Staunton, September 10 – A Russian Orthodox church court in Yekaterinburg has excommunicated Sergey, the dissident religious leader who has been holding court at a women’s monastery near there. He can appeal but would have to appear personally, something he has been unwilling to do so far.
His excommunication is likely to stand, something that means all his religious titles have been taken away from him (except for monk, because Orthodoxy holds that that is not a title the church has bestowed and therefore can’t remove) and that he can’t lead or take part in any of the religious mysteries of the church (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/chto-oznachaet-otluchenie/).
It will also make it easier for the local bishopric to press its claims of ownership over the monastery which Sergey and his followers have made their center (t.me/orthozombies/329), but excommunication by itself is unlikely to cost him many of his followers or provoke a major split in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Instead, as media attention to him fades – something the Orthodox hierarchy will do everything it can to promotes -- ever fewer people will make the pilgrimage to wherever he holds court and he will gradually fade from the scene as have most dissident priests in the Russian past. But because of his radical right-wing ideas, he will retain a following.
The other consequence of this action by the church authorities, less obvious but ultimately more important, is that the church, by washing its hands of Sergey, is effectively turning over his case to the Russian state, the latest evidence of the increasingly corporate style of rule in Putin’s Russia.
As long as Sergey remained within the church, the state was more than ready to defer to the church as to how he should be handled. Now that the church has thrown up its hands, it has effectively handed the dissident religious leader over to the state which, given Sergey’s anti-Putin tirades in the past, is unlikely to treat him gently.
But the civil regime will also likely try to make this whole thing go away by simply gradually turning up the pressure. Any sharp action in the near future would attract attention and create problems for both the Kremlin and the Patriarchate that neither the one nor the other is ready to deal with at the present time.