Saturday, April 30, 2022

Patriarch Kirill Likely to Escape Any Church Trial but Not Condemnation by Religious World or Loss of Use to the Kremlin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Calls both from within the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and from Orthodox churches more generally that Moscow Patriarch Kirill face charges in a church trial for his violations of canon law by his unqualified support of Putin’s war in Ukraine are unlikely to come to anything, experts on church law say.

            The Pentarchy of Ancient Orthodox Churches that might start such a trial is deeply divided and lacks a tradition of organizing such trials, and the ROC MP which in principle might organize such a tribunal remains under the control of Kirill and the Kremlin and so is unlikely to allow one.

            But if Kirill is likely to avoid facing such a trial, he has not been able to avoid conviction already in the court of public opinion. He has never been more isolated in the Orthodox world than he is today; and despite his support by and from Vladimir Putin, he is in a weaker position within the Russian church itself.

            Being so wounded, Kirill is likely to tie himself even more completely to the Kremlin’s positions, something that the Kremlin may welcome and that may keep him in office for the rest of his days; but that dependence will become ever more obvious to the population and make him ever less useful to the Kremlin.

            And at some point, seeing Kirill’s loss of influence at home and abroad may lead the Kremlin, the only real “court” the Russian patriarch will face, to conclude that the only way for the Russian church to recover at least part of its influence and be useful abroad as more than a cover for Moscow intelligence operations is to replace Kirill.

            Those conclusions flow from the developments in the Orthodox world and the ROC MP chronicled by Milena Faustova of NG-Religii (

            Many had expected the consilium of the Pentarchy scheduled for this spring to consider a denunciation of the ROC MP for poaching on the canonical territory in Africa of the Alexandrian Patriarchate – on that issue, see -- might take up charges against Kirill for the heresy of ethnophyletism for his promotion of the idea of a Russian world.

            But because of active Moscow government diplomacy, the leaders of two of the Orthodox churches scheduled to take part may not do so, leaving that meeting without the necessary authority to act even on the first question not to speak of the second. And as Faustova documents, most experts doubt it has either law or precedent on its side for such action anyway.

            The Orthodox leaders are thus unlikely to consider the appeal of 430 Orthodox priests from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate that they take action against Kirill. (For background on that appeal, see

            The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, one of the Pentarchy, has not taken note of the complaints of Orthodox priests about Kirill’s ethnophyletism, and Andrey Shishkov, a specialist on church law at the University of Tartu, says the pentarchy is unlikely to do so either because it lacks support from law and precedent.

            Moscow analyst Aleksey Makarkin adds that the Pentarchy could form a tribunal if the question was really about canon law, but in his view, what the Orthodox are complaining about is a political rather than a religious question and therefore the Pentarchy can’t and won’t decide to do so.

            Under things as they are, the only church body that could condemn Kirill would be a council of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate itself. “No other structure can do this.” And Kirill remains in control of that, although much of his political base among the bishops is in Ukraine where he has created a large number of new bishoprics.

            But despite that, Kirill remains under attack from elsewhere. The World Council of Churches is thinking about expelling the ROC MP. A denunciation of the ROC MP and Kirill for its support of Putin’s war in Ukraine drafted by Fordham University has been signed for more than 500 theologians from various countries.

            Rowen Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, has led British religious to denounce Kirill and his position on Ukraine, arguing that the least the Moscow Patriarch should do but hasn’t is to call for a ceasefire in the fighting there. Instead, Williams says, Kirill is lining up ever more closely with the Kremlin.

            Criticism of Kirill has also come from Metropolitan Ioann, the Orthodox archbishop of Paris, and from leader of the ROC MP in Lithuania. Ioann has been a longtime critic and Moscow is ignoring him, but the Russian church has moved to purge Kirill critics from the Lithuanian church and may force its head into retirement as he is approaching 75.


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