Staunton, June 8 – When Patriarch Kirill exiled Metropolitan Tikhon, long viewed as Putin’s favorite churchman, to Pskov four years ago, most observers concluded that the head of the church was protecting himself against a possible challenge or even replacement. Now that Kirill has exiled Metropolitan Ilarion to Budapest, many are drawing the same conclusion.
Their reasoning would seem to be justified. After all, Ilarion has been the patriarchate’s “foreign minister” the traditional stepping stone for those who become patriarch; and Kirill is known to have been furious at him for his failures to block Ukrainian autocephaly or the declaration of independence by the Moscow church.
The new man in that position, Metropolitan Antony, is Kirill’s former secretary and a loyalist much too young to represent a credible challenger to the current patriarch anytime soon. Indeed, some are saying that Kirill doesn’t want to have anyone around who might be his successor.
But what has just taken place almost certainly reflects at least three other calculations on Kirill’s part. First, he may be trying to deflect blame from himself for the church’s failures in Ukraine by making him the fall guy. Second, Kirill may want Antony’s skills in running Orthodox churches abroad to occupy his time rather than formulating broader policies.
And third, and most important for those who dissent from the general view about what has happened, Kirill has “exiled” Ilarion to a church post in a place, Hungary, which has both political and personal importance for the current patriarch and therefore it may not be the complete demotion most see.
On the one hand, the Hungarian government has been the least willing to commit to sanctions against Kirill personally or Russia more generally; and therefore, Kirill may view having Ilarion there as a way to make himself useful to the Kremlin (and himself) by encouraging Budapest to maintain its sympathetic approach to Moscow.
And on the other, Kirill is said to have enormous cash holdings in the West; and having Ilarion in Budapest may mean that the supposed exile will in fact work to supervise them for the current patriarch during a period of Western sanctions when it is harder for the Moscow churchman to do that from Moscow.
If these arguments are correct, Illarionov’s dispatch to Budapest may be far less the exile and end of his church career than many are now saying but instead only a detour on his road to the top of the church. Given Kirill’s typically careful handling of personnel matters at the top of the Patriarchate, that is at least a possibility that shouldn’t be ignored.
On this back and forth in the analysis of Kirill’s latest personnel moves, see kasparov.ru/material.php?id=629F7A2D51D6A, apn-spb.ru/opinions/article35255.htm, realtribune.ru/kadrovaya-revoljuciya-v-rpc-za-chto-snyali-mitropolita-ilarionafacebook.com/chapnin/posts/pfbid0Ah4h5RNKXVeNp5FTe6M3Xjv6Jb6GYydFkmkFXc7zSqyVgAGo6JpviuaUV9FnUsb8l and ng.ru/editorial/2022-06-09/2_8458_editorial.html