Staunton, October 27 – Three decisions by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate last week clearly indicate “the further transformation of the leadership of the church into a rightwing organization of a fascist type,” according to Nikolay Mitrokhin, a longtime analyst of Orthodoxy in Russia.
The first of these was the elevation of Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Putin’s advisor, to the rank of bishop; the second, the formation of a joint commission with the Bulgarian Church to seek canonization of a man notorious for his nationalist views; and the third a call for a campaign against neo-paganism (grani.ru/opinion/mitrokhin/m.245335.html).
The elevation of Shevkunov, Mitrokhin says, allows him to “shift from the church’s ‘officers’ into its ‘generals’” and opens the way for him to pursue an even greater church career, possibly even to the point of succeeding Kirill as patriarch. At the very least, it indicates that Kirill’s position is not as unchallenged as it was.
The decision to work with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church toward the canonization of Archbishop Serafirm (Sobolev), one taken at Kirill’s personal insistence, is more instructive. Serafim in the 1930s was an opponent of any ecumenical contacts and also cooperated with Nazi groups. His works will now become more widely available and influential.
And the decision to pursue a campaign against neo-paganism is simultaneously an indication of the Patriarchate’s failure to find points of cooperation with “’socially close’ categories” of young people such as football fans and other sports fanatics and a desire to find a way to rein them in for the service of the Patriarchate.
But all three of these decisions, Mitrokhin argues, must be seen in the context of the problems that the Church has created for itself among patriotically inclined rightwing radicals by its comments on Ukraine and represent an effort by some in the hierarchy to reach out to those who had been alienated as a result.
More important still, the religious affairs analyst says, these decisions are clear “signs of the increasing tendency to adopt fascist positions by the leadership of the church, with that being understood in this case as something which “describes the process of indoctrinating the subject of the public space with a definite complex of ideas and practices.”
Because it was under the control of the communists for so long, he continues, “the Russian Orthodo church in its ideological development was frozen for seven decades and is now passing through those very same stages through which the major Christian churches of Europe passed during the 20th century.”
If under Aleksii II, “mystical black hundreds ideas” were dominant, now under Kirill, the church has passed “into the stage of the modern fascist experiments characteristic of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s” and that was especially marked in the émigré Russian Orthodox Church of that time.
This would be truly worrisome if the entire church as opposed to the hierarchy were infected by this, but in large measure, Mitrokhin says, “there are more generals in this army than there are soldiers.” And it is even possible that the organizational innovations that the hierarchy has made in an effort to promote its ideas will have exactly the opposite effect and open the way to the further transformation of Russian Orthodoxy in a more positive direction.
The real needs of the laity and the lower clergy are very different than those of this group of hierarchs, the analyst continues, and to the extent that they can become more important, there is likely to be for the Russian Orthodox Church its very “own ‘Vatican 2” and even “a post-GULAG theology.” If so, the church will modernize and so too will Russia.