Monday, May 13, 2019

Moscow Patriarchate’s Opposition to New Stalin Cult Draws Fire from Russian Nationalists

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Metropolitan Ilarion, head of the Synodical Department of External Relations and generally viewed as second only to Kirill in the Moscow Patriarchate, says that Russians should not give Joseph Stalin credit for victory in World War II or revive the cult of personality around the late Soviet dictator.

            In  a televised interview, the senior Orthodox churchman says that the church has already made “very clear” its attitude toward Stalin’s repressions in the 1920s and 1930s by canonizing as “new martyrs” many of those who fell victim to his regime (

                With regard to Stalin’s role in the war, Ilarion reminds his listeners that Stalin shot many senior commanders leaving the country’s defenses in far worse shape and that the Kremlin leader ignored warnings from Soviet agents, like Richard Zorge, that Hitler was about to attack, something that made the situation even worse.  

            “Therefore,” the metropolitan continues, “there is simply no reason to declare that the victory of the Soviet Union in the Great Fatherland War was the result of Stalin’s work. I think this was the to the credit of the entire people, something mistakenly given to Stalin as a result of the cult of personality.”

            “I do not think that there is any need to revive this cult of personality in our time.”

            Given how often the Moscow Patriarchate as marched in lock step with the Kremlin, Ilarion’s words are striking. But for some Russian nationalists, they are deeply offensive. And they are responding with anger.  Mikhail Khazin, one of their number, says “it would have been better” if Ilarion had kept his mouth shut” (

            That the metropolitan made these remarks is not entirely surprising given how much the Church suffered as a result of Stalin’s crimes. They almost certainly reflect what many Orthodox believe. But they may be more important as a sign of something else -- a debate within the upper reaches of power in Moscow about just how far to rehabilitate Stalin.

            Ilarion’s words serve notice that if the Kremlin or his supporters go too far in deifying Stalin, the Church will part company with such an effort, a threat that may be more important now than it might have been two or three years ago as a result of the decline in the ratings of Vladimir Putin and his regime.

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