Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Moscow Patriarch in Free Fall Now Saved Only by Loyalty to Putin, Shchetkina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – Moscow Patriarch Kirill has lost so much support within and beyond the confines of his church over the last few years that he remains in office only because of his displays of loyalty to Vladimir Putin, who, at least so far, is happy to have an Orthodox leader who is discredited and no threat to the Kremlin, Yekaterina Shchetkina says.

            The Ukrainian commentator says Kirill’s collapse is reflected in Russian polls showing that in the last year alone, the share of Russians with a positive attitude toward Kirill and his church has fallen by eight percent and that of Russians will a negative one jumped eight percent (

                As a result, the relationship between the positives and negatives, 40 to 22, is the worst it has been in post-Soviet times, a decline that has occurred primarily during Kirill’s time as patriarch. Some of this is the result of worldwide shifts in attitudes about religious structures, but at least part of it reflects Kirill’s own approach and behavior, Shchetkina says.

            And some of it reflects Ukraine’s achievement of autocephaly, something many Russians see as a defeat for the ROC MP if not for Russia as a whole. But much of it reflects Kirill’s approach and policies which are increasingly out of step with Russian realities and even with the realities of his own church establishment.

            But significantly, some of it reflects the Kremlin’s commitment to ensuring that the head of the Russian church is not a charismatic figure who might attract popular support away from Putin. To that end, the Kremlin is only too willing to play up Kirill’s failings, especially at a time when Russians are focusing more on domestic issues than foreign policy.

            Kirill has made their task easy by his love for luxury, the Ukrainian commentator says; and by his failure to address problems within the church or to speak out on behalf of his flock as many believers have expected him as a church leader to do. And his “effective manager” style is wearing thin, all the more so because he is one from the 1990s and at odds with those today.

            According to Shchetkina, “the patriarch hasn’t noticed that the rules of the game” operative 25 years ago “have ceased to be the dominant ones.” And he hasn’t learned how to engage in the kind of “under the cover” battles that the heads of other bureaucracies have. Not surprisingly, his star has dimmed.

            Kirill has compounded his problems by being unwilling or unable to change, adopting positions on canonical territory for example that have led to Moscow’s loss of influence in Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere and to his loss of influence and respect within the Russian population and especially the Kremlin elite.

            His refusal to admit the Crimean metropolitanate into the ROC MP is “in fact a refusal to acknowledge that Crimea is Russia. And by the way, Kirill has never set foot in Crimea since its annexation nor in the DNR-LNR,” a demonstration that he implicitly respects “the canonical borders and sovereignty of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.”

            “You can imagine how the Kremlin views this commitment to canonical principles,” Shchetkina says.

            An even clearer indication of Kirill’s declining fortunes is that he no longer can force through his own church things that he wants: Two years ago, for example, he couldn’t secure approval of the Havana Declaration he made with the Pope even though both he and the Kremlin wanted it; and he couldn’t secure approval for a new approach to Ukrainian Patriarch Filaret, the last time he had a serious chance to block Ukrainian autocephaly.

            Shechetkina continues: “the patriarch thus has not found support in his own hierarchy which fears him but doesn’t respect him, in the people” who have ever less use for him and his church, or “n the Kremlin which has no need at all for any other ‘authority’ in society besides the one and only.”

            But precisely because the Kremlin doesn’t want a second source of authority in Russian society, it is pleased with Kirill who has no possibility of becoming any threat in that regard and who continues to be servilely loyal.  Consequently, Kirill is likely to remain in office not only despite his fall but because of it.

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