As Russian president Vladimir Putin attends the service inside the Russian monastery in Athos, it is perhaps churlish to ask just how sincere his belief is.

Is he just interested in boosting his popularity by being seen at a church service? Does he just want to promote an ideological or culturally driven church to supports his political power? Is his preferred type of monk, the fawning sycophant who tried to make out that an encounter between Putin and a donkey on a road was something “miraculous” and divine ly inspired?

Well, by all accounts, Putin is a sincere believer, and likes to tells the story of how he was baptized in secret by his mother in the Soviet era.

And from my chats with Russians visiting monasteries in Greece and with Russian novices, the faith of Russian people should not be underestimated.

Chatting to them, I was remined of the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky and his sprawling, imperfect but every struggling character Father Zosima.

When he is eight years old, Zosima sees rays of light pouring down into church and merging with incense and has a flash of insight.

“I felt a profound new tenderness as I looked around me, and for the first time in my life I consciously received the first seed of the word of God in my soul.”
“Whoever does not believe in God will not believe in the people of God. But he who believes in the people of God will also see their holiness, even if he did not believe in it at all before.” Zosima says all of creation creatures “witness to the divine mystery, and ceaselessly enact it.”


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