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Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, attend a foundation stone laying ceremony for the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ outside Moscow, September 2018 Sputnik / Alexei Nikolsky/ Kremlin via REUTERS

Every year on May 9, Russia celebrates Victory Day—the day on which Nazi Germany surrendered to the Soviet Union in 1945—with its biggest annual military parade. This year, the ceremonies opened as they always do, with the Russian defense minister entering Red Square to inspect the troops and report to the president. When passing through Spasskaya Tower, the Kremlin’s main ceremonial gate, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s cabriolet stopped. The minister took off his peaked cap and made the sign of the cross according to Orthodox tradition. Shoigu was the first minister to introduce this gesture into the ceremony in 2015. Whether he did so as a genuine expression of his faith, a public relations gambit, or both, his crossing himself on such an occasion reflects the tightening of bonds between church and state in today’s Russia.

Since the Soviet collapse, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), and the Orthodox

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