Thursday, April 25

Image from Navalny’s funeral reveals textures of faith and state in Russia

This image of Alexei A. Navalny’s body in a coffin, in a church in southern Moscow, conveys many traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church, an institution closely linked to the Kremlin but which also included opposition figures, including Mr. Navalny, among his followers.

“To my shame, I am a typical post-Soviet believer,” Mr. Navalny said in a statement. interview in 2012. “I fast, I was baptized in church, but I rarely go to church. »

Being an Orthodox Christian, he said, made him feel “part of something big and shared.”

He added: “I like the fact that there are particular ethics and self-restrictions. At the same time, it doesn’t bother me at all to exist in a predominantly atheist environment. Until the age of 25, before the birth of my first child, I myself was such an ardent atheist that I was ready to grab any priest’s beard.

These remarks reflected the situation of many Russians who came of age when the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Russian Orthodox Church regained prominence in public life.

Over the past two decades, the Church has become closely aligned with the increasingly conservative and nationalist views espoused by President Vladimir V. Putin. This has forced critics like Mr. Navalny and groups of progressive believers to try to reconcile their political dissent and their faith.

Mr. Navalny’s funeral took place on Friday at the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God. Ease my sorrows. A funeral rosary, usually a ribbon of paper or fabric with the image of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God and John the Baptist, was placed on his head.

This church in the south of Moscow where mass took place is not far from where Mr. Navalny lived until 2017 and where his family owned an apartment.

In the image, Mr Navalny’s father, Anatoly, is seated facing the coffin. To his right are Mr. Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, and a woman some Russian media outlets have identified as his mother-in-law, a relative who has stayed out of the public eye.

Mr. Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, and her children did not appear to be present. Ms. Navalnaya has vowed to continue her husband’s political activities, which exposes her to arrest, and she and their children no longer live in Russia. His brother Oleg, who served a prison sentence in what was widely seen as punishment for Mr Navalny’s political activities, was also absent.

The Russian Orthodox Church formally approved Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which Mr. Navalny vehemently denounced. Patriarch Kirill, the Church’s top official, blessed soldiers sent to war and said those who fight for their country will be rewarded in heaven.

However, the Orthodox Church is relatively decentralized, so even though Mr. Putin has suppressed opposition and dissent, progressive priests remain in some parishes. Priests who expressed opposition to the war were confronted recriminationsin some cases, expulsion from ecclesiastical authorities, or even arrest.

The church where Mr. Navalny’s funeral rites took place also appears approve of war. Images shared on its social media pages in recent weeks announced that parishioners had donated a car to soldiers fighting in what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” and organized letter-writing campaigns for the troops . He also announced a trip for parishioners and their children in a great cathedral of the Russian armed forceswhich opened in 2020 and has become a symbol of the militarization of Russian society.