During the past year the Russian state has made new important overtures to the Russian Orthodox Church, and official rhetoric has grown increasingly similar to that of the Church. The current issue of Pro et Contra analyzes the relations between Church, state, and society in Russia, as well as in other countries of Eastern Christianity, such as Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Greece, and Serbia.
The Church, State and Society in Countries of Eastern Christianity
Russia: The Official Church Сhooses State Over Society
Administrative pressure has been applied to Church structures on all levels almost right after Patriarch Kirill’s election. The new patriarch seeks full control over the Church through appointing his protégés to all positions of importance. All of this creates an atmosphere of fear and excessive bureaucracy in the Church instead of introducing openness and freedom. Suffice it to say that the Synodal Youth Affairs Department now requires that all of the events conducted by the Patriarch’s Center for the Youth Spiritual Development at the Svyato-Danilov Monastery receive prior approval of the Department. The Center used to plan its work independently in the past.
Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the Ukrainian Project
A number of projects in Ukraine seek to turn Orthodoxy into an ideology (if not compulsory, at least the prevailing one). There are also many proposals to unify Orthodox Churches. However, neither the Church diplomats’ political maneuvering nor the attitudes of Moscow or Constantinople will have any bearing on the unification project; rather, this issue will be resolved based on what is happening in the country itself. Eventually, the issue of the unification of Ukrainian Orthodox Churches as well as that of the autocephaly of the unified Church will primarily depend on the success of the “Ukrainian project.”
Moldova: God in Border Zones
Moldovan Orthodox Church harbors no natural antagonism against non-Orthodox religious groups. It simply formulates its position in accordance with the current realities and—in most cases—based on its relations with the Moldovan state. If the state supports and protects the Church, as was the case under the Communist government, then the Moldovan Mitropoly concentrates on the acts that have to do with defending the boundaries of faith. At such times, it behaves more aggressively toward its religious rivals. If the state refuses to help the Moldovan Mitropoly, as is the case now, under the pro-European regime, then the Moldovan Mitropoly is forced to cooperate with other religious communities.
Armenia: The Church—Post-Secular or Post-Sacral?
Rapid changes happening in the modern world, particularly the growing role social networks play in shaping mass consciousness, as well as the influence of secular and post-modern thought on people, confront the Armenian Apostolic Church with a multitude of problems. These problems relate to the inadequacy of traditional means and methods of inculcating religious ideas and lifestyle. Therefore, the Armenian Apostolic Church must undergo serious reform which will go beyond building new temples and include some efforts to solve social problems.
The Greek Church: Awaiting Public Dialogue
The lack of separation between Church and state produces a strange symbiosis: Church is a part of state; it provides services to the state but at the same time depends on it and is unable to run its affairs autonomously. During the Modern Greek period, the Church has been one of the pillars of Greek statehood—it supported and disseminated official ideology, and its stamp of approval further legitimated state decisions. In the course of nearly two centuries of the Modern Greek political history, the country has experienced numerous coups and regime changes, but the Church has generally toed the state’s line.
Serbian Church and the National Idea
Serbia has entered a new stage of political development after the fall of the Slobodan Milosevic regime, which affected the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In the first decade of the new century, favorable state policies have facilitated a significant improvement of the Serbian Church’s status. While Kostunica and more radical Serbian nationalists saw the Serbian Orthodox Church as an ally in the struggle for restoring the “past national grandeur” and strengthening society’s moral fabric, Djindjic and the Europe-oriented liberals treated Church’s return to the public sphere as a final break with the socialist past.
Supermajority for Superpresidency
The events of 2011—2012 upset the state of equilibrium in Russia. In response to the signs of political crisis, the regime was forced to change significantly and search for the new sources of support. During the first stage the changes translated into partial liberalization, while during the second stage (after the presidential elections), bolstered by a shot of extra legitimacy, the regime has shifted into the crackdown mode. This new turn to repressive means reflects the loss of the high-level support that in the 2000’s allowed the regime to maintain stability without resorting to substantial use of force. It also indicates that the conditions for consolidating opposition are now far more favorable.
Alexander Golts, Irina Semenenko