Protestant legal scholar faults Orthodox Church


Head of RPTs does not see a need for human rights for the Russian people

by Roman Lunkin

NG-Religiia, 17 May 2017


A large quantity of mutual grievances and claims have accumulated between the Russian Church and society. Suffice it to recall that people destroyed church buildings and church leaders were an organic part of the deceitful and hypocritical soviet system, no matter how it may be justified. However Russian society does not have, in the sphere of ideology, anything that is so connected with presoviet history as the church. Therefore they cannot live without one another. Just like in every family where grievances have accumulated, conflict arises even over an unemptied trash can. The case of the Ekaterinburg blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky has become such a case in the relations between Orthodoxy and society.


The teenager's provocation became the occasion for a sermon by Patriarch Kirill at the Butovo Polygon on 13 May about inner and external freedom. Besides the rather esoteric affirmation that the church prevents "mind control," the head of the RPTs clearly declared that he does not see any value in human rights: "Today it is considered impermissible to restrict external human freedom, and if that happens somewhere, then everybody is indignant and talks about violation of human rights and even of the necessity of changing political regimes. . . . They try to explain to us that it is necessary to live by definite rules and then no one will infringe on our human rights. But these rules spiritually enslave a person and form such a consciousness that he becomes a slave without realizing his slavery." And although the denial of democracy and the statement about the relativity of rights and freedoms has long been a part of Patriarch Kirill's worldview (as noted in the Social Concept of the RPTs of the year 2000), now his words, independent of the "Sokolovsky case," sound like the church's unwillingness to live according to written law.


Since the RPTs is a diverse organism, it cannot be said that absolutely the whole church thinks like Patriarch Kirill. To a great extent, the role of the authority that corrects statements of the primate and bishops is fulfilled by the synodal Department for Relations of Church and Society and News Media. For example, in the course of the discussion of the anniversary of the revolution of 1917 there appeared statements to the effect that "the intelligentsia was guilty of everything" (Patriarch Kirill), "nothing needs to be discussed and liberals were guilty of everything (Alexander Shchipkov, deputy head of the Department for Relations of Church and Society and News Media), which were mitigated by the statement of the head of the department, Vladimir Legoida: "We should stop accusing one another." In the "case of the Pokemon hunter," Legoida's department also took a conciliatory position, distancing the church from the conflict (statement of department employee Vakhtang Kipshidze).


To a substantial degree, church-society dustups are based on inconsistencies and deep complexes. After the announcement of a suspended sentence for Sokolovsky, it was inconvenient for the RPTs to say that it was the church that initiated this trial, since that contradicts the regular declarations by spokesmen of the patriarchate about separation from the state. Meanwhile, according to a document published by Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev, an appeal of 15 August 2016 to the prosecutor of Sverdlovsk province was sent on the letterhead of the Ekaterinburg diocese of the RPTs, signed not by an individual person but by the diocesan council and advisor to the ruling bishop for legal matters, priest Viktor Yavich.


In addition, it is extremely difficult for the Russian Church to acknowledge that within its ranks there also are people who behave like the blogger Sokolovsky or whose ideas are comparable to his youthful maximalism. Orthodox leaders declare that one may beat women (Archpriest Andrei Tkachev), may beat "sectarians" with sticks (Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov), it is necessary to forbid going to supermarkets on Sundays and to burn heretical literature (Metropolitan Ilarion Alfeev), and that critics of the church will die a terrible death (Metropolitan of Krasnoyarsk Panteleimon). In a whole series of cases, heads of dioceses apply dictatorial administrative methods when they can. Conflicts over museums and prohibitions of theatrical productions are connected with the fact that bishops are not in a position to realize their own personal grievance or indignation in any other ways, without leaving their own quarters and the governor's office. It is not ruled out that the event in Ekaterinburg is directly connected with the expressions of the public at large against the construction of a "Church on the Waters" in the center of the city. The "blogger case" shows that in the future it is necessary to be more cautious both with posters and with aggressive statements against the diocese.


And what happens for society? Among the critical voices against the church leadership there predominates the demands to observe the laws of a secular state, to display mercy, to be tolerant, and to speak the truth. Explicit hostility to the Orthodox Church and atheist positions are extremely marginalized. They are expressed clearly by Alexander Nevzorov and Vladimir Pozner. For many liberals the wave of church-society conflicts is the occasion for a yet greater secularization. For example, the economist Vladislav Inozemtsev posted on his web page an article about the closing of churches and the departure of clergy from the church in 1958, when the RPTs was required to pay taxes, with the inscription: "Can it be repeated?"


It is quite obvious that the church, like any other civil institution, may file lawsuits and sue for getting church construction and the return of church buildings. Where did such a painful reaction to the actions of the RPTs come from? Society is frustrated with the way the church, as it sees it, by the words and deeds of bishops partly does not know just what true Orthodoxy is, and partly does not wish to know and to see its own ideal. This is like urges toward a holy man, whom you cannot do without, but who in response to your contradictory questions calls for the police and prosecutor's office.


About the author: Roman Nikolaevich Lunkin is the director of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences. (tr. by PDS, posted May 18, 2017)

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