02/10/2016, 14.47
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Sergei Chapnin: The Russian Orthodox Church in 2016. The problem of understanding and credibility. Part Three

by Sergei Chapnin

The attentive Russian analyst points to some contradictions enveloping the Patriarchate, unable to understand the situation of the poor and of Russian society. Another problem: the traditional "collegiality" has given way to a top-down management.


Moscow (AsiaNews) – Below, we publish the third part of an analysis by Sergei Chapnin, former editor of the Moscow Patriarchate magazine, on the situation of the Russian Orthodox Church, on the eve of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill’s meeting in Cuba next February 12th. For the first part, click here; for the second part, click here.

Patriarch Kirill. Problem of Understanding and Credibility

In a Christmas interview to one of the leading Russian TV channels, Patriarch Kirill stated that he saw no problems in curtailing of consumption. Without any doubt, most of the viewers could not understand those words, as they already live below the poverty line and are constrained in virtually every way possible.

“In general, there is no tragedy today in the country. It is the faint of heart, the inwardly weak, empty people who are disillusioned. If you associate your wellbeing with money alone, if your wellbeing is measured by the quality of your vacations or material living conditions, then a slightest decrease in consumption may seem a hideous tragedy.” (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/4327642.html)

It is hard to imagine to whom the Patriarch was actually addressing these words of admonition, as, according to the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, in January- September 2015 14.1% of Russian population had means below the poverty line, while in the same period of 2014 this number stood at 12.6%  (http://www.vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2016/01/13/623856-kudrin-krug). The problem is not in the reducing of consumption, which can be a trouble for the middle class in big cities, but in the fact that recent months saw 2.3 million people move below the poverty line.

Is this the situation the Patriarch refuses to call a tragedy? Of course, later the Patriarch goes on to say: “The only thing that we should fight against, prevent at any cost and eradicate is extreme poverty.” (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/4327642.html).

The trouble is these words sound too detached, they are merely a theory. How can one eradicate poverty in the times of crisis? One could speak of social insecurity, fulfilling social obligations, caring for those suffering, without a job or means of subsistence. Yet, the Patriarch chose otherwise. He preferred to deliver platitudes that neither show any sympathy to those below the poverty line nor call for the state to take a better care of these people.

All of this fits in the tendency of the last years: The Patriarch’s credibility is generally coming down. He utters nice, but unrelated words. He understands a lot, but he tries to show his familiarity with the authorities and with the people at the same time. As a result, both the former and the latter hold him at less and less value with every day.

It is hard to admit this. Since the Church Council of 1917/18, the patriarchy has been seen as the only acceptable model of Church governance. There are no serious discussions on returning to so-called ‘synodal model’ or even its partial use. However, some of the clergy and laity have become interested in the debates of early 20th century and want to take a closer look at the arguments of those against the patriarchy model.

Some 6-7 years ago, many put their hopes for the further development of Church life in Patriarch Kirill. And it is in no way easy to admit that those hopes have failed.

While direct criticism aimed at the Patriarch comes only from those were pushed out of the official structures – Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev (fired from the Moscow Spiritual Academy in December 2013) and Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin (head of the Synodal Department of Church and Society Relations until December 2015), general confusion is in fact much wider.

What are the tools the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church should use to see the mentioned problems from a perspective other than political, diplomatic or administrative? Institutes of practical conciliarity in the Church such as the Inter- Council Presence, the Bishops’ Council etc. have found themselves rigidly subordinate to the hierarchy vertical and fully controlled by the administration of Patriarch Kirill. Which means that in one way or another they all pursue the policy set personally by the Patriarch. Over the seven years of his ‘pontificate’, Patriarch Kirill managed to take the Russian Church into ‘the manual steering mode’. This does not come as a surprise, since all he had to do is to copy the model used by the current Russian state. In effect, this is the practical realization of ‘the symphony’ between the spiritual and secular authorities that Orthodox fundamentalists are so fond of. The trouble is, I am afraid, neither the symphony nor will help the Russian Church to see it through the end of the crisis.


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