Staunton, November 14 – Since becoming Moscow patriarch in 2009, Kirill has sought to create a power vertical within the Russian Orthodox Church and make that church the dominant institution in world Orthodoxy. The symbol of this was to be an enormous new set of church buildings just outside of Moscow, something many have called “an Orthodox Vatican.”
In this, the patriarch enjoyed the support of the Kremlin which saw Kirill’s vision as promoting Kremlin goals. Kirill has succeeded in replacing most of the hierarchs within the ROC MP and thus should be in a position to control things domestically and he, along with the Kremlin, has devoted enormous resources to promote Russian influence in Orthodoxy abroad.
But this project has failed. Kirill’s combination of authoritarianism and ecumenical modernism has divided the ROC at home, and Ukrainian Orthodoxy’s acquisition of autocephaly from the Universal Patriarchate in Constantinople has weakened the ROC MP internationally, especially because other ancient centers of Orthodoxy are increasingly turning against Moscow.
Now, on top of these failings, the pandemic and the restrictions imposed to combat it have driven down contributions to the Russian church and forced it to retrench, with the most prominent cutback being the cancellation of plans to begin construction of what Kirill hoped would symbolize his reign, an Orthodox Vatican.
The Patriarch’s plans for such an enormous construction project became the subject of intense Russian media attention a year ago, sparking some opposition by Orthodox parishioners and others that the church should be spending what money it has on the needs of the people rather than in building monuments to itself (ahilla.ru/obrashhenie-k-patriarhu-v-svyazi-s-russkim-vatikanom/).
Such objections from below apparently mattered not at all to Kirill and Putin, and at the end of August this year, the Ministry of Ecology approved the construction over the next five years of church facilities in Sergiyevo-Posad that would change the face of that settlement and cost an estimated 140 billion rubles (two billion US dollars) (insergposad.ru/novosti/blagoustroystvo/ministerstvo-ekologii-mo-podderzhalo-novuyu-koncepciyu-razvitiya-sergieva-posada).
But only a week ago, officials in that settlement published a plan for the development of their area over the next 20 years which makes no reference to Kirill’s “Orthodox Vatican” project (sergiev-reg.ru/docs/resolution/postanovlenie-glavy-sergievo-posadskogo-gorodskogo-okruga-moskovskoi-oblasti-ot-3-18).
That means that the ROC MP no longer has enough funds to pay for it and the Russian state isn’t able to invest in it in the way Kirill hoped because the pandemic has driven down collections in ROC parishes and reduced Russian government income as well, thus postponing for a long time and likely killing the idea.
For their own reasons, both the church and the state have not trumpeted this obvious defeat at the hands of the invisible coronavirus killer. Some in each may hope to restart the project after the pandemic has passed, but it will be far more difficult to assemble a new lobby for any such project (ahilla.ru/pravoslavnyj-vatikan-otmenyaetsya/