Saturday, May 18, 2024

Moscow Patriarchate Hoping to Make Its Own ‘Turn to the East’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – Facing problems inside Russia, in the former Soviet space, and in relations with churches in Europe, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church is following the Kremlin and making its own turn to the East; but its presence in that region is small and thus the Russian church is unlikely to recoup its influence anywhere by this step.

            That conclusion is suggested by Russian religious affairs journalist Milena Faustova in the latest issue of NG-Religii who says that the Russian church may soon join the Christian Conference of Asia, a predominantly Protestant organization whose eastern churches aren’t part of the traditional Orthodox world (

            Metropolitan Antoni, head of the Patriarchate’s Department for External Affairs, says that the ROC MP may formally join the Christian Conference of Asia, an organization which includes churches from 25 countries in Asia, Australia and New Zealand and unites more than 55 million believers but that up to now has not included a single traditional Orthodox church.

            (It does, however, include the Asian bishoprics of the Armenian Apostolic and Coptic Orthodox Churches and also the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India which has 25 million members, with which Moscow has been developing especially close ties over the last decade and which may help Moscow join the regional grouping.)

            Relative to even these groups, the ROC MP in Asia is relatively small. It has only four bishoprics, 80 some congregations, 51 priests, and 10 deacons; but even these small numbers, Faustova points out, “exceed the analogous presence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople” with which Moscow is locked in conflict.

            Roman Lunkin, a specialist on Orthodoxy at the Moscow Institute of Europe, argues that such a turn to the east will give the Moscow church some real advantages and allow it to grow in a new direction. But Aleksey Makarkin, a Russian political analyst, disagrees and says that such a move won’t bring the Russian church much.

            There simply aren’t that many possibilities, given Chinese opposition to outside churches, he suggests, and the ROC MP remains focused on Europe, including dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church despite all its problems with the World Council of Churches and various Protestant denominations.

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