Editorial: The “True Russian Orthodox Church” Setup

Joseph Suaiden

Thanks to Pyotr Kuznetsov (whose ultimate fate is unknown– will he suddenly return to the Patriarchate or commit suicide?) and a group of people who decided to live in a cave until May of this year, things are finally back to normal in the Moscow Patriarchate.

This winter, the world was treated to a rare occurrence– a group of Russian sectarians who holed themselves up in a man-made cave, claiming that the end of the world would occur in May. The world was, in almost a planned fashion, introduced to the sect as “the True Russian Orthodox Church”. The media blared headlines repeatedly and hammered the name over and over. The bizarre sect which strangely had no Bishop, and no priest besides the aforementioned Pyotr Kuznetsov, suddenly was all over the media worldwide as the “True Russian Orthodox Church”.

This also gave the Moscow Patriarchate a chance to show that they were “the good guys” against the trigger-happy state police when it came to “ignorant people” who should not be called “sect members”, asking the police to not attack the cave in the name of the Church. Only a person with a limited education of the religious situation in Russia (read: your average American news watcher) could not help but become suspicious of the Patriarchate’s behavior.

The more cynical of those who get what’s actually occurring in Russia, like myself, saw it as a double win for the Patriarchate, no matter how it ended: (1) they were able to use the media to their ends to label various catacomb clergy and hierarchs operating in Russia with the same name as a sect operating from a cave (2) they were able to look benevolent in the face of previous behavior and not a single property was lost in the deal. I’ll cover each of these for a moment.

(1) The power of labels. In Russia, a number of well-known Orthodox bodies outside the Moscow Patriarchate exist, such as the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (Metr. Valentine) and the Russian True-Orthodox Church (Abp. Tikhon) that continue to grow daily as more people try to flee the Patriarchate. Many catacomb bodies have used the term “true Russian Orthodox” for many years, while the Patriarchate has labelled these people as “sectarians”. The advent (and sudden collapse) of this group was a boon for the Patriarchate, which finally had a picture to point to the world of who these “enemies of the people” were: a group of lunatics living in a cave.

(2) Looking good in the face of recent behavior. Just within the past five years, there are dozens of documented cases of the Patriarchate trying to destroy parishes of the true Russian Orthodox (not the people living in the cave, but the actual Churches) and steal their properties by force or by forgery. This was a golden opportunity. Not only could the Patriarchate say “oh, we don’t want to see those poor people get hurt,” they were legally guaranteed not to potentially lose more than a cave. I can only imagine that had these people holed up in a nice Church, the Moscow Patriarchate would have changed its tune significantly.

Forget about ROCOR issuing a clarification. In the throes of joy surrounding the union, they’ve strangely forgotten about the fact that they directly and indirectly created many of these “sects” since most have their origin in ROCOR.

As the Bishops’ Council of the Moscow Patriarchate opens, we’ve already seen the Patriarch using the coded language of Soviet days (an analysis of the whole speech would be a worthwhile task for its own article): beginning with talk of “apocalyptic sects”, a bugbear of sectarian madness smelling of a cave, which even Reuters had noticed was a transparent way of letting would-be traditionalists know their place if they get too loud during the council. And today, Metr Kirill is spouting off his ecumenist doctrine again and proudly, openly declaring what is canonically forbidden as now “kosher” for Orthodox Christians (see here). Meanwhile in the rest of World Orthodoxy, more and more people believe that people like Archbishop Tikhon of Omsk are connected to the cave-dwellers and that they simply formed independently, forgetting that there have been whole catacomb hierarchies since 1927.

In other words, thanks to the actions of a group of people who spent the winter in a cave, the Moscow Patriarchate is finally back to normal.

Good old Soviet normal.