Indeed, if that imperial infrastructure continues to exist, Illarionov argues, “the appearance of a free Russia is judging from everything impossible.” And thus “the establishment of an autocephalous church of Ukraine is an absolutely necessary preliminary step on the path to a free Russia.”
“The Russian imperial institutional infrastructure,” which began to be put in place in the middle of the 16th century and “achieved at the end of the 1980s the peak of its power” consisted at that time of the following five elements: the communist party, state multi-lateral institutions, the army, the special services, and Orthodoxy.
The first of these was dismantled under Mikhail Gorbachev. The second was “partially completed” by 2014 and has been further weakened by Moscow’s war against Ukraine. And the third and fourth have been weakened over time but still constitute a serious threat to and source of worry in Russia’s neighbors.
That leaves the fifth element of this imperial infrastructure – Orthodoxy or more precisely the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. It had largely remained in place at least at the level of claims with the exception of the disputed cases in Estonia and Moldova and allowed Moscow to speak about a broad “Russian canonical territory.”
Indeed, the ROC MP to this day claims a canonical territory which covers “more than 35 percent” of the earth’s surface, Illarionov says. And because the other four elements of Russian imperial infrastructure had disappeared or been weakened, it is not surprising that imperialists in Moscow placed and place particular hopes on the ROC MP and its canonical territory.
The weakening and eventual demise of this fifth element required the rise of independent states seeking their own autocephalous churches. Ukraine is especially important because of its size and because of the way in which its independence and now the independence of its church strike at the imperial nature of the ROC MP and push it toward becoming a national church.
Unfortunately, Illarionov continues, “neither the ROC nor Russian society as a whole is in a position to escape on their own from the imperial nature of the Russian Orthodox Church.” Ukraine’s action thus not only achieves something critical for the Ukrainian nation and its independence but also something at least as important for a future free Russia.
Other national churches will emerge on the former Soviet space, he continues; but what is important and deserving of celebration is that it has begun. Russian citizens thus should be extremely grateful to the Ukrainians, the Universal Patriarchate and Patriarch Bartholemew “personally.”