Sunday, January 14, 2024

Patriarch Kirill’s Policies Could Lead to Eventual Rise of Alternative Orthodox Church in Russia Itself, Chapnin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 12 – Within the Russian Orthodox Church, Sergey Chapnin says, “many priests had long been sick” of Patriarch Kirill’s authoritarian and bombastic style, but for many of them “the last straw” was the church leader’s unqualified support for Putin’s aggressive war in Ukraine.

            An expert on the Russian church now affiliated with Fordham University’s Center for Orthodox Research says that Kirill’s efforts to control the situation and the rules that govern other Orthodox churches have allowed the patriarch to conceal this anger among priests but not to reduce it (

            Instead, what Kirill is doing to restrict the ability of priests to go elsewhere while remaining priests and the unwillingness of most Orthodox churches to accept them if they try to are combining in an explosive way that in a post-Putin future could lead to the formation of an alternative Orthodox church within the Russian Federation itself.

            Kirill has set up a special system to go after anti-war priests and ensure that they are punished, up to the point of being stripped of their status as priests and then sent to fight in the war they oppose, Chapnin says. That has led many to see to emigrate and serve as priests elsewhere.

Most Orthodox churches reluctant to do so either out of inertia or a desire to clashing with the Moscow Patriarchate, the specialist says. But that situation is beginning to change: some Orthodox churches in Western Europe and North America are allowing Russian priests to serve even without approval from Moscow, something normally required but almost never given.

But this situation is leading many Orthodox in other countries to come to the conclusion that “the ROC MP de facto is drifting toward schism, and therefore that its priests do not require any documents from ‘splitter’ bishops.” So far this is only a feeling, but it will grow over time, especially as the ROC MP is close to accusing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of heresy.

Priests within the ROC MP who want to remain priests have only three options, Chapnin says. Keep their views to themselves, transfer to non-canonical jurisdictions which are often too conservative for their tastes, or move to create “a parallel jurisdiction of the Universal Patriarchate in Russia itself.”

Today, of cours. e, the researcher says, such a move is “completely impossible for political reasons; but politics may change and if they do, then it will become more likely in the future especially if other Orthodox patriarchates decide that the ROC MP has fallen into schism, something some of them may eventually do.

Should that happen, then the Universal Patriarchate might move to create a parallel Orthodox church in Russia just as it has done elsewhere; and sizeable numbers of Russian Orthodox priests might join it, something that could open the way to the restoration of the authority of a Russian church for Russians.

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