Dark side of the revival of Russian Orthodoxy emerges

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is still in a period of “revival” marked by the rehabilitation of its position in society and rapid institutional expansion, but “signs of crisis are mounting rapidly,” writes Sergey Chapnin in IWM Post (Fall/Winter), a publication of the Vienna-based Institute for Human Sciences. Chapnin argues that the positive tendencies characterizing the ROC’s revival, including the growth of parishes and monasteries and its becoming the largest and most politically influential non-governmental organization in Russia, have given way to negative ones. These include the growing concentration of ecclesiastical authority in the hands of the current patriarch Kirill; the conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and Constantinople growing to the point of actual schism; “church teaching [being] perceived by society, especially young people, as merely a form of state propaganda; evidence of the ROC episcopate’s involvement in major corruption scandals and the younger bishop’s luxurious lifestyle [coming] to light; [and] frank confessions of former clerics who have left the priesthood…being published.”

Chapnin adds that most of the positive features of the revival of Orthodoxy have been restricted to the parish level and to some extent “church-adjacent institutions,” particularly charitable ones. The problem is that such activity “has little to no impact on the image and authority of the Moscow Patriarchate.” The writer traces the church crisis not so much to the revival of the last few decades but rather to the church hierarchy’s continuation of policies of the Soviet period into the post-Soviet era. Kirill’s “plan of action is the very same as his predecessors’. The primary focus is on seeking the state’s support for the church and an obvious willingness to serve state interests in pursuit of that support. One of the consequences of such policies is utter neglect of the interests of civil society but even of his own flock—both laypeople and clergy.” Chapnin, who formerly served as the editor of the official church journal and newspaper, calls for a “severe” restriction of the church leadership’s authority as well as “clear definitions of the canonical status of laypeople and of how autonomy is granted to parish communities.”

(IWM Post, Spittelauer Lände 3, 1090 Vienna, Austria)