Moscow Moving from Trying to Block Autocephaly to Planning on How It Can Benefit from It
September 24 – The Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate remain totally opposed
to autocephaly for the Ukrainian church, but in recognition of near certainty
that the Universal Patriarch is going to extend that independent status to Kyiv,
Moscow is increasingly thinking about how it can exploit this event for Moscow’s
political and religious benefits.
shift does not mean that the Kremlin or the Moscow Patriarchate is going to
stop opposing autocephaly for Ukraine; and it certainly does not mean the
Russian government and the Russian church won’t do what they can to blacken the
reputation of the Ukrainian church by propaganda or by active measures.
and the West must be prepared for that because if there is violence against
Russian Orthodox believers or churches in Ukraine, the Kremlin propaganda
machine will work overtime to ensure that many will believe its version of
events and blame the victim, in this case Ukraine, as has happened so often in
more significantly, Russian officials and Russian Orthodox churchmen in Moscow
are now talking about what they can achieve from the split in world Orthodoxy they
plan to promote when Ukraine’s church gains autocephaly. Indeed, some in the
Russian capital believe, despite the obvious losses the Moscow Patriarchate
will take, they may come out ahead.
The losses that the
Moscow Patriarchate will suffer after autocephaly are obvious: Ukrainians are
more religiously active than Russians are, and the Moscow church will lose many
of its bishoprics and parishes, a major source of income and an essential part
of its claim to be the largest Orthodox church in the world.
Gorevoy suggests, the Russian church will pick up something possibly more
valuable. Up to now, Orthodox churches have viewed the Constantinople Patriarchate
as first among equals, often deferring to it. Now, even before autocephaly but
as a result of Constantinople’s actions, ever more of them are looking toward
others instead – most prominently to Moscow.
size of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and its wealth,
both from church collections and the kind of economic activities the Putin
regime has allowed it to engage in untaxed and unreported, the Moscow
Patriarchate is in a position to “help” other churches view it and not
Constantinople as the center of Orthodoxy.
Gorevoy says, Universal Patriarch Bartholemew has overplayed his hand in the Ukrainian
case, leading many of the existing autocephalous churches offended and looking
for leadership elsewhere. Their desire for communion thus works for Moscow
which has cast itself in this case as a defender of the status quo.
Gorevoy points out, “among the leaders of world Orthodoxy, Bartholemew is counted
first among equals. After all the Constantinople throne is the oldest in the world,
one thought to have been founded by the apostle Andrey the First Called. But ‘oldest’
does not mean the wealthiest or the most influential.”
three percent of the world’s Orthodox are under its rule, and it is a very poor
sister to Moscow which can deploy funds to encourage other Orthodox churches to
support its positions, something it has often done overtly and likely covertly including
during the current controversy.
to Vladimir Shmaly, the former secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate’s theological
commission, Bartholemew wants to make Constantinople into “an Orthodox Vatican;”
and to do that he has to “destroy the Moscow Patriarchate” by splitting off its
churches and bishoprics in Ukraine.
goal of an autocephalous Ukrainian campaign by Constantinople is not Ukraine
but ‘the expulsion’ of the Moscow Patriarchate from the community of Orthodox
churches,” thus allowing Bartholemew to “play the role either of a Byzantine
emperor or an Eastern pope,” Shmaly says.
political analyst Lev Vershilin sees an even more disturbing possibility in
Constantinople’s actions. In his view, the Universal Patriarchate wants to put
the Moscow metropolitanate under a Kyiv patriarchate, “a first ‘symbolically’
and then in reality,” and over time, declare other autocephalous churches in
Siberia, the Urals and the Far East.”
Russian analyst, Rostislav Ishchenko, says that by declaring a religious war in
Ukraine, Constantinople is pushing true Orthodox Christians to form their own
militias to combat this effort. As a result, he says, there will be “rivers of
blood” in Ukraine. “As a result, the Ukrainian state will be destroyed,” and
Constantinople will suffer a clear defeat.
appear, Gorevoy concludes, that “Moscow should act in a more restrained fashion”
than Ishchenko says others will lest it lose its credibility and the influence
it has gained because of Constantinople’s overreaching.But of course, what the Russian government
may do covertly and then blame on the Ukrainians is another thing altogether.