Russia: The Russian Orthodox Church Re-Enters Politics

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.

The Russian Orthodox Church has made an entrance into Russia's current political situation through the contrasting speeches of two church officials – one called for war, the other for peace.

Global Voices put today's religious climate in Russia in its historical context in a December 2011 post entitled, “Holy Relic Visits a Nation Emerging from State-Sponsored Atheism”:

Kievan Rus adopted Christianity in the late 10th century from the Byzantine Empire, and for almost a millennium until the early 20th century, when the Romanov Dynasty was overthrown and a communist government was put in its place, Russia was among the most devout nations in the world. During the eight decades of communism, religion was discouraged and a new moral code was instituted based on respect for the working class. When the Soviet Union fell and the communist sense of morality no longer had as many proponents, Russians were tasked with deciding for themselves what they thought about spirituality and religion.

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for Church and Society, incited outrage with his speech, which was published by Interfax on January 5. News portal quoted [ru] Chaplin's speech in a text entitled, “Chaplin: Russia Should Not Fear War”:

Russia should increase its military presence in all regions, where “people are asking for protection against ‘orange’ experiments and various kinds of color revolutions.” […] “Even if Russia should be involved in the fighting, this should not be feared today. The army finally has to be given a real job. [‘Online hamsters‘] could easily be sent to the combat forces. Those of them who manage to survive will, perhaps, become human beings,” said Chaplin.

“Russia is losing its political will, precisely because it does not participate in full force in world political processes. We now have sent ships to the shores of Syria – this is good, but it should be just the beginning. In all the places where people are concerned about the danger of “color” experiments over one or another nation, Russia may well be present, including the military, full-scale, even if it means participating in the hostilities. And in these activities should be involved all the males of our nation, including those pathetic ‘hamsters,’ who apparently can only be fixed when they are faced with a real man's job, a military job,” said [Chaplin].

The comments that followed were uniformly concerned with the militaristic nature of Chaplin's words.


The churchmen, after the communist breeding, certainly ceased to be human.


And you're shouting, Jihad! Jihad!

Orthodox Christmas in a Moscow church. Photo by Anton Belitsky, copyright © Demotix (07/01/10).

Orthodox Christmas in a Moscow church. Photo by Anton Belitsky, copyright © Demotix (07/01/10).

By contrast, the Christmas speech given by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church called for patience and humility in political matters. Voices from Russia posted a translation of a Russian-language article [ru] that quoted the Christmas television interview:

In response to the debate on the outcome of the elections to the [Russian Duma], Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias urged all to show wisdom in calling for a dialogue between the government and society in Russia. In a Christmas interview on the TV channel Russia-1 that aired on Saturday His Holiness said, “People should be able to express their disagreement, but they shouldn’t yield to provocations and destroy the country, for we’ve reached the limits of keeping one another at arms length… those in authority should hold a thorough dialogue and listen, to put society on the right course, and, then, all will be well for us”. In Patriarch Kirill’s opinion, each person in a free society has the right to express their views, including opposition to the actions of the authorities, saying, “If people are deprived of this right, they perceive it as a restriction of liberty, it’s very painful… but we must show wisdom in doing it.”

Patriarch Kirill then placed the recent protests surrounding the Dec. 4 elections in their historical context by urging Russians both in and out of power to not repeat the mistakes of the past:

Drawing a historical parallel, the patriarch suggested, “If the demonstrations prior to the 1917 Revolution had ended in peaceful protests, not being followed by a bloody revolution and fratricidal war, today, Russia would have more than 300 million people and would be on the same level as the USA in terms of economic development, or even higher. We weren’t able to maintain our balance and we lost our heads. We destroyed our country. Why did this happen? To put it simply, political forces seeking power very cleverly used the just protests of the people”. […] Patriarch Kirill believed that the task of the present day is “to protest in the right way, which would then lead to a correction of policy. That’s the main thing. If the government is insensitive to the expression of protest, that’s a very bad sign.”

Russia Blog posted an essay last month written by Bruce Chapman entitled “Church Joins Public Protests of Vote Fraud,” which explained why overt actions taken by modern Russian religious figures are remarkable:

The existence of free speech and freedom of assembly actually may be honored more now by the Putin regime than in recent years. Evidence is the way the whacky assertion of Mr. Putin that Hillary Clinton had inspired the protest demonstrations was laughed down. There even were nightclub routines making fun of it, and finally President Medvedev allowed that the protests are home grown. Also lending credibility to the protests, one sees the remarkable story that the Russian Orthodox Church now feels confident enough to praise the protesters. Anywhere in the West, that would hardly be news (churches love protests of government), but it's a novelty in Russia and, paradoxically, suggests a liberalizing of the regime. After all, in a fully controlled society the Church wouldn't dare raise its voice.

The Russian Interior Ministry announced [ru] that over 2 million Russians had taken part in the Christmas celebrations in over 8,000 temples throughout the country. Some bloggers emphasized the theological elements of the Patriarch's speech rather than the political. Moscow residents Kyle Keeton and his wife Svetlana posted a video on their blog of Patriarch Kirill as he explained the meaning of Christmas:

The meaning of Christmas is that God is not somewhere far, God is not who the ancients feared, God wished to become man, and He came to the world and really became man. What does this mean for us, for mankind? It means that if God is here with us, it is easy to ask for His help.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.


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