Rus­sia’s tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal cul­ture re­turns

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY HENRY SRE­BRNIK Henry Sre­brnik Henry Sre­brnik is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

In the Rus­sian movie Leviathan, re­leased in 2014, the cor­rupt mayor of a town con­spires to ex­pro­pri­ate the land on which a lo­cal worker’s house stands.

A se­ries of tragic events en­sue, and in the end, the house is torn down and the mayor’s project is re­vealed: a lav­ish Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church for his friend the lo­cal Rus­sian Ortho­dox bishop has been built on the site. The film con­cludes with a ser­mon by the bishop, with the mayor in at­ten­dance.

It’s a mi­cro­cosm of how things work in post-Com­mu­nist Rus­sia. Once again, we see the unity of church and state.

Un­like the tra­di­tion in the Ro­man Catholic lands in Europe, where the “two swords” the­ory sep­a­rated the tem­po­ral and ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal spheres of a king­dom, the East­ern Ortho­dox tra­di­tion that emerged in Byzan­tium, known as cae­saropa­pism, united them.

This doc­trine com­bines the power of gov­ern­ment with the spir­i­tual in­flu­ence of the Church. Hence there is lit­tle po­lit­i­cal space for the hi­er­ar­chy to op­pose the ruler.

The Rus­sian state in­her­ited this form of gov­er­nance in me­dieval times. And with the col­lapse of Com­mu­nism, it has re-emerged. In Vladimir Putin’s post-Soviet Rus­sia, there has been a spec­tac­u­lar as­cen­dancy of the once-pow­er­ful Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church.

Putin sup­ports the Church’s ef­forts to re­claim prop­er­ties that were na­tion­al­ized by the Com­mu­nists, and to re­strict the ac­tiv­i­ties of for­eign mis­sion­ar­ies, both Catholic and Protes­tant.

The lower house of par­lia­ment, the State Duma, in­cludes a Com­mit­tee on Property Af­fairs. Its chair, Sergei Gavrilov, is also Co­or­di­na­tor of the State Duma’s Inter-Fac­tional Group for the De­fence of Chris­tian Val­ues.

In re­turn, the “Pa­tri­arch of Moscow and all Rus­sia,” Kyrill, the pri­mate of the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church, has given his en­thu­si­as­tic back­ing to the mil­i­tary as the guar­an­tor of the in­tegrity of “Holy Rus­sia.”

How­ever, in the now-in­de­pen­dent Ukraine, its new Ukrainian Ortho­dox Church — Kyiv Pa­tri­ar­chate, as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Uni­ate) Church which is in com­mu­nion with Rome, both now serve as the re­li­gious wings of their state.

The Kyiv Pa­tri­ar­chate sep­a­rated from the Ukrainian Ortho­dox Church of the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate in 1992, a year af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, as that body re­mained un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church in Moscow.

The new Church op­poses the Rus­sian takeover of the Crimea and the de­mands by Rus­sians in east­ern Ukraine for po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy.

Pa­tri­arch Fi­laret, its head, has com­pared Putin to bi­b­li­cal vil­lains such as Cain and Ju­das. He in turn was ex­com­mu­ni­cated by the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate, which re­tains its loy­alty to Kyrill.

As a re­sult, many Ukraini­ans have switched de­nom­i­na­tions, mov­ing away from the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate.

Last spring, a Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate priest serv­ing an Ortho­dox Church in Soloniv, a Ukrainian vil­lage, pro­hib­ited vil­lagers from pray­ing for the souls of Ukrainian sol­diers killed in the war against Rus­sian-backed mil­i­tants in east­ern Ukraine.

By Au­gust, the priest was gone — driven out by vil­lagers who in­vited a priest from the Kyiv Pa­tri­ar­chate to take over.

Such tran­si­tions have been tak­ing place in many Ukrainian-speak­ing parts of the coun­try, where na­tion­al­ists con­sider Rus­sia an enemy. But the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate re­mains strong in the cul­tur­ally Rus­sian east­ern Ukraine

Th­ese ten­sions con­tinue to in­flame re­la­tions, both among Ukraini­ans them­selves and be­tween the two coun­tries.

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