Thursday, October 8, 2020

Patriarchate’s Closeness to Increasingly Demanding State Driving Russians Away from Church, Chapnin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 6 – Patriarch Kirill and the hierarchs he has installed have sought to make themselves the closest possible allies of an increasingly demanding Russian state, disappointing many Russians who hoped for a spiritual revival after the collapse of communism and driving them away from the church, Sergey Chapnin says.

            On the one hand, the religious journalist says, that means that ever fewer of those who entered in the 1990s are still taking part even in religious services. And on the other, it means that some of them are attracted to dissident movements within the church or even to Protestant groups (

            “The chief problem is that we do not have a real dialogue between the state and society,” Chapnin continues, and therefore “the church has been forced to choose between the two.” What has happened is that the patriarch and his hierarchs have chosen “symphony with the state which constantly toughens its policies,” and the priests and parishioners have chosen society.

            In this way, there has been a return almost to Soviet conditions in which the hierarchs and the church structures restricted themselves to the four walls of the church because that is what the state demanded and in which genuine religiosity existed apart from these structures among some in the population.

            The influx of young religious enthusiasts into the church at the end of Soviet times, some of whom became parish priests, gave hope that the situation could change. But instead of welcoming them, the hierarchy began to respond negatively fearing it would lose its power and wealth and turned to the state for protection.

            As a result, many of those who had joined the church or even the clergy left, and the bureaucratization of the church increased. Under Vladimir Putin, who viewed the state as a surrogate for the ideology he did not yet have, the church became an agitprop organization. “As a result,” Chapnin says, “instead of faith, a new ideology was strengthened.”

            “And that is far from being one and the same thing,” the religious specialist says.

            When Kirill became patriarch, some expected him to change things because he had the reputation as an intellectual and ecumenist.  But these hopes were “cruelly dashed.” One of his first decisions was to order some prominent church intellectuals, Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov and Igumen Petr Meshcherinov to keep silent on public issues.

            And things have only gotten worse: “Today, the patriarchate is interested only in power and money,” and both the one and the other are killing it as a religious organization. That became obvious when the state intervened in the Pussy Riot case, an action it took because the Kremlin felt the patriarchate wasn’t doing its job and maintaining control.

            After Crimea and the Donbass, Chapnin says, the situation became even worse. The patriarchate fell in line with the state. That became especially clear when it agreed to erect the main church of the Armed Forces, a structure that had very little to do with Christianity and everything to do with state power.

            Russians can see that, and they are turning away from the Patriarchal church. Only two percent attend church on Sundays, and consequently, the religious affairs journalist says with bitterness, “Christian Russia today is a myth.” The only hope is that the junior clergy and some of the laity can keep belief alive until the state and the patriarchate change.

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