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Putin's 'Power Vertical' Being Extended to Russia's Religions

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=8348&Itemid=65 Putin s Power Vertical Being Extended to Russia s Religions October 08,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 2008
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      http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=8348&Itemid=65

      Putin's 'Power Vertical' Being Extended to Russia's Religions
      October 08, 2008

      WINDOW ON EURASIA

      Paul Goble

      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.
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