Fact Check

Does Photo Show Russian Priests Blessing 'Satan' Missile?

The picture has been online for years preceding Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Published May 16, 2022

Updated May 18, 2022
 (Screenshot)
Image Via Screenshot
Claim:
A photograph shows Russian Orthodox priests blessing a missile dubbed "Satan."

Fact Check

A photograph circulated on social media in mid-May 2022 that allegedly showed Russian Orthodox Church priests blessing a large missile dubbed "Satan."

The post prompted commentary on the irony of Christian church leaders performing a religious ceremony for a weapon of death named for the figure representing all that is evil in the Christian tradition:

https://twitter.com/mbk_center/status/1525132426590265345/photo/1

The picture was shared amid an ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine following Russia's invasion of the latter in late February 2022. The timing may have prompted many to believe that the picture is current. It isn't. It's also unclear to us whether the missile pictured is really dubbed "Satan." Even if it was, missile reporting names are designated by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

We were initially unable to locate the original source of the photograph. The watermark on the bottom right corner says "Agency 'Moscow'" in Russian. And a reverse image search shows the picture has been on the internet for a number of years preceding the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes tracked down the original image, however. 20 Minutes located the original in the database for Moscow City News Agency. The description states the photograph was taken in 2015, and was captioned, "Ritual blessing of the participants in the Victory Parade and consecration of the launchers on the Khodynka field."

Victory Day in Russia is an annual military celebration held in Russia to commemorate the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. 20 Minutes noted that Khodynka field is a former airfield used as a gathering point for the parade.

Our research indicated such rituals aren't uncommon. We located an English-language newspaper description that appears to match circumstances similar to what is seen in the image.

In 2019, the British newspaper The Times of London reported that blessing various objects was a regular practice for Russian priests — so much so that a Twitter account exists titled "Orthodox Priests Blessing Things."

The Times noted that the blessing can be ordered online, and objects of blessing have been sundry: apartments, tanks, hospital equipment, and car engines, for example.

"Television footage has also shown priests splashing holy water on Topol ICBMs as they arrive in Moscow for the annual May 9 parade to celebrate victory over Nazi Germany," The Times reported, referring to a type of Russian intercontinental ballistic missile. (The story also reported that a church commission voted in 2019 to remove the category of missiles as items priests should bless.)

The Russian state-run media outlet Ruptly in 2014 posted a video on its platform titled, "Russia: Priests bless Topol-M ICBMs ahead of Victory Day," although the video is no longer available.

The image in question is included in a 2017 story published by the Ukrainian news site Euromaidan Press, with a caption stating, " A Russian Orthodox priest of the Moscow Patriarchate 'blesses' a Topol-M nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile."

The RS-28 Sarmat, not the Topol-M, is the missile that NATO has dubbed "Satan." NATO has designated Topol-M missiles "Sickle B."

Our research indicates the photograph depicts events that occurred before the Russian Orthodox Church voted to stop blessing missiles, and if the caption in the Euromaidan Press story is accurate, the missile depicted isn't the one designated by NATO as Satan. Furthermore, the events in question took place years before Russia invaded Ukraine. We have therefore rated this claim "Outdated."

Sources:

Parfitt, Tom. "Russian Orthodox Church to Stop Blessing Missiles." The Times of London, 25 June 2019, www.thetimes.co.uk, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russian-orthodox-church-to-stop-blessing-missiles-xx2qfld0g.

Beachum, Lateshia, et al. “Russia’s ‘Satan 2’ Missile Changes Little for U.S., Scholars Say.” 20 April 2022, Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/20/satan-2-icbm/.

“Alte Aufnahme: Dieses Foto hat nichts mit dem aktuellen Ukraine-Krieg zu tun.” 20 Minuten, 18 May 2022, https://www.20min.ch/story/dieses-foto-hat-nichts-mit-dem-aktuellen-ukraine-krieg-zu-tun-737185073578.

Updates

Updated to note that the Swiss news agency 20 Minutes tracked down the original image.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more

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