(Forbes) The Orthodox patriarchate is a bulwark of autocracy.The installation of Kirill I as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church last month will not end the subordination of the church to the Putin regime. On the contrary, the church is likely to emerge as an even stronger supporter of dictatorship and anti-Western ideology.
Kirill, who was the Metropolitan of Smolensk, succeeds Alexei II who died in December after 18 years as head of the Russian Church. According to material from the Soviet archives, Kirill was a KGB agent (as was Alexei). This means he was more than just an informer, of whom there were millions in the Soviet Union. He was an active officer of the organization. Neither Kirill nor Alexei ever acknowledged or apologized for their ties with the security agencies.
As head of the church’s department of foreign church relations, Kirill gained the reputation of a relatively enlightened church leader. He met with Pope Benedict, and he has been attacked by church conservatives for “ecumenism.”
More important than his contacts with Catholics, however, has been Kirill’s support for a new Russian ideology based on the denial of human rights. At the 10th meeting of the World Russian People’s Council–an international public organization headed by the patriarch, in Moscow, on April 4, 2006–Kirill accused human rights leaders in the West of “dictatorially” forcing societies to accept the right to engage in gambling, euthanasia and homosexuality.
The Council said that there are values “that stand no lower than human rights.” These are “faith, morality, sacred places and homeland.” When these values contradict the realization of human rights, “the society and government and law should harmoniously combine them.” How this could be done was not made clear but, according to the Council, it is impossible to tolerate a situation in which human rights “threatened the existence of the motherland.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn lent his support to Kirill’s remarks. In an interview on May 4, 2006, he said that “unlimited rights are exactly what our cave dwelling ancestor had. Nothing could stop him from snatching meat from his neighbor and finishing him off with a big stick.” He said that what was needed were not human rights but “human obligations.”
Solzhenitsyn, of course, was in error. “Rights” exist in relation to a government, so cavemen did not have human rights, let alone “unlimited” human rights. At the same time, the place of rights cannot be taken by obligations. Rights exist as a counterpoise to the obligations imposed by society. To eliminate rights in favor of obligations is to destroy higher moral authority, leaving the individual defenseless before the power of the state.
On the day after his accession to the Patriarchy, Kirill elaborated on his ideas for “harmoniously” combining the demands of the state and human rights. He said that he wanted to base church-state relations on the Byzantine concept of “symphonia,” in which a distinction is drawn between the imperial authority and the priesthood, with the former concerned with human affairs and the latter with matters divine. The two are regarded as closely interdependent, and neither is subordinated to the other.
Church scholars have pointed out that there is no example of symphonia successfully defining church-state relations in our times, and the recent history of the Russian Orthodox church indicates that, faced with the power of the Kremlin, it has no interest in becoming a moral force.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the church received official privileges including the right to import duty-free alcohol and tobacco. In 1995, the Nikolo-Ugreshky Monastery, which is directly subordinated to the patriarchate, earned $350 million from the sale of alcohol. The patriarchate’s department of foreign church relations, which Kirill ran, earned $75 million from the sale of tobacco. But the patriarchate reported an annual budget in 1995-1996 of only $2 million. Kirill’s personal wealth was estimated by the Moscow News in 2006 to be $4 billion.
During this period, the church has been silent about genuine moral issues, such as Russia’s pervasive corruption and the indiscriminate killing of noncombatants in Chechnya. As Kirill begins his reign as patriarch, there is little reason to expect this to change.
Yakov Krotov, a liberal Russian Orthodox priest, recently compared Kirill to a “court Jew,” like Peter Shafirov, the foreign policy aide to Peter the Great. The role of the court Jew, according to Krotov, is to put a civilized face on a repressive system.
Since 1994, Kirill has hosted a weekly Orthodox television program on the main state television channel. He is widely regarded as intelligent, “Western oriented” and personally charming. In this way, according to Krotov, he fits the description of a court Jew. But, writes Krotov, a court Jew can never become an emperor. The elevation of a man with Kirill’s qualities demonstrates that the ruler of the Moscow Patriarchy remains not the patriarch but the Kremlin.
David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.