Commentary on personnel shakeup in patriarchate


Dismissals of a journalist and a priest show that in the RPTsMP, as in the Kremlin, loyalty is valued most of all

by Konstantin Eggert

Nemetskaia Volna, 28 December 2015


I very much dislike the neologism "landmark," but there is no more fitting word for characterizing two dismissals that happened in the pre-New Year's days: Sergei Chapnin from the position of managing editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate and Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin from the post of chairman of the synod's Department for Relations of Church and Society of the Moscow patriarchate.


Both dismissed individuals are different from one another in every way, including in views on the future of the church and Russian politics. But the ex-chairman and ex-editor have something in common: both are prominent public figures who regularly created problems for the hierarchy by their statements.


The occasion, but not the reason, for the dismissal of Sergei Chapnin was his December speech in the Moscow Carnegie Center. The managing editor of the chief official publication of the patriarchate said at the time that nowadays in the public space only the voice of Patriarch Kirill is heard, and any attempt to raise doubts about the primate's views on relations with the government, political system, and intra-church administration is taken as disloyalty and an attack on the foundations. The swift dismissal of the journalist, who had radically reformed and improved the previously boring, officious monthly, was a direct confirmation of the words he spoke.


Of course, Sergei Chapnin himself, with his calls not to follow in the wake of government policy and to give more independence to parishes and trust active laity, was inconvenient both to the hierarchy and (potentially) to the authorities, who treat with hostility any form of independent civic activism.


It would seem that Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, with his empire-building and his very sharp—at times even prevocational—statements on moral and ethical matters, should be, by contrast, to their liking. But he did not please the court and his departure is easily ascribed to the artless scheme described by Sergei Chapnin.


As regards Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill's official position completely conforms to the fictitious image created by the Kremlin of a purely domestic conflict that Russia has nothing to do with. The Kremlin's enthusiasm for the "Russian World" is now substantially weakened, if not completely vanished. The patriarch's rhetoric immediately changed accordingly.


The radicalism of Father Vsevolod's statements regarding the necessity of protecting the Russians of Ukraine conflicted with the now semi-official line on the quickly abandoned "Novorossia," and other recently fashionable nationalistic fantasies. Moreover, the general public, for whom Archpriest Chaplin was the most famous church figure after the patriarch, listening to him could think that this is the official view of the hierarchy.


To some degree this pertains also to matters of morality and ethics, on which the official church structures are not prepared to mount a serious challenge to the government. After all, in fact, Kremlin conservatism ends at the point where the views of the so-called "Putin majority" begin. It is prepared to take Orthodoxy as the native Russian faith, wear pectoral crosses, and march in processions of the cross on major feast days.


But just as soon as the subject is life in accordance with Christian teaching, this majority immediately desires to preserve the "triumphs" of the soviet era: divorces and abortions on demand, and it begins immediately complaining about the domination of priests, without taking off their crosses. And it is just this majority that is ready to be a bit stressed on television for the fate of Russians who are suffering from the mythical Ukraino-fascists but, with rare exceptions, has absolutely no desire to go and defend them by force of arms.


For church authorities it would seem that there is no particular difference between such diverse views of the disgraced priest and the disgraced editor. Both the one and the other are not prepared to adapt to the general line which, in its turn, too often depends directly upon the tactical considerations of the Kremlin.


The "liberal" Chapnin, who advocates that the church speak out more boldly in the public space, including on matters of Christian morality and ethics, turns out to be a more firm "conservative," in the generally accepted philosophical and political sense of the word, than many of his critics within the church. And the supposedly "conservative" Chaplin, who advocates for not quashing diversity within the Orthodox sphere, in this sense is expressing "liberal" positions.


This paradox is merely apparent. The hierarchy, that completely supports the Kremlin's policy, is now forced to deal with the consequences of the fiasco that this policy has suffered, in Ukraine, for example. In agreeing to participate in the ideological games of the presidential administration, it has put itself into a subordinate position and it must now play by rules it has not devised. The dismissals of Sergei Chapnin and Father Vsevolod Chaplin—however different—are illustrations of the serious crisis that the Russian church is experiencing and which is far from over. (tr. by PDS, posted 30 December 2015)


Russian original posted on site, 29 December 2015

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