Staunton, July 7 – The Kremlin now views the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church as “a source of turbulence” in Russian public life, sources close to the Presidential Administration are telling journalists, and some observers even believe Putin may even orchestrate Patriarch Kirill’s ouster in favor of Bishop Tikhon, Putin’s spiritual advisor.
Given that neither the Kremlin nor the Russian church are ever likely to publicly criticize one another, it is surprising that officials close to Putin are now saying such things. But anger in the population and in the government over the recent behavior of the Russian Church in general and Kirill in particular have forced their hand.
In an extensive article this week on the Federal Press portal, Georgy Maksimov notes that “society is condemning the church and its appetites openly,” and the Kremlin is following course. As a result, Patriarch Kirill is under pressure both ‘from below’ and ‘from above.” And many are now acknowledging that he has “many enemies” (fedpress.ru/article/1813720).
(Not unimportantly under these circumstances, the arguments of the Federal Press journalist have been echoed by experts on Russian church affairs in two other articles this week at portal-credo.ru/site/?act=comment&id=2189 and philologist.livejournal.com/9443103.html.)
Relations between the Kremlin and the Patriarchate have certainly cooled in recent months, in response to negative publicity concerning the fate of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg and about corruption in the upper reaches of the church. And this has mean that Bishop Tikhon now has greater access to and influence in the Kremlin than does Kirill.
The “source close to the Presidential Administration” told him, Maksimov continues, say people in the Kremlin “understand that the church has become a factor of political turbulence.” It is roiling society and making requests that, if fulfilled, could “deepen the political crisis in Russia.” For “pragmatic” reasons, the Kremlin has decided to put the brakes on such demands.
Kirill knows he is in trouble and that is why he convened the closed meeting with political analysts on June 12 to discuss how to improve the image of the church and his person, Maksimov says. Of especial concern to the patriarch is that both Russian society and the Russian president are more favorably inclined to the Old Believers than to the Patriarchate.
The reasons are simple: the Old Believers aren’t making demands while the Patriarchate is, and the former has not been the source of constant scandals while the latter increasingly has. Still worse, the patriarch has done little or nothing to crack down – and has even featured in some of the scandals himself.
Kirill’s own position, Maksimov argues, “is now under threat and a campaign against him has been launched.” The leader of the opposition his Bishop Tikhon who successfully lobbied the Kremlin for his favored candidates to be education minister and children’s ombudsman.
The source near the Presidential Administration points out that “Bishop Tikhon is considered Putin’s spiritual advisor. He has more or less automatic access to the president. But Kirill now longer does. Indeed, the patriarch recently complained to the PA by asking “why does the president meet with Tikhon and not with me?”
But Tikhon is not the only threat to Kirill, Maksimov says. There is significant opposition to the current patriarch in the regions as a result of the scandalous behavior of some of Kirill’s appointees and his failure to discipline them when their odious actions have been exposed. Two places where such feelings have risen to fever pitch are in Tatarstan and Yekaterinburg.
Despite this, Putin is unlikely to try to remove Kirill before the presidential elections. But such stories are an indication that the current patriarchate may be retired shortly thereafter. At the very least, they are a sign that for all the talk about “a symphony” of church and state in Russia, the Kremlin is anything but happy with the supposed state church and its leader.