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Giving Tanks At Grand Russian Military Cathedral

A three-dimensional concept of the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces
A three-dimensional concept of the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces

Stored for decades, Nazi military hardware captured by the Red Army is destined to serve God and country in Russia.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, discussing the ongoing construction of a grandiose army cathedral on the grounds of a military theme park west of Moscow, said that the main steps to the church would be forged from melted-down German war materiel.

"We would like for every square meter of the cathedral to be symbolic," Shoigu was quoted by Interfax as saying on December 24. "To that end, we will pour the steps of the cathedral from German trophy hardware." He did not specify what Nazi equipment would be sacrificed for the grand entrance.

The Main Cathedral of the Armed Forces is to be constructed in Patriot Park, a military theme park some 70 kilometers from the capital that opened in 2015 and is operated by the Defense Ministry.

When completed, the camouflaged green edifice will be topped by six gilded domes and a plethora of glass panels. It will rise 95 meters into the air and be able to accommodate up to 6,000 worshipers, overlooking expansive grounds that include monuments to military-related patron saints.

A sleek presentation on the cathedral's homepage shows in detail how the cathedral will dominate the park. "The temple will symbolize the spirituality of the Russian Army raising the sword only to protect its Motherland," the website explains.

Some social-media users have poked fun at the video, comparing it to the "epic poetry" style of the opening sequence to HBO's Game Of Thrones TV series.

The cathedral is scheduled to be built by May 9 2020, in time for the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, a goal that Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov described as "ambitious" in an interview with Kommersant this month.

Very Public Purse

The cathedral, which was held up by President Vladimir Putin during a ceremony in September as a symbol of national pride, reportedly has the backing of both the state and the Russian Orthodox Church. But Shoigu has said that funding will come almost exclusively from the Russian public, according to the state-run TASS news agency.

A foundation called Voskreseniye (Resurrection) has been established to collect donations for the cathedral's construction and, as of November 30, had gathered 1.6 billion rubles ($23 million) from more than 37,000 donors, according to its website. It is unclear what the total cost of the cathedral's construction might be.

High-profile pro-Kremlin public figures have already opened their wallets.

Nikita Mikhalkov, the director of the Oscar-winning film Burnt By The Sun, handed over half a million rubles ($7,220), according to the Defense Ministry's Zvezda TV.

A mockup of the cathedral in Patriot Park
A mockup of the cathedral in Patriot Park

The head of the Voskreseniye Foundation has said the cathedral will be tasked with training military priests. "A school for military priests is being built and the institute of Sisters of Charity [nurses] will be revived at the main church of the Russian armed forces," Vladimir Bogatyryov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency on November 29.

Bogatyryov said the priests will present the military cathedral as "a symbol of people's diplomacy in Europe" amid strained relations between Russia and the West. "It's very important for us in light of global military, political, and social tensions, when military and political provocations are becoming the norm and information warfare is governing rules of conduct, not only for politicians but also for states," he said.

Sergei Chapnin, a former editor of the Journal Of The Moscow Patriarchate who was fired for his increasing opposition to church policy, including the perceived militarism of the church, told The Art Newspaper in October that "the design of the church fully corresponds to the understanding of the Orthodox Church that has taken shape today among government and military officials."

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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