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It has been three years since Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow was enthroned as the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). While governments are typically evaluated for their first 100 days in power, the Patriarch should be given at least 1,000 days, especially given that churches think on an eternal timeline. However, Patriarch Kirill needs no credits – his activity could be a lesson for his secular colleagues in politics. Events are developing so quickly that he does not always have time to think about eternity
Initially, the Patriarch set for himself interesting and complicated objectives – both in domestic and foreign policies. In domestic policy his target is the comprehensive implementation of the Byzantine model of unity of the church and state. In foreign policy it is recognition of the superiority of the ROC over all other Orthodox churches. The idea is being realized along two lines at the same time – activation of dialogue with the Catholic Church and organization of the All-Orthodox Council.
Nobody was surprised by the Catholic direction – while serving as Metropolitan and Chairman of the Orthodox Church´s Department for External Church Relations in the Moscow Patriarchate Kirill earned the reputation of a philo-Catholic and made many enemies among conservative hierarchs in the ROC, who have a very strict attitude towards the notion of “ecumenical heresy”.
Despite this, Kirill put them in their place after he was elected Patriarch. Today, it is not Kirill I that pays regular visits to The Vatican, rather his closest assistant and current Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations Metropolitan Illarion. Such dialogue has a special meaning for the Moscow Patriarch. First of all, this is because it is an alternative to dialogue held by the Ecumenical Patriarchy on behalf of the entire Orthodox world and the Moscow Patriarch gets satisfaction from everything that equates him to the Ecumenical. Secondly, this is also the Ukrainian direction, seeing as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the cornerstone and the main bargaining chip in such dialogue.
The UGCC is an extremely painful topic for the Apostolic capital. The prospects of a solution to this issue remain quite vague – dialogue could last forever “assuming the possibility of a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch” with an obvious hint that the final decision is in the hands of the Moscow Patriarch.
Meanwhile, the Patriarch is using all his powers to promote the Orthodox direction. Now he has all the chances of successfully holding the All-Orthodox Council. Judging from it all, Patriarch Kirill truly wants to chalk up a brilliant addition to his biography going down in history as the organizer of the first Ecumenical Council nearly 1,500 years after the last one was convened. Moreover, he has all the chances of holding the council with maximum advantages for the Moscow Patriarchy, despite a whole set of controversial issues that cannot be resolved through consultations or perhaps exactly due to this fact.
Taking all circumstances into account, the Ecumenical Patriarch is no longer in a rush to hold such a Council, which makes him a target of criticism, as now seems to be the right time to hold the All-Orthodox Council.
Whether the council will indeed be held for the benefit of Orthodoxy or it simply be a purely political convention and whether the strongest or those who are right will survive is another question altogether? The Patriarch’s problem is that his success in foreign policy is a hostage of “symphony”. Strange as it may seem, this quandary has lately been the most difficult issue for the Patriarch to resolve.
Over 3 years of his rule the Patriarch made efforts to reinforce his influence in the Kremlin, as well as in financial circles in Russia and its closest neighbors. And it seems that he has been successful as the Patriarch’s voice in the Kremlin is heeded on equal ground with those of the Russian president or premier. The Russian government makes many decisions in favor of the ROC, most of which are property-related. After all, there is no more powerful gauge of trust and loyalty than property. Before Kirill was elected Patriarch it was clear he was a politician and even a manager. Over the last 3 years this was glaringly obvious.
But everything is cool as long as it remains cool, then comes the time for challenges. The problem is that a manager just as any other expert is like a fluxing agent – their strong points also have a dark side. For example, a manager cares more about what people think about what is happening than what is actually happening.
While serving as Metropolitan Patriarch Kirill already became a TV star, having created around him a stellar cast of creators of media reality, manipulators and verbal equilibrists. The ROC began addressing the public from TV screens, in printed media and on Internet websites. Its presence became so obtrusive that in Russia people began seriously talking about the potential “threat of clericalism”, even despite the fact that such a “presence in all spheres of life” was and for the most part remains a media fact, not reality. In this way the Patriarch perfectly fit into Russian politics, which mostly is engaged in creating media reality.
The church and state symphony cherished by the Patriarch has of late been making muffled sounds and some of the notes are even alarming. Beginning his career as an educated, pro-European and almost liberal head of the church that fought against its “conservative wing” and various ignorant rebels, today Patriarch Kirill is gradually losing his magnificence. Using his management instinct he accurately stated that there is no sense in attracting intellectuals to his side.
The breaking point came when Russian Nazis armed with re-bar went in protest to Manezhnaya Square. Such a “young face of Russia” confused many. But the Patriarchy took a rational approach saying Russia has to deal with the face it has. By the way, it is not difficult to deal with such people as they are young, active and ready to be mobilized. They simply need proper guidance. Apparently, such a point of view was quite resonant inside the walls of the Patriarchy. Indeed, official representatives of the Patriarchy slightly changed the tonality of their speeches and the faces changed as well. Vladimir Vigilyanskiy and even Andrei Kurayev seem to have faded into the background, while such activists as Vsevolod Chaplin and even Kirill Frolov have become more visible.
However, such a chauvinistic drift is nothing other than media reality. Just like Russian World, it is merely another media bubble, which became clear following the latest events in Russia. In order to seriously protect some idea one must have strong principles rather than interests. And if the Russian World concept was serious the Patriarch would have no other option but to support anti-governmental powers, because it has been the official policy of the Russian government over the past decade to deal the final blow to the ghost of the Russian World, instigate quarrels between Russia and its closest neighbors and destroy the country from within.
There is no sense in fighting in the name of virtual projects, when real interests can suffer. For this reason, now the Patriarch will use all his powers to restore his influence in Russia, first and foremost, in the Kremlin. This should force him to make adjustments to his priorities.
By the way, the chauvinistic drift in the Patriarchy’s rhetoric is further testimony to the fact that Ukraine has made progress in a number of its priority tasks. While Kirill Frolov was a marginal professing on behalf of a number of unknown associations, it was possible to save face as people like to blow a bunch of hot air and engage in psychobabble…
But now he is close to the Patriarch. In Ukraine, Frolov’s favorite target for his innuendos which Ukrainians cannot help but appreciate. Should we be surprised that over the last year the Patriarchy in Ukraine has been “extinguishing fires” that were about to flare up or already flared up – be it the Anniversary Council, the revision of the Statute, the possible appointment of a deputy Patriarch, the prospect of a union between dissident non-conformists or a possible union between bishops? The “divide et impera” method, which was quite successfully applied by the Moscow Patriarchate, is now failing. By all appearances, the Moscow Patriarchate does not dare to directly interfere in the affairs of the Kyiv Patriarchate as the situation could spin out of control for good.
Ukraine turned out to be one of Kirill’s blitz defeats. Two years ago during the inauguration of President Yanukovych it seemed Patriarch Kirill had the entire country in union with the church and the state in his pocket and he did not even veil his satisfaction with the status quo and did not deny his participation in the entire process.
Only 2 years later it became crystal clear that all things aside Ukraine treats Patriarch Kirill like a rather dull guest and the UOC is not distancing itself from Moscow due to the Patriarchate’s diplomacy, but because inside the UOC there are not enough active people with new ideas to replace their fears and interests. It is only a matter of time when such people will come to the surface.
The prospects of the UOC becoming de facto autonomous, are growing by the day. The natural process is being accelerated by the ROC internal policy oriented towards imperial and even blatantly chauvinistic moods of the least intelligent part of Russian society. The UOC has time to mature and resolve its own matters independently of the Moscow Patriarchy and its leader, who should act quickly to preserve his advantages at least in the most successful spheres. In conclusion, in conditions of crisis management skills are at the peak of their demand. So, chances are that the most interesting pages of Patriarch Kirill’s rule have yet to be opened.Printable version