Sovietization of Russia. What I have observed, however, is a return to Russian traditionalism, even a kind of re-embrace of Tsarist symbolism. I’ve noticed this in several areas of Russian daily life: Christmas cards with the recently canonized last Romanov family, icons of the last Tsar sold in kiosks, large portraits of Petr Stolypin and Sergei Witte at the entrance of the International University, and book after book reevaluating the late Tsarist period, newly published volumes of Stolypin’s collected works, and the memoirs of not only Witte, but the diaries and biographies of princes and princesses in bookstores.
Let us also not forget the growing assertiveness of the Orthodox Church in cultural and political life, or the fact that Dmitri Medvedev’s inauguration looked like a Tsarist coronation more than anything. They might as well had placed the Russian Constitution on his head rather than having him swear to it. To me, “Sovereign democracy” is more reminiscent of Nicholas I’s “Official Nationality” with its cornerstones Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality. Indeed, even the portraits of Putin and Medvedev hanging on chinovniki’s walls are more Tsarist in origin. As is the “cult of personality” Putin recently denied he had. This is not to say that Russia hasn’t changed. It’s only to suggest that it takes from its Tsarist as much as its Soviet pasts as it negotiates the present contours of its national character.
Putin may deny that he has a cult of personality all he wants. The truth is that every Russian leader has had one, and in a way, this is to be expected in a culture where autocracy, whether in Tsarist or Communist form, has been the norm rather than the exception. Russia is also a very patriarchal society, where the leader is seen more as a father of the nation that exhibits both awesomeness and piety. This figure of the father is reproduced from the Kremlin all the way down to the household.
Given this historical and cultural context, it is not too surprising that organizers from Suvorov Military College distributed a “Prayer for the President” to children at their Children’s Day event. Yelena Sakhno, one of the event’s organizers, told the Moscow Times, “We didn’t consider the inclusion of Orthodox literature among the presents to be reprehensible. The prayer for the head of state is traditional in the canons of the church service. The Patriarch’s office was more circumspect:
“On the one hand, the church is aware of the capability of prayer for those in power. For example, before the Soviet regime there was a tradition to pray for the emperor and his family. There is nothing wrong with mentioning our President in our prayers. But on the other hand, there exists a public church confession when the patriarch blesses a prayer. That said, anyone can compose prayers and pray in their own way. Again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with such a prayer, but I think it’s wrong distribute an unfavorable prayer to the public at large. I think that it is unlikely that this prayer will receive the patriarch’s approval in the future,” Alexander Volkov, Moscow Patriarchate’s press secretary, told Fontanka.
What is this “Prayer to the President”? Here is a translation below. Feel free to recite when necessary.
O Lord God, Great King, the Eternal One, Lord Thy Archangel Mikhail come to the aid of his servants Dimitri [Medvedev] and Vladimir [Putin] delivering them from enemies both visible and invisible. O Lord Great Archangel Mikhail, smiter of demons, prevent all their enemies who fight against them, who make enemies in the flock, smite them into ash before the face of the wind. O Lord Great Archangel Mikhail, sixth angel, first Prince and Knight of Infamous Might of Cherubim and Seraphim. O Miraculous Archangel Mikhail, guardian of infinite secrets, be a Great helper providing a peaceful shelter to them from all insults, sorrow, sadness, and in deserts, at crossroads, in rivers and in seas. Deliver them, Great Archangel Mikhail from every demoniacal temptation and listen to us, Your sinful slaves, who pray to You and call Your holy name to listen to our prayers and quickly come to our help.
O Great Archangel Mikhail defeat all those who oppose us with the might of the Holy Cross, the prayers of the Holy Virgin and the Holy Angel and Holy Apostle, Saint Nikolai the Miracle Worker, the Prophet Elijah, the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, Saint Pantaleon, Nikita and Evstafiia and the venerable Father, and the newly martyred and confessor of Russia (Rossiiskii), the Passionate Tsar Nicholas and all the saints.
O, Great Archangel Mikhail, help us, the sinful, deliver us from cowardice, deluge, fire, the sword, from futile death and from all evil, and from every sycophantic enemy, and from crippling storms and from cunning saviors, Great Mikhail the Archangel of God, always present and eternal for all centuries. Amen.