Saturday, February 8, 2020

Russian Orthodoxy Changing at Parish Level and May Become a Political Force, Lunkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 1 – Conservative fundamentalists in the Russian Orthodox Church are united in two things: their anti-ecumenicism and their anti-modernism, including opposition to the use of Russian in services, but otherwise they range from monarchists to communists, according to Roman Lunkin, a specialist on religion at Moscow’s Institute of Europe.

            But while such people by their statements attract even more attention than Patriarch Kirill, the religious affairs specialist says, there are some more interesting and “fundamental” changes taking place in Orthodoxy, changes that won’t be achieved by some kind of Second Vatican Council but nonetheless very real (

            Indeed, it is even possible, Lunkin continues, that the Russian Orthodox Church both at the level of parishes and even the hierarchy could become “a new source of civic activity” in Russia in the coming years, something that would be “for both the authorities and for part of our liberal intelligentsia” something quite “unexpected.” 

            This reflects the fact that “the worldview of the majority of the clergy, especially the younger groups, is characterized by ‘conservative democracy,’” that is, “the clergy is inclined in a conservative direction in the church sense but democratically in the political,” much as was the case in the early part of the 20th century.

            Just as then, so now again, the priests want the church to play a role, believe people are coming in their direction and that “no one is moving toward a church that simply reflects whatever the state ideology happens to be.  Patriarch Kirill, despite his efforts to be “above all,” reflects this, Lunkin says.

            “He was a liberal on many questions, including ecumenical contacts … but always was a tough administrator who did not allow any liberalism in the bishoprics.” Kirill has always said that “the church must be a constituent part of society and here politics recedes into the background.

            It is because of this that the ROC MP has its own policies on Ukraine. It did not join the Russian euphoria about the occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea or invasion of the Donbass.  And it has maintained ties with Ukrainians that the Kremlin almost certainly would have preferred it to break.

            “In a certain sense,” Lunkin continues, “the church is developing even more rapidly than society” and even in a more democratic direction than the regime.  Parishes are becoming more important in many places, something priests, even those inclined in an authoritarian and monarchist direction, cannot ignore.

            That is leading to reforms from below, even to potentially radical ones that could have political consequences, however slavishly loyal the very top of the church hierarchy is to the secular powers that be, Lunkin concludes.

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