Saturday, July 5, 2008

Window on Eurasia: How Much Support Does Bishop Diomid Have?

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 5 – Russian Orthodox Bishop Diomid enjoys far more support than the Moscow Patriarchate is prepared to admit, some of it reflecting backing for his specific views, another part the product of a belief that the church must be more open and independent of the state, and a third anger at the way his opponents violated canon law to move against him.
In the short term, these three groups, even collectively, are unlikely to be able to defend him in Church councils and courts. But over the longer haul, their size appears already large enough to constitute a serious challenge to the Patriarchate, forcing it to change course or face the probability of a deep split within Russian Orthodoxy.
And at least one commentator has compared the disciplining of Diomid by the Patriarchate to the expulsion of Boris Yeltsin from the Soviet political hierarchy in October 1987, an action that accelerated the demise of the USSR and boosted Yeltsin’s own political prospects (
The Patriarchate’s official position on the amount of support Diomid enjoys within the Church was provided by Bishop Mark, a deputy to Metropolitan Kirill of the powerful External Affairs Department and an increasingly frequent spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole (
Asked by to react to suggestions that from 20,000 to 300,000 members of the clergy and laity actively support Diomid, Bishop Mark said that such figures were “exaggerated” and represented the efforts of unnamed enemies of the Church to exploit the Diomid case.
Moreover, he said, claims by some that many of the monastic clergy, from which the Church selects its hierarchs, back Diomid are flatly wrong. “I think,” the bishop said, “that his conscious supporters are many time fewer, only a handful in fact.” And even those who have signed appeals on Diomid’s behalf, Mark said, are confused rather than real supporters.
(The bishop said that when he had personally talked to some of Diomid’s supposed backers, he found that most of them simply wanted to have a conversation about various issues, something some hierarchs have been slow to agree to, and were not interested in supporting Diomid as such against the Patriarchate.)
To say this does not mean, the bishop continued, that there have not been differences of opinion on Diomid and other issues in the church. There are, “they are permissible, but only to a certain limit.” Once the duly constituted authorities of the Church have taken a decision, that “means that disagreements are at an end.”
Another churchman, however, one known for less officially constrained commentary on what is going on within the church provided a very different picture. In an interview on Echo Moskvy radio, Deacon Andrey Kurayev said that almost all monasteries of the Orthodox Church share the worldview of Bishop Diomid (
More seriously, he suggested that the Diomid case was a symptom of something much larger: “I consider,” Kurayev continued, “that in recent years out church has been balancing on the brink of a split comparable in its scope with the split of the 17th century” which led to the departure of the Old Believers.
“Up to now, the tactic of the Patriarchate was to be patient and hope that somehow the years will pass, people will adapt to new conditions, and everything will be all right. But its action in the case of Diomid shows that there is a limit to this patience” and that the Patriarchate is now prepared to violate its own rules to deal with its opponents.
That is going to force monks, priests, hierarchs, and especially the laity to choose between Diomid and the Patriarchate, Kurayev suggested, and for a wide variety of reasons, including anger at the caesaro-papism of the church, the violations of canon law in this case, and the conservative positions of Diomid, many will come down on his side.
One group almost certain to support him will be the congregations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, a group that Vladimir Putin and Aleksii II worked so hard to re-subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate. According to one Canadian commentator on church affairs, almost all Orthodox abroad are on Diomid’s side.
Some of them, Yevgeny Sokolov said, agree with him on specific issues but more are angry that the Patriarchate violated canon law (For a detailed discussion of that issue, see and disciplined Diomid far more severely than necessary (
And while Sokolov does not mention this as a factor, at least some Orthodox abroad may be supporting Diomid as a way of indicating their displeasure at the decision of their own hierarchy to enter into closer relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, a church many of them view as little more than a tool of the Kremlin and its security services.
Exactly how much support Diomid has is thus uncertain, but it is obvious that even if the Patriarchate can control voting on him in church councils now, there is enough to represent a serious challenge to the way in which the Patriarchate has been conducting itself up to now – and that means its current “victories” over the recalcitrant bishop are likely to prove Pyrrhic at best.

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