In Russia, President Vladimir Putin marked the celebration of Theophany (sometimes called “Epiphany” in the West) in the usual way – by immersing himself in freezing cold water in Lake Seliger at a monastery near Tver, some 200 miles north of Moscow.
January 19th marks the Orthodox Christian celebration of the feast known as “Holy Theophany.” This feast commemorates the Baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. In Russia, Greece and other Orthodox Christian countries, there is a tradition that all the waters of the world are distinctly blessed, made holy, and so many people celebrate this by jumping into bodies of water – rivers, lakes, the ocean; no matter how cold. Picture of cross-shaped holes in thick lake ice, and bare-skinned Russian men and swimsuit-clad women are a yearly distribution because of this feast.
Fox News received and ran the video of President Putin doing this.
But the comment of one of the anchors on the program, “I just did not perceive him having a religious side, until just now…” says a lot about the American view of Putin, aided and abetted by a virtual news blackout regarding Russian life and the Russian leader himself.
The common American narrative about Vladimir Putin comprises terms like “KGB thug”, “Secret Communist”, “Tsar-aspirant” and many other things. But such a narrative is so completely divorced from reality that we as Americans generally do not know about the president’s commitment to the Church to Christ, and that even while far from perfect, just like any one of us, this man has made a real committment.
He has been very strict against desecration of holy places, as in the Pussy Riot incident in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, he has built monastic establishments like one on Valaam in the Karelian region,
Tsargrad TV is the fastest growing network in Moscow and it features the many new church cupolas and crosses vying for the skyline against diminishing numbers of hammer-and-sickle iconography. Even Al-Jazeera’s rather secular bias notes in this piece that the President has moved the Russian Church to center-stage.
Of course, though, the secular media, including the specifically American counterparts – even Fox News, which is categorized as conservative and thus, Christian-friendly – are really quite disconnected from Christianity as reality. The pieces and coverage from the West treat Christian commitment either as something quaint and outdated, or as a necessarily conspiratorial tool for people like Putin to advance their own power.
It seems that the idea of simple, honest faith, has passed completely out of style in the West, and maybe this is why the Americans and Europeans cannot – and will not – understand Putin and his actions.
For an Orthodox Christian believer, it is far easier to understand that the president is the real deal.