Solidarity with the Serbs: For Russian Orthodox, it's an east-west war

Carrying icons and church banners alongside hand-written slogans, several thousand Orthodox Christians march­ed on May 9 down Moscow's central Tverskaya Ulitsa, at a distance from the communist-dominated columns which led the rally. "Russia, give help to Serbia!," "NATO is the new fascism," "Clinton=Hitler" was written on their posters.

The profound indignation over what most Russians see as NATO's military aggression against Yugoslavia gave a new meaning to the Day of Victory over Nazi Germany, the national holiday which is marked across the political and social spectrum with a mix of pride and grief over the 27 million lives the Soviet Union lost in World War II. During that war, Hitler's threat forged an alliance between the Soviet Union and the U.S. At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been persecuted to near extinction by Lenin and Stalin, emerged once again as a major patriotic force and source of national consolidation.

Today, it is the war of Washington-led NATO against a fellow Slav country of the Orthodox tradition that has consolidated Russian society and made new global frontiers visible. In this new reality, where the divisions between East and West are seen not only in political and military but also in spiritual terms, and the boundary is strikingly similar to the dividing line between Eastern and Western Christianity, the Russian Orthodox Church again has a large role to play.