Thursday, December 31, 2020

Moscow’s Moves against Orthodox Church Dissidents Seen Backfiring

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 29 – In the past, the combined efforts of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian government to suppress dissent within the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church have generally been effective, but two new cases suggest that the situation is changing and that repression will only increase the attention and support such people have.

            There is as yet no indication that either secular or religious leaders in the Russian capital recognize this danger. Instead, it appears that they believe that crackdowns of the kind that have worked against religious in the past and secular groups on the present continue to be the most effective way to stamp out dissent.

            Two cases, one involving Abbot Sergiy and a second involving Archdeacon Andrey Kurayev, suggest that Russia may be at a turning point as far as controlling the statements and actions of religious leaders who do not agree with the Kremlin or the Patriarchate and who have enormous popular support for their positions.

            The arrest of Abbot Sergiy and his expulsion from church facilities he had occupied was nominally a state action about property but in fact represented a combined church-state move against someone who challenged the patriarch, Nakanune commentator Yevgeny Chernyshov says, adding that that controversy has not been exhausted and is “the most dangerous” (

            Sergiy has raised “a number of important questions” that are agitating many in the church, and using government power against him only ensures that they will grow in intensity and require an answer from the Patriarchate sooner or later, the writer says. Others go further and say the Kremlin by its actions is transforming the abbot into a new Avvakum (

            Should that prove to be the case, Moscow will suffer in two ways. On the one hand, the Russian state will be implicated in provoking a new schism in the church, something that will cost it authority; and on the other, the ROC MP will become even more divided between conservatives and liberals with little hope that the two will find any common ground.

            Meanwhile, in another case involving a church dissident, a Patriarchal court has recommended that Andrey Kurayev be stripped of his status as an archdeacon, a recommendation that Patriarch Kirill will have little choice but to confirm lest he disown the church hierarchy.

            But instead of being intimidated, Kurayev who remained a deacon in order to have more freedom to speak out says that for him, the freedom to express what his conscience dictates is more important than any church rank and that he has no intention of repenting of his words or ending his criticism of the ROC MP (

            That likely means that every time Kurayev does speak out, he will do so as someone the Patriarchate has sought to punish, a fact that will limit his influence among some but likely ensure that it will be all the greater among many others – the unwitting consequences of another unnecessary authoritarian move by Moscow religious and civil. 

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