ISSN 2330-717X

Moscow Patriarch’s Kirill’s Moves Cause Problems For Kremlin In The Caucasus – OpEd


Patriarch Kirill’s decision to create a Russian Orthodox Armenia-Yerevan exarchate violates church norms, and his appointment of a churchman to head it who has been involved with pushing Russian Orthodox Church expansion outside of Russia has only raised the hackles of many in the Caucasus, Dmitry Gorevoy says.

The Moscow analyst says that it is clear this was Kirill’s personal and impulsive decision as he rushed to make it and violated his own church’s rules about decision making and canonical territories, utterly failing to consider its impact in Armenia, Georgia and Russia itself (

Kirill violated ROC MP rules by convening a synod meeting only two weeks after he had held the regularly scheduled one and doing so via telephone alone. And he violated Russian Orthodox Church declarations that specify Armenia is not part of the canonical territory of Russia but rather is under the purview of the Georgian church.

He may have forgotten or chosen to forget that “the Moscow Patriarchate itself gave Armenia to the Georgians. In 1943, when Stalin permitted the functioning of the Orthodox church in the USSR, the ROC immediately recognized the Georgian church … and handed over supervision of Orthodox parishes in Armenia to the Georgians.”

To be sure, Gorevoy continues, “the Armenian Apostolic church is not Orthodox in the precise meaning of that term. It belongs to the grouping of so-called Eastern Pre-Calchedonian churches,” which include not only the Armenian church but the Coptic, Ethiopian, Syro-Jahovite, Malankar and Eritrea churches.

Orthodox churches, including the Russian, recognize the actions of these churches as legitimate and typically respect “the canonical authority.” In response, these churches do the same. What Kirill has done is to upset that critical balance, and that affects not only Armenia but Georgia as well.

According to the rules of the Georgian church, its jurisdiction includes Orthodox Christians living in Armenia. And so by acting as he has with regard to Armenia, Kirill has deepened the split with Tbilisi, something that has consequences not only for the religious but the political authorities in both places.

“Besides these formal consequences,” Gorevoy says, “there are informal ones. In the language of church protocol, it is not acceptable to establish one’s structures in other countries where there is already an Orthodox or close to Orthodox church.” And despite what Moscow has said, Garegin II of Armenia did not ask for this.

What he proposed was that Moscow open a church embassy in his country so that issues of common concern can be discussed. He did not and would not ever agree to having the ROC MP have an exarchate of its own in Armenia, and neither would that country’s political authorities.

And Kirill exacerbated the situation further by naming to head the new Armenian-Yerevan exarchate Bishop Leonid who has been actively involved in recent years promoting the establishment of Russian Orthodox church structures in Africa and the Middle East where they are de facto and de jure parallel to national Orthodox and near-Orthodox churches.

Yerevan and Tbilisi, religious and civil, can’t be happy about all this; and their unhappiness creates unwanted problems for the Kremlin which will now face Armenian and Georgian officials even less willing to cooperate with the Russian Federation, Gorevoy goes on to suggest.   

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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