Vienna, January 4 – In the waning days of 2009, Patriarch Kirill made three statements designed among other things to position the Russian Orthodox Church for even greater role in Russian politics at home and abroad in the year to come, a role that some may welcome but that others will see as a challenge to secular values and human rights in both Russia and Europe.
First, in what must be music to the ears of many in the Russian government, Kirill repeated his longstanding view that Russia represents a unique civilization and should therefore can and should ignore the evaluations offered by outside experts and institutions like the European Court of Human Rights (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=33588).
Second, and as part of his campaign to build bridges with the Papacy and conservative Christians more generally, the outspoken Russian patriarch lashed out at Europeans for surrendering their cultural and political values to what he described in Gumilyev-style language as “passionate” Muslims (www.islamnews.ru/news-21966.html).
And third, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church further integrated that institution with the state not by signing an expanded cooperation accord with the Academy of Government Service (www.mospat.ru/ru/2009/12/29/news10989/), and demanding that the powers that be support religions relative to their size (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=33590).
In a speech to the Russian Academy of State Service, the patriarch said that Russians must not allow themselves to be judged “on the basis of alien criteria” and that it was long past time for Russians to stop trying to show outsiders that “we are good little boys, we live according to the same criteria, it is simply that we have certain shortcomings.”
Kirill’s rejection of universal values, his insistence that Russia cannot be measured except in terms of itself, and his dismissal of the findings of Western governments and the European Court of Human Rights have figured in his speeches and writings long before he became patriarch.
But now that he is patriarch, Kirill’s overt hostility to common values takes on new meaning, reinforcing the attitudes of some in the Russian government including Vladimir Putin that no one has the right to judge anything Moscow does and that any attempts to do so will be met first with scorn and then with charges that their authors are guilty of the same or worse.
Moreover, in this speech, Kirill went even further, arguing that if Russia follows Western values, which he said were defined by “an orientation to success, well-being and comfort,” then there was real danger that Russia, as Europe already is doing will yield “to that ‘passionate force, which today the Islamic communities are exerting” there.
As Kirill pointed out, “for Muslim countries, the religious factor in social life has always played a primary role while in Europe the situation is the reverse, and many Europeans have lost ‘the ability to sacrifice themselves, to give up their life for the Motherland,” a risk that he insists Russia cannot afford.
“If we will realize liberal ideas in social consciousness in a thoroughgoing manner (not in economics, in economics, liberalism is an appropriate phenomenon and an important factor, albeit with qualifications), then” Kirill insisted, “at the end we too will have a weak man who will defend neither his Motherland nor his family and friends.”
Two aspects of these remarks are worth noting. On the one hand and more than in the past, Kirill is using the language of Eurasianist Lev Gumilyev, an indication of his increasing tilt toward that element of the Russian nationalist spectrum, possibly on the basis of his judgment that that is the coming thing.
And on the other, his outspoken defense of religious supremacy and traditional values not only will find support among many Russians who have had their lives upset by the turmoil of transition but perhaps even more among those around Pope Benedict XVI who has warned of many of the same things in his homilies and statements.
Indeed, it appears likely that Kirill who very much hopes for a rapprochement politically if not theologically with the Vatican was directing his remarks last week as much at the Vatican as at the Kremlin, although the Russian powers that be would certainly welcome closer ties with Rome.
Finally, after his speech, Kirill signed a new cooperation agreement with the Russian Academy of State Service, something that will open the way for even more priests to receive training there, and he indicated that in his view the government must support religious communities “proportionately to their presence in society.”
Kirill has pushed that idea before, but because the Moscow Patriarchate is seeking to expand the inter-religious council system down to the regional level, the realization of this idea is certain to touch off disputes not only about how many followers any particular faith has – no one knows for sure – but also about what religions should be represented.
In the patriarch’s view, only the four “traditional” religions of Russia -- Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – have that right and only they can expect state support as protected faiths. If Kirill continues to push this view without modification, he may please the Russian powers that be, but he will offend many in Russia and in Europe as well.