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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Annals of the Holy Russian Empire: Stormclouds of Unification

A reader offers some worrying observations about the recent unification of the Russian Orthodox Church, as reported recently in the Moscow Times:

Alarming Developments in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

The reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) hardly seems an issue worthy of the attention of Russia watchers. It does however have some very serious potential implications and I would be grateful if you would consider publicising this. I hope it has come to the notice of Western intelligence agencies but if it has not, it deserves to.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) was independent of Moscow and grew up during the communist era. ROCOR is a wealthy church, both in capital and income terms. For example , the London Orthodox Cathedral, recently the site of a bitter power struggle which resulted in the sacking of its bishop and the reassertion of control by Moscow, is worth 15 million pounds.

It is widely believed that the Russian Orthodox Church has long wanted to acquire the rich assets of ROCOR and that it has not only been theology has been driving this campaign for reunification.

That is murky enough, but there is more going on here than messy church politics. Overseas Orthodox churches are centres for the worldwide Russian expatriate community and have been since the Revolution. Now, the Russian government is showing an interest in them. At a time when the Russian Foreign Intelligence service is restoring its strength, the news of Putin's personal interest in the project and that Boris Jordan was been involved in discussions in America with the leaders of the ROCOR is significant. Boris Jordan is a Gazprom man who ran the enforced state takeover (for which read "suppression") by Gazprom and the Kremlin of NTV, the independent TV station which was one of the most vocal opponents to Putin at the last election. When we hear that Jordan has been co-opted to discuss reunification with ROCOR, we have good cause to be suspicious.

On Ascension Day 2007 (May 17th 2007) the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia reunited, against the wishes of many of the old Russian expats. An era has ended. There has been a covert takeover and an infiltration by the KGB into many western cities - ROCOR currently has over 400 parishes as well as monsteries for men and women in 40 countries throughout the world, served by nearly 600 priests; there are 133 parishes in the US and 22 in Canada, 5 communities in the United Kingdom and 21 in Australia and New Zealand, together with another 100 communities in other countries in the former Soviet Union.

The FSB/KGB is well aware that the White Russian community, their old opponents, have been historically centred around ROCOR churches. There is also a long history of KBG collaboration within the highest ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church. As the Patriarch and Putin work together it is likely that Moscow-appointed clergy will now be compliant with Kremlin wishes and will cooperate with Russian government and embassy staff, believing that this is their patriotic and spiritual duty. Building a more powerful church and a more powerful nation can become interchangeable concepts if you lose sight of personal faith as the bedrock of the Christian life.

A takeover of the ROCOR churches is an attractive proposition on many levels. The FSB can now recruit from ROCOR congregations and they will also infiltrate them to gather intelligence on those members of the expatriate community with dissident tendencies. They will be assisted, at least passively, by the clergy of these churches and we can be sure that if any clergy publicly or privately voice any dissent, they will be removed.

Lest there be any doubt about this, it is worth recalling recent events in Belarus.

Christian believers from all denominations, including a brave (but possibly foolhardy) Orthodox priest, Father Alexander Shramko, have signed a petition to get the infamous 2002 Belarus Religion Law repealed. This law is in direct contradiction to the 1994 Belarus Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion. The Belarusian Religion Law is the most repressive in Europe . For example, it is the only such law to demand state registration of religious communities and to place restrictions on where within Belarus religious activity can take place.

Father Shramko has now been harshly disciplined by Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeyev) of Minsk and Slutsk, the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. Filaret is a leading contender to succeed the current (frail) Patriarch, Alexei, when he dies.

It is unlikely that Shramko will remain as a priest although final disciplinary measures will probably be withheld until they can be carried out quietly to avoid adverse publicity.

The Belarusian Orthodox Church comes under the Moscow Patriarchate and is fully part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Belarusian Orthodox Church supported the 2002 Religion Law. Amongst proposals made by the Church as the Law was being discussed were a ban on all but irregular meetings in private homes for worship, as well as raising the minimum number of people needed to register a religious community with the state from ten to 20. Both these proposals were adopted.

In its 27 April 2007 statement, the Belarusian Orthodox Church maintains that the 2002 Law "facilitates religious peace and confessional stability in Belarus " and "draws upon international experience of legislation on religion, especially practice in European countries."

It is this same church which now runs the 400 former ROCOR parishes around the world.

The Moscow Times report:

Bells pealed and heavy incense wafted through the air as Russian Orthodox leaders signed a pact Thursday to heal an 80-year rift between their two churches. "Joy lights up our hearts. A historic event awaited for many years has been fulfilled," Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II told thousands of worshipers in the Christ the Savior Cathedral. "The first word that Christ said to His followers when he rose from the dead was 'Rejoice!' and the second word he said was 'Peace be with you!'" said Metropolitan Laurus, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. "On this festive day we hear both of these greetings." Alexy II then turned to President Vladimir Putin and said the president had made an important contribution to Thursday's reunification when he passed to Laurus an invitation from the patriarch to visit Moscow in 2003. The patriarch presented to Putin several icons depicting the Virgin Mary and Russians who suffered for their beliefs during Soviet repressions. Putin bent over to kiss the icons in Alexy's hands, to the patriarch's evident delight. Afterward, Alexy kissed Putin on the cheeks three times and thanked him for attending the service, saying this should indicate to the Orthodox church abroad that the president was not "some God fighter" but an Orthodox believer.

Putin praised the reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate with the church abroad as an event of worldwide significance. "There were no winners in this ecclesiastical and political conflict. Everyone was a loser, so reunification serves our common goals," he said. Putin said the location of the ceremony, Christ the Savior Cathedral, was "a symbol of the renaissance and prosperity of the Orthodox church." The enormous golden-domed cathedral, built in the 1990s, is a replica of a similar cathedral demolished by Stalin in 1931. The reunification agreement, called the Canonical Communion Act, will allow the church abroad to retain independence in pastoral, administrative, property and civil matters, but it will have to consult the Moscow Patriarchate on major administrative issues such as the election of senior clergy and the opening and closing of dioceses. Thursday's ceremony was attended by many government officials, including Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin, and State Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska. Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov, who also was present, said the event was filled with spiritual and political significance that contributed to the "understanding of the significance and power of the Russian Orthodox spirit," Interfax reported.

The split occurred three years after the Revolution when representatives of the church abroad met in Yugoslavia and called on the church in Russia to resist the Bolsheviks and bring back the monarchy. The church abroad cut all ties in 1927 after Patriarch Sergy declared loyalty to the Communist government. The Moscow Patriarchate has said Sergy wanted to save the church from annihilation. The Moscow Patriarchate disavowed Sergy's declaration last year, paving the way for Thursday's reconciliation. But differences remain, and many members of the church abroad believe that the signing should have been delayed. "The main protest against the reunification is coming from parishes in South America, but there are dissenters in the United States , Canada and Europe as well," said Nikolai Savchenko, a priest with the church abroad, Kommersant reported Wednesday.

Savchenko put the number of dissenters at 20 percent to 25 percent of the church's reported membership of 480,000 in about 400 parishes in 40 countries. The Moscow Patriarchate considers about two-thirds of Russia 's population of 142 million members and has branches in other former Soviet republics. A main argument that opponents of the reunification cite is the Moscow Patriarchate's membership in the International Church Council, a movement in favor of unification of all Christian churches, known as ecumenism.


Russian patriot said...

Yeah! The Churches are united! The intellegence is growing!
Tremble russophobes, RUSSIANS ARE COMING!

PS. I do not like this word verification stuff. Why this innovation? Too time consuming, users unfriendly.
May it be for stupid trustunworthy russophobes only? And the Russian patriots excused?

Anonymous said...

No surprise that you do not like word verification, it is a measure to against automated spam, which is an annoyance to most web users ad Russia is the No.1 purveyor of spam...