Staunton, January 8 – The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, especially since Stalin restored it, has always worked closely with the state, but in 2016, it completed its “metamorphosis” from a body with its own religious agenda into an agency intended to help the Kremlin control and dominate Russia, Svetlana Solodovnik says.
In “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” the Russian commentator points out that “the church in Russia isn’t building hospitals and schools … is indifferent to the fates of the poor” and helps society only when that is consistent with what the Russian powers that be want, thus making explicit what earlier it had done only with some shame (ej.ru/?a=note&id=30588).
On the other hand, one of its people, Anna Kuznetsova, the wife of a priest and the head of the Pokrov Charity, has become the government’s ombudsman for children and says she will devote herself to protecting children from “’harmful information’” spread on the Internet and by other bans as well.
And Orthodox historian Olga Vasiliyeva, having become minister of education after a career of studying how the Church and Soviet state cooperated, is focusing on how the state schools are promote a service mentality among students, service here defined not to the principles of the church but rather to the demands of the Russian state.
Meanwhile, Patriarch Kirill has shown that he is more interested in promoting government interests than religious ones, such as during meetings with Pope Francis in Havana, to which the Russian churchman travelled on a government-supplied plane, or with Queen Elizabeth II in Britain during which he called for improving bilateral state relations.
What Kirill didn’t do in 2016 was to meet with the leaders of the Orthodox world at the assembly in Crete, Solodovnik points out. He did though insist that Russian priests now playing a bigger role in schools promote patriotism, condemn what is going on in Ukraine, and bless Russian weapons systems and even prison vans.
It would seem that theology has been on the march, the Russian commentator says, but it is of a very strange kind, one having less to do with realizing the basic principles of the church than with promoting subservience to the state. As a result, “a strange time has begun” in Russia: “hospitals and schools are being closed, but more theologians are being trained.”
And those theologians together with the church hierarchs are not promoting the “inter-confessional peace” and “national security” they claim to be but rather “exacerbating in people hatred” toward groups the state doesn’t approve of as can be seen in “the example of the activity of ‘the Orthodox activists’” who enjoy the support of both the Kremlin and the Patriarchate.
All this and much besides, Solodovnik says, forces one to the unfortunate conclusion that “the church is rapidly being converted into part of the repressive regime,” a trend that does “not bode well for either the church or society,” even if it makes those in the Kremlin happy for the time being.