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Apr 24 2012

Sometimes Church-State Separation Is Better for the Church

You’ve heard about the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and his now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t watch with the $30,000 price tag.

But eagle-eyed bloggers noticed that although there was no longer any watch on his wrist, the reflection on the shiny table showed the watch! When this was pointed out, the church apologized for the substitution and replaced the original photo with the watch.

But apparently no one alerted the patriarch to this reversal because he denied even owning such a watch, now an obviously absurd claim. Kirilli then claimed that he had looked through the many gifts he gets and found that he had indeed received such a watch but had never worn it and that the original photo had been doctored to insert the watch to make him look bad, an even more obvious lie.

You may have also heard about the all-female punk band that performed in the all-male altar space of a Moscow church.

In February, five members of “Pussy Riot,” Russia’s radical, feminist, punk band, entered Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral stood at the altar and sang “Mother of God, Blessed Virgin, drive out Putin!” For their protest art against President Vladimir Putin, three members of the band were arrested, charged with hooliganism, which can carry a seven-year long prison sentence, and have been held in jail since March. The three women, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, say they are members of the band, but deny participating in the events at the Cathedral.  On Thursday, a judge turned down a request to release the women on bail until their trial starts. He extended their detention until June 24th.

What you may not know is that the church is pointing to incidents like these and claiming that they’re under siege. The Christian Science Monitor recently put up an interesting article on the topic. I had no idea how cozy the church had gotten with the administration since the end of the communist regime.

I should have figured it out, perhaps. The Russian economy isn’t strong enough for church donations to be supporting $30,000 watches as the church continues to rebuild. The church has to have angels of a very secular sort to grant Kirill all his many perks.

It could have been corrupt businessmen, but open piety is still very new to Russia. The businessmen who would feel compelled to buy salvation while their secular affairs prospered are probably thin on the ground. To get that kind of funding, the church would have to be offering them something more…like access to the government.

No, only the government could bring the church back to this sort of prominence and luxury this quickly. The problem is that the government is a little shaky in its popularity, and the church’s flaunting of both the power and wealth granted to them by the government doesn’t make either of them any more popular. Expect these sorts of incidents to continue and to increase. Expect also that the church will continue to display absolutely no self-awareness about the causes.

1 comment

  1. 1
    Gregory in Seattle

    During most of the Communist era, the State had a very cozy relationship with the Russian Orthodox patriarchate. They knew that the church could not be stamped out, so they followed the example of the tsars: allow the patriarch and high ranking bishops to keep very high estate, give them extraordinary power, but all on the condition of unquestioning obedience to the government. If they caused any disruption, they would all lose their priviledges, thereby pushing them into a self-enforcing subservience. By thus leashing the church leaders, they leashed the church; by leashing the church, they leashed the sheeple.

    The tsar is dead: long live the tsar.

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