Shakeup in patriarchate reveals disputes within church


Meduza, 27 December 2015


One of the most famous figures of the Russian Orthodox Church, Vsevolod Chaplin, the chairman of the synod's Department for Relations of Church and Society, has been fired. The official reason: his department will no longer be a part of the structure of the patriarchate and relations between the church, society, and news media will be handled not by the sharp-tongued Chaplin but by the diplomatic and nonconfrontational Vladimir Legoida. In an interview with a special correspondent of Meduza, Ilya Zhegulev, Chaplin described how the RPTs has become a completely closed structure in which it is forbidden to criticize government officials. Even to have an opinion different from that of Patriarch Kirill is now undesirable.


--Meduza: According to the official version, your departure is the result of a restructuring of the Department for Relations of Church and Society in the RPTs which you headed. What really is the reason for restructuring the department and for your departure?


--Vsevolod Chaplin: It was declared that this was done for the purpose of optimization and greater effectiveness. Only it seems to me that the department which I created and which I headed was one of the most effective within the RPTs. With a rather small staff, we performed many jobs, such as cooperation with authorities, work with thousands of documents, arrangement of patriarchal visits, and various negotiations. Frankly speaking, I cannot imagine how it would be possible to improve on the work with the amount of duties that the personnel had. Well, essentially I think that this has not been accidental. Honestly, I have been preparing for retirement for a long time and I have not been holding onto this position. I have permitted myself to disagree with His Holiness [Patriarch Kirill] and not to agree on several matters—in relations with the government and on matters of church administration. Sooner or later what happened had to occur. His Holiness permits less and less anyone to express an opinion different from his opinion.


--Had he been different earlier?


--Unfortunately, a person's character changes.


--After all, you have labored together with Kirill for many years.


--We have been acquainted since 1986 and have worked together since 1990. I view the patriarch with great sympathy and great respect; he is a bright and strong man. But at the same time I consider myself to have the right, as a man who has to a substantial degree formulated the system of church-state relations, to disagree with him and to express my opinion. Moreover sometimes I am much more correct than he is. I do not think that we must work out uncritical relations with the government. I do not think that we must adapt to public opinion, real or imaginary. It is necessary to change society and those who are in authority through reasonable criticism and bold statements. Unfortunately, in our church nowadays such free expressions have become ever less frequent.


--Do you think that your departure is because of Patriarch Kirill? Perhaps it was the influence of his inner circle.


--I do not rule out that some leaders of government offices had a hand in my departure. They did not like my independent position. But formally the decision was made by the church. I do not accept it in my heart. I consider myself to have the right in the future even to speak critical things about church administration and about the relations of the church with the state and society.


--How have your colleagues taken your dismissal? Have they supported you and called you up?


--I have received dozens of emails and letters. There were calls from the most diverse people, from personnel of the presidential administration to outright opposition figures. From church hierarchs to ordinary Orthodox. I am very grateful to all these people but I am too tired to answer. I didn't even know that I had so many friends, near and far.


--Can you now imagine yourself linked with Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev, who also fell out of favor because of his independent position?


--Both Father Andrei Kuraev and Sergei Chapnin, who was also recently fired, were to some degree removed from church activity specifically because they had too independent opinions. I differ ideologically with Sergei Valerievich and Father Andrei Kuraev; I think that Father Andrei is too much engaged in repeating gossip and I do not want to get into that. But in essence in the RPTs people with an independent and different position are being squeezed out.


--And the time for completely loyal people has arrived? Who, for example?


--Well you know, people who are, as you put it, loyal are good and I view them with sympathy. These are both Vladimir Legoida and Father Alexnder Volkov. But the problem is just that they are forced to keep the statements of their own opinion to a minimum. Church institutions that work with the news media have been turned into offices of no comment, who refuse to respond to most questions. I would like to wish these people success in their difficult situation that they will find themselves in, in the future.


--It seems to me that Legoida is still a diplomat and he rarely states his own point of view that differs from the official position of the RPTs.


--Well, you see, church-public relations are not just diplomacy but activity which must be frank, honest, and direct.


--Have your relations with Legoida remained good? Is it possible to say that your departure was caused by friction with him?


--No. Mr. Legoida is a person with whom there cannot be friction, in principle. Sometimes I have discussed various points with him, but Vladimir Romanovich is the kind of person. . .


--With whom it is hard to argue?


--Yes, who always avoids the least conflict.


--But he could conduct a personnel struggle against you?


--I do not know whether that was so. But even if it were, I would not be offended. The reasons for everything that has happened are much more serious. They are ideological reasons, spiritual ones.


--But after all your views often were more radical than the official position of the RPTs. For example, you said that the war was even, in principle, not bad and would not harm Orthodox believers.


--War and other disasters can teach people to live by God's law. If they do not learn and do not understand that a satiated, calm, and comfortable life for the sake of consumption is a mistaken path. You see, I have not called for war. But I have maintained that if the Lord should see that people are living too complacently and are relying on material goods and their own health and strength, he might intervene. Sending punishments and trials.


--Then what of the patriarch's account, for whom, as you have said, wealth is completely natural?


--Well, why cannot the patriarch, as the representative of the church, have a decent residence where he receives heads of states and of foreign religious associations. He conducts meetings with people who do not travel to barns or sheds. This is part of the normal life of a large religious organization. Look at the Vatican. Look at the large protestant churches. It is a different matter that any activity—representative, ceremonial—in the church should be conducted openly, publicly, and without disguising the expenses. And there should not be unilateral, back-room decisions. Even such a rather closed institution as the Vatican is learning publicity today. There should not be anything secret at all in the RPTs.


--Is secrecy in the life of the RPTs overdone?


--There is too much secrecy in the RPTs. At one meeting I suggested returning to the practice which existed just 10 to 15 years ago—to publish the church budget, if even in the most general figures. Unfortunately, there isn't even this practice today.


--Really, the economics and finances of the RPTs are one of the most hidden stories.


--Well you see that this is a natural situation because we receive donations. After all, you don't ask people for a passport or give them a check—that would be strange. Many people make contributions anonymously; sometimes it is small stuff and sometimes huge amounts. Income is never calculated to the last kopeck. After all we are not a store or bank. The expenditures could be made generally available on basic scores; I do not see a problem with this. Yes, there are some resources which may be given to the needy without accounting, but this is small cash. But large expenditures, it seems to me, could be generally available.


--Have you been disputing with the patriarch for a long time? Why is it that the dismissal happened now? Was there some conversation that was the last straw?


--I have always disputed with the patriarch in all the years when we have talked. And recently there have been several fundamental matters on which we have not agreed.


--Just which ones?


---It is the Ukrainian question. It always seemed to me that we should clearly support that portion of Ukrainian society which is oriented toward Russia. In Ukraine there are people in the church with various positions. Some are completely drawn to Europe. But people with a different point of view have been removed from public life in Ukraine. I think that we had the opportunity to make it so that they had influence in society and in the news media. These people should not be betrayed.


--Perhaps Patriarch Kirill simply did not want to spoil relations with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchate, where people maintain diverse positions?


--There were fears that members of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church could suffer because of our critical position. The fears were justified. People were threatened with violence. But even in these conditions we had to act more boldly. Of course, we argued over the tone of church-state relations in this situation. I do not think that we should be complimentary toward officials or praise them and never criticize them. There are many occasions to speak out with criticism of specific persons because of one or another problem, especially moral ones. But recently there has been a complete taboo imposed on criticism of specific persons [officials].


--But after all it would be hard to call your statements regarding the government as critical. For example, when the swap of Putin and Medvedev occurred, you even said that this was a profoundly moral act.


--Well, that was completely normal, when one man handed over power to another without a fight, without intrigue and confrontation. In my opinion, that was a good example where in my view there was nothing to criticize.


--What is it possible to criticize?


--Corruption, disregard for the common man, immorality. So we have the very difficult discussion about abortion. Some people have opposed for a long time any firmer position on it. A compromise suggestion which we have advanced still remains without consideration. We have asked to remove payment for abortions from the system of required medical insurance. This suggestion has been carefully ignored, but has there been occasion to stand up and say: "Sirs, you are wrong!" There hasn't been.


--So was this the last straw in your disputes with the patriarch?


--No, it wasn't. Probably dissatisfaction on his part gradually accumulated. Yesterday we had a good talk and I did not cling to my position. I think in principle that I could hold it five years at most.


--You held it longer, since 2009.


--Around six, and that is more than enough. I can leave. Naturally I still retain for myself the right to criticize any decisions in the future and to speak with an independent voice.


--Did the patriarch give you some kind of complaint, or did he simply say "Sorry, it is streamlining?


--I had been told previously that there would be some large-scale streamlining, but in the end it turned out that it pertained to only two departments. Well, if one speaks about directors, then that is one person. And therefore it would be interesting to understand whether there will be streamlining and whether it pertains to institutions that, from my point of view, are much less effective than the department that I headed. Of course, I will not name them. But on the whole it is necessary to discuss seriously all personnel in the central church administration and all expenses at least with respect to the inter-council presence and, at the maximum, the whole church.


--Have you been threatened that if you criticize the RPTs, some sanctions will be forthcoming?


--So, let them threaten. I just am not afraid of losing anything. (tr. by PDS, posted 28 December 2015)


Russian original posted on site, 28 December 2015

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