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Russian Diplomats Continue To Help Moscow Patriarchate Get Backing Of Ancient But Small Orthodox Patriarchates – OpEd

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Because the Orthodox world does not have a single paramount leader, most decisions that any one of its patriarchates wants depend not just on the traditions of canon law which do play a large role but also on the ability of that patriarchate to gain and retain the support of others.

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In addition to promoting fissiparousness within the Orthodox world, this lack of a single center like the Vatican in the case of Roman Catholicism gives outsize influence to smaller patriarchates, especially if they are among the so-called pentarchy of churches established in the early Christian era.

One of those is the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It is top-heavy with bishops and metropolitans but has far fewer parishioners than most other Orthodox churches. Its antiquity and its land holdings in the city where Christianity arose give it enormous importance, and the Moscow Patriarchate has worked hard to keep it in Russia’s column.

In addition to the fact that many of the parishioners of the Jerusalem Patriarchate are ethnic Russians or even Russian citizens, the Moscow Patriarchate uses its own churchmen to maintain the closest possible contact with Jerusalem; and it employs the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society as well, a structure created in 1882 and maintained even in Soviet times.

But perhaps the most important ally the Moscow Patriarchate has is the Russian state. Its diplomats meet frequently with churchmen from the Jerusalem Patriarchate and stress Moscow’s commitment to the defense of Orthodox Christianity and especially Orthodox property in the Holy Land.

A meeting today between Jerusalem Patriarch Theophiius III and Anatoly Viktorov, Russia’s ambassador to Israel, not only continues this tradition but by the level of contact suggests Moscow is  working hard to promote its interests and those of the Moscow Patriarchate on issues like Ukrainian autocephaly which they oppose and Russian church expansion into Africa which they favor (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=115155).

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This meeting shows just how committed the Kremlin is to helping the Moscow Patriarchate on these issues; but it also shows, albeit unintentionally, how weak the church of Patriarch Kirill has become and how increasingly dependent the Russian church is on the Russian state, something that will reduce its influence in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. 

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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