Vienna, April 14 – Having moved against a web site that was frequently critical of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill has now moved against another that has been slavishly loyal to it, the latest indication that the church leader wants to build a power vertical on the Kremlin model, gathering all power into his hands while avoiding any responsibility.
In an article posted on AN-SPB.ru yesterday, Dmitry Savvin who writes frequently about religious affairs, says that these two events, instead of being contradictory as many may assume, are in fact part of an internally consistent effort, albeit one that will do little to help the cause of Orthodox Christianity in Russia (www.apn-spb.ru/publications/article7170.htm).
Widespread hopes among Russian believers that “the new course of new Patriarch Kirill would bring something different in the sphere of church-state relations still have not proved out. On the contrary,” Savvin says, church and society “continue to receive signals that everything not only will remain as it was but moreover that the screws will be even further tightened.”
Evidence of that has been provided not only by Kirill’s moves last month to shut down or at least curtail Portal-Credo.ru which has been critical of his policies but also and even more by his latest moves against “Russkaya liniya,” a portal that has positioned itself as totally supportive of church conservatives and the power of the Patriarchate.
While to many Kirill’s moves against the latter loyalist site must seem entirely “unexpected,” the Russian commentator argues, they in fact are completely “logical,” the result of the entire course the patriarch has pursued since he assumed that position a little more than a year ago.
As he has written before, Savvin points out that Kirill had a choice when he was elevated. On the one hand, and from “the Orthodox Christian point of view,” the better one would have been to “distance himself from the current regime” which becoming ever more totalitarian and thus heading toward collapse.
Or on the other, Kirill could choose as he has to “fuse [the Church] ever closer and more tightly with the current ‘power vertical’ and though this guarantee the strengthening of [the hierarchy’s] own position.” In the short term, Savvin acknowledges, this was “the simpler” choice, but in the longer run, he insists, it is “the most likely” to lead to disaster.
Such a choice permits “the current church leadership” to avoid “all possible unpleasantness at the present moment.” It “guarantees [Orthodoxy] the semi-official status of the first confession in the state, and so on and so forth.” But Savvin argues,” the regime is doomed; when it collapses, the Moscow Patriarchate will be viewed as one of [its] chief collaborators.”
Not only will the church lose financially, but “the saddest thing” will be that “such a course of events will inevitably lead to the alienation of a very significant part of society from Orthodoxy (and not only from the Moscow Patriarchate). And that in turn very possibly will bury all hopes for a genuine Orthodox rebirth in Russia.”
Tragically, Savvin continues, “it is becoming ever more evident that [Kirill and the Moscow Patriarchate] are taking the second path.” And just as the powers that be in the civil regime are relying ever more heavily on force to maintain their position, so too are the religious ones.
Savvin offers several additional examples of this authoritarian drive, including new attacks on “the right opposition” among the clergy, increased state oppression of “alternative” Orthodoxy and in particular of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, and the introduction of church censorship.
He devotes particular attention to censorship. While the mechanisms for that were put in place long ago, they were not consistently employed. Now, the Publishing Council of the patriarchate has been given responsibility for this, and Savvin says that there are three reasons for real concern.
First, the council will not make public the findings of expert reviewers, thus opening the way for abuse. Second, the reviewers themselves will remain anonymous, another possibility for manipulation. And third, the council’s first decisions are disturbing, with the works of Father Kucher found to be “extremist” while those of Archpriest Kurayev are recommended.
In short and in ways that suggest “the synchronization” of the regime’s power vertical and one in the Church, Kirill and his supporters are clearly seeking to “concentrate in their hands all power by depriving the laity and the ‘lesser clergy’ of all rights and thus to avoid any responsibility” to the latter.
They may succeed for a time, Savvin suggests. After all, attacking first the left and then the right has often helped leaders rise in Russian and Soviet history. But this approach, which might be acceptable among political figures, cannot be acceptable when it is adopted by church leaders. And they will ultimately pay a price for it.