Second, Kirill said he would seek a concordat with the Russian state, an agreement which would define more specifically their relations and allow the church to work more closely with the civil authorities both at home and abroad. The Roman Catholic Church currently has such agreements with 60 countries; the ROC MP needs one.
And third, the Moscow Patriarch indicated that the actions of the Universal Patriarchate in granting autocephaly to Ukraine’s Orthodox mean that Moscow must rethink its approach to Christian unity and recognize that the Vatican can be an important ally in promoting such unity around the world.
Patriarch Kirill has promoted these ideas before and been criticized for them by those in the Russian church who want it to be a national church and to avoid ecumenism of any kind. Among the most prominent of these critics is Metropolitan Tikhon, Vladimir Putin’s favorite among the church hierarchs and an odds-on favorite to succeed Kirill.
The current patriarch apparently has decided that in the face of defeat, his best strategy is to double down on his existing policies rather than make any change. While that may reflect the thinking of his hierarchy, most of which Kirill himself installed, it may also reflect his weakened position beyond the Moscow Patriarchate itself.
Three other developments this week may also play a role in the future of the ROC MP. First, the release of KGB files in Latvia confirms what many have long known: senior hierarchs of the Orthodox Church served as KGB agents in Soviet times, something that may make the church more attractive to the Kremlin but less to others (govoritmoskva.ru/news/183712/).
Second, Metropolitan Tikhon of Novosibirsk, a Kirill appointee, declared that “the spiritual space” of Russians was the proper focus of the professional activities of the FSB, the Russian successor of the KGB, hardly a popular position among Christians in Russia or elsewhere who believe the church not the police should play that role (tayga.info/144271).
And third, the reaction of the UOC MP to a Ukrainian law requiring it to rename itself shows that other Orthodox leaders may want a more flexible approach. The Russian church in Ukraine instead of retaining its former positions suddenly declared that it views Russia as the aggressor in the Donbass and Crimea as occupied territory ().
That is unlikely to do anything to slow the shift in believers, parishes and bishops from that church to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine which is slated to receive the tomos of autocephaly on January 6. Indeed, it may speed that process by suggesting to the faithful that they won’t be making a major change by shifting from Moscow’s church to a Ukrainian one.
More important, however, it shows that Orthodox in many places don’t want to follow Kirill’s approach, viewing it as one from which they will only lose what they still retain. And that more than anything else could lead to a parade of autocephalies across what Putin and Kirill still refer to as “the Russian world.”