Staunton, September 5 – In a remarkable if not almost unprecedented action by believers that one might label a Khabarovsk among the faithful, Orthodox believers in Simbirsk have sent a 368-word open letter to Patriarch Kirill demanding to have the leader of their church explain why he has constantly changed bishops without taking the views of the faithful into account.
In the last six years, the Orthodox parishioners say, the Moscow Patriarchate has changed the Orthodox leader of the Simbirsk region six times, including at the recent meeting of the synod and thus precluded any chance that the bishop could possibly learn enough about their special needs to do his job (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=88088).
The Simbirsk Orthodox say that Moscow has never given an explanation for why it has removed one church leader or appointed another, leading to rumors that some are being punished for failures hidden from the faithful and raising questions about whether they should try to develop relations with any new man given that it seems he won’t be there long.
In polite but tough language, the authors of the letter say that they appreciate the Patriarch’s recent statement on the pandemic and Orthodoxy but very much believe that he should take their questions seriously and provide a public answer for what has been going on among their religious leaders.
Under church law, the patriarch can change bishops at will if he has the backing of the Synod which he typically controls; and given the deference believers typically show to hierarchs, most believers go along with whatever those above them in the church decide, viewing it as God’s will or at least as something they aren’t entitled to question.
That makes this letter a remarkable sign of change in the Russian church. At least in part, the Simbirsk believers appear to have been encouraged to take action because they felt their own interests and choices were being ignored much as the people of Khabarovsk have gone into the streets to protest Moscow’s removal of a popular governor.
It would probably be a mistake to make too much of this, but it does suggest that Russian society is again in motion and that its deference to those “above” ordinary people is collapsing. To the extent that spreads, it will change how many institutions in that country function, reducing the certainty of those in the Kremlin that Russians will do whatever Moscow orders.