Chaplin's dismissal raises question of who is a real conservative


by Anatoly Stepanov

Russkaia Narodnaia Liniia, 26 December 2015


It has now been several days that the topic of the dismissal of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin from the office of chairman of the synod's Department for Relations of Church and Society has not disappeared from the front pages of the most diverse news media, mostly liberal, which ordinarily thirst for a scandal.


Orthodox and conservative publications have been either silent or have given modest commentaries which is explained in the main by the fact that Father Vsevolod took, to put it mildly, an incorrect position with regard to the difficulties that have befallen him.


Meanwhile, the editorial offices of the Russkaia Narodnaia Liniia have been called or written to by many of our readers, friends, and colleagues, who expect from us some commentary, considering the fact that in recent time we have actively supported the activity of Father Vsevolod Chaplin. We did not want to make such commentaries while the topic was hot, but now two days have passed and the situation has more or less clarified, and thus there is a need to indicate our position.


To understand the situation it is first of all necessary to note that Father Vsevolod Chaplin was not simply the director of the synod's Department for Relations of Church and Society, but within the circles of the Orthodox community (overwhelmingly conservative and patriotic in the majority) Father Vsevolod was seen as a representative (and even the head) of the conservative wing of the Russian church. And considering his proximity to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, this was taken by us as a definitive signal from the very top of the church. We supposed that Patriarch Kirill blessed one of his trusted people who had worked with him for a long time and who was a member not simply of the inner circle but who was most authorized to support contacts and communications with the conservative part of the Orthodox community. We took this signal and tried to render the most active help and support to Father Vsevolod.


Of course, we did not construct illusions as to the personal views and preferences of Father Vsevolod Chaplin, who always spoke out publicly as a person of liberal views. He expressed his views publicly for a long time in the church. Moreover, it was Father Vsevolod, who already was the director of the synod's Department for Relations of Church and Society, who stood behind the arrangement of the outrageous exhibition of post-modernist artists in the foyer of the church of St. Tatiana in Moscow State University titled "Ambiguity/Dialogue," which was subjected to criticism first by Russkaia Narodnaia Liniia and then by the influential Orthodox radio station Radonezh, where authoritative priests and influential laity spoke out against it. In the end, the exhibit had to close and the Russkaia Narodnaia Liniia then received from one of the organizers of the exhibit, the artist Gor Chakhal, the caustic nickname "Chukchi scribbling."


However it seemed to us that after this incident Father Vsevolod Chaplin sincerely tried to master the conservative discourse, supporting many initiatives of the Orthodox community in the area of combating juvenile justice and the introduction of all sorts of damaging liberal innovations in the system of education and on other matters. I acknowledge frankly that there arose among us the illusion that Father Vsevolod had changed from being a liberal to a conservative, under the influence of the spirit of the time and the changing social atmosphere. It now has become clear that this was really an illusion, and that Father Vsevolod in the depth of his soul remained a liberal person that, of course, cannot but be regretted.


Now I do not intend (like, I think, all my associates) to use the moment to gloat about the disgraced church bureaucrat. Moreover, I think that we should give Father Vsevolod his due. He really did a great deal for support of the parental and anti-juvenile movement in Russia and he gave strong support to many projects advanced by the community. We recall how he addressed patriotic rallies and conferences and supported our initiatives. One could always turn to him with various projects and receive at least verbal support.


Moreover, in connection with the dismissal of Father Vsevolod many raise the question, including the editors of Russkaia Narodnaia Liniia, what will the future be, who will deal with those subjects, who in the church will provide support to the Orthodox community in the struggle against juvenile justice and sex education of schoolchildren and other "achievements" of modern western democracy. It is reasonable to suggest that this will be dealt with by the leader of the synod's Department for Relations of the Church with the News Media, and now with society, Vladimir Legoida. Therefore we, the Orthodox public, expect that Vladimir Romanivich will appear atop those new tasks which are posed by the department that has now expanded its functions, and he will as actively communicate with representatives of the Orthodox community as did Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin.


The situation of the dismissal of Father Vsevolod Chaplin, which acquired a controversial character because of his statements in the liberal news media in recent days, in my view, should be divided into two separate topics. First, there is the reason for the dismissal of Father Vsevolod Chaplin. Second, there is the reason for his inappropriate conduct after the publication of the Holy Synod's decision, which he displayed fully in the days immediately after his dismissal.


With regard to the reason for his dismissal, two versions have been voiced. The first version was expressed in the decision of the Holy Synod. It is well known: the dismissal of Father Vsevolod was due to the reorganization of church structures and the merger of two departments, the Information Department and the Department of Relations of Church and Society, which aimed at improving the efficiency of work. It cannot be said that this explanation was without foundation. Actually, both the Information Department and the Department for Relations of Church and Society overlapped to a great extent in their activity, and from the organizational point of view the decision was fully logical. However, there is serious doubt that the hierarchy was guided by this view in taking this decision.


The second interpretation is offered by Father Vsevolod Chaplin himself. It is connected with the fact that recently he has developed disagreement with the policy of His Holiness the patriarch, that His Holiness has not listened to his advice, and that administrative decisions have been made by the patriarch in haste, without taking into account collegial opinion, which should be understood as the opinion of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin himself. This interpretation must remain on the conscience of Father Vsevolod, since we do not have any insider information. But in my view Father Vsevolod is speaking about real matters and he only is interpreting them in his favor.


The reality is that he was previously one of the closest, and perhaps the very closest, person to Patriarch Kirill, considering their long-term work together. But the situation changed greatly after Metropolitan Kirill became patriarch, and there changed correspondingly not only his status but there also had to change the hierarchy of relations. Relatively speaking, Father Vsevolod did not want to admit that his close friend had become the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, and accordingly he had to change his relationship to His Holiness.


We can recall a similar situation from our history when "Koba" was transformed into "Comrade Stalin," and several comrades in the party did not notice this, for which they later paid. I think that something similar has occurred in this case. Father Vsevolod's claims to be some kind of chief advisor to His Holiness the patriarch clashed with the new reality, and they could not be adequately perceived by the primate (it is amazing that the patriarch tolerated this situation so long). This was, as I understand it, the basis for the conflict, and Father Vsevolod himself was guilty for it, as he did not wish to admit the new reality.


Of course, the dismissal of Father Vsevolod had more immediate causes, which he regularly provided by his passion for harsh expression, sharp statements, and explicit comments. We have often heard quite revolutionary statements from Father Vsevolod, which we reacted to with sadness, but we tried not to give them any signification, hoping that this was a matter of growth. This is how one should take his declaration about the operation of Russian armed forces in Syria as a "holy war," which created supposedly very serious problems for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Or his declaration bordering on provocation of support in the name of the church of a righteous struggle in the Donbass against the fascist regime in Kiev, which played into the hands of the Ukrainian autocephalists with a serious weapon for schism of the Russian church. But all of this, in my view, is still the occasion and not the cause of the dismissal. Of course, occasions accumulate and influence the making of the decision.


One should also speak about a version of the dismissal as a "kind of special operation" supposedly previously agreed upon by Patriarch Kirill and Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin. This account was proposed by one of the closest persons to the former head of the department of relations of church and society, the publicist Kirill Frolov. He maintains that contrary to what Father Vsevolod himself says, there are no differences between the patriarch and Father Chaplin, and that now Father Vsevolod will be able to speak out more directly on critical matters on which the patriarch himself cannot speak frankly because of his position. As usual, haste and striving to please everyone have played a bad joke on Frolov.  It turns out that Father Vsevolod will express what the patriarch thinks on the unacceptability of "merger of state and church," and on the situation in the Donbass (it is these points that Father Chaplin himself stressed in his interviews as a point of difference). Therefore K. Frolov's statement seems very ambiguous, which the enemies of the church stress.


Now on the reasons for Father Vsevolod's conduct after he was dismissed: One Russkaia Narodnaia Liniia reader called me and said that he regrets the uproar, and he posed a completely rhetorical question: could Father Vsevolod not announce a withdrawal for a month or two, refusing to comment, so that afterward in calm circumstances he could return to action and explain the current situation. I answered that in that case he would not be Father Vsevolod Chaplin. This is how an Orthodox clergyman must act.


Alas, Father Vsevolod responded to the unpleasant news of his dismissal in an extremely inappropriate way. Obviously he did not expect such a decision, although much evidence now says that this decision was prepared long ago. But he obviously considered that his former service gave him carte blanche and that the patriarch will protect him. I saw Father Vsevolod yesterday and on the very day of the removal at round tables in the Public Chamber of Russia. It seemed to me that he was absolutely calm, and he figgeted as usual but was not bothered by anxiety or sorrow.


When it became clear that the patriarch intended not to endure any more, the dismissed archpriest was not able to restrain his anger and he began outrageous interviews on the right and on the left, that exacerbated the situation daily. The most "frost-bitten" were with liberal publications.


Well, what can one say? One can only sigh and regret. Regret that Father Vsevolod does not see that by his provocative statements he has wounded not only himself and the authority of the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, but also of the whole church. Only the blind does not see with what joy all sorts of liberal figures receive the outrageous statements of the form directied by a synodal department. Only Father Vsevolod Chaplin does not see.


This is the tragedy of Father Vsevolod, who has not maintained the height of church ministry to which he was appointed by the hierarchy. But this also is a lesson for us all, that we not forget the words of the apostle: "Take care how you live, not as unwise but as wise" (Eph. 5. 15).   (tr. by PDS, posted 30 December 2015)


Russian original posted on site, 30 December 2015

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