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The patron saint of nuclear weapons

September 21, 2007

I swear I’m not making this up.

According to the Jamestown Foundation’s excellent Eurasia Daily Monitor, the Russian Department of Defense’s 12th Directorate, which is responsible for Russia’s nuclear weapons, has been assigned a patron saint by the Russian Orthodox Church: St. Seraphim of Sarov.

St. Seraphim seems an appropriate choice for several reasons. First, he was a favorite saint of the last tsar, Nicholas II; his association with one of the primary continuing symbols of Russian claims to great power status is eminently sensible in climate in which the tsarist past and ideology of “Pravoslavie, Samoderzhavie, i Narodnost'” (Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and National Spirit*) are being rehabilitated. Second, St. Seraphim hails from the city of Sarov, in the Nizhny-Novgorod oblast. Known during the Cold War as Arzamas-16, Sarov is home to the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics (VNIIEF)–the nuclear weapons research and design facility where the first Soviet nuclear weapons were developed. Sarov, appropriately, is a sister city to Los Alamos, New Mexico [warning: pdf]. Lastly, the saint’s name, “Seraphim”, which he adopted upon taking monastic vows at the age of 27, comes from Hebrew for “fiery” or “burning”. Seraphim are fiery angels with the power to purify the sinful. So, purifying fire from the heavens = nukes. Nice, eh?

* Narodnost’ is a notoriously difficult concept to translate. “Nationalism” doesn’t quite work, “populism” doesn’t quite work, “national feeling” doesn’t really get there either. I’m not really all that happy with “national spirit,” but it’ll do.

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