Staunton, Mar. 15 – If the conflict in Ukraine continues for any length of time, Aleksey Makarkin says, Orthodox churches in Europe which are now subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate may fragment; but Patriarch Kirill’s unqualified support for Kremlin policies will be more the occasion than the cause for such a development.
The reason for that conclusion, the vice president of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies says, is that many Orthodox churches in Europe were part of the émigré church which agreed to unite with Moscow only in 2007. Many older members remain opposed, but the real threat comes from more liberal ones (ng.ru/ng_religii/2022-03-15/9_526_orthodoxy.html).
The liberals in these churches, Makarkin continues, object to the way in which the Moscow Patriarchate almost invariably follows the political line of the Kremlin; and they are profoundly affected by the increasingly anti-Russian line in their societies, a line that has lead to attacks on Orthodox churches as the most visible local symbols of the Kremlin.
But despite that, talk of any “’cancel the ROC’ campaign” is at a minimum premature, he says. Most of the parishioners are unwilling to break with the Moscow church, and even those who want to feel they have nowhere to go. No other Orthodox hierarchy that wants to remain in communion with Moscow will do so, Makarkin argues.
More worrisome, Milena Faustova of NG-Religii says, are the attacks on Russian Orthodox churches in various Western countries and a petition campaign calling for the closure of Russian cultural centers abroad, including the most prominent one, in Paris, because of Moscow’s war in Ukraine. The online petition has so far garnered 2200 signatures.
What neither Makarkin nor Faustova address is the most likely response to the current situation: the departure of individual parishioners from Orthodox churches subordinate to Moscow either to splinter groups of Orthodox who still exist or to other churches, including the Roman Catholic.
Such a development will inevitably be difficult to track, but there is a clear precedent for it in Belarus, where many Orthodox are shifting their allegiance to Catholicism and for political rather than religious reasons (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/moscow-church-in-belarus-coming-apart.html).
If that does occur, the Moscow church will lose one of its primary means of projecting influence abroad, and the Kremlin will lose one of its favored ways of providing cover for Russian intelligence officers there.