S m o l e n s k — Both the Russian state and church are caught in a state of transition. That’s the position of the Russian Orthodox publicist Sergey Chapnin. He was fired in December along with the outspoken Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, perhaps the best-known Russian Orthodox personality after the Patriarch himself. Thanks to falling oil prices and a drop in Western funding, Russian Orthodoxy is facing an era of soul-searching and austerity.
Chapnin believes the dismissal of Vsevolod Chaplin, a conservative nationalist, cannot be interpreted as a move to the left by Patriarch Kirill. Chapnin, the fired chief editor of the “Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate”, hails from the opposite, liberal wing. According to him, the Patriarch’s intent is to streamline the church and present the appearance of a united front. The entire church “is now expected to speak with a single voice, a palette of views is no longer desired”.
In an interview with the “Portal-Credo”-website on 5 January, Sergey Chapnin (both he and Chaplin were born in 1968) described the future as full of uncertainties. Until Russian-Ukrainian relations took a massive turn to the worse in early 2014, the average Orthodox churchgoer in Ukraine did not much care whether the parish belonged to the Moscow Patriarchate or the renegade, internationally unrecognized Kiev Patriarchate. All that has changed — whether “ours” or “theirs” now matters. He points out that Onufry, Metropolitan of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate” quietly decreed on 28 December that his priests no longer need to mention Patriarch Kirill as part of the Sunday liturgy. Since perhaps no more than 20% of the Ukrainian populace is still loyal to the UOC-MP, Chapnin speaks of a looming “geopolitical catastrophe” for his church. The Moscow Patriarchate has at least until recently been Ukraine’s largest Christian denomination. Chapnin believes a pragmatic union between it and the Kiev Patriarchy without the hyphenated extension can no longer be excluded. In this interview, the Moscow publicist warns that religion dare not be mixed with ethnicity, for a church understanding itself as “Russian” can reckon with future crises in places such as Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Chapnin believes Moscow Patriarchate headquarters are badly overstaffed and that the growth of church structures has been too rapid to be healthy – shrinkage will be unavoidable. In the opinion of the author, the same is true for evangelical quarters. Foreign-funding has permitted programs and staffing to expand beyond the means of the country’s denominations. Theological education has never been high on the list for the Russian-evangelical layperson, and its future is now clearly endangered.
At the end of the interview, Sergey Chapnin makes the interesting claim that Russia is following the US-model by creating a civil religion. He calls the Russian version “hybrid religiosity” for its annals of glory include both Russian and Soviet greats. Though the “US-God” is not a strictly Christian one, it nevertheless maintains a metaphysical absolute. The Russian version though is a strictly pragmatic religion, he claims. Both versions “have a strong messianic component, but the fundamental difference is that the post-Soviet form has no God.” He labels the present hybrid version “an Orthodoxy without Christ”. Chapnin consequently places his trust in a simple faith free of “family values” and similar anti-Western ideologies. “Those who lived quietly and prayerfully will prevail.”
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 30 January 2016