The Russian literary world barely batted an eye when a little-known writer, Aron Shemaiyer, published a dystopic e-novella, "Machaut and the Bears," last year.
But interest is now picking up, with the revelation that Shemaiyer is the nom de plume of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the influential spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Suddenly, the plot of "Machaut" -- which describes the apocalyptic destruction of 2043 Moscow at the hands of Islamists, Ukrainians, and gays -- seems less like the ravings of a lonely keyboard warrior and more like a well-informed window on what scares the Kremlin most.
"'The press secretary to the president of the Moscow Confederation and Assembly of Revolution Leaders, Tasho Pim, has warned that people who fail to comply with the new ban on intolerant thinking will be subject to involuntary euthanasia,'" a news report announces in the opening scene, followed shortly by an ad for a "happiness generator" called the HaHaHa 25.0. (The full text of the novella is available here.)
What follows is a chaotic world Chaplin himself characterizes as a "liberal hell" -- vegan breakfasts, dreadlocked African legionnaires, "intergender" ad executives who go by the personal pronoun "it," and, considering the author, a curiously detailed hookup involving graphic language and a "sex-generation belt."
By the end of the story, the Moscow Confederation has fallen amid fighting between Free Russia fascists, Caucasus militants, and Ukrainian nationalists; in appropriately Biblical style, the once-great city has been reduced to rubble by nuclear bombs.
Chaplin insists the spectacular ending -- which he praises as "absolutely Christian" -- is not meant as hyperbolic fantasy. To the contrary, he tells Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it's what will inevitably happen to Russia "if we continue to follow ultraliberal values into a dead head."
"These values can only end in totalitarianism because they're lifeless, they're antihuman, they rape the very nature of the individual and society," he says.
Russia-watcher Paul Goble suggests the hyperbolic tone of Chaplin's story reveals how nervous the ruling elite may be about the fragility of the Russian Federation. It also, he says, underscores a growing divide between Moscow and the rest of the country.
Chaplin, who recently edited a handbook by the Russian Orthodox Church offering behavioral tips for foreign migrants -- don't talk loudly, eat borscht -- says it remains the duty of all Russians to fight for the preservation of Russian culture.
"Russia is the third Rome," he says in an interview with the religious website religare.ru.
"Russia is the only center of unenslaved civilization capable of revealing itself as Christian. So our patriotism is not chauvinism or a call of blood...It's primarily an understanding of the importance of our unique Christian mission -- a mission, I'm convinced, that our people have been put on earth to fulfill."