Thursday, December 27, 2018

FSB Agents in Orthodox Hierarchy Now Less about Beliefs than about Property and Money

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 26 – Since Stalin restored the Russian Orthodox Church during World War II, it has been widely known and accepted both by most believers and nearly all experts on that church that the KGB recruited members of the hierarchy and made their elevation in the church possible in order to ensure ideological control of the population.

            That unfortunate trend has even been the subject of a classic novel, Lavr Divromlikov’s The Traitor in which the security organs recruit a priest, murder his wife so that he can rise into the hierarchy, and leave him at the end uncertain as to whether he is serving God or state or himself.

            Nonetheless, every time information comes out confirming this sad reality of Soviet times, it becomes a scandal, as has happened in recent days with the release of the KGB files left in Latvia after the fall of Soviet power, with journalists and commentators treating this as “a revelation” rather than simply a confirmation of what has long been known.

            One of the reasons the information from Latvia has attracted so much attention is that it concerns not church hierarchs who served church and state a generation or more ago but rather men who are in senior positions in the structures of the Moscow Patriarchate in Latvia now, something especially critical as the Orthodox Church in Ukraine moves toward autocephaly.

            But this coverage has generally failed to note two important things: On the one hand, secret police penetration of the Russian Orthodox Church did not end in 1991 and has become far more intense since Vladimir Putin came to power. And on the other – and in a measure of the corruption of the state and church now – it is as much or more about property than about belief.

            That has now been corrected in an important new article by church historian Aleksandr Soldatov ( He points out that Metropolitan Aleksandr, the current head in Latvia of the semi-autonomous Latvian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was recruited by the KGB in 1982 and then had a dizzying career upwards. 

            That is a typical pattern, Soldatov suggests, but he points to something often neglected: Secret police links with the hierarchs didn’t end with the Soviet Union. Instead, they continued with the FSB, which with Aleksandr and most others becoming less about ideology alone than about control and disbursement of property and money.

            Using commercial structures, the FSB continued to work with the metropolitan and in fact was able to make the Latvian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate into “a kind of oasis of the Soviet Union” in which property passed from the church to others (

            As Soldatov notes, the FSB still cares about controlling what the hierarchs think and preach, but it now appears, especially in the Putin era, that its chief concern is gaining access to the control and distribution of the enormous wealth of the church or using it as a cover for financial machinations, a concern that further corrupts the church.

            After the Soviet Union collapsed, several efforts were made to expose the KGB’s role in the ROC MP, but most were stymied by official delays. Then, after 2000 when Putin assumed power, these efforts were mostly stopped altogether with the heroization of the KGB and other security agencies.

            The religious specialist notes in conclusion that “there is no clear answer as to whether the cooperation of the hierarchy with the special services of an atheist state was justified. And that is yet another piece of evidence that the Moscow Patriarchate is condemned to share the fate of the Chekist regime when its historical time runs out.”

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