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By John Helmer, Moscow

How many angels can dance on a pin has been an issue of dispute among churchmen for several hundred years. If their livings depended on the credulity of believers, the question would not have lasted as long.

Even without divine intervention, the Russian Orthodox Church is a permanent motion machine in which the houses of worship, clergy, hierarchy, their state-subsidized assets and tax-free incomes,  grow robustly while the number of Russian church attenders and believers is dwindling below the 2% mark. The more the merrier for the fewer the merriest.

This is a paradox which the Russian Constitution instructs the political leadership of the country to be indifferent to. That’s because the Constitution insists  “the Russian Federation is a secular state” (Article 14),  and  “everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with other any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them” (Article 28). 

Naturally, Ukrainians don’t enjoy the benefits of the Russian Constitution unless they move across the border voluntarily, or because they have been obliged to flee for refuge from the war which the US launched with a coup d’etat in Kiev in February of 2014.  If the Ukrainians were fortunate enough to be protected by the Russian Constitution, there would be no problem for their priests to propose any religious belief they like, and appoint anyone to run their churches as they wish. But since they are foreigners without such a constitution, how is it possible that the Russian Church hierarchy, the Patriarch and Holy Synod, insist they have no such freedom at all — at least not the freedom to declare themselves independent of the authority of the Moscow Church and autocephalous, their churches headed by themselves?

Why did Putin instruct the Kremlin to announce at a meeting of his Security Council on October 12 that he and his prime minister,  foreign minister, defense minister,  and intelligence chiefs, “exchanged views on the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine after the Constantinople Patriarchate’s Synod had decided to launch the process of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church, revoking the Synodal Letter of the year 1686, which granted the right through oikonomia [management] to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev, and the statement on re-establishing the Stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kiev.”

Why then on October 18 did Putin declare  his personal “sympathies” on autocephaly  are with the Russian Church leadership in rejecting  the breakaway by  the Church leadership in Constantinople  and Kiev;  although at the same time Putin added his constitutional duty is “to ensure the opportunity for every person to express their position”?

In theological discourse there may be ample room on the heads of pins for angels to dance. In Russian politics the reason for Putin’s and the Security Council’s position on autocephaly is that they were being shifty.

They were also provoked into the October 12 “exchange of views” by a policy shift in Washington.  On September 13, the State Department said its policy was that “the United States is a staunch supporter of religious freedom, including the freedom of members of religious groups to govern their religion according to their tenets. We therefore believe any decision on [Ukrainian] autocephaly is an internal church matter.”  On September 25, the policy had changed.

According to a statement issued by the State Department spokesman,   “the United States strongly supports religious freedom, including the freedom of members of groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs and practice their faiths freely without government interference. The United States respects the ability of Ukraine’s Orthodox religious leaders and followers to pursue autocephaly according to their beliefs. We respect the Ecumenical Patriarch [of Constantinople] as a voice of religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.”

The secession of parts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, backed by the Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew I and by fewer than  a majority of other Orthodox leaders, has so far been decided administratively and politically. The Russian Church’s official account of what is happening emphasizes the “senseless and politically motivated decisions” which have produced the schism.  Read the Synod’s account in full here

A political solution – for example, a Crimean-model referendum of Ukrainian churchgoers and believers – is not an option which the clergy in Moscow, Kiev, or Constantinople have contemplated.   The reason is that,  so far as the Church in Moscow is concerned,  “the move of hierarche or clergy from the canonical Church [Moscow] to the schismatics [Kiev] or entering in the Eucharistic communion with the latter is a canonical crime.” The Russian Patriarch Kirill judges canonical criminals; he doesn’t trade votes with them.

The State Department endorsement of autocephaly also puts Ukrainian “followers” firmly in their place under “Ukraine’s Orthodox religious leaders”. Democracy was American policy for Ukrainian believers on September 13, but not now.

Secession is a political and constitutional term. The church term  autocephaly means “self-headed”; that’s to say a church which governs itself and whose ruling bishop isn’t appointed by or subordinate to a bishop elsewhere.  “Most Orthodox Churches are still used as pawns in purely political machinations” starts Andrei Raevsky (right) in his exegesis of the history, theology and politics of what is happening.  Raevsky is the publisher and principal writer of a Florida-based website called The Vineyard  of the Saker. He considers himself an expert on Orthodox doctrine, as well as a committed believer.  Raevsky claims that more than 13,000 readers have clicked to start his exposition on the schism.

Raevsky’s analysis is also political. “So let’s begin by stating the obvious: for all his lofty titles (“His Most Divine All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch“ no less!), the Patriarch of Constantinople…  is nothing but a puppet in the hands of the AngloZionist Empire. An ambitious and vain puppet for sure, but a puppet nonetheless. To imagine that the Uber-loser [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko would convince him to pick a major fight with the Moscow Patriarchate is absolutely laughable and totally ridiculous. Some point out that the Patriarch of Constantinople is a Turkish civil servant. While technically true, this does not suggest that Erdogan is behind this move either: right now Erdogan badly needs Russia on so many levels that he gains nothing and risks losing a lot by alienating Moscow. No, the real initiator of this entire operation is the AngloZionist Empire and, of course, the Papacy (which has always tried to create an ‘Orthodoxerein Ukraine’ from the ‘The Eastern Crusade’ and ‘Northern Crusades’ of Popes Innocent III and Gregory IX to the Nazi Ukraine of Bandera.”

Nnationalism is to be abhorred, according to Raevsky. “Nationalism, which itself is a pure product of West European secularism, is one of the most dangerous threats facing the Church today. During the 20th century it has already cost the lives of millions of pious and faithful Christians (having said that, this in no way implies that the kind of suicidal multiculturalism advocated by the degenerate leaders of the AngloZionist Empire today is any better!). And this is hardly a ‘Ukrainian’ problem (the Moscow Patriarchate is also deeply infected by the deadly virus of nationalism). Nationalism and ethno-phyletism are hardly worse than such heresies as Iconoclasm or Monophysitism/Monothelitism were in the past and those were eventually defeated. Like all heresies, nationalism will never prevail against the ‘Church of the living God’ which is the ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15) and while many may lapse, others never will.” 

In secular clock time and the short term, Raevsky is counting on the national power of the Russian Church to prevail.  In parallel, or later, “God”, according to Raevsky, “has the ability to turn even the worst horror into something which, in the end, will strengthen His Church.”

THE BALANCE OF POWER BETWEEN THE ORTHODOX PATRIARCHS


Source: http://thesaker.is/

For an analysis of the cash, assets, and power trading going on between the Orthodox leaders of Constantinople, Greece and the US, read the reporting by  Jim Jatras, an American of Greek Orthodox culture, who  has served in the State Department and the US Senate staff,  on the Republican side.  “If  the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly,” Jatras recently wrote, “the Greek archdiocese in the US is it.” 

Among Russians, identification with the Orthodox Church isn’t remotely the same thing as belief in God, attendance in church, saying daily prayers, paying tithes, or accepting the authority of the bishops, the synod and the patriarch of the Church. This US-funded opinion poll of last year demonstrated that identification as Orthodox Christian in the traditional Eastern Christian world is much more a national and cultural identification than a religious one.


Source: http://www.pewforum.org/

The official publications of the Moscow patriarchate emphasize the numbers of dioceses, churches, clergy, and monasteries. In a public report by Patriarch Kirill last November, the number of dioceses was given as 303, an increase of 10 over the year before; 144 more than in 2009. The number of churches, according to Kirill, was 36,878, growing an annual rate of 4%. The number of clergy he put at 39,414, growing at 1.3% per annum.

In June of this year a comprehensive summary of statistics on Orthodox “followers”, as the State Department calls them, found that religious practice among Russians is declining, and that the real numbers of churchgoers is minuscule – less than 2% of the Russian population attends annual Christmas church services; less than 4% at Easter services; less than 1% participate in other religious practices.

Source: http://sergeiivanov.blogspot.com/

According to Sergei Ivanov, “the overwhelming majority of those who consider themselves to be ‘Orthodox’ do not really consider themselves religious people, and a third of  the ‘Orthodox’ do not believe in God at all.  Modern ‘Orthodoxy’ is mainly perceived, not as a matter of faith, but as a way of national belonging.  For the vast majority of the ‘Orthodox’ the issue of compliance with the rules of the Orthodox Church does not, practically speaking, arise.  They do not strive for precise fulfillment of important Church regulations, such as fasting, regular attendance at worship and communion.   With the increase in the number of churches and temples, the number of their parishioners does not increase.”

Putin’s religiosity has been confirmed in many biographies and in his own account  of his mother’s arrangement for his baptism as a child and for the crucifix he continues to wear. Putin’s political and financial support of Kirill’s schemes, including the bail-out of the Church’s serial bank failures and frauds, has been documented here.   The record of St. Petersburg citizen opposition to the conversion  of St. Isaac’s Cathedral from state museum to Church property reveals Putin and other state officials declaring  their neutrality towards religion in public, while giving Kirill, Varsonofy, Tikhon and other bishops what they wanted in private.  If votes and constitutional rights counted in St. Petersburg, Kirill would not have succeeded in his takeover of St. Isaac’s; for details, click to read.


Left: Metropolitan Tikhon (Georgy Shevkunov) with President Putin; Tikhon has been reported to be Putin’s confessor.  For more on Tikhon’s lobbying of Putin for religious (and monarchical) causes, read this. Right: the September 25 change of US policy in support of Ukrainian autocephaly.

The week after the Kremlin issued its endorsement of the Russian Church’s opposition to Ukrainian autocephaly, the Kremlin press office agreed with Tikhon that he would attend Putin’s meeting with the Valdai Discussion Club and publicly address a question to Putin on the issue. Tikhon had not  participated in the Valdai Club proceedings before.  Follow the session here.

The church conflict was mentioned before Tikhon rose to ask his question, but Putin ignored the prompt.  Instead, he condemned “caveman nationalism”.  

Tikhon’s question was worded ambiguously:  “We are all aware that the state will not regulate culture in a rough or intrusive way, and this is probably absolutely correct. But can the state deliberately support all those creative and historical spiritual and cultural keynote dominants that have developed in Russia, something we call spiritual and cultural values?”

Putin replied: “I think the state must do this very carefully by allowing people with different outlooks to work out their own views, express them and compete, let us say, with your views. It may seem surprising for me to say that, but I think this is the way it is. My sympathies certainly lie with you, but as a state official, I still think it is my duty to ensure the opportunity for every person to express their position.”

 

 

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