09/17/2018, 16.03
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A fortress-like Vatican for the Russian Orthodox Church

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Patriarchate led by Kirill has begun to redevelop the centre of Sergiyev Posad, a city that is home to Russia’s most important monastery. The goal of the project is to build an "open-air” church of almost 20 hectares.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The BBC Russian Service has recently reported that the Moscow Patriarchate plans to redevelop the centre of Sergiyev Posad, a city where Russia’s important monastery is located: the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius.

The plan of what has been dubbed the Russian Vatican has taken on a particular symbolic value at a time when Orthodoxy is in the grips of controversy over the possible recognition of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. With its new plan, the Russian Orthodox Church appears to want be the bastion of the "true faith" even in relation its Eastern brethren, taking to an extreme the medieval prophecy of Moscow as the Third Rome.

The Sergiyev Posad project takes on particular significance also vis-à-vis the country’s domestic problems such as the violent street protests that broke out on 9 September against the Putin regime, with police attacking young people.

The protests inspired by opposition leader Alexei Navalny were aimed at the electoral farce that saw the re-election of Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin with 74 per cent of the votes, but with a turnout of just above 20 per cent. In the 2013 election, when a majority of voters participated, Navalny ran against Sobyanin, taking almost 20 per cent of the vote with Putin’s ally getting a slight majority in what was the most successful opposition campaign since the current came into being 20 years ago.

Protests against local elections have also taken place also in many other cities, with many young people turning up in the streets, joining workers fighting the country’s new pension law.

Against this background, the grand project to build an "Orthodox Vatican" sounds doubly provocative. The monastery, which survived the Soviet regime in part thanks to the sacrifices of many martyrs, is already as big as it was before the Bolshevik revolution. It has three churches, including the one that houses the relics of St Sergius of Radonezh, a destination for non-stop pilgrimages from all over Russia, the great monastery and the residence of the archimandrite (which under the Communists was the See of the Patriarch), as well as a museum, library, a seminary building and the Faculty of Theology.

In the new proposal, the entire city centre (home to almost 100,000 inhabitants) would become an “open-air” church covering almost twenty hectares, an area that includes the existing town hall, two hotels, a shopping mall, a market, an amusement park and some residential buildings, all of which would be razed to the ground to make room for new Church buildings. In their stead, a new library would be built, as well as new administrative offices, a youth centre, a convention centre and a media centre with all the most advanced means of communication.

The plan aims at "wiping away the city’s Soviet legacy", which defiles the city’s sacredness. Under the Bolsheviks, Sergiyev Posad was renamed Zagorsk in honour of a famous revolutionary. Now it would become the "spiritual capital of Orthodoxy", not only of the Russian Orthodox Church, but of the universal Orthodox community, given the "betrayal" by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Moreover, according to the Russian Church, the actual situation of the "Turkish Patriarch", as Ecumenical Patriarch is called in Russia, shows its insignificance, since he is restrained by the neo-Ottoman Islamic regime that has made him a captive in the small church of the Fanar in Istanbul.

Contracts for Sergiyev Posad's redevelopment were inked a year ago, and construction should start shortly, at least with respect to the buildings that surround the Trinity Lavra. A statement by President Putin's press office said that the matter is a "local administrative issue, which does not require the intervention of the central government or the president".

On 10 September, Patriarch Kirill (Gundyayev) said that he was "the head of the freest Church in the whole history of Russia", that he is not the subject of any political interference, suggesting perhaps that he also feels unrestrained by the rest of the Orthodoxy or any higher authority.

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