By Paul Goble
Conspiracy thinking has never been absent from the Russian Orthodox Church, but one of its current central themes – that the Anti-Christ will soon appear – has an interesting origin. According to a Russian scholar, this idea comes from Fundamentalist Protestantism in the US and was introduced into Orthodoxy by an émigré professor.
The idea that the formation of the EU, the IMF and humanitarian organizations are all signs of the Anti-Christ’s imminent arrival and that all of them are being directed by a super-secret computer in Brussels was developed by American Baptists in the late 1970s and then transmitted to the Moscow Patriarchate, according to Aleksandr Panchenko.
The researcher at the Moscow Institute of Russian Culture makes this argument in an article entitled “A Computer with the Name of the Beast,”(in Russian; Antropologichesky forum, 27 (2015): 122-141; on line at anthropologie.kunstkamera.ru/files/pdf/027/panchenko2.pdf and summarized at ttolk.ru/?p=27036).
As the Tolkovatel portal notes, “belief in conspiracies has a first-order importance for millenarianism of the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries,” something that “isn’t surprising” given that “millenarian ideas always predispose their followers to a belief in conspiracies” that others can’t or won’t see.
In the 1970s, what is known as the New Christian Right in the US came up with a number of these based on its reading of the Bible and its conclusion that recent developments in the world point to the end times, with the arrival of the Anti-Christ and then his overthrow by God.
Russian Orthodox writers devote far less attention to the interpretation of the Bible than do these Protestant fundamentalists, Panchenko says; and consequently, the appearance of the conspiracy theories that have been widespread among the New Christian Right within Orthodoxy requires an explanation.
The story is complicated, and Panchenko traces each of its stages. But the basic outline is as follows: In 1981, a US Protestant fundamentalist named Mary Stewart Ralph published in Alabama a book entitled, “When Your Money Loses Value, the 666 System in Action” which linked signs of the approaching end times to a computer named “the Beast” in Brussels.
Ralph’s book attracted a great deal of attention in the US but it would not have affected Russian Orthodoxy had it not been for a Russian studies professor at the University of South Alabama named Paul Vaulin (1918-2007) who translated portions of it for broadcast to Russian audiences.
Paulin escaped the Soviet Union at the time of the Soviet-Finnish war and after many adventures landed in the US where he attached himself to the radical religious-nationalist wing of the Russian emigration and attracted some attention for books like “The Regiment of Kitezh” (1977) about a plot to overthrow the communist dictatorship.
He also gained a certain notoriety among leaders of the Russian emigration in the West for claiming he had written a Russian poem more important than anything Pushkin had produced and for building a bomb shelter in his summer place in Maine because of his expectation of an imminent nuclear war.
Vaulin’s translation of Ralph’s book fell into the hands of the Mount Athos religious figure Paisiy Eznepidis (1924-1994) who played up the idea of a super-secret computer and the ways in which price codes and the number 666 were a threat to all true Christians. He told visiting Russian Orthodox clergy about this and they took these ideas back to Russia.
“In this way,” the portal says, “American Baptist eschatology conquered the heart of Russian Orthodox.”