By Paul Goble
The Kremlin is behind the Moscow Patriarchate’s crackdown on dissidents among the clergy and among Orthodox social movements, Aleksey Makarkin says; but the Russian church in some cases has gone ever further than the state because it fears that the state will begin to use its organs against the church and undermine popular support for the faith.
The Russian church was enthusiastic about the state’s intervention against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups, the leader of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies says; and it welcomes the state’s help against Orthodox clergy and activists who step out of line but also fears where that could lead (ng.ru/ng_religii/2021-12-14/9_521_exile.html).
What this has meant, Makarkin says, is that now “church structures try to be careful even on those issues where earlier they displayed great activity.” They are uncertain just where the red lines for church behavior are as far as the Kremlin is concerned; and the most subservient are simply avoiding doing anything that might cause a problem for them.
“The government starts from the proposition that the church must control itself and not allow declarations which contradict the policies of the powers,” he continues. “If these things arise, then the church itself is required to address them. And when that doesn’t happen, then the state is forced to intervene and advance demands on the church leadership.”
One aspect of the situation is becoming especially fraught, Makarkin says. That concerns the role of elders to whom “many people from the government and force structures go,” a behavior the powers had accepted but are now seeing as a threat given the increasing outspokenness of these prominent features of the Orthodox landscape.
“Elders have become persons whom it is difficult for anyone to control,” he continues. “They aspire to the role of the highest spiritual authority.” If siloviki listen to them, that could be a problem; and so the government is moving against them and forcing the Patriarchate to provide assistance.
Given how important elders are in the religious life of the Orthodox, that sets the stage for a new wave of court cases almost certain to reduce the authority of the church and also spark more controversy between the traditionally subservient Patriarchate and the increasingly assertive Kremlin, the Moscow analyst suggests.