Russia is becoming more and more religious under Putin

Orthodoxy in Russia The state-spiritual rendezvous

A joint meeting of the Duma and the Federation Council in Moscow in mid-November. MPs and senators debate the fight against international terror. Representatives of the faiths also speak. Archbishop Ilario takes the lectureship for the Russian Orthodox Church. You not only need a global anti-terrorist coalition, but ... "We still need a coalition, one that unites the secular and the religious leaders."

Article 14 of the Russian Constitution states:

  1. The Russian Federation is a secular state. No religion may be specified as state or binding.
  2. The religious associations are separate from the state and equal before the law.

But official church representatives are more and more openly questioning this constitutional separation of church and state. Archbishop Ilario continues:

"It is time to say goodbye to the separation of church and state and also to the separation of school and church, from the view that religion has no place in education."

Ilario's remarks show what has been developing in Russia for a long time, and what has never completely disappeared: the alliance between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state.

Review: February 2012. The young women of the performance group Pussy Riot are jumping around in colorful dresses and masks in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, the prestigious building of the Orthodox Church. In their punk song they accuse the alliance between the official church and the Kremlin.

Translation of the protest song:

"The KGB chief is their chief saint. He's putting demonstrators in jail ... The patriarch believes in Putin. Better he, the dog, should believe in God."

The three young women from the music group Pussy Riot (Image: picutre alliance / dpa / Karpov Sergei) (picutre alliance / dpa / Karpov Sergei)
In February 2012, Russia was campaigning. Vladimir Putin, who was still prime minister at the time, wanted to return to the presidency. He presented himself as the man who brought stability to Russia after the turmoil of the 1990s. During the election campaign, he met with the religious leaders of Russia. Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, sat next to Putin. The television cameras showed how he turned to the candidate:

"The way out of the difficult 1990s was a very special part of the centuries-long history of our fatherland. It is very important to understand that. As a patriarch who is called to tell the truth, regardless of the political situation and propaganda accents, I have to say frankly: You personally, Vladimir Vladimirovich, played a huge role in correcting this crooked section of our history. I would like to thank you. You once said you work like a galley slave - but a slave did not have such a high level Devotion like you. "

It was, among other things, this undisguised campaign help from the Patriarch for Putin that the activists of Pussy Riot accused during their appearance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They paid a heavy price for their action. Two of the young women were sentenced to two years in a camp for so-called "religious hatred hooliganism". The Duma took the incident as an opportunity to later pass a law criminalizing the violation of religious feelings. The new law has since served as a justification for ultra-Orthodox groups to attack dissidents and liberals. In the name of God they attack homosexuals. "Moskwa ne Sodom", "Moscow is not Sodom", is their battle cry. And they raid exhibitions of modern art. For example, in autumn in the Manege, a state exhibition center at the Kremlin. There they destroyed works by a well-known state-owned Soviet artist. The radical groups are not necessarily sent by the official church, but the church does not distance itself from the vandals either. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin is responsible for the public relations work of the Moscow Patriarchate.

"These people have the right to say what they think is necessary. Within the framework of the law. Within the framework of Christian moral values. If they break the law, that is not allowed. As in the ring. There was an exhibit The ground was thrown and damaged. That was superfluous. But if it is said that someone had carried out a pogrom there, then that is certainly not true. "

"The constitution does not separate church and state"

Wesewolod Tschaplin is one of the agitators among church officials. He speaks of a "war against Orthodoxy" and calls for church and politics to be equated. That in no way contradicts the constitution. "The church is the crucial part of the people. To deprive them of their vote would be a discrimination. The constitution does not separate state and church or religious associations. The constitution only says that these are not allowed to be organs of power."

In practice, church and state are often already interwoven. The official occasions where the patriarch and the president appear side by side are becoming more and more common.

It is November 4, 2015. An exhibition is opening in Moscow. The title: "Orthodox Rus. My story. From great shocks to great victory". The Rus was the medieval Russian empire. The exhibition is about the years 1914 to 1945. Patriarch Kirill and President Vladimir Putin pace the rooms together and give a speech. The Patriarch:

"What torments we have suffered. What grief. What trials. But we have remained a country, not just a large and strong one, but one that has preserved its own essence. We have not lost our identities, nor do we lose them in one Time in which large and strong countries on the European continent lose them. "

November 4th is Russia's national holiday, "People's Day of Unity". Russia has been celebrating it since 2005. The day has been a niche for a long time. Russia lacked a national idea, the day was left to the ultra-right fringe groups. With the opening of the exhibition, the Patriarch and the President set an example. Wladimir Putin:

"The love for the homeland was the strongest, all-conquering feeling. It was inspiring, it helped and saved. Our people survived the Great Patriotic War from 1941 to 1945 while maintaining and consolidating their statehood."

People's unity is a central idea of ​​Russian policy under Vladimir Putin. What is meant is not just the unity of the various population groups; The people and the government should also be united. Because external enemies threatened Russia's identity and statehood again today.

The Russian Orthodox official church serves as an ideological pillar for politics. It is useful for a number of reasons. In surveys, a good three quarters of Russians describe themselves as "religious". The fact that around 40 percent of them simultaneously state that they do not believe in the existence of God shows how superficial this religiosity is. In contrast to, for example, the discredited parties, the church enjoys moral authority and prestige among the population.


Russian President Putin with Russian Orthodox bishops in Possad (dpa / Mikhail Klimentiev)

Above all, today's church leadership thinks that Orthodoxy, like the Russian state, is threatened from outside. Jelena Beljakowa is a church historian and a believer herself, but belongs to the liberal camp.

"It was always said that Russia needed a national idea that unites everyone. Now it has been found. It is Orthodoxy. The Church uses power as an ideological basis: the idea of ​​isolationism, the Russian special path, the opposition to Europe. The Church in the person of Patriarch Kirill actively represents these ideas. "

In a speech to the State Duma in early 2015, Kirill even spoke of a "great political-religious synthesis". He contrasted western civil society with the ideal of a "solidarity society". In this context, he called on the political parties to cease their competition. In the meantime, however, it is hardly available anyhow.

The idea of ​​preferring values ​​like freedom and choice over everything else and turning away from moral norms is a time bomb on which Western civilization is yet to perish. "We oppose the tendencies towards chaos and conflict with a great religious-political synthesis, a social ideal. In this synthesis the various ethno-cultural, social, professional, religious age groups work together for the sake of the common good. The people and power also work together, instead of settling conflicts. The ethnic groups and religions and even the political parties forego conflict. I testify and thank God that the current composition of the State Duma practically embodies what I have now spoken of. "

For his part, President Putin is doing a lot to strengthen the role of the church. In late 2012, in his first State of the Union address as re-elected President, he said:

"Russian society clearly lacks spiritual clutches, mercy, compassion, compassion, support and mutual help - a deficit of everything that has always, at all times, made us tougher and stronger, of which we have always been proud. We must do everything we can to support those institutes that stand for traditional values ​​and have historically proven that they are able to pass them on from generation to generation. "

However, Putin also repeatedly points out the country's multi-denomination. Russia is a multi-ethnic state. About 20 million people are Muslim. Russia is an example of people of different beliefs and different nationalities living together peacefully, Putin emphasizes again and again. But at the same time he also makes it clear that Orthodoxy has a special position among religions. For example, at a reception with church representatives in the summer of 2013.

"The moral foundations of the Orthodox faith have shaped our national character and the mentality of the peoples of Russia in many ways, have awakened the best creative qualities of our people and helped Russia to occupy a worthy place in European and world civilization. For Russian statehood , for our national consciousness, orthodoxy has become a spiritual support. "

Church leadership does not condemn the Stalinist crimes

The alliance between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state has a long tradition. In the middle of the 19th century, the Minister for Public Enlightenment under Tsar Nicholas I devised a formula of three pillars on which the Russian empire rests: "Pravoslawie, Samoderschawie, Narodnost '", "Orthodoxy, autocracy, popular patriotism". In the Soviet Union, the church was extremely threatened. Priests were arrested en masse by Stalin's henchmen, put in labor camps and murdered. Churches were misused as cinemas, swimming pools, warehouses. But in times of need, the church leadership continued to get involved with the state, let the Soviet rulers determine personnel issues, and removed unpleasant priests from office.

The church leadership under Patriarch Kirill does not condemn the Stalinist crimes to this day. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin:

"Neither the actions of Stalin, nor the Soviet era as a whole, can be clearly called good or bad. This is what the Patriarch said recently at the opening of the history exhibition. It was a time of repression. Some people deserved it, some not. At the same time it was the time of victory in war, of industrialization, it was the time of the unity of the people in the face of external danger, it was the time of a great unity of the people with power. "

There is evidence that Patriarch Kirill himself worked for the Soviet secret service - as did President Putin. The church critic and priest Gleb Jakunin, who has meanwhile been excommunicated, has gathered evidence of this. In archives he found the travel plan of a secret service agent Mikhailov, who had traveled to New Zealand, Australia and Thailand in 1972/73 to meet the World Council of Churches. In the parish registers of the Patriarchate he came across notes according to which a certain Archimandrite Kirill was visiting the same places at the same time. It is about the later patriarch. The church has never commented on the intelligence allegations. The church historian Jelena Beljakowa speaks of a network between dignitaries of the Orthodox Church and the Soviet officials.

"At the end of the Soviet Union, an alliance had been formed between the church hierarchs and the Soviet officials. Church activists were persecuted, but the hierarchs received perks, as it was under Stalin: a single-family house, a car, other support."

With the end of the Soviet Union, the threat to the Church disappeared, but the dependence on the state remained, especially financially. He helped when hundreds of places of worship in the country were returned and renovated after the end of communism. The Orthodox Church received financial privileges, such as duty-free trade in tobacco and alcohol.

Patriarch Kirill is said to have a penchant for earthly wealth. He drew public ridicule three years ago. It was about an expensive watch belonging to the head of the church. Bloggers had found a photo of Kirill on the Patriarch's website showing him at his desk with strikingly long black sleeves. They had obviously been retouched into it. But the person in charge had forgotten one detail: the patriarch's clock was reflected in the polished table top. Jelena Belyakova makes all of this sad.

"The church is now a space for careerists and for people who want to enrich themselves. All priests and all believers in Orthodoxy are obliged to tell the truth. That is evident from the scriptures. And a lot of sermons are about necessity to point out when those in power make mistakes. To invoke orthodox traditions and thereby declare that one serves love in front of every inhuman ruler - that is not possible, it has nothing to do with orthodox traditions. "

Protest poster at Christopher Street Day in Frankfurt: The poster shows a greeting scene between President Vladimir Putin and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. (picture alliance / dpa)

The alliance between church and state also has consequences for foreign policy. Because the Russian leadership is drawing on religion in order to lay claim to Russia's orthodox neighbors Belarus and Ukraine. Especially in Kiev, where St. Rus, the medieval Russian Empire, was founded. President Putin also justifies the claim to the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed in spring 2014, with Orthodoxy, among other things. In his State of the Union address in late 2014, he said:

"The Crimea is the spiritual source of the Russian nation and the centralized Russian state. Prince Vladimir accepted Christianity in the Crimea and then baptized all of Russia. For Russia, the Crimea has a sacred meaning. Just like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Muslims and Jews. "

It comes as no surprise that the Orthodox Church also approves of Russia's air strikes in Syria. Church spokesman Tschaplin promptly declared the air offensive a "holy battle". It corresponds to the mentality of the Russian people and the moral role that Russia has always played in the world.