Staunton, June 16 – No one doubts that Patriarch Kirill is already in trouble or that Shiigumen Sergiy’s outspoken criticism of him and seizure of a woman’s monastery in Siberia has weakened him still further; but it is still an open question, Aleksey Shaburov says, as to whether Sergiy is acting on his own or is part of a broader conspiracy against Kirill.
Sergiy has long been a scandalous figure, but he has recently attracted even more attention because of his ties to outspoken monarchist Natalya Polonskaya, his invocation of “a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy” as a cause of Russia’s troubles, and his other extreme right views, the Politsovet commentator says (politsovet.ru/66797-voyna-shiigumena-sergiya-bunt-odinochki-ili-zagovor-protiv-patriarha.html).
Until the pandemic, however, the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church allowed all this to occur without any criticism because is was not so terribly different from the remarks of other churchmen in the regions, many of whom have openly reactionary views little different from Sergiy’s, Shaburov says.
But “all this changed after the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic,” he continues. Sergiy denounced the patriarchate’s decision to close churches and said that the Patriarchate was part of an international conspiracy against Russia. That was too much and the church hierarchs “could not remain silent.”
First, the hierarchy prohibited him from preaching, and then they announced he would have to face a church court to determine whether he could retain his religious rank. Sergiy not only refused to comply but personally attacked both his superiors in Yekaterinburg and Patriarch Kirill personally – and generally showed that he was not going to stop at that.
He and a group of his followers declared that they would not leave the Sredne-Urals monastery and even suggested that if the church wanted them out, they would need to ask for help from the civil Russian Guard. Such “boldness” from an Orthodox priest is “an extremely rare phenomenon” and attention to Sergiy soared.
The church has no option but to punish him and punish him severely, the Yekaterinburg analyst says. Sergiy certainly knows this, and that means he either doesn’t care because he is so sure he is right or because he is counting on those who think as he does to help oust Kirill and then restore himself to his position.
That he is driven by his own demons, of course, is the more plausible explanation; and if it is true, then Sergiy will be ousted and isolated. But there is alternative possibility that must be taken seriously: that he is “only the ace of a much more serious and influential group within the ROC MP which is engaged in a game against Patriarch Kirill.”
Such a conspiracy must be considered given both the weakened position of the church and of Kirill personally after Ukraine and especially in the midst of the pandemic and the strength of ultra-conservative elements in the church who have never liked or trusted Kirill and now believe they can bring him down.
Because of his outspokenness and ability to attract attention, Sergiy is a perfect candidate to be the public face of this movement even if it is unlikely that he is its leader. He may even willingly service as “a sacrificial victim’” whom the Patriarchate will destroy only to find that doing so will backfire on itself.
One detail in the current controversy strongly suggests this is the case: Whenever Sergiy speaks, he “reads from a paper and it appears that someone else is writing” what he is prepared to say. That suggests he is far from alone and has good reason to believe that if those who back his ultra-conservative views win, he will be restored whatever Kirill’s people do now.
This is only a possibility, Shaburov repeated, but “even if ‘the revolt of the shiigumn’ is suppressed and does not grow into something bigger right now, the conservative influence group within the ROC isn’t going anywhere, and its voices will arise again and again. This is the reality the patriarch must somehow try to deal.”