Staunton, May 1 – This week, Patriarch Kirill who has been much criticized for his typically slavish following of the Kremlin’s dictates made two remarkable statements: he warned against a shift to tyranny among leaders of all kinds in Russia, and he recalled that 30 years ago, some deputies asked him to become a political leader.
On his program, The Word of the Pastor, on Moscow’s First Channel television network, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church warned against the temptation among leaders, political, civil, and religious, at all levels in Russia and elsewhere to behave in a tyrannical way (1tv.ru/shows/slovo-pastyrya).
“The exercise of directing functions, which sometimes requires among other things placing limits on the freedom of others cannot be accompanied by personal pride and self-exaltation.” If that happens, the church hierarch says, “then power becomes tyranny.”
On the same program, Kirill said that the church must not take part in political struggles because in such a case, it risks “losing its authority and becoming a divisive force among the people.” That softened his remark less than a week ago that in the early 1990s, various Russian deputies asked him to “head the opposition” in Russia (ura.news/news/1052482331).
Russians aren’t used to hearing such arguments from the Moscow patrairchate’s leaders. And not surprisingly, Kirill’s words have sparked speculation as to what is going on. Andrey Nesmiyan, who blogs under the screen name El Murid, provides one of the most thoughtful of the initial reactions (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=608E2E485BC13).
He argues that whatever ideological message Kirill appears to be sending, the churchman’s words in fact reflect a deeply held set of practical considerations. The patriarch fears that the redivision of property now going on in Russia among the competing groups around the Kremlin may soon touch the church, one of the largest property owners in Russia.
Because the economy isn’t growing, these groups can defend themselves and increase their incomes only by “expropriating the expropriators,” and at least some of them who don’t believe in God or have any moral scruples are now greedily eyeing church property. Kirill wants to prevent them from doing so by suggesting such property grabs open the way to tyranny.
Nesmiyan is almost certainly right that this explains why Kirill has spoken out this past week as he has, but that doesn’t mean that the powers that be in the Kremlin or the Russian people will limit their reading of his remarks to what caused Kirill to make them. And to the extent that either views them more broadly, that will have serious consequences.
If the Kremlin decides that Kirill is showing too much independence of mind and even threatening the regime’s single power vertical, it will likely take actions to put him in his place. But if lower-ranking priests and the population view his words as really being against tyranny, that may make it far easier for Russians to support the opposition to Putin’s authoritarianism.