Monday, June 30, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Diomid Case Highlights Serious Problems in Russian Church and Society

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 30 – Bishop Diomid of Anadyr and Chukotka and the support his ideas have among Orthodox believers in Russia and abroad is not going to disappear as easily as the Patriarchate hoped when it passed a resolution at the end of last week stripping him of his position and calling for him to repent lest he be anathematized by the church.
Instead, as various commentators have pointed out over the last three days, the bishop will challenge the Russian Orthodox Church in a patriarchal court, and his supporters who are far more numerous than the church or the Russian government standing behind it want to admit will continue to support him and the views he represents.
And it may even prove to be the case, several writers suggested, that by pushing Diomid so hard and thus opening the way to a hearing of a church court, the Patriarchate and the Kremlin may have created new problems for themselves by giving him a forum to present his views and attack those in the Patriarchate, like Metropolitan Kirill, who are his chief opponents.
On Friday, the senior clerical assembly of the Moscow patriarchate stripped Bishop Diomid of his position because, as the churchmen put it, “by his appeals and declarations Diomid has cultivated a spirit of division within the Church, thus destroying its unityand leading to a confrontation of the Church with state and society” (
The assembly ordered Diomid not to conduct any religious service and, within the next three weeks, to repent of his views -- which include opposition to ecumenism, current relations between the Patriarchate and the Russian state, and globalization in the form of the G-8 – neither of which he is prepared to do.
On the one hand, Diomid led religious services at his cathedral in Chukotka yesterday; and on the other, he has made it clear through his supporters that he does not believe he has done anything for which he should repent and that he is filing papers to have his case adjudicated by a full church court (
At that time, his supporters say, he will not only reiterate everything he has said over the last 18 months about the life of the Church but also launch a direct attack on his leading opponent within the Patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill, the head of the powerful External Affairs Department and currently the odds’ on favorite to succeed Aleksii as head of the church.
The Patriarchate, with the obvious support of the Kremlin, has taken three steps to portray Diomid as marginal and dangerous. First, members of the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group clashed with Diomid backers last Tuesday in Moscow, an event that marred the opening of the senior clerical assembly (
Second, the hierarchs of the church focused on the ways in which Diomid’s views threaten the Patriarchate’s cozy relationship with the state, the reunification of the Orthodox Church for which Vladimir Putin pushed so hard, and relations among the various religious communities of the country, rather than on theological points.
And third, the Church portrayed the decision of the church as one that enjoyed overwhelming support within the hierarchy and the believers. According to the Patriarchate, participants in last week’s assembly voted overwhelmingly against Diomid, 178 to three with two abstentions.
(Among those abstaining was Metropolitan Ilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and among those prepared to openly vote against the Patriarchate’s resolution were the bishops of Syktyvkar and Vorkuta, Kamenets-Podolsk, and Pochayev Lavra in Ukraine (
But all these measures are likely to come back to haunt the Church and its Kremlin backers in the coming weeks. First, the Church’s willingness to cooperate in the use of the Nashis to advance its interests of presenting Diomid as a threat calls attention not to its independence and strength but to its ties to the government and its fundamental weakness.
Second, that any hierarchs voted against the Church’s position is striking, given the way the Patriarchate normally operates. At the very least, it will remind people that 138 clerics signed an appeal in support of Diomid and that more than 300,000 Russians in the laity have signed a petition on his behalf (
Some clergy and believers are likely to conclude with Diomid that the Patriarchate is out of step with the majority of the Church, while others are certain to decide that Diomid and the views he represents reflect not a small marginal group but rather a large fraction of the entire Church.
And third, the Church’s charges against Diomid and its assumption that they justify his removal from office, silencing or even a pronouncement of anathema against him are in fact evidence of just how weak the Patriarchate’s position is and how fearful it is of any real discussion of the issues themselves.
Aleksandr Ogorodnikov, a prominent Orthodox dissident in Soviet times, told “Gazeta” today that the Patriarchate has no right to act in the way that it is doing. “A bishop can be deprived of his position only for heresy” according to Church law, he pointed out; “not for his opinion or even for disobedience” (
One of the key planks in Diomid’s message has been a call for the convention of a church council to consider various key issues, something both canon law and the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church require. The Patriarchate has opposed that, clearly fearful that it might lose control of such a meeting.
That is why the Church’s leadership has been so frightened by Diomid’s use of the Internet to spark debate within the Church and has struck back so hard at him – and why its attacks against him are likely to get worse – see, for example, the suggestion that Diomid is the unwitting tool of dark, anti-Russian forces from abroad at
But given Diomid’s willingness to continue to defend his views, the Patriarchate’s approach is backfiring. And consequently, regardless of whether one agrees with the bishop or not – and many of his views are reactionary and problematic at a minimum – he is likely to help push the Russian Orthodox Church not back to the past but into a very different future.

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