Saturday, September 22, 2018

Moscow Patriarchate No Longer Ally of Russian State but Rather Its Victim, Kuznetsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – The present church crisis, Ekaterina Kuznetsova says, “is a rare case in Russian history when the Russian state not only cannot help its church but is itself the primary cause of the current split” which has arisen as a result of the decision of the Universal Patriarchate to grant autocephaly to Ukraine’s Orthodox.

            That action and the inability of either the Russian state or the Russian church to respond effectively highlights something the Moscow Patriarchate can never admit: it is not the partner of the state but rather its victim and will continue to suffer because its own needs and culture preclude the kind of break with the state that would be required to salvage the situation.

            The co-author of the forthcoming book, The Kremlin Paradox: Strength and Weakness of Russian Rulers, says that the Moscow Patriarchate has not found the strength within itself to recognize that the Russian state is “the source of its current problems,” a reflection of the fact that the current church “cannot exist without the state” (

                Without the state’s blessing, the Russian Orthodox Church could not conceal its current incomes of perhaps 500 million US dollars a year, would be forced to make public its “commercial empire,” and would lose the support of the financial authorities for the operation of its banks and other institutions. Nor could it count on restoration of property it claims.

            The Russian state, of course, also is interested in the church, Kuznetsova says. “Above all, the Kremlin needs a church which will support in the population not only faith but also the traditional submission connected with that belief not only in the heavenly authorities but also the earthly ones.”

            But perhaps most important, “the supreme power needs the church as a unique space for the regular demonstration of national ‘uniqueness,’ of attachment to Russian values and ideals of morality from time immemorial. The public appearance at services is much cheaper than the organization of ‘direct lines,’” the commentator says.

            “With the intensification of the conflict among the churches, it has become obvious that the toxicity of the Ukrainian crisis is much deeper than had been thought. It has penetrated into the Russian state itself by affecting the power and influence of its chief ally, the church,” Kuznetsov says.

            The Russian church’s silence about or support for Kremlin policies in Ukraine have not only led to its “loss of authority and trust among part of Ukrainian society” but put the church “unexpectedly” on the front lines of the conflict in Ukraine, leading to the loss of income and influence of the church and thus ultimately of the state itself.

                The separation of Orthodox Ukraine from the Moscow Patriarchate “has become a powerful shock not only for the Russian Orthodox Church but also for the Kremlin. This destroys not only the idea of ‘the Russian Orthodox world,’ but in a broader sense undermines the idea of a Russian empire embracing all Russian speakers and Orthodox regardless of where they live.”

            The only way the Russian Orthodox Church could break out of this is to break with the Russian state, something its leaders seem incapable of doing and that the Kremlin would view as “the personal betrayal of the patriarch and of state values.” Thus, it won’t do so, and “this means that the church from ow on is not an ally of the Russian state but its victim.”

            But this has another consequence, Kuznetsov concludes. It demonstrates, albeit “in the reverse logic of Russian politics” that “the state in Russia is completely separate from the church.”

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