As the head of the single largest Orthodox church, Kirill's desire to defend the special contribution of the Moscow patriarchate "to the common Orthodox witness before the modern world which is losing its spiritual and moral guidelines" is not reactionary nostalgia. Rather, it underscores his continued commitment to a shared supranational Orthodox identity.Read the rest here.
Nor is it accurate to brand him as a Russian neo-imperialist dressed in the clothes of religious piety. Like his predecessor Patriarch Alexy II, under whom he served as metropolitan in charge of ecumenical relations, Kirill has already improved ties with other Orthodox churches. Last summer, he opposed the creation of a new patriarchate in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, arguing that political independence is no reason for the South Ossetian Orthodox church to cut ties with the Georgian patriarchate. (Both the Moscow and the Georgian patriarchs spoke out publicly against the military conflict). Kirill's visit to the Ukraine is of a piece with the logic of Orthodox unity rather than an ill-conceived exercise in pro-Russian PR.
Key to a stronger pan-Orthodox identity is greater church autonomy from the state – Kirill's other key priority. In a sermon during his enthronement service attended by both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, he criticised the Russian government's response to the current economic downturn, enjoining the president to take bolder action and inveighing against the authorities for violating the standards of justice and righteousness.
Moreover, only a fortnight ago Kirill obtained guarantees from Russian politicians that the Moscow patriarchate would be allowed to preview all legislation considered in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament. This extraordinary agreement enables the church to examine proposed legislation and influence its outcome. Staunch secularists and atheists will be up in arms, but this is potentially a stunning reversal of the widely perceived subordination of the Orthodox church to the Russian state.
None of the patriarch's initiatives are uncontroversial, but the charge that he is the Kremlin's cleric simply doesn't wash. At 62, Kirill is relatively young and his patriarchal rule could last for a generation. Together with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople and others, he will seek to strengthen Orthodoxy against the forces of aggressive secularism and atheism and to affirm the autonomy of the church vis-à-vis the state without divorcing religion from politics.
Before anyone starts pointing out some of the factually dubious aspects of this column (like the tired 3rd Rome bit), yes I did take note of them. Still it's an interesting article that approaches some of the recent events from a perspective I had not considered. That said, I remain dubious about the wisdom of the Church being so closely tied to the State.