Thursday, April 30, 2009

Window on Eurasia: New Russian Patriarch Enlists Regime’s Help to Suppress Independent Orthodox Believers

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 30 – A Russian appeals court has left in force a decision of a lower court to allow allowing the state to seize eight church buildings in Suzdal belonging to the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, the latest indication of the manner in which Patriarch Kirill is using the state to suppress any independence among Orthodox believers.
That is the conclusion of Aleksandr Khramov, a religious affairs writer, in a commentary published yesterday on, a conclusion highlighting both the newly enthroned patriarch’s well-known authoritarian tendencies and an increasingly dangerous collusion between his church and the Russian state (
In decisions announced yesterday, the collegiums of the First Appellate Arbitration Court in Vladimir left in force the February 12th judgment of the Vladimir Oblast Arbitration Court which granted a government request to seize the churches, ostensibly because their parishes had violated one or another rules of the use of their properties.
The oblast official who initiated the case has routinely insisted that the Moscow Patriarchate “does not have any relationship to this case,” but that assertion Khramov argues is a total “lie.” The government does not need these churches and almost certainly will hand them over to the local bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate in short order.
Three aspects of this case are especially disturbing, the religious affairs writer says. First, the entire process of going after independent believers “suddenly accelerated after Kirill became the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,” an indication of his influence with the government generally and President and Mrs. Medvedev in particular.
Thus what is happening in Suzdal sets a precedent that is likely to be used elsewhere in the Russian Federation soon: The Moscow Patriarchate will enlist the power of the state to go after its enemies and even after those believers who seek only the right to worship in their own way independently of Kirill and his “power vertical” inside the church.
Second, while the independent believers plan to appeal, “even now,” Khramov writes, “the majority of them are seized by the darkest forebodings: In the era of ‘missionary mobilization,’ which the new Patriarch has proclaimed, all those unwilling to enter into the ranks of ‘the supporters of the faith’ under the flags of the Moscow Patriarchate” will be in trouble.
And third, there is a very real danger of violent clashes between the followers of such independent churches and the state. On the one hand, because they believe in their mission, the followers of such independent Orthodox groups say they do not plan to simply obey what they see as an illegal and unconstitutional seizure of their property.
Metropolitan Valentin, a leader of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, has publicly declared that “even if they use clubs to drive us out, we will suffer for the truth and suffer for Orthodoxy. We will not give the keys [to the churches to the Russian government for handing over to the Patriarchate]. We will not leave.”
And on the other, the government appears to be gearing up to use force against them. Officials have announced that on May 18th, there will be a large “anti-terrorist training course.” In advance of that, it is already clear that for the Russian government as for the Patriarchate, “the terrorists” in Suzdal will not be “militants but Orthodox believers.”
Such an expansive reading of “terrorist” by the authorities, one that they appear prepared to extend to those whose only crime is that they are not followers of the government-approved faith, may ultimately prove to be the most dangerous aspect of this situation, one that has attracted some attention from religious rights organizations but so far little from anyone else.

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