MOSCOW -- God is inside Vladimir Putin. A divine light transfixed Putin’s essence after his secret baptism as a child. We are not worthy of the Russian president.
These were a few of the tenets advanced by radical Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov in a September 7 lecture that marked one of the more bizarre expressions of a many-faceted grassroots cult of personality surrounding Russia’s paramount ruler.
Feverish Putin adulation layered with irony filled the dimmed auditorium in Moscow’s trendy Kitai Gorod district. Many of the 60 or so attendees filmed the proceedings using iPhones and iPads, sometimes laughing out loud and sometimes breaking into thundering applause.
Proceedings kicked off with a tinny but swaggering rap track dedicated to Russia’s leader of 15 years that featured the refrain "I go hard like Vladimir Putin." An overhead projector displayed a picture of Putin with a caption that read: "Vladimir Putin and God."
Tsorionov, known for his hard-line Orthodox activism under the pseudonym "Enteo," praised Putin's apparent ability to survive assassination attempts and lauded his "good deeds," such as crushing opposition protests. He first turned to Putin's early years, beginning with the Russian president's secret baptism.
"A divine light at the moment when [Putin] left his baptism transfixed his essence, restoring the destroyed depths of his being, and giving him an anthological ability to acquire celestial energy," Tsorionov said.
This allowed the young Putin to "unite with God," he added.
"Moreover, he was summoned to do so," Tsorionov said. "The evil spirit was chased out of his heart."
'We're Not Worthy'
As techno music murmured in the background, Tsorionov paced with a microphone in front of a large screen showing psychedelic lights. He opened by citing Vladislav Surkov, once the Kremlin’s chief ideologist, who said in 2011 that Putin "was sent to Russia by fate and by the Lord."
Tsorionov cited the Russian government’s harsh crackdown on opposition protests and Putin PR stunts like his staged discovery of sunken artifacts and his participation in the rescue of endangered cranes as divinely inspired acts.
"Without a doubt he does good deeds, and for this God gives him grace," Tsorionov said. "He strengthens his presence in Vladimir Putin, and Vladimir Putin becomes a living temple. God has been placed inside this little Vladimir Putin. This is a fact."
Dmitry Tsorionov (second from left) sits in the courtroom gallery during the trial of two Pussy Riot members for an anti-Putin performance, seated alongside another Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich (left), and Pyotr Verzilov (turning around), husband of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, in March 2013.
It was hard to gauge the crowd's real opinions, although laughter rang out as regularly as the applause. On social networks, the event was met with chortles and derision.
"Did anyone actually go?" one Internet commenter wrote.
"Crap and obscurantism," wrote another.
"Putin recently said that no authority, no state authority is higher than the authority of the Lord," Tsorionov continued. "He knows that all authority is of the Lord and that he rules reality."
He asked the crowd whether Putin was sent to absolve the nation of its sins.
"We kill tens of millions of our children. We betray our wives. We don’t go to Church. We smoke hashish," Tsorionov said. "Meanwhile, Vladimir Vladimirovich, the boss, is praying seriously for us all. Of course we are not worthy."
Anna Arutyunyan, author of the book "The Putin Mystique: Inside Russia's Power Cult," said the lecture echoed theologically based propaganda from the Byzantine Empire, primarily the "godliness" of the emperor.
Arutyunyan, a Moscow-based journalist who attended the lecture, added that Tsorionov was careful to preserve some ambiguity in his message.
"[He] was trying to avoid obviously full-fledged idolatry. That's something that would not fly with Christians. I don't think he has a good enough grasp of Byzantine theology to independently work out this very fine line between what's acceptable propaganda and what’s outright blasphemous idolatry."
Tsorionov gained notoriety for stunts targeting those he deems enemies of the Orthodox faith, particularly the Pussy Riot art collective, which saw two of its members handed prison sentences for a 2012 guerrilla performance critical of Putin and the church at a Moscow cathedral.
He is not alone in invoking biblical language when discussing the Russian leader.
Tsorionov's lecture came two days after Patriarch Filaret of the Kyiv Patriarchate said Putin was under "Satan's influence" and blamed the Russian president squarely for the war in Ukraine.
"Like the first fratricide of history, Cain, these deeds show that the aforementioned ruler has fallen under the action of Satan," Filaret said of Putin.
Tsorionov did not respond to these remarks. But he said he would dedicate his next lecture to Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.
The subject: "Will Aleksei Navalny go to hell for eternity?"