06/06/2011, 00.00
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Five new dioceses to reinforce the authority of the Moscow Patriarch

by Nina Achmatova
The synod approves the reorganisation of the canonical territory, still based on the Soviet framework with parishes in the same dioceses at a distance of 1,000 kilometres.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Russian Orthodox Church is expanding its pastoral work and setting up five new dioceses. The decision was taken on 31 May at a session of the Holy Synod, the Patriarchate’s highest administrative authority, chaired by Patriarch Kirill. According to some analysts, in addition to improving the Church’s local administration, the new framework will strengthen the Patriarch’s authority. Last year, the head of the Church had already began a more centralised reorganisation of the Church and its activities, including in the field of mission.

“We must make important decisions on how to reorganise some dioceses,” Kirill said opening the session.  “We must think about steps to take so that the life of the Church, in a number of regions, can become more intense and coherent with the guidelines of the Council of Bishops”.

The restructuring of the canonical territory had already begun in the previous session of the synod in March, when new dioceses were established in the northern Caucasus (Pyatigorsk and Circassia, Vladikavkaz and Makhachkalinsk), which were previously part of the dioceses of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz and Baku and Prikaspiisk.

The most recent dioceses are those of Narva (which becomes the second diocese of the Estonian Orthodox Church), Krasnoslobodsk and Ardatov, Khanty-Mansiysk and Surgut, Salekhard and Novy Urengoy and finally that of Yeniseysk and Norilsk.

“In Greece, there is a bishop per city, whilst we have inherited a structure from soviet times, so that cities a thousand kilometres from one another are in the same diocese, and parishioners do not even know who their bishop is,” Vladimir Vigilianskii, director of the Moscow Patriarchate Press Office, told the daily Kommersant. “By reducing the size of dioceses, it will be easier to run them,” he added.

According to Roman Lunkin, director of the Institute of Religion and the Law, “reforming the Church administration will strengthen the authority of the Patriarch in the provinces, because the new bishops will be beholden to him.”

The Church Russian Orthodox has 164 dioceses, 217 bishops, 30,675 parishes, 29,324 priests and 3,850 deacons. It also has 805 monasteries, 398 for men and 407 for women.

Last year, Kirill took personal control of the Mission Department of the Central Bureau of the Patriarchate, ordering its expansion.

Some observers suggest the patriarch wants to apply to the religious field the vertical organisation of power imposed on the state by Vladimir Putin during his first presidential mandate.

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