Helsinki, April 1 – Newly-enthroned Patriarch Kirill has ousted or weakened his opponents in the Russian Orthodox Church, divided up his old fiefdom to prevent anyone from using it as he did as a counterweight to the head of the church, and created a series of new institutions designed to expand the Church’s role abroad and at home.
This week, a meeting of the Holy Synod with Kirill in the chair and clearly in control put his stamp on the church hierarchy with a series of personal and organizational steps, many of which had been expected ever since his election as patriarch, that not only increase his own power but indicate some of the new policy directions he intends to pursue.
The most important of these changes include: the appointment of longtime Kirill loyalist Vladimir Legoyda, an MGIMO professor and editor of the church’s journal “Foma,” as head of the synod’s newly created information department, a body that apparently will promote Kirill’s interest in having the church speak out on key issues (www.foma.ru/news/2602/).
In addition, the synod shifted Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Belovsk from his slot as administrator of church affairs to the much less important post of head of the publishing council of the church. Kliment had been Kirill’s most serious opponent in the patriarchal elections. His old position will now be filled by Bishop Varsonofy of Saransk and Mordovia.
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who had been Kirill’s deputy as the head of the now reorganized and much reduced Department for External Affairs, will now head a new department for the affairs of the Church and society, a position that likely will allow him to be even more outspoken about public issues than in the past.
Another important change is the appointment of Bishop Merkury of Zaraisk, who has been the administrator of patriarchal congregations in the US, as head of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, a key post given the Patriarchate’s extensive landholdings there and its involvement in inter-confessional activities.
.Also indicative of Kirill’s strategy and goals is the splitting up of his old fiefdom, the Eparchate of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. That will now be subdivided into two bishoprics, with Bishop Serafim of the Baltic taking over the Smolensk post and Bishop Feofilakt, currently vicar of the Moscow eparchate, assuming the Kaliningrad chair.
As a result of these changes, Kirill does not have any serious competitors inside the Patriarchate, has eliminated the posts and assignments that others, including himself, had used in the past to develop independent centers of power, and has taken steps to expand Church’s public role in society at home and in diplomacy, religious and civil, abroad.
The dividing up into several components of Kirill’s old department of external affairs has attracted the most comment. Today’s “Kommersant” reported that some Church experts think that Kirill did this because no “suitable candidate” could be found. But a more likely explanation is that Kirill does not want competition (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1147712).
By subdividing that department into its component parts, Kirill can exercise personal control over the far more junior people who will be in charge of them than he might be able to do if there were a single “senior” churchman in charge. And consequently, what he has done in this case seems consistent with his efforts to build “a power vertical” inside the Church.
That Kirill intends to use his position to promote a more public and more active approach at home and abroad is something on which all Russian commentators agree. But in his remarks posted online today, Portal-Credo.ru’s Aleksandr Soldatov calls attention to a move at this meeting of the Synod that may prove even more important for the future of the Church.
At the direction of Kirill, the Holy Synod created a “still mysterious” commission for the preparation of materials in anticipation of an as yet undefined and unscheduled church council or “sobor’ and named Archmonk Saava, who is particularly close to the new patriarch as its secretary (www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=comment&id=1561).
Thhis group, which Kirill apparently will chair could prove to be only a place holder for housekeeping functions or it could – and Soldatov suggests that Kirill’s own personality makes this more likely – a staging area for the convention of a Church Council like the one that met at the time of the Russian revolutions of 1917-1918.
Such a session would likely not only seek to redefine the relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church could also serve to “guarantee” Kirill’s place “in the annals of the Church,” an outcome that the in no-way-retiring patriarch almost certainly would like.