While the Russian Orthodox Church is often portrayed as a monolithic church under the sway of Vladimir Putin and nationalism, new movements and groups are creating more space for dissent, especially in the provinces, reports Wallace Daniel in the Christian Century (Dec. 9). Even the stance of Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow suggests the different complexions of Orthodox nationalism; he is constricted by his political alignment with Putin and cannot criticize his action in Ukraine, yet he also stresses the need for peace, negotiations, and an “end to civil strife—an implicit response to the government’s military assault.” The patriarch has also reinvigorated theological education, creating seminaries and other theological institutions that have aided movements and initiatives challenging the status quo, according to Wallace. It is in such provinces as Ivanovo and Vladimir to the north of Moscow, the priests have been considerable freedom by their bishops to address social problems, as well as launching initiatives to engage in social outreach and educational programs on local issues.
Sergei Filatov, a leading scholar of Russian religion, says that “While their leaders remain conservative in their theological beliefs, they are not wedded to the past in their activities. They are developing a different form of Orthodox conservatism, which is very socially oriented and emphasizes social outreach and compassion for the marginalized.” Signs of alternative movements within Russian Orthodoxy have surfaced in relation to the work of Alexander Men, a priest and writer who was murdered in 1990. For many years after his death, his once-popular works, such as on ecumenism, were no longer carried in church bookstores. But that has changed with Kirill paying homage to Men in 2014. Additionally, last September, the publishing house of the Moscow patriarchate published the 15-volume set of his writings for the first time. Men is still a source of controversy and tension in the church, especially his call for the church to repent for its collaboration with oppression in the czarist and Soviet eras. The Kiev Patriarchate church also presents a more militaristic image on its web site than the other two churches, showing a greater degree of support of the army. This includes more information on military chaplain activities, blessings of troops, and participation in funerals and other ceremonies as well as raising funds for the army’s needs.
(The Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org)