Staunton, June 28 – The Moscow Patriarchate wants to transform Sergiyev Posad into “an Orthodox counterpart” to the Vatican, Jerusalem and Mecca, a program that would cost the country as much as 140 billion rubles (2.3 billion dollars), increase centralized control over the church, and supposedly protect its hierarchs from criminal prosecution.
But the idea, which has been floated before although not in this much detail, is now being attacked both for its costs, 90 percent of which would be borne by the state and thus the taxpayers of Russia, many of whom aren’t Orthodox, and for its pretensions given the Patriarchate’s loss of influence abroad and its flouting of trends affecting religions elsewhere.
Its backers maintain that the Kremlin is solidly behind the Patriarchate’ss project even though it would cost the budget three times as much as Moscow now spends on urban development; and they are defending it as “a national project” for regional growth rather than support for any particular religion (tass.ru/obschestvo/6599752 and znak.com/2019-06-27/v_rpc_nazvali_krupneyshim_socproektom_prevrachenie_sergieva_posada_v_pravoslavnyy_vatikan).
But criticism of the idea is mounting – and may cause the church and its Kremlin backers even more problems than anyone had suspected. In an article for Nezavisimaya gazeta, Moscow financial analyst Aleksandr Razduyev asks pointedly “Does Russia need an Orthodox Vatican?” (ng.ru/blogs/razuvaev/nuzhen-li-rossii-pravoslavnyy-vatikan.php).
His answer is a resounding “no.” The costs are too great, and they would fall on Russian taxpayers, many of whom are not Orthodox Christians. If the ROC MP does want to build such a place, it should get funds from those who are its followers rather than seek to extract money from Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists and others.
Razduyev suggests that one way forward is for religious denominations, including the Orthodox, to tax their believers as the CPSU did its members. That would help many of these religions, including Islam. “In Moscow, there are only four mosques; but in communist Beijing, there are 18 -- even though there are approximately two million Muslims in Moscow.”
Meanwhile, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a church dissident, says that what the Patriarchate hopes to achieve, greater control over its hierarchy and extra-territorial legal status for its members, flies in the face of what is occurring elsewhere, including at the Vatican which the ROC MP hopes to copy (realtribune.ru/news/authority/2177).
On the one hand, in today’s electronic world, religions like everything else except totalitarian sects are increasingly decentralized with those in charge interacting online with their subordinates over enough distances. And on the other, even the Vatican is no longer able to protect its officials from being charged with crimes and sitting in jail for them.
That the Moscow Patriarchate thinks otherwise shows just how out of step it is with the times and how much Patriarch Kirill is promoting it not so much to make the ROC MP equivalent to other faiths but rather to build a cult of personality around himself modelled not on the papacy but on the one Stalin imposed.
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