Today the Russian Orthodox church plays an essential role in strengthening Russian identity, patriotism and social cohesion. President Putin himself has declared the church to be one of his foundation stones.
Since 2009, Patriarch Kirill has made significant progress in returning church property from the state, introducing religious instruction in public schools and providing military chaplains for Russian service personnel. However, he also created an overly-centralized church bureaucracy which mirrors Putin’s style and mutes any dissenting voices.
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The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is the senior bishop of that congregation in Russia and serves as its spiritual guide. As such, he holds a unique place within Russian culture as both leader and advisor to his flock.
Niviere notes that Kirill is a longtime friend and leader of the conservative branch of the United Russia political party, though he does not hold direct political power at the Russian state level. Nonetheless, his influence within Russia’s ruling circles remains strong.
Kirill has achieved great prominence over the past decade and his decisions have become increasingly significant. For instance, in early 2015 he supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and now fully endorses Putin’s aggressive policy in Syria.
He has also led the Russian Orthodox Church into conflict with the World Council of Churches, a Christian interfaith body. For months, WCC officials and Ukrainian observers advocated that ROC membership be revoked due to its support of Russian aggression.
Today, the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia is led by Archbishop Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. He has served his churchmen since 2009, earning him a place of leadership among them.
Patriarch Kirill is the most powerful bishop in Russia and enjoys a large following among Russian Orthodox believers. However, his views on politics and religion have often differed from those of his fellow bishops within the Russian Orthodox Church.
His opinions have been particularly controversial, as he has vocally supported President Putin’s war in Ukraine despite Russia’s forces bombing maternity hospitals and killing thousands of civilians in towns they took control of earlier this year.
He has also been an advocate for religious liberty, upholding the rights of religious minorities in Russia and advocating for the formation of an independent civil state. These views have caused controversy within the Russian Orthodox Church which has long experienced internal strife and dissent.
The Local Churches
Today’s Russian Orthodox Church in Russia is an intricate structure. It consists of numerous constituent churches across countries like Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Moldova which are autonomous from the Moscow Patriarchate and operate separately.
Due to their often remote locations in non-Russian regions, churches may be subject to different laws than Russian ones. In some cases, however, their autonomy may be restricted by canon law.
In other cases, they are fully integrated with the ROC. For instance, Latvia has effectively labeled each confession by law as its own “brand,” prohibiting other churches from being registered or even using that brand.
The leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is closely aligned with Vladimir Putin and his political elite, and Patriarch Kirill has openly expressed support for the conflict in Ukraine. Furthermore, Patriarch Kirill has condoned murder, encouraged aggression against civilians, and justified violence on military bases.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
Despite all restrictions, misunderstandings and demands placed upon her, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia continues to uphold Orthodoxy’s traditions and customs, care for its spiritual children, and spread it abroad.
The Church Abroad stands as an inalienable part of Russian Church history, having nurtured and educated her people, created Russia’s great state, and sanctified it with Divine services. She pays unwavering homage to those faithful Russian brothers who remained faithful in their Homeland despite atheist persecution; bowing down before their divine acts in fearless obedience to Christ’s name.
Metropolitan Philaret, as Head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and his predecessors have remained true to Patriarch Tikhon’s principles from November 1920. They are dedicated to safeguarding both Russia’s ecclesiastical legacy from one thousand years of Orthodox Christian life in Russia as well as maintaining independence for the Church Abroad within a wicked world.