Without the state’s blessing, the Russian Orthodox Church could not conceal its current incomes of perhaps 500 million US dollars a year, would be forced to make public its “commercial empire,” and would lose the support of the financial authorities for the operation of its banks and other institutions. Nor could it count on restoration of property it claims.
The Russian state, of course, also is interested in the church, Kuznetsova says. “Above all, the Kremlin needs a church which will support in the population not only faith but also the traditional submission connected with that belief not only in the heavenly authorities but also the earthly ones.”
But perhaps most important, “the supreme power needs the church as a unique space for the regular demonstration of national ‘uniqueness,’ of attachment to Russian values and ideals of morality from time immemorial. The public appearance at services is much cheaper than the organization of ‘direct lines,’” the commentator says.
“With the intensification of the conflict among the churches, it has become obvious that the toxicity of the Ukrainian crisis is much deeper than had been thought. It has penetrated into the Russian state itself by affecting the power and influence of its chief ally, the church,” Kuznetsov says.
The Russian church’s silence about or support for Kremlin policies in Ukraine have not only led to its “loss of authority and trust among part of Ukrainian society” but put the church “unexpectedly” on the front lines of the conflict in Ukraine, leading to the loss of income and influence of the church and thus ultimately of the state itself.
The separation of Orthodox Ukraine from the Moscow Patriarchate “has become a powerful shock not only for the Russian Orthodox Church but also for the Kremlin. This destroys not only the idea of ‘the Russian Orthodox world,’ but in a broader sense undermines the idea of a Russian empire embracing all Russian speakers and Orthodox regardless of where they live.”
The only way the Russian Orthodox Church could break out of this is to break with the Russian state, something its leaders seem incapable of doing and that the Kremlin would view as “the personal betrayal of the patriarch and of state values.” Thus, it won’t do so, and “this means that the church from ow on is not an ally of the Russian state but its victim.”
But this has another consequence, Kuznetsov concludes. It demonstrates, albeit “in the reverse logic of Russian politics” that “the state in Russia is completely separate from the church.”