Religion has existed alongside humankind ever since its beginning. Religion was necessary because it provided an explanation for phenomena that most people in society could not comprehend, and because it gave hope and unity to its followers even in the darkest of times.
Yet there have always been others who would rather use religion as a cover for their own narcissism.
So what is the Russian Orthodox Church?
So, let’s start with some definitions and basic information. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), also known as Moscow Patriarchate, is counted as the largest independent Eastern Orthodox Christian church. ROC also has branches in the countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union. The head of the ROC is Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
Russia itself is a huge country, where people of many nationalities are living. According to data collected by the Office of International Religious Freedom in 2020, 63% of Russians identify with the Russian Orthodox Church. About a quarter of the population calls themselves atheists, while the rest are Protestants, Muslims, Jews, etc. It is clear from the data that religion plays a significant influence in Russian society.
On the one hand, everything seems pretty transparent – if you check the website of ROC, you can find information about religious celebrations and events, videos, and audio from Patriarch Kirill. However, there is much more beneath the surface.
What went wrong?
Several journalists have leveled allegations of bribery and corruption against the Russian Orthodox Church. Certainly, some people would disagree with this; after all, nothing in this world is without flaws, and corruption can exist anywhere. Even if certain popes are dishonest, that doesn’t mean that all of Russia’s churches are corrupt.
However, in the situation involving the ROC, one may say that the Turkish proverb “The fish usually smells from the head downwards” is applicable.
Therefore, the position of “head of the fish” belongs squarely to Patriarch Kirill. First of all, even though the Patriarch is the public face of the church and is therefore expected to serve as a moral authority for society, he has already been accused in the past by Russian internet users and independent media of possessing luxurious goods. For example, Kirill is the owner of luxurious automobiles, apartments with five rooms, and a residence in Gelendzhik, which is located close to the Black Sea and costs around 22 billion rubles to construct. These are only a few examples from the long list of things that he possesses. That is a bit contrary to the canons of the Orthodox Church. This accusation comes as a result of the fact that the Patriarch is the public face of the church and therefore is expected to serve as a moral authority for society. In addition, throughout the 1990s he was embroiled in a scandal involving duty-free imports of cigarettes, which he justified by claiming they were “part of humanitarian aid.” When you consider all that he owns, there is no way that he can be classified as a poor guy. However, in September 2022, during a sermon following the Sunday liturgy in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Kirill made the statement, referring to the gospel, “It’s difficult for a rich man to join the kingdom of God.” He went on to say that wealthy individuals have a responsibility to assist those less fortunate, or else they will spend eternity in hell. Sounds like a brutal but righteous message; however, hearing it from Patriarch Kirill might cause a little dissonance.
The second issue is Kirill’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, who is currently in office as president. The church is intended to be an independent intermediary between society and the government; yet, it has instead become a tool for the government to broadcast ideas that are useful for the authority’s purposes. Vladimir Putin and all he does have Kirill’s full and unwavering support. During Putin’s nomination for a third term as president in 2012, Patriarch publicly endorsed Putin’s candidature.
In October, he made the assertion that Vladimir Putin is the sole reason why Russia has been preserved from deterioration. It seems as though Kirill favors Putin, despite the fact that the church is meant to be an unbiased and autonomous entity.
Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the Church’s support for the Russian government became more apparent. Kirill, on the one hand, was praying that this “fratricidal conflict” would finish as quickly as it could so that fewer people would be killed in it. On the other hand, he stated that the Russian soldiers who are dying in the battle against Ukraine would have all of their sins forgiven by God since they are fulfilling their duty and doing the right thing in the process of their deaths. Is this not yet another declaration made by the servant of God that contradicts itself? What about the commandment in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt not kill”?
Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine?
As has been mentioned previously, the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church is one of the churches that the Russian Orthodox Church has established in post-Soviet countries. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, also known as the UOC, is a legally recognized separate church with its administrative center located in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. However, in all practical respects, the UOC is still subordinate to the ROC; during services in the church, members talk openly about “Mother Russia.”
In May 2022, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church issued a statement condemning Patriarch Kirill’s ideas regarding the war. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the UOC made this remark, they did not inquire into the independence of the church. During the services, they continued to pray for the health of Patriarch Kirill; familiar controversy, isn’t it?
In addition, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian security service conducted some searches in the churches. During these searches, they discovered signs of pro-Russian activity among the bishops, and several of the bishops were notified that they were under suspicion in various criminal cases.
The structure of the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole is deeply flawed. All of these inconsistencies point to one thing: the devil is in the details. People look to the popes for spiritual guidance, but instead, they are being indoctrinated with propaganda.
The only way to restore the church’s holiness is to get rid of the “rotten head” and make it such that it is as independent from governmental interference as it can possibly be.