For centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has been used and exploited by the Kremlin. Patriarch Kirill, head of the ROC, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s regime has employed the Russian Constitution to suppress dissent both inside and outside Russia. This instrumental use of the ROC has provided Putin with an ideological justification for his crackdown.
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Russian Orthodox Churches have had a unique relationship with power throughout history, differing from other Christian denominations in its ability to legitimize state policy and its privileged position within the government. Unfortunately, this led to religious persecution during the Soviet regime.
The Soviet regime’s efforts to suppress religion led to a mass exodus of Russian Orthodox clergy and other church leaders, weakening their influence within Russia and hastening its decline.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the ROC was able to regain its privileged position and assert itself again. Unfortunately, they have also been accused of engaging in questionable financial practices, such as importing millions of dollars worth of duty-free tobacco and alcohol during the mid-90s.
Patriarch Kirill, the current leader of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), is a devout and loyal man who advocates for Church interests. He will only collaborate with Putin’s government when state policy serves the church’s higher cause – not just its convenience. Consequently, Patriarch Kirill has taken an extremely strong stance regarding the conflict in Ukraine.
The ROC’s relationship with the Kremlin
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Kremlin have a special bond. Since 1917, ROC has experienced unprecedented prominence within Russia, showing its support for Putin in an unprecedented way.
Patriarch Kirill and his church now wield enormous influence in Russia, making him an invaluable ally for Putin. His popularity has enabled the Restoration of Christianity (ROC) to rebuild its infrastructure and regain its leadership position within Russia.
While some of ROC’s new privileges, such as teaching religion in schools and reviewing legislation before government agencies, have been utilized for legitimate reasons, others – especially related to the Church’s finances – have caused controversy.
The Russian Cultural Olympiad’s lobbying efforts to enhance national identity and links with the state, reinforce Russian culture, and instil feelings of pride and cultural superiority have been in line with Kremlin narratives that aim to enhance Russia’s international standing as a leader on the world stage. Furthermore, they enjoy the resources and support of Putin’s vast circle of admirers.
The ROC’s role in Putin’s regime
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), or simply the ROC, has been a pivotal force in Vladimir Putin’s administration. With an overwhelming presence in Russian culture and politics, its support of Putin’s policies is widely seen as essential to his success.
The Russian Orthodox Church and Putin share a vision of Russia as an exception to Western values. This perception, often promoted by the Kremlin and reinforced by the ROC, is founded in the idea that Russia is uniquely Russian in society and its values are divinely inspired.
Since 2011, Patriarch Kirill, who has served the Church and its interests, has shown this devotion in both person and policy. While he is willing to work with President Putin’s government on certain initiatives, it must always be done where state policy serves spiritual goals rather than mere expediency.
As Putin and the ROC strive to elevate Russia’s national identity, they are simultaneously encouraging centrifugal forces within the ROC. The patriarch’s rhetoric becomes more bigoted, while ROC political objectives become incompatible with those of Russia itself.
The ROC’s influence in Russia
Since the collapse of Soviet Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has been an influential political force in Russia. Its influence extends across much of what used to be known as Soviet Russia; however, its autonomy varies depending on where it resides.
In some countries, such as Ukraine and Belarus, the ROC is the dominant religion; in others it must negotiate its canon law with state legislation on religion. In some instances – like Lithuania – it has even sought to create a new status for itself.
However, both in Russia and abroad, the patriarch is determined to preserve the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), even as changes occur elsewhere. He insists on using Church Slavonic as the language for church services, veneration of Saint Vladimir’s pantheon of saints, and use of Russian for church documentation.
Putin has made the ROC his political ally and a central force in Russian public life. He often refers to the church in his speeches, using traditional Christianity to appeal to Russia’s nationalist base.