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Patriarch Kirill and Mr. Putin

In the dialogue that the Catholic Church conducts with Russian Orthodoxy, perhaps it would be useful to clarify some important points.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attends the enthronement ceremony of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow Feb. 2009. (CNS photo/Reuters) (Feb. 2, 2009)

The annals of sycophancy are, alas, replete with examples of churchmen toadying to political power. Here in the United States, we’ve seen too much of that among certain evangelical leaders recently. In today’s Sycophancy Sweepstakes, however, it’s hard to top Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

Last December 1, after President Vladimir Putin addressed a meeting of the Episcopal Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill concluded his thanks in these cringe-inducing terms:

“There is nothing more serious and important than moral consensus within society. If there is consensus on the main moral values, then all other social relationships are formed harmoniously … and political practice corresponds to the interests of the people.

“… I  express my gratitude to you for the dialogue we hold together … and for the atmosphere of openness in which our society lives today. I believe that this openness will be the pledge for the certain success of our Fatherland in the near and distant future.

“… I would like to wish you, much esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, long years of life, good health, and God’s aid in the lofty mission the Lord has entrusted to you through the will of the people … May the Lord preserve you!”

In the dialogue that the Catholic Church conducts with Russian Orthodoxy, perhaps it would be useful to clarify the following points.

Does the “political practice” rooted in “moral values” to which the Patriarch referred include the assassination of Putin’s political opponents, such as Boris Nemtsov? Or the murder of his critics, like journalist Anna Politkovskaya? Or the poisoning with radioactive polonium of Alexander Litvinenko, who tried to shed light on Putin’s secret police thugs? Or the recent use of a weapons-grade nerve agent in England against two Russians of whom Putin disapproved? Are the ethics of these practices part of the patriarch’s “dialogue” with the president?

What are the “moral values” that inform Putin’s claim that the collapse of the Soviet Union, a murderous tyranny, was the worst geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century?

Why doesn’t the “atmosphere of openness” in which Russian “society lives today” extend to Alexei Navalny, the brave dissident who was not permitted to run in last month’s presidential election? How is that “atmosphere of openness” affected by 24/7 state-sponsored propaganda inside Russia, which depicts Vladimir Putin as the one man who can save the country from Western aggression and domestic traitors? In an “atmosphere of openness,” why has Mr. Putin been the beneficiary for eighteen years of a colossal, Kremlin-organized personality cult – more sophisticated than that of the late, unlamented Mao Zedong, to be sure, but of the same character?

Does the “certain success of our Fatherland in the near and distant future” mean the permanent occupation of Crimea, the ongoing presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, and the continuation of the low-grade but lethal war Russia is waging against its neighbor? Does it mean the destabilization of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia? Does it mean continued Russian support for the Syrian butcher, Bashar al-Assad? Does that “continued success” depend on Russian internet trolls and bots sowing discord and confusion (not to mention lies and propaganda) around the world? How does the alternative reality created by this tsunami of disinformation square with harmonious “social relationships”? How does it advance “the interests of the people”?

How is “the will of the people” expressed through charades that aren’t “elections” in any real sense of the term? Is the “lofty mission which the Lord has entrusted” to Mr. Putin a mission-without-end? And does that “lofty mission” include Putin’s accumulation of extraordinary wealth? Did the Lord really intend that Mr. Putin be president-for-life and a multi-billionaire to boot?

The extraordinary spiritual riches of Russian Orthodoxy are squandered when its leaders engage in this sort of propagandistic rubbish. The Russian Church suffered terribly under Lenin, Stalin, and their heirs. Its martyrs, who number in the millions, are dishonored when the bishops of a putatively free Church play the role of chaplain to the omnipotent and infallible czar, rather than speaking truth to power. Putin has cynically cast himself as the savior of Christian values and the Russian Church leadership has not only acquiesced in, but promoted, that farce. After years of suffering, Russian Orthodox believers deserve something better than this. So does true ecumenical dialogue.

About George Weigel 172 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (Ignatius Press, 2018). Mr. Weigel received a B.A. from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore and an M.A. from the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto. He is the recipient of eighteen honorary doctorates in fields including divinity, philosophy, law, and social science.

8 Comments

  1. The theocon strikes again!

    The patriarchate of Rome is not in any position to make demands of anything that it does not demand of its own dissident bishops.

  2. Wow, was this article needed! You would not believe the number of our fellow Catholics who give Putin a pass on almost everything because of some pandering to the Orthodox church e.g. banning obscenities in movies, banning public displays of affection between homosexuals etc. One poster on a Catholic forum actually called Putin a ‘devout follower of Jesus’. Putin has used such superficial actions to lure church members onto his team. It looks like he has succeded beyond his wildest dreams. As Our Lady said at Fatima, Russia will continue to spread its’ errors. As far as Putin goes, he’s got my vote for the Anti-Christ. That’s one election he can’t rig!

  3. Sorry to have to say it, but Weigel’s article is pure neocon/war party trash.
    Putin got into real trouble with the Western elites when he cracked down on LBGTQ?… propaganda.
    As for Crimea: it for centuries has been as Russian as the Rhine is German. As for Ukraine: it was tending toward an alliance with the morally corrupt Western elites of NATO and the EU. As for Syria: the Christians enjoyed a relatively “safer space” under the Assads (just as they did in Iraq, under Saddam) than they have or will have under the bloodthirsty Islamic savages of either ISIS or the rebel idiots the US has been backing.
    Russia under Putin isn’t the atheistic Soviet Union, so why do all of the neocons want a new cold (or hot) war?
    Sorry, George. You need to go back to your wonky think tank and think again.

    • Thank you, Robert, there are people who can think for themselves after all and don’t blindly follow the money or the media. The best term to describe George Weigle is Hollow.

  4. Of course the American Evangelical pastors he is referring to are the one who support President Trump. Weigel was hoping Hilary Clinton would win.

  5. George Weigel has provided some facts regarding the situation in Russia. However he has not provided the complete context. Orthodoxy in Russia is primarily a cultural phenomenon. The depth of faith is shallow for many. The Church was critically ill under communism and is only now recovering and unlike Poland, have insufficient support from the people to battle a semi-dictator like Putin. IMHO, the bishops are taking a long-term view. More churches are opening and it is culturally more acceptable to be a committed Christian than it is in the USA. I suspect the strategy is to live (the Church that is) and wait for better times than to have the Church die at the hands of a sociopath.

    I am a little surprised that GW called out evangelical leaders here. More appropriately, he should have called out American bishops who have consistantly supported the Baby Killer party (aka democrats) and have failed to fight the culture war. The decline in western culture is the root cause of the decline in the Church. OUR bishops haven’t the courage to call out the rot that comes from Hollywood or the MSM. Which is more risky, Calling out Putin or calling out some idiot like Katy Perry? 50 years from now, Russia will be Christian and the US will be as pagan as Sodom and Gomorrah. Who’s sin will be greater, Krill’s or Cupich’s Tobin’s…?

    GW, you’re throwing stones from the parapet of a glass house.
    or to use a more biblical reference, we have beams in our eyes, let’s not criticize those who have splinters.

    • This is correct. It’s important to realize that the ROC was reconstituted during WWII and Kirill and other Metropolitans were used by the KGB. There is no real indication that Kirill is anything other than a worker for the state.

  6. George Weigel who condemns abortions but smirks when thousands of Arab Christians are killed, better never to have been born as they sometimes say, good luck George.

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