Staunton, August 25 – The replacement of Metropolitan Pavel as the Moscow Patriarchate’s exarch in Minsk has attracted the most attention, but three other moves taken at the same session of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church may prove more important because all three are intended to shore up Patriarch Kirill’s now-shaky control of his own church.
First, Kirill orchestrated the most massive turnover in the heads of the bishoprics of the ROC MP since his installation as patriarch a decade ago. The shake-up will mean that the new men will have to spend some time building up their own power base and thus will be less able to oppose Moscow (patriarchia.ru/db/text/5681796.html).
Second, he succeeded in ousting Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov as head of the synodical commission on the affairs of the family and the defense of motherhood and children. Dmitry with his reactionary and obscurantist views has been an almost constant source of embarrassment to the patriarch (znak.com/2020-08-25/protoiereya_dimitriya_smirnova_otpravili_v_otstavku).
And third, Patriarch Kirill imposed new punishments for those priests and hierarchs who speak about church affairs without permission. Priests who do so will be stripped of the right to serve in the church for as much as three years and monks will not be allowed to take part in them (ahilla.ru/resheniya-sinoda-rpts-perevody-bez-blagodarnosti-sud-i-uhody-na-pokoj/).
All three of these moves may help Kirill erect a façade of control, but each is likely to have the unintended consequence of weakening the ROC MP in fundamental ways. By changing church leaders, he may have helped himself but he has weakened the ability of bishops to act in the regions (politsovet.ru/67599-iz-pogromschikov-v-vikarii-patriarha-o-kadrovom-vzlete-tagilskogo-episkopa-evgeniya.html).
By getting rid of Archpriest Dmitry, Kirill has lost someone in his own circle with authority among the most conservative elements of the church and opened the way for the expansion of influence of clergy like Shiigumen Sergiy who are even more radical and disobedient (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/06/russian-church-elder-challenging-both.html).
And by imposing stricter punishments on clergy who speak independently in public, Kirill has undoubtedly infuriated many priests and even hierarchs who will now communicate via independent and anti-Kirill websites to communicate their views. Ahilla.ru, one of Kirill’s targets, is certain to become even more his nemesis.