Third Rome Rising: The Ideologues Calling for a New Russian Empire

Putin at Mount Athos.

The neo-Byzantines believe Moscow will save Christendom.

Russia acquired not only its religion from Byzantium, but also its coat of arms: the double-headed eagle, which became a symbol of continuity. But the main thing that Russia inherited from the Byzantine Empire is its messianic consciousness. There have been three major national ideas in the history of Russia: “Moscow is the Third Rome,” “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality” and “Communism is the brightest future of all mankind.” Each emphasized the special mission of Russian civilization. Many Russian politicians and experts believe that it was a spiritual affinity with the Byzantine Empire that created Russian Christian civilization. Supporters of the Byzantine path to revival agree that both Russian and Western civilizations are Christian. However, according to today’s Russian ideologues, Russian Christian civilization is the last bastion of conservative values, whereas Western Christianity perished under the onslaught of immoral liberal ideas. Proponents also point out that Eastern Christianity, in contrast to the Western, proclaims loyalty to ancient times and unchanging ideals.

The importance of the Byzantine Empire to Russian civilization was highlighted during a conference called “The interpretation of the concept of ‘Moscow as the Third Rome’ in the East and in the West,” attended by members of both the Byzantine and Izborsk Clubs. Few argued with the speakers who said that Russia has its own historical path, which is the special mission of protecting moral values. Supporters of the “Moscow as the Third Rome” concept of revival are fully convinced that only Russia can liberate humanity from liberal ideology and demonstrate a new path of development.

At the same time, according to high-level Russian ideologues, the implementation of this particular mission is impossible without a strong leader, who is embodied by President Vladimir Putin. The conservative imperial elite sees Putin as a natural successor of the rulers of the Byzantine and Russian empires. He did not allow the destruction of Syria and Ukraine, and challenged the unipolar world. In this regard, it is not surprising that Putin’s visit to holy Mount Athos was received with special feelings among the Russian masses. It is not the throne that the Russian president sat on that matters. It is all about the symbolism, which emphasizes Russia’s special neo-Byzantine mission.

Areg Galstyan, PhD, is a regular contributor to the magazines Russia in Global Affairs and Forbes.