Russian Navy's Neptune tradition under fire


Russians celebrate Navy Day, also known as Neptune Day, in St. Petersburg in 2012. (AFP/Getty Images photo by Olga Maltseva)

All navies have traditions. Some of these traditions involve Neptune, who had a good run as “god of the sea” a few years back, according to an online reference of note. Ask any shellback.

Changes to such traditions have stirred up strong emotions throughout the fleet, with terms like “hazing” and “political correctness” often finding their way into the debate — and the debate often finding its way onto the cover of Navy Times (Subscribe now!)

But you rarely see a religious leader wade into the fray and call out the Navy for encouraging “dark spiritual powers,” or have a church blast the service for employing pagan imps in its ceremony.

That kind of stuff, everyone can probably agree, is best left to Russia.

A boy fires blanks from a Kalashnikov rifle during celebrations for Navy Day, on the Finnish gulf coast in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 28. This type of celebration was fine; the Neptune-themed pagan imps were the ones causing problems. (Associated Press photo by Dmitry Lovesky)

The Russians have celebrated Navy Day, also referred to as Neptune Day, on the last Sunday in July since 1939, according to an RIA/Novosti report. The tradition has been around in one form or another since the very early 1800s, surviving a number of major-league regime changes.

But according to the report, the nation’s largest church wants the celebration altered, ditching the pagan references and putting the ceremony more in line with “an Orthodox Christian navy.”

This year’s ceremony in Vladivostok was without the pagan themes, according to the report, but a follow-up statement from a Russian navy spokesman said the service wasn’t ditching its traditional methods.

“The claim that humorous skits featuring Neptune and other mythological creatures […] go against the Navy’s Christian traditions […] is beyond criticism,” the spokesman told the news agency.

In that same report, it’s mentioned that Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin — who is not, despite the name, a bad guy from a Dan Brown novel, at least not yet — spoke out against the ceremony as well, saying people should not dress up as “pagan gods, unclean spirits or characters symbolizing dark spiritual powers.”

Chaplin also reportedly believes angels and demons are frequently mistaken for aliens, and recently discussed the implications of Edward Snowden’s saga vis-a-vis “the prospective of a global electronic-totalitarian prison camp.”

And you thought the “crossing the line” debate was intense. At least the Russians have a whole year to sort this mess out.


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