Staunton, December 23 – The longstanding policies of the Moscow Patriarchate, difficulties in reregistering religious organizations, a quirk in Russian law, and Moscow’s interest in maintaining ties with European institutions are allowing the existing ties religious groups in Crimea had with hierarchies elsewhere to continue.
That is the judgment of Mikhail Zherebyatyev, an expert on religious affairs at the International Institute of Humanitarian Policy Research, as offered in an interview given to Moscow’s Portal-Credo religious affairs news agency (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=authority&id=2117).
Because the Moscow Patriarchate insists that its canonical area is not affected by any changes in borders and that this view should apply to others – it has, for example, not been willing to accept the transfer of the Abkhazian Orthodox from Georgian to Russian subordination – it opposes any change in the subordination of Orthodox churches in Crimea.
Those churches had been reporting to the Moscow Patriarchate’s church in Kyiv, and according to Zherebyatyev, it is likely that they will continue to do so, especially since transferring the Crimean congregations away from its Ukrainian branch would not only weaken the latter but possibly lead to its collapse altogether.
Another factor working to preserve existing religious subordination arrangements in Crimea is the difficulty of carrying out the re-registration of congregations the Russian occupation authorities have called for. Many elderly parishioners don’t understand the law, and officials won’t get the reregistration done in the time they have said.
The position of the Moscow Patriarch in this regard, the religious affairs analyst says, makes it likely that Muslims, Catholics, Jews and others in occupied Crimea will follow the same path, all the more so because of a provision in Russian law governing religion that few are familiar with.
Russian law, Zherebyatyev points out, uses the term “foreign religious organizations” in a very limited sense. It does “not apply automatically to all organizations which have administrative centers beyond the borders of the Russian Federation.” Thus, neither the Roman Catholic, not the Greek Catholic, nor the Kievan Patriarchate are classed as “foreign.”
It is not clear, he continues, whether the occupation authorities or Moscow fully understand the implications of this because neither has spoken to the issue up to now. And it remains possible that that the Russian government will force the Moscow Patriarchate and with it all the other organizations to change course there.
But there is an additional reason for thinking that won’t happen and that the pre-existing religious subordinations will be maintained, Zherebyatyev says. And it is this: there are European precedents for maintaining such arrangements, and the European institutions of which Russia is a member accept those precedents.
To the extent that Russia wants to remain a member of those groups, it thus has an interest not to rock the boat in this area lest it create another problem for itself. Religious groups both in Crimea and beyond it should be lobbying to make sure that the current arrangements continue for the sake of both believers and the future of Crimea.