Staunton, December 31 – Most of what occurred in church life in Russia in 2020 was a continuation of trends that had been ongoing for at least the last decade, Bishop Grigory Lourie says. The pandemic in many cases intensified them but did not change their direction. But there was one signal development.
And that is this, the longtime close observer and critic of the Moscow Patriachate says: “State structures of various levels but above all those at the federal level became convinced that the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate cannot by its own means alone control its believers” (credo.press/235001/).
On the one hand, this means that state organs and particularly the special services are quite prepared to intervene more frequently and massively in what would have been deemed religious questions only a few years ago. And on the other, it means that the independent influence of the church is likely to be vastly reduced.
That explains why the intervention of the special forces to oust the dissident Orthodox leader, Abbot Sergiy, is not a one-time event but rather a harbinger of the future, especially if dissent within the church from below spreads as it appears likely to and if unfrocking as with Andrey Kurayev doesn’t work (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/12/moscows-moves-against-orthodox-church.html).
Combined with the pandemic which has cost the church so many religious and led to declines of 50 percent in attendance and contributions, the bishop says, this leaves the church will less influence on society as well. Most business people have deserted the church, and many others who turned to it over the last three decades are turning away as well.
The church as a body of clergy and believers is becoming smaller, and at least some of those who have left are likely to turn to other faiths, something neither the Kremlin nor the patriarchate wants but also a trend that neither seems to be in a position to avoid provoking and exacerbating.
In that event, the ROC MP and its head Patriarch Kirill, for all the talk about “symphony” between church and state, will be marginalized to the point that the state will feel free to intervene, believers and even clergy to leave, and a Soviet-style catacomb church re-emerge and threaten both state and church with a much more difficult kind of dissent to crush.