Russian politician Semyon Bagdasarov told Russian television that Syria is a “holy land” for Russia.
“This is generally the holy land,” he explained. “It is for us [Russians] our land. It was from there came to us a civilization. Maybe someone forgot. Antioch gave us the first monks.”
He continued, “When we celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty all liturgy led not to Russian Orthodox Church, but to Antioch. Would not it be for Antioch, there would be no Orthodoxy and Russia. This is our land!”
Russia has a history of using the “it is our land” excuse to explain why they are interested in invading a certain country. For example, Ukraine is considered the crown jewel of the former USSR. Many Russians believe the birth of their country occurred in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, when it was founded in 882 by Oleg of Novgorod. Moscow did not become the center of Russia until after the 13th century.
Bagdasarov fails to note that ancient Antioch was located in Antakya, Turkey, not Syria. The patriarchate only moved to Syria in the 15th century when the Ottomans invaded. History states that the apostles Peter and Paul founded the ancient city. Millions flocked to the city, where they prospered due to olive plantations. Britannica reports:
A fire in 525 was followed by earthquakes in 526 and 528, and the city was captured temporarily by the Persians in 540 and 611. Antioch was absorbed into the Arab caliphate in 637. Under the Arabs it shrank to the status of a small town. The Byzantines recaptured the city in 969, and it served as a frontier fortification until taken by the Seljuq Turks in 1084. In 1098 it was captured by the Crusaders, who made it the capital of one of their principalities, and in 1268 the city was taken by the Mamlūks, who razed it to the ground. Antioch never recovered from this last disaster, and it had declined to a small village when taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. It remained part of the Ottoman Empire until after World War I, when it was transferred to Syria under French mandate. France allowed the town and surrounding area to rejoin Turkey in 1939.
Five branches of Eastern Christian Churches claim a connection to the Church of Antioch. They are the Antiochian Greek Orthodox Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church, and Syriac Maronite Church. The Russian Orthodox Church is not mentioned.