12/19/2015, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Moscow Patriarchate fires Sergey Chapnin, editor of its journal

The journalist openly criticised the leadership of the Russian Church and its close ties to the Kremlin. He sees a "new hybrid religion", a mix of Orthodox traditions and Soviet nostalgia, emerging. In a paper presented at the Moscow Carnegie Center, he describes a "new silence" affecting today’s Orthodox clergy, which led him to speak out.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Sergey Chapnin (pictured), the executive editor of the "Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate", the official publication of the Russian Orthodox Church, was fired, ostensibly because of his positions openly critical of the current situation of the Russian Orthodox Church (see interview with AsiaNews).

As soon as news about Chapnin’s dismissal became public, it generated negative criticism. Chapnin himself said on colta.ru that he would speak about it next Monday. Russian news sites speculate that he was probably fired from his post (which he had held since 2009) because of recent statements he had made criticising Church leaders.

The last straw seems to be a paper on the current state of the Russian Church he presented ten days ago at the authoritative Carnegie Moscow Centre. The Patriarchate itself has not commented on the dismissal.

Born in 1968, Sergey Chapnin has long been a keen observer of the Russian Church and its relationship with society. His Carnegie paper is entitled "Christianity in the public space: war and violence, heroes and saints," available on his website (in Russian).

At the heart of his argument is the notion of "new silence", which he believes describes the current situation of the Russian Orthodox Church. For him, “one voice, that of Patriarch Kirill, resonates across the public space," Chapnin writes, whilst "all others are mostly silent, not daring to go beyond brief comments”.

"This is undoubtedly a new style that clearly illustrates the growing importance of the Church hierarchy,” he notes. It refers, “more precisely, to the concept of hierarchy as under the exclusive control of the Patriarch." This, he laments, is best illustrated by the “Younger bishops” ordained under Kirill who “in the past five or six years have said nothing”.

In view of this, “one may ask why young bishops do not speak out, why they seem to want nothing, why they seem unable to do anything. Are they afraid? Is such silence a pause before major changes?” Or does it hide “a desire to leave the public space? So far, such questions have still not be answered."

Referring to the relationship between the Patriarchate, those in power and society, he calls for a "serious reform" of the Church to reflect the new times, on pain of marginalisation. In his view, society is increasingly dissatisfied with the Church, even though traditionally, the Russian Orthodox Church “is and will be an Imperial Church,” closely connected to the state.

At the same time, the Church must try to "become an authoritative institution in civil society" and in its relations with the temporal power, it must "at least keep some distance, not identify with it, not take too much money, not serve its [the state’s] ideological demands".

Chapnin slams also the Church’s tendency "to associate war and Orthodox heroes," a trend promoted by some media as well as Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.

He warns against the emergence of “a new hybrid religion", in which Church and political leaders give words like "holy" and "saint" a temporal twist, "completely forgetting their reference to God."

"I call it the post-Soviet civil religion, which incorporates both Orthodox traditions, nostalgia for the Soviet past and the dream for a strong empire."

The journalist ends his paper turning to hooliganism by groups of Orthodox zealots, something that is never publicly condemned by the Patriarchate – people like Dmitry Enteo, whose group, ‘God’s Will’, recently carried out attacks against museums and cultural events deemed “offensive to the religious sentiment”.

For Chapnin, the Church has relied too much on divine justification to explain the violence by young people.  "Through this kind of hooliganism, Enteo and his acolytes have exposed a serious problem within the Russian Church, clearly showing that the Church is divided into two camps" in which one accepts "the use of violence in the name of political and economic goals."

In fact, "For a substantial number of clergymen and lay people, violence qualifies as acceptable for Christians.” Indeed, “Within religious circles, such Orthodox activists are not condemned but are treated as heroes.”

“Whether the justification of violence becomes a feature of modern Orthodoxy or not is still an open question;” yet, “the temptation is great”.

Chapnin’s dismissal was followed immediately by comments on Facebook. In one, one woman pointed out that whilst the Patriarchate allowed a priest to take part in a talent show ('The Voice'), it wants to prohibit ‘Christianity in the public space’. "What a contrast: 'Voice' vs 'silence'," she wrote. (M.A.)

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