By Paul Goble
Just as he has done in so many other spheres of Russian life, Patriarch Kirill last week moved to expand the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the North Caucasus through the use of the two tools at his disposal: the reorganization of the church’s structure there and meeting with senior Russian officials.
But at least one commentator notes that in taking these steps, Kirill is walking a fine line between satisfying the needs of his own institution and those of the Russian state, a reflection of what that writer suggests is “the systematic crisis” in the Russian Federation with the increasing tensions among various parts of the bureaucracy, secular and religious.
At a meeting last Tuesday, the Holy Synod disbanded the former Stavropol and Vladikavkas archbishopric which had overseen Stavropol kray and the North Caucasus republics of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Osetia, Ingushetia and Chechnya and sent its head Archbishop Feofan to Chelyabinsk (www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/1434630.html).
In place of the disbanded archbishopric, the Synod created three new sees with three new leaders:
- the Pyatigorsk and Cherkess bishopric which will be headed by Smolensk and Vyazemsk Bishop Feofilak and will include the parishes of Mineralovod, Predgorny and Kirov districts and also the respublics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia;
- the Vladikavkaz and Makhachkala archbishopric which will led by Elista and Kymyk Archbishop Zosima and include Orthodox congregations in North Osetia-Alania, Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya; and
- the Stavropol and Nevinomyssky archbishopric which will include the remainder of the previous Stavropol and Vladikavkaz archbishopric and will be headed by Bishop Kirill of Pavlovo-Posadsky, who will retain his position as head of the Synod Committee on Relations with the Cossacks.
At the same session, the Synod expressed its “gratitude” to Baku and Caspian Bishop Aleksandr for his supervision of the Orthodox parishes in Daghestan and his “support of Orthodox-Muslim cooperation.” But it eliminated his role there, reducing his sphere of activity to Azerbaijan and changing his title to the bishop of Baku and Azerbaijan.
Also at that meeting, the Holy Synod thanked Feofan “for his many efforts to strengthen church life in the North Caucasus” and his “conduct of dialogue with Muslim communities directed at the establishment of peace and concord in the multi-national society” of that part of the Russian Federation.
Feofan, who earlier served as patriarchal representative to Africa and the East and who who has been viewed as a rising star in the Church, will now seek to promote Orthodoxy in the much-troubled see of Chelyabinsk (www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/31190.html and ura.ru/content/chel/24-03-2011/articles/1036256292.html).
In a related development, Patriarch Kirill on Friday received Aleksandr Khloponin, the Presidential plenipotentiary representative for the North Caucasus, a meeting at which the Church leader explained these administrative changes and the political one expressed the hope that they would help fill “the spiritual vacuum” there (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=47448).
Three aspects of these moves are worth noting: First, they reflect Kirill’s effort to create a power vertical within the church. Second, they reflect his desire to bring religious and political borders into correspondence. And third, they suggest he will pursue a more differentiated policy in the North Caucasus, with more attention to the Cossacks.
But as the editors of Religiopolis.org note, this combination of “bureaucracy and politics” may not work as any of its participants hope. Both the Church and the government are pursuing their own bureaucratic interests, and this combination may end by harming both of them and the interests of believers as well (www.religiopolis.org/news/2275-bjurokratija-i-politika.html).