Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A House without a Master: The 40th Day Farewell of Patriarch Aleksei Took on the Nuances of a Political Campaign


Quo Vadis?


Today, the forty-day period of mourning for Patriarch Aleksei Ridiger of Moscow and all the Russias ends. During this time, churches served Pannikhidas, and the clergy said prayers for the repose of the soul of the departed patriarch. Believers strived to maintain the spirit of unity that came upon them when they went to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to pay their last respects at the coffin of His Holiness. Along with this, in the buildings of the diocesan administration, hard work was in full swing. A Local Council of the MP is close at hand, which is to elect a new First Hierarch. In the media, experts discussed the chances of this-or-that candidate. Indeed, some of the bishops even went so far as to say that there were those who “weren’t fit to wear the white hat of the patriarch”, that is, the white cowl surmounted by a golden cross. In general, the atmosphere was not very consistent with the solemnity of a moment where one has the occasion to touch eternity. However, we can safely predict that, in the two weeks remaining before the Council, the light shall shine on many things, and numerous surprises await us.

Customarily, one either speaks well of the dead, or, one keeps a decent silence. However, Patriarch Aleksei was a rare exception to the rule, when over the many years of his life and in the past forty days, we heard much good about him, but we found out that we knew practically nothing about him. These days can be a good opportunity for us to reflect on his tragic fate. For example, do we know the story of how the boy Alyosha lived in German-occupied Tallinn (he was 10-years-old when Estonia became a part of the USSR)? Or, about his ordination to the episcopate… at the age of 32! Do we know about his career as a bishop in the time of Patriarchs Aleksei Simansky and Pimen Izvekov? Or, what about the difficult course of the patriarchal election in June 1990, where he won in the second round of the voting over Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Rostov (now Metropolitan of Kiev), which wasn’t expected according to earlier calculations. Or, his participation in the “Letter of the 53” to Gorbachyov in early 1991 calling for the application of a “firm hand” (later, he disavowed his signature to the letter). Or, how his peacekeeping efforts in the autumn of 1993 failed, and, nevertheless, blood was spilled all the same…

The Patriarch was a great man because he was a witness and a participant in momentous events. Historians of the Russian Church in the 20th century agree that he was not a deep theologian, nor an eloquent preacher, nor was he a renowned mystic. Hence, we hear all sort of talk about his love of children and animals, the consideration he paid to everyone he met, his gentle look, and his soft smile. They overlook one immutable fact… Patriarch Aleksei didn’t name a successor; he didn’t name an heir. Moreover, as he was an experienced administrator, he did everything in such a way that, when we place any present-day figure next to him, we find that none of them measures up to his stature. Precisely, it’s this fact that gives a sense of drama to the upcoming elections.

Favourites or Outsiders?


Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (1946- ), the putative front-runner in the patriarchal election


Since taking over the power of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad has been changing before our very eyes. He changed his gait, his manner of speech, and even his facial expression. If before he was a sharp polemicist, today, he seems the pillar of statesmanship. The most visible evidence of this was his sermon on Christmas night at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. He reminded everyone that the Greek word for “crisis” is translated into Russian as sud (court of law). Metropolitan Kirill said on that occasion, “Today, if we see an economic crisis, it means that this court finds a sort of universal human iniquity”. Noting that the economic crisis did not begin in Russia, Vladyki Kirill appealed personally to President Dmitri Medvedev, “You know that the people support you, and I think that this support should inspire you to lead us in a courageous resistance to this scourge, which, perhaps, is the most X (this word was ambiguous: Novoye Izvestiya) we’ll have to meet face-to-face”.

A Politician…


Metropolitan Yuvenaly Poyarkov of Krutitsa and Kolomna (1935- ), the Patriarchal Vicar for Moscow, a known rival of Metropolitan Kirill


Some would say in relation to Metropolitan Kirill, to praise him, that the patriarch needs to go boldly into national politics and he should do so openly, for it’s necessary for our country today. However, then again, there are those that find this attitude anathema. Metropolitan Kirill’s activities in the last 40 days can do him well as far as the election is concerned, but it could, possibly, bring him misfortune. His lead in the pre-election race isn’t as clear as it seems at first sight. It’s no coincidence that the next evening after his sermon on the economic crisis at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Metropolitan Yuvenaly Poyarkov of Krutitsa and Kolomna wished to Vladyki Kirill “on behalf of the Holy Synod and all the clergy, that God would give you wisdom and understanding, so, that in these remaining days before the Local Council, you could bring the delegates of the Council into prayerful and blessed unity, so that the grace of the Holy Spirit would descend on them and bring an election of a new First Hierarch of our Church, to continue upon the path of salvation to bring spiritual rebirth to our people”. Such wishes can be interpreted as a warning.

Metropolitan Yuvenaly is one of those who’re considered rivals of Metropolitan Kirill. He has serious advantages in his favour, including many years of experience in the management of a large diocese {he’s the Patriarchal Vicar for Moscow and the surrounding regions: editor}, and has much authority amongst the clergy. A major disadvantage is his age, for he is 73-years-old. This same factor hobbles Metropolitan Philaret Vakhromeyev of Minsk and Slutsk, probably, the most serious theologian in the episcopate, and a man with an impeccable reputation. In addition to his advanced age, Metropolitan Philaret is thought by many in the MP to be a supporter of ecumenism; some accuse him of almost being a secret Catholic.

The “dark horse” in this election is Metropolitan Kliment Kapalin of Kaluga and Borovsk. During the past 40 days, he almost never appeared in public. However, it became obvious that he had a very strong lobby. Thus, we saw the scandal surrounding the election of delegates to the Local Council from the spiritual academies and seminaries. The Academic Councils of the Moscow and St Petersburg spiritual schools expressly stated that gross violations occurred. According to a faculty member of the Moscow Spiritual Academy, “The discussion on the academic council passed quietly, without any of the alleged ‘partisan conflict’, but there was complete unanimity on the council concerning our understanding that the Rector’s meeting proceeded abnormally, and that there was a violation not only of procedure, but also church ethics”. In turn, the Rector of the Kostroma Spiritual Seminary, Archimandrite Gennady Gogolev, testified to the forced removal of the Chairman of the Education Committee of the MP, Archbishop Yevgeni Reshetnikov of Vereisk, from the administration of the procedure of the election of delegates to the Council. Archimandrite Gennady is convinced that this occurred due to pressure from Archbishop Dmitri Kapalin of Tobolsk, who, incidentally, is the brother of Vladyki Kliment.

Finally, let’s look at two more pretenders to the patriarchal throne. The first is a very powerful figure, whilst the second is rather farcical. The decision of the episcopate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/MP (they’re a third of the bishops of the MP) to advance Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev as a candidate for the patriarchate came as a complete surprise. For, after all, Metropolitan Vladimir was the main rival to Patriarch Aleksei Ridiger in the patriarchal election of 1990. Then, the Press Service of the UOC/(MP reported that Vladyki Vladimir hadn’t yet taken a final decision. Yet, just the other day, he answered a direct question from a journalist, “Will you stand for patriarch in the election?” Metropolitan Vladimir answered in an equally-clear manner, “Everything depends upon the Will of God”.

A different matter is Metropolitan Sergei Fomin of Voronezh, who said twice, “The Patriarch can be anyone, including me”. Everyone has a right to state their claim, but in this case, the ambition involved looks rather excessive.

Conciliar Hodgepodge


Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev (1935- ), the First Hierarch of the UOC/MP, shall he run, or, shall he be the kingmaker?


The question of questions is before us… shall this be a free election? Fears in this regard are so serious that some have even spoken in favour for casting lots, as was done in the patriarchal election in 1917. Members of the Holy Synod tried to reassure everyone by saying that everything shall be fair, because the vote shall be a secret ballot. Nevertheless, who can exclude the fear of a notorious conspiracy, or, the establishment of factions, such as the bloc of Ukrainian bishops? Furthermore, the bishops, after advancing three candidates for the patriarchal office, shall have an unlimited influence on the delegates of the Local Council, for these shall be ordinary monks, clergy, and laity.

It’s worthwhile to speak separately of the last class of delegate. In the already-selected “troikas”, there are numerous characters that give reason to suspect that the Council won’t escape a crafty fight on the floor. For example, a delegate from the Diocese of Barnaul is Yuri Nizhegorodtsev; he’s the chairman of a pharmaceutical company. The Diocese of Rostov gave the honour of participating in the election of the patriarch to the owner of the joint-stock company Don Tobacco, the Deputy Chairman of the RF Gosduma Committee on Budget and Taxes, Ivan Savvidi. The Diocese of Kursk will send to the council the Deputy Head of the Interaction with Political Parties and Public Organisations of the Kursk Oblast Administration, Aleksandr Shapovalov. From the Diocese of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, the layman Valery Ivanov, the chairman of the Oblast Public Chamber, will go to the Council. The clergy of Nizhniy Novgorod  chose the Chief of the Regional Office of the Federal Tax Service, Nikolai Polyakov. From the Diocese of Yelitsa, Oleg Klimenko, the deputy-chairman of the Government of the Republic of Kalmykiya, is going to Moscow. The Diocese of Vladivostok is represented by an actress from the local Drama Theatre, Larissa Belobrova, who, besides being the wife of the governor, Sergei Darkin, owns large stakes in a fishing company and a bank. The overwhelming majority of lay delegates are workers from the staff of the various diocesan offices, which will be prepared to vote as their bishop will say.

The Council, not the preceding Archpastoral Council, must decide which way the ship of our Church shall move in future. Will it sail boldly into the raging sea or shall it seek a quiet backwater? This layout makes the current election unique, different from all the previous ones, where all the delegates were taken only from those at the highest levels of the Church.

A New Patriarchal Memorial Designed by Tsereteli


The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, showing the Patriarch’s Bridge on which the memorial plaques are going to be installed


Meanwhile, the Moscow city government decided to place two memorial plaques in honour of Patriarch Aleksei on the Patriarch’s Bridge near the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Etched upon the tablets with great artistry, one shall read, “A bridge in memory of His Holiness Aleksei, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias. Executed according to the project of architect M M Posokhin and artist Z K Tsereteli”. In addition, “Fierce Zurab” intends to erect a monument in Moscow to the late patriarch. The sculpture for it was completed in 2003, and it is stored, at present, in the exhibition complex of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts at Prechistenka.

In like manner, St Petersburg also decided to honour the memory of Patriarch Aleksei. Metropolitan Vladimir Kotlyarov appealed to Governor Valentina Matvienko of the city, with a request to name Medical Centre Hospital Number 2 on Uchebny Lane and Secondary School Number 355 in the town of Pushkin after His Holiness. Also, Metropolitan Vladimir asked that the Karpovsky Bridge across the Karpovky River in the Holy Monastery of St John be renamed the Patriarch Aleksei Bridge and that the Lavrsky Park near the Theological Academy be named after the late patriarch. The authorities of the Northern Capital are ready to meet half of the request, as for the renaming of the hospital and the school, everything is in order. However, with the bridge and the park there are difficulties since these are historic names, and one can’t even think of renaming them until at least 50 years have passed after the patriarch’s death.

Thus far, the Russian capitals have merely planned and let contracts. In Estonia, they settled the issue of honouring the late patriarch rather more simply. The Tallinn city government supported the idea of naming one of the city squares after Patriarch Aleksei, according to a proposal made by Mayor Edgar Savisaar. In his opinion, “The best monument to this outstanding man will be a church”. Let us remember what Estonia meant to Patriarch Aleksei, it wasn’t only the place where he spent his childhood, but it was also one of the places where he carried out his episcopal ministry. The square will be located in front of a church, whose construction the patriarch blessed during his last visit to his homeland in the autumn of 2003. At that time, he consecrated the cornerstone of the church…

What is this, if not life after death?

13 January 2009

Mikhail Pozdnyaev

Novoye Izvestiya

As quoted in Interfax-Religion


Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: