Skip to comments.Analysis: Christian revival at Russian battlefield
Posted on 05/02/2005 6:19:23 PM PDT by Destro
Analysis: Christian revival at Russian battlefield
By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Published April 28, 2005
BELGOROD, Russia -- There is literally nothing to look at in the rich, black earth wheat fields of Belgorod province: Nothing to reveal from the gently undulating land that the greatest tank battle of all time was fought here. Yet the monuments to the 1943 Battle of Kursk contain many surprises and startling clues to the future destiny of Russia.
The land is strikingly reminiscent of the industrial Midwest. You could be in Wisconsin or Indiana, close to Milwaukee or Indianapolis. There is the same causal intermixing of industry and farmland. And like Wisconsin, the land is blessed by a plethora of small and charming lakes heralded by wisps of woodland. Take a closer look, however, and it is clear none of those trees is more than half a century old. Everything around here, whether they were the works of nature or man, was pulverized before that date.
For Belgorod was one of the two focal points of the Battle of Kursk, a battle of legendary import to military scholars. In 50 days of fighting, 300,000 Germans and 300,000 Soviet soldiers perished here, three times the battlefield dead and almost the entire total death toll of the U.S. Civil War. More Soviet soldiers fell here than the entire U.S. combat dead of World War II, and when it was all done, the fabled panzer tank armies of the Third Reich were shattered forever. The last offensive armored thrust that Adolf Hitler finally mounted at the Battle of the Bulge was a dying whisper by comparison.
At Kursk, the Nazis and the Soviets together deployed 70,000 tanks, self-propelled guns and mobile pieces of artillery. Thousands of aircraft clashed in the skies above the battle. The very earth seemed to heave and vomit in the red-gray upheaval, day after day, week after week.
For half a century, Kursk was glorified as another heroic triumph of the Soviet Union, but in the 13 years and more since the collapse of communism, the narrative has changed, the past has been transformed through the shifting perspective of the present. It is seen through another, far more unexpected glass. For the hundreds of thousands who died defending their Motherland in the wheat fields of west-central Russia are now revered also as Christian martyrs.
A magnificent new Orthodox Christian Cathedral, the Petropavlovsk, or St. Peter and St. Paul, with the familiar magnificent golden onion domes, now soars up above Prokhorovka field, the site of the last "death ride" battle charge of the German panzers against the smaller but more numerous Soviet tanks.
At the farthest point of German penetration, a new memorial stands -- not in the melodramatic over-the-top heroic grandeur of Soviet Socialist realism, nor in the angular, more restrained Le Corbusier straight lines and smooth curves so beloved of later Soviet architects, but something that could have been raised by the tsars. It is tall, elegant, filled in every detail with carvings commemorating the sacrifice sand heroism of what Russians still call "The Great Patriotic War." Many of them glorify The People in what is still a recognizable Soviet style. But atop one of the four sides of the pillar is another motif entirely: It is that of St. George.
For Prokhorovka Field and the sacrifice of the heroic scores of thousands who fell there has been reclaimed by the soul of a far older Russia. It is now routinely referred to as the third great battlefield of sacrifice of the Russian people. The first was Kuikovo Field where Dimitri Donskoi, Dimitri of the Don, greatest of all medieval Russian heroes, finally broke the Mongol-Tatar yoke of Khan Mamai after a century and a half of oppression in 1380. And the second was Borodino, where another 50,000 Russians fell fighting the previously invincible Grande Armee of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to a standstill in front of Moscow in 1812.
Yet the Battle of Kursk's transfiguration into a symbol of the great and ancient Russian past was prefigured even at the time. On the eve of the great battle that erupted on July 4, 1943, scores, perhaps hundreds, of Soviet soldiers reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in the hot, dry, blind bright summer skies above the baking wheat fields.
It was an astonishing phenomenon to occur in what had been the most aggressively and ruthless atheistic regime in history. It was even more unusual because the virgin has never enjoyed the pre-eminence in Russian Orthodox Christianity that she has in the Western Catholic faith. The Orthodox Church has always focused on the grandeur of Kristos Pankrator -- Christ as Cosmic Emperor or Ruler.
Nor are the nationalistic and Christian religious traditions surrounded Kursk of purely historical or curiosity interest only. For Belgorod, the historic "White City" of southwestern Russia, is now undergoing a striking Orthodox Christian revival. New Orthodox churches are springing up all over the region and attendance is rapidly rising.
This, indeed, is true for Russia as a whole. Even during the later decades of the Soviet era, far more people, including many Communist Party officials and their families, quietly and devoutly attended services. Now, however, far more do it and do so openly, even young, smart, up-and-coming, yuppie-type Moscow professionals.
The city of Belgorod, capital of the Belgorod oblast or region, is booming in other ways too. It was hit long and hard during the years of chaos and deprivation that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bungled crash privatization under President Boris Yeltsin. Now, better times have returned. The region's governor has proven adept at attracting European business investment and Belgorod's agri-business is booming. The city's university is awash with recent new construction and investment, including a state of the art Internet and communications center. Even the city's volleyball team was national champions of Russia in 2004 and went all the way to the finals this year too.
Behind it all, however, tower the ghostly images of St. George and the Virgin, tenaciously hovering over the battlefield of sacrifice from the war whose experience 60 years ago still does so much to shape the Russian people today. Those images cast their glow over Russia's past and, perhaps, its future.
There is no nation I would rather have as an ally than Russia.
The line about the Virgin Mary's relationship to worshipers in Orthodoxy is incorrect. The monastic mountain of Mt. Athos is dedicated to the Virgin for example.
It makes perfect sense to me. Of course the most Blessed Theotokos would show herself in Kursk. She was trying to show them the back to the Right way...that of their ancestry.
It is funny how the West tries but always fails to understand Russia.
I know what you mean.
The author evidently has no practical experience with Russian Orthodoxy. I wonder if he has ever attended Matins, for example. Or any other service.
Your magical "Eastern Hat" fits snugly, no?
When reading about WWII and the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, the first thing that struck me was that the land they were talking about could have been the upper Midwest in the USA. I later had the chance to talk with some people from the region of what was then Stalingrad, and they said the same.
An Orthodox ping!
Anyone care to guess which Freepers will never show their noses on a thread like this one?
Wow! I never heard of this! Very fascinating.
I know almost nothing about the Russian Orthodox Church, but even I had to raise an eyebrow at the "virgin not being pre-eminent" remark.
Holy Martyr Evgeny the Soldier, pray unto God for us!
On behalf of my wife
Kursk is a relic in todays history books, and it seems it has lost its importance. Battle of Kursk is a battle that should be study by many panzer generals. I have no doubt in my mind Russians would win this war either way, however it would be longer and with higher cost, if Germans would break through Zukov panzer divisions, they would push further east, however Hitler underestimated not only Russians but whole Slavic race. What is sad is the divisions being made by two main groups; those who put all Russians in cup of decimation and communism; and those who put other Eastern Europeans nations as communist and stupid. We are not stupid, neither we are backwards, nor to put this in better prospective, no nation is without guilt. I truly hate communism with all my heart, I fully understand your point; as for many people to blame all Russians for communism is fatal mistake; to blame all poles for Ukraines headaches is fatal mistake; today we have more urging situation of terrorism; (and if not correct it), if we don't put our differences aside and unite towards this goal of removing this cancer from this world, then we are heading for a war this world have not seen.
On behalf of my wife Anonymoussierra her husband Thanks-Thank you
Very true and very right.
I also forgot to address something; differences between Eastern Church and Western church. Nonsense is built on people arrogance and misunderstanding, so is with other religion dominations. We proclaim to believe in one God, while we argue about definitions of who is God? We were not created to judge each other, rather to live with each other in harmony. Yes we disagree with a lot of things, however we should still show respect for those who might disagree with us.
On behalf of my wife Anonymoussierra Thanks-Thank you
Thanks for Post. I know my fraternal grandpa participated in the battle of Kursk in the Summer of 1943. It was quite a battle--the major massive Tank Battle of the WWII. He recalls how he--a 19 year old Soviet Infantry Officer fresh out of 6 months infantry school, was pinned down with his platoon because of the hail of bullets and tank shells. Fortunately, he survived this battle. A few months later, he lost his leg to a cannon piece in September of 1943 near Kiev, while crossing the Dnieper river, and he was picked up unconscious and loosing blood by medical team among a number of bodies. He survived the loss of leg after undergoing a number of operations.
FYI, Stalin was really EVIL GENIOUS. During WWII Stalin turned to Orthodox Church priests of semi-official church who accepted Bolshevik rule to steer patriotic feelings among Russian People. Some priests repressed under Lenin-Stalin were rehabilitated too and allowed to preach in defense of motherland if I'm not mistaken. In 1920's Bolsheviks pillaged Churches and sadistically murdered priests and sending them to prisons and concentration camps. However when 1941-1945 Soviet-German war went initially very bad for USSR, Stalin realized that Russian People rather defend motherland instead of Communist Regime, so he turned to Orthodox Church to steer patriotic feelings among Russian people. After all Stalin himself studied to be priest during tsarist times, but he did not succeed as his murderous instincts steered him to Bolshevism. However, he learned so well the power of symbols and words. He was terrible, but he was really clever.
Amen. Well put!
Quite right, my little droogie. a very joyous(if belated)Pascha to thee and thine. Christ is risen!!!
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