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Rhinestone-Covered Icons at “Russia’s Los Alamos”

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For several years beginning in 1989, it was not uncommon to turn on the television in the Soviet Union, and later in Russia, and witness a seriously-coiffed man in large glasses waving his hands in front of the camera and mumbling. Pensioners and families flocked to watch, while placing 10-liter receptacles of water in front of their TV screens. They did this because they believed that psychic Allan Chumak, who conducted these so-called TV séances, was charging the water with positive and healing energy.7 No one knew how or if it worked, but many drank the water.

Chumak’s séances came during a time when the Russian public had lost its ideological-political orientation — a tumultuous period in Soviet/Russian history. But according to some surveys, more Russians today believe in the supernatural, superstitions, and life after death than did so at the end of the Cold War.8 It’s not uncommon, for example, for Russians to drink holy water sourced from local Russian Orthodox churches or special water from underground springs. There is a special water source in a monastery near the town of Sarov that, some say, has healing properties from St. Seraphim himself.9

St. Seraphim, as we learn from Dmitry Adamsky’s insightful and meticulously sourced book, Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy, is the patron saint of Russia’s nuclear weapons program. In the book, Adamsky makes a powerful case for the convergence between the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia’s nuclear enterprise. He argues that the Church has “wormed” its way into the hearts and minds of the Russian leadership, Russia’s elite nuclear science institutions, its nuclear forces and space cadre, and the Russian military.10 Adamsky’s work is important because, if his analysis is correct, the trends that he documents have the potential to reshape the Russian nuclear science establishment, the Russian military, and Russia’s policy toward nuclear weapons.

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