12/23/2015, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Sergey Chapnin says he was fired by Patriarch Kirill, and that in Russia a new "Church of Silence" is developing

The former editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate talks to Russian media about a climate of censorship within the Russian Church and of the dangers associated with a close collaboration with the State. His dismissal was not a surprise.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – After Patriarch Kirill decided to fire him as editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, a monthly publication that covers the pastoral life of the Church, journalist Sergey Chapnin gave interviews to two online Russian-language publications, Slon.ru and Colta.ru.

In them, he describes his dismissal as a political decision by the Orthodox patriarch after six years of services. He notes that that the lecture he gave at the Moscow Carnegie Center, which was very critical of the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, was only a pretext because he had been warned on previous occasions not to speak publicly on the issue.

Here are some of the most significant excerpts from the two interviews.

According to media reports, you were fired for a paper titled ‘Orthodoxy in the public space: war and violence, heroes and saints’. Is this the official reason?

The two events are related only because they are a few days apart. On 9 December, I presented my paper and a few days later, the order of Patriarch Kirill came saying that my services were no longer “adequate”. My conference was the pretext to fire me, but it was in no way the reason. The paper (at the Carnegie Center) was not my main article this year. The latter is a piece published in November by First Things, a conservative Catholic journal, titled ‘A Church of Empire’. These articles annoyed quite a few people. There were some official letters of warning. In particular, not long ago, I came 'under a ban', I was actually prohibited from speaking at international conferences.

Does this often happen?

I don’t know of any other case. I am probably the first and for now the only one.

Did you expect that your papers could lead to your dismissal?

Yes of course, I was aware of that. However, for me belonging to the Orthodox Church is a great privilege. In particular, as a Christian I am called to tell the truth. Unlike political parties and public organisations, the Church is a special entity. The Gospel is a call to freedom in Christ.

I was accused that my position did not correspond to the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church. But here's the problem: I think that all the talk about the "official position of the Church" is an unsuccessful rhetorical move to cover up the development of a new Orthodox ideology. It seems that someone wants to make it compulsory at least for all those who work with official Church institutions. From my point of view, asking people to follow the "official position" on issues not are dogmatic or doctrinal is too much.

It seems that the Russian Orthodox Church already has a certain ideology, born from close contact with state power.

Believers are people of different political opinions, members of various political parties and social movements. They are united in Christ, but to say that for this reason they must also have a single ideology is not in the tradition of the Church. In my opinion, trying to formulate such an ideology is very dangerous. In general, working closely with the state is becoming a big problem for the Russian Church. Nowadays the Church unites believers not only in the Russian Federation but also in the entire post-Soviet space: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic countries. Because of the close relationship between Church and state, problems between states are projected on the Church. This is clearly not in its favour.

How did your dismissal come about?

Since the patriarch’s decision was political and that this was not enough for dismissal, the publishing house and I came to an acceptable arrangement. I resigned by mutual agreement.

What is the Patriarchate’s journal today? To whom is it addressed?

It describes religious practices and life experiences within the Church in the modern world. It is addressed mainly to the clergy and the active laity. Frankly, I must say that today, the journal is going through again a conceptual crisis. At the Carnegie Center, I said that the Russian Orthodox Church is in a state of "new silence". Its circle of writers is rapidly dwindling. Both priests and bishops are refusing to collaborate with the official magazine of the Church because they are afraid to speak. They have seen what happens to those who say that something is wrong.

The patriarch appointed you director soon after his election in 2009. Did you know each other before? What tasks did he give you?

Yes, we had known each other since the mid-1990s. Back then, our relationship was very friendly. He had asked me to revamp the magazine and was in full agreement with my position. In short, the idea was to have both official and unofficial parts.

In the unofficial part, various ideas and personal views were open for discussion. This is not my doing.  The publications of the golden age of Church journalism, in the late 19th century, were like this. I was very happy that we were able to revive these traditions.

Unfortunately, it only lasted a few years. Gradually the circle began to narrow. Some materials of discussion were defined ‘undesirable’, and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev) – head of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate – gradually switched from being head of the editorial board to the journal’s censor, later joined by another censor, Archpriest Oleg Korytko, head of the patriarchal review.

At the Carnegie Center, you talked about the problem of violence in the Orthodox world. What threats do you see?

I spoke of the rhetoric of war and the justification of violence within the Church. When Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin says that we are leading a "holy war" in Syria, it is just a short step before the same talk also begins over Ukraine. Some are already making that same argument. If nothing changes, soon they will say that the struggle for "the Russian world" (Русский мир, russki mir) in Ukraine is also a "holy war". And this will have serious consequences.

In principle, such ideas are already found among radicals in the secular world.

Yes, such theses are already coming. They are not yet fully developed, but if we do not say 'stop' now, military actions can acquire not only moral justification but also some sort of "divine mandate". Yet, such justification for war is not possible because the Gospel commandment is unequivocal: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.

Are you sorry for what happened?

In recent days, I answered hundreds of calls, emails and text messages. Some expressed solidarity, others asked, “Should I extend my condolences or congratulate you?" Some congratulated me right away, not only lay people, but also monks, priests and bishops.

I try to see God’s providence in every event and at present, I especially feel the support the Lord has sent me through various people, both relatives and strangers. I have no regrets, I am happy that new perspectives are opening up for me. (M.A.)

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