Opinion: Why Can’t Patriarch Kirill Capitalize on Secular Opposition?

Over the past four weeks, the Moscow Patriarchate and Patriarch Kirill have been under unprecedented levels of verbal and other criticism from the secular media and organizations. In most countries, this sort of opposition to religious leaders is an opportunity to form a united front in what is popularly termed “the culture war” between the secular, which aims to reduce spirituality and religion to irrelevance, and the religious, which usually aspires to, if not theocracy, some level of privilege in the modern secular state. While in this case, the Patriarchate has made no small attempt to capitalize on this opposition, ranging from organized, bused rallies to calling for days of prayer to defend Russia from the assaults of secularism, there is little real success. An objective analysis of the reasons behind this reveal not only the nature of what True Orthodox refer to as the heresy of Sergianism, but also popular revulsion at this particular heresy.

Even this past week, Patriarch Kirill found himself accosted by a topless feminist protester in Ukraine. While Ukraine is by all definitions a secular country, the overwhelming majority are either Orthodox or Roman Catholic, both parties who would find such a display utterly offensive. So where are the large-scale expressions of moral outrage? Some can argue that this due to the relative importance of the leader in question, and therefore that such displays are to be expected. Yet we can see in the case of the Ecumenical Patriarch, such moral outrage can be easily turned against the Turkish government to its advantage. So the argument that because this is a high-ranking official Orthodox leader, such protests are typical and to be ignored is relatively weak. If people felt outrage they would express it, as in the latter case.

The real reason is because Patriarch Kirill, a satisfied and loyal former employee of the Soviet apparatus, who used his connections and business acumen after the fall of communism to make himself a billionaire (as a monk) still maintains his connections to the Putin administration to make use of government power against regular people. The fact is that in Ukraine the aforementioned protester was sentenced to 15 days in jail for such an indecent display can now be reasonably compared to the now very-conspicuous case– in Kirill’s Russia– of a three members of a feminist group which will spend most of 2012 and part of 2013 in jail for entering the Christ the Savior Cathedral altar and singing a vulgar song while fully clothed. This has become painfully obvious for the Patriarchate as it continues to try to justify itself– in response to media criticism swirling around the fact that Kirill wears a $30,000 watch while claiming to be a friend to the people, organized rallies “in support of the Patriarch” were held with thousands bused in from throughout Russia (one imagines, a substantial portion of the active membership of the Moscow Patriarchate presence in Russia) while Kirill told his followers “we are under attack by persecutors”– meaning people who disagreed with the Moscow Patriarchate.

It doesn’t surprise anyone, therefore, that this sort of technique– busing supporters into rallies, reminiscent of the old Soviet union, where factory workers would get a paid day to ride a bus and rally for the government– to display popular support actually caused dismay in Russia. The fact that this technique is still used by the Putin administration makes it all the more pathetic. The Russian people responded when another rally was called after the Patriarchate pushed to extend the feminists’ jail time–   this time only 300 people showed at a “defend the Patriarch” rally, the majority of them bused in from other cities. In Moscow. A city of 11 million– where the majority claim to be part of the MP– could produce only 100 or so supporters of Patriarch Kirill.  It is clear that insofar as Kirill is viewed not solely as subservient to, but as a cooperative partner of the current regime in power in Russia, that any “spiritual authority” he has is compromised. Unfortunately, as with the apparently tone-deaf leadership in the Kremlin, the fact that more people despise than love the “Patriarch” and what he really stands for doesn’t seem to altogether bother him, as long as he retains the power to jail people.

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