Christmas 2022, after more than 300 days of war in Ukraine, shows up in Russia with a decidedly humble and torn dress, like the dirty green one of Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz) of ancient Slavic pagan evocation, in place of the flamboyant Anglo-Saxon Saint Klaus, dressed in red by the grace of Coca-Cola, and abhorred together with all the “false values of the West”. Certainly there will be no trace of the Latin cribs, except in some corner of the intimidated Catholic parishes, scattered across the vast territory of the empire at war with the world.
In the post-Soviet thirty years, Christmas had doubled, welcoming December 25 of the Gregorian calendar, without conflicts with January 7 of the Julian calendar of the Orthodox Church. It was not an ecumenical opening, but a commercial invasion, many and gigantic outlet open in Moscow and in the main cities, which today are almost deserted due to the flight of foreign companies, when they are not destroyed by fires which are repeated more and more often, due to poor maintenance or perhaps damnatio memoriae. There is no more Ikea, Auchan, Carrefour, Obi and Bricofer, there are no more gadgets and catchphrases that from the beginning of November have launched the most vacuous and sugary business at all latitudes. Christmas, moreover, is the feast of the exchange of gifts and greetings since its inception in ancient imperial Rome, already in the Christian era and also with anti-Christian functions, then adopted by Christians in an anti-imperial function.
The Christians of the East, of Alexandria and Antioch, in the first centuries did not immediately assume this transformation, being more resistant to the Roman-Christian fusion, and celebrated Christmas on January 6th. It was the feast later codified as Epiphany, even if it was initially proclaimed Theophany, the mystery of all the divine manifestations in the Incarnation, in the Adoration of the Magi and in the Baptism of Jesus, the event of the true expression of Christ’s divine nature in front of the people. These dates have historically realigned themselves in different ways, and the Orthodox have further complicated the chronological comparison, rejecting the papal calendar of 1582. It was precisely the Russians, who proclaimed the patriarchate of Moscow seven years later, who raged against the Roman attempt to subjugate throughout the world also in the numbering of days, and since then the distance has remained not only for Christmas and all liturgical feasts, but in wider dimensions of the spirit and of historical awareness. Suffice it to say that the “October Revolution” actually took place on November 7, when the old calendar discounted the almost two-week delay.
The Russians who came out of the Soviet mists, where the New Year was exalted without religion, but with so much pagan folklore, had pleasantly adapted to celebrate the western “Christmas”, called Krizmes in the Russian style, passing after the New Year’s barrels to await the Orthodox Christmas of January 7th. The dance of dates also left the “Old New Year” (Stary Novy God) to January 14, and the Epiphany is solemnized on the 19th. It is the feast of the Kresceniethe Baptism of the Lord which in Russia assumes the experience of “extreme” orthodoxy, immersing itself in the Jordan, the cross opening in the frozen lakes, in memory of Christ’s immersion in the Jordan. President Putin is always among the first to appear in Bermuda shorts at -20 degrees, as he descends into the sacred pool of Russian identity of the Great Baptismal Frost, the Kreshchenskye Morozi that no other people are able to practice.
Now the frost is no longer just the dimension of devotional pride, but also the figure of the dramatic condition of the war, wanted by the Russians as an imposition on Ukraine and the entire West. On the war front, in Bakhmut, Christmas and New Year are celebrated in the basements and shelters, where the Elke (Christmas trees) and all the Christian symbols of East and West, cribs and icons. Russian leaders wish the entire Western world to experience “the coldest winter in history”, even if meteorology so far seems to be on the side of Biden and Zelenskyj, who have just exchanged warm wishes with gifts of Patriot missiles, prompting further grudges in the Kremlin.
After all, even in Russia the frost descends in the houses, where there is no heating due to consequences always linked to the war, from energy shortages to the absence of technicians and maintenance shifts, all being reserved for war operations. The great New Year’s scenes of Soviet memory are in turn dedicated to the rhetoric of the apocalyptic confrontation with the West; many governors have canceled or reduced the expenses for these days, or have decided to donate collections of goods and gifts from citizens to soldiers mobilized at the front. There is no “Christmas truce” like that of 1914 between the British and Germans in the First World War, if anything, there is fear of a “Christmas assault” to find Victory in place of the Theophany, in a mystical replacement of the Child with the People.
If Joseph and Mary had moved to Bethlehem for the census of Augustus, who intended to make the whole world a single seat of Rome, today it is the Ukrainian refugees and the Asian and African migrants who have to register themselves in the identities of the new empire. In Russia, the government has therefore decided to require all Ukrainian refugees or forcibly displaced to destroy their documents, replacing the Trident of Kiev with the Eagle of Moscow. Those found still in possession of cards with Ukrainian symbols risk 8 to 15 years in prison, even if only for keeping the old maps showing Crimea as part of Ukraine. The Holy People is one, the identities are summarized in that of Great Russia, as in the times of the Caesars and the Tsars.
The two-headed eagle that distinguishes the flag of Russia is in fact a legacy of imperial Rome, adopted by the Russians who dreamed of the Third Rome, but also adopted by the Habsburgs, Serbs, Armenians and even the Indians. It was the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, who imagined the eagle of power looking to East and West, to Asia and Europe, in the new division of the empire after the foundation of Constantinople, the Second Rome. The princes of Moscow who wanted to become Caesar received it as a gift from a Byzantine princess, Sofia Paleologa, who at the end of the fifteenth century had been sent to Moscow by Pope Paul II, with the vain illusion of converting Grand Duke Ivan III to Catholicism. Since then the Muscovite claim to translatio imperii it has known many forms, always sealed by the imperial eagle, replaced for a few decades by the two-headed hammer and sickle, symbols of the communist and Stalinist religion.
For these reasons, in 1992, upon the proclamation of independence and the first real affirmation of a national consciousness, Ukraine chose a symbol that underlined the different conception of the “Russian world” in the Western version. The coat of arms of Ukraine became the Trizub, the Trident attributed to Prince Vladimir, baptizer of Kievan Rus’ in 988, and to the entire line of Rjurikid monarchs, descendants of the mythical Varangian Rjurik, the true founder of the Russian lands. This dynasty ended after the delusions of grandeur of Ivan the Terrible at the end of the sixteenth century, with the reign of Boris Godunov who paved the way for the Romanovs, the Russifying czars so hated by the Ukrainians and so exalted by Putin. The war “of the passports” will therefore also see the replacement of symbols, so as not to leave a trace of heretical and “satanic” memories, which obscure the new cult that will “save the world”.
In Ukraine, on the other hand, the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Metropolitan Epifanyj has officially decided to leave the choice of the date of Christmas to all local communities, the Rizdvo in the Ukrainian language, on December 25 or January 7, depending on the traditions and customs, but also on the sensitivity of the priests and parishioners. It was an ongoing discussion since the delivery of the Tomos of ecclesiastical autonomy by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who in turn declared that he was willing to agree on the Christmas and Easter calendar with the Pope of Rome, to overcome the divisions of the past.
Christians have been fighting over the dates of the liturgical calendar since apostolic times, and the first schism was overcome by Saint Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century, convincing the pope not to excommunicate anyone who wanted Easter before or after the dates set in relation to traditions Jewish and Judeo-Christian. He was a saint from Asia who had gone to preach in Gaul, inaugurating the meeting of souls and the great currents of Christian spirituality, rediscovering the miracle of a child brought to Bethlehem from Galilee. The Holy Family traveled from the land of the pagans to that of the house of David, without eagles or triforked spears, warming themselves in the cold thanks to the “pagan breath” of the donkey (symbol of the Gentiles, according to Irenaeus) and the “Orthodox breath” of the ox, and Jesus became the incarnate symbol of peace among all peoples.