Sunday, November 15, 2015

Patriarch Kirill’s Presumptions Threaten Russia, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 15 – Patriarch Kirill’s assumption that the Russian Orthodox Church should “usurp” not only the functions of the state but also the definition of “the national dimension of Russian statehood” not only threatens the Russian constitutional order but the existence of Russia as such, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.

            In his recent speech to the World Russian Popular Assembly, the Moscow commentator says, Kirill showed that he is no longer satisfied with his church’s role as “a universal propaganda” for Putin’s regime but rather has “pretensions to ‘a state-forming’ role, pretensions both baseless and dangerous” (

            The patriarch’s argument rests on an extremely problematic assumptions that “Russia today remains that community which in a full degree is based on the values of Christianity while Europe for example has turned away from those values” and that Byzantine Christianity was able to bring the faith to all continents because it was founded at “’the crossroads of cultures.’”

            Such assertions not only fly in the face of the facts but provoke some important questions, Inozemtsev says. “And chief among them is the following: does not such an approach contradict the assertion that ‘Christian culture is not reducible to a single national culture or group of such cultures?” If that is true, then the other can’t be.

            “The force and greatness of Christianity or of any religion in general consists not in tha tit is capable of usurping state power but in that it opposes to the rulers a community of people ‘united by agreement relative to the things that they love,’” as St. Augustine put in in “The City of God.”

                Kirill’s vision of the church as an agency that directs the state and organizes conditions so as to benefit itself is completely at odds with religious faith, and it is thus “not accidental” that “the first Russian national tradition” the patriarch names is about giving it economic independence.

            Having rejected “’the European choice’” and “universal approaches,” Kirill “construes ‘the Russian social ideal’” as being the formation of a state which is based on the fulfillment and promotion of a religio-national tradition. But “what is such a national tradition in a multi-national state?”

             Stripped of its bureaucratic verbiage, Kirill’s vision is that “the Russian state should be constructed starting from the Orthodox treatment of justice; it must promote a solidarist society where there is no place for tensions or competition; … legal norms must immediately arise from moral canons; the state defends are types and forms of sovereignty from external influence; and economic activity must overcome the break between ‘real values’ and speculative ‘economics.’”

            “In other words,” Inozemtsev says, “we hear a call in an open and aggressive form for the overthrow of the constitutional order which now exists in Russia via the usurpation of power” by the Russian Orthodox hierarchy. But as frightening as that radical clericalism is, Kirill seeks to do even more.

            In addition to his attempts to “usurp” the state, the patriarch seeks to “usurp the national dimension of Russian statehood” by giving it such a narrow definition that were that to be accepted the country would either fall apart or explode, producing “’a geopolitical tragedy’” that would leave the one of the 20th century looking minor by comparison. 

            Contemporary Russia has arisen “as a complex symbiosis of Kyivan, North-Western and Vladimir Rus;” it was shaped by the Mongol yoke and by European modernization; it acquired enormous territories in Siberia and Central Asia; and it united dozens of peoples, many of whom would be highly offended by Kirill’s narrow view of Russian identity.

            It is “characteristic,” Inozemtsev continues, that Kirill presented these notions at a forum consisting “not so much of Russians as of representatives of the vaunted ‘Russian world,’ unified if one may quote President Putin ‘not only by our common cultural code but by an exceptionally powerful genetic one as well.’”

            “Who and on want basis is given the right to speak in the name of ‘the Russian world?’” But that is exactly what Kirill and Putin want to do: “They intend first to define their version of ‘Russianness’ and only then think about either moral or all-human values,” exactly the reverse of what religious faith calls for.

            Inozemtsev notes that unlike many Russian intellectuals, he “does not see anything dangerous” about an increase in the religiosity of Russians, as long as it is “the natural result of unselfish pastoral service.”  But if it comes in the form of a diktat to the state and society, that is another thing altogether. 

            “Post-communist Russia returned to the church church buildings which the earlier powers had seized,” the commentator concludes. “Now, contemporary Russia must return into these church buildings the church itself” by eliminating its pretensions to be the guiding force for the state.

            “The church is not a mediator between the state and society” as Kirill seems to think, Inozemtsev says; it is no more than a means linking an individual and God” – and that is something very different indeed. But clearly the Moscow Patriarchate needs to be reminded of that reality.

            And ensuring that happens, the commentator says, is for society, a task “of greater importance” than any other.

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