Putin's 'Power Vertical' Being Extended to Russia's Religions
October 08, 2008
WINDOW ON EURASIA
Two decisions of the Moscow Patriarchate this
week and a suggestion by an Orthodox leader that
Russia's Muslims should copy what the Orthodox
Church has done underscore the extent to which
Vladimir Putin's ideas about what he calls "the
power vertical" have now been extended into
religious life in the Russian Federation.
At a meeting this week, the Synod of the Moscow
Patriarchate made two major decisions. First, it
stripped Diomid of his status as a bishop of the
Russian Orthodox Church after the former head of
the Chukotka diocese refused to withdraw his
criticisms of the Church hierarchy for failing to
call a meeting of hierarchs and the laity to decide on key policies.
The Synod, which was chaired by Patriarch Aleksii
II, also refused to agree to the transfer of
Orthodox parishes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia
from the jurisdiction of the autocephalous
Georgian Orthodox Church to that of the Russian
Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
And in comments afterwards, Deacon Andrei
Kurayev, an influential if outspoken Church
theologian and commentator, suggested that the
Synod's tough action against Diomid and his
supporters, some of whom also lost their posts,
should provide a model for Russia's Muslim
leaders in coping with dissidents in their midst.
If the first action had become inevitable after
Diomid indicated that he would not withdraw his
criticism of the hierarchy and the second had
been signaled by Church officials a month ago,
the third was somewhat unexpected. But all three
are certain to shape religious life in Russia and
the relationship between the major faiths and the state there in the future.
Last summer, the Church hierarchy took Diomid's
see away from him and warned him that there would
be more serious consequences if he did not
retract his criticism of the Patriarchate, stop
his efforts to mobilize the faithful against the
leadership on specific issues, end his calls for
a more open and democratic form of church governance.
Diomid's opponents in the hierarchy pointed to
some of Diomid's more radical views, including
his opposition to ecumenism, to justify their
moves against him, but both these views and his
call for the church to follow its own rules to
give the clergy and the laity greater influence
relative to the hierarchy have attracted a large following.
When Diomid did not withdraw and he did not
even show up at the synod despite being invited
the Patriarchate came down hard not only against
him but against some of his supporters, actions
that some commentators believe also violate
church law. But now his successor is seeking to
have him indicted by the state for misuse of church property.
Diomid remains unbowed. He has declared Aleksii
II and other hierarchs anathema, and it is likely
that he will now be the leader of a new sect, one
with followers across the country who will be
kept together by the Internet, something the now
former bishop has used more skillfully than
perhaps any other Russian Orthodox leader.
The Synod's section action its refusal to take
under its wing Orthodox believers in Abkhazia and
South Ossetia has struck some Moscow
commentators as putting the Church at odds with
the Russian government on the status of the two
breakaway republics. But in fact, as more
thoughtful observers, have noted, the Church's
action is consistent with Kremlin interests.
Historically, the Moscow Patriarchate has argued
that canonical borders need not follow political
ones, a view that it has held even more tightly
to in the period since the collapse of the Soviet
Union because that position allows it to continue
to exercise control over thousands of parishes
and hundreds of bishoprics in the post-Soviet states.
The Russian government has backed the Church in
this, seeing the Patriarchate as its ally. That
is especially true with regard to the religious
situation in Ukraine. Were canonical borders to
follow political ones there, the Moscow
Patriarchate would lose almost half of its
parishes and cease to be the largest Orthodox Church in the world.
Consequently, Aleksii II and his fellow hierarchs
were not interested in compromising their
position in Ukraine to pick up a few parishes in
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, especially because
any move there by Moscow would lead Universal
Patriarch Bartholemew, who is based in Istanbul,
to become more active in countering the Russian
church in the former Soviet space.
But the third development is likely to have the
greatest consequences, even though it is the
least "official" so far. In an interview
published in yesterday's "Rossiiskaya gazeta,"
Deacon Kurayev argued that now that the
Patriarchate had shown how to deal with
dissidents, Russia's Muslim leaders should follow suit.
"I would like to turn attention of our Muslim
brothers to the courageous decision of the
Council and the Synod" against Diomid and his
sectarians. "And to express the hope that they
too will get involved in 'sanitizing' their own
clergy. They also have more than enough of their
own 'Diomids'" who ought to be disciplined.
"Thank God, our Church has shown sufficient
firmness and good sense," Deacon Kurayev said, in
dealing "with its own 'Wahhabis,' especially
since by acting in this way, the Patriarchate has
guaranteed that the number of people who will
follow Diomid into sectarianism will be small.
Whether that is the case, of course, remains far
from clear, but if the Kremlin pressures Muslim
leaders to take similar actions against Islamic
dissidents in their midst, that will certainly
create problems. On the one hand, it will
challenge the vastly more decentralized and
democratic arrangements within Russia's Islamic community.
And on the other, in contrast to what is taking
place within Russian Orthodoxy, such demands
could lead to the disintegration of the Muslim
Spiritual Directorate (MSD) system, something
that almost certainly would reduce still further
the Russian state's relatively tenuous hold on
the growing Muslim community there.