5 theses of Patriarch Kirill
We analyze the interview of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, in which the Primate assessed the current global agenda from the Church’s point of view.
On the feast of the Nativity of Christ, according to the already established tradition, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, gave an interview to the “Russia” TV channel. During the conversation, His Holiness expressed a number of theses that are extremely relevant for our present-day life. It makes sense to reflect on the words of the Patriarch and in some ways, perhaps, even disagree.
Topic 1: Coronavirus pandemic
Patriarch Kirill calls COVID-19 “the most dangerous virus” and speaks of the pandemic as a test that befell the entire human race. The Patriarch gave historical examples of plague epidemics: in Western Europe in the middle of the XIV century, when about half of the population died; in Moscow in the middle of the 17th century and in Odessa in 1837. His Holiness dwelled on the last example in more detail: “When in 1837 plague broke out in Odessa, the governor Count Vorontsov and the local archbishop of Chersones and Taurida Gabriel took joint decisions which we are today trying to emulate. I can imagine how archbishop Gabriel felt – at a time when churches played a central role in peoples’ lives – when he ordered churches to be closed. Church buildings were closed for two months and after that access to them was limited: police detachments stood outside every church so that the number of people would not exceed the distance that had to be observed between them. And in addition to this it was not allowed to venerate crosses or icons.”
Modern quarantine measures are practically the same, and His Holiness the Patriarch refers to this historical experience in substantiating his orders regarding the observance of sanitary standards in churches. He said that it was extremely painful and upsetting for him to have to appeal to the faithful not to attend churches at the height of the spring quarantine, but he decided to take such a step out of concern for the health of people.
Before commenting on the arguments of His Holiness the Patriarch, we should cite his statement, which we fully support: “Non-attendance of church should never weaken our faith, bring down the level of our life in the Church and worse still undermine the moral foundations of the Christian life. If alongside with non-attendance of church we cease to be good Christians or simply stop being Christians, then this is a great sin. But to be patient and wait a while at a time when attending church could end up with very dangerous consequences for our health is also the duty of every Christian.”
Now - criticism.
First, the Patriarch says that quarantine, including the closure of churches, is a temporary measure. But the World Health Organization just over a month ago warned of the possibility of the next pandemic. And the world's leading epidemiologists say that the likelihood of the appearance of new deadly viruses in the near future is very high. And since quarantine was chosen as the main weapon in the fight against epidemics, will it not turn out that quarantine measures, including the closure of churches, will become a permanent practice? What will the Church say then? And wouldn't it then be very difficult to protest against what the Church has so quickly agreed to today?
Will it not turn out that quarantine measures, including the closure of churches, will become a permanent practice? What will the Church say then? And wouldn't it then be very difficult to protest against what the Church has so quickly agreed to today?
Secondly, the danger of plague epidemics mentioned by the Patriarch is simply incomparable with the coronavirus. If the mortality rate from COVID-19 ranges from 0.07% in Singapore to 15.61% in France (Ukraine – 2.98%, Russia – 1.05%), then the death rate from the plague in the past ranged from 95 to 100%! The mortality rate from common flu is about 1%, and in absolute numbers, it is up to 650,000 deaths annually, and for some reason no one panics, raises the alarm and says that we must take any measures to save these of people. Moreover, if we take into account that, according to scientists, there are about 10 times more cases infected with coronavirus, it turns out that influenza is an even more fatal disease than COVID. At the same time, no one is close to taking such harsh measures as a lockdown against the flu. The current pandemic has already spread enough around the world and either the readers of this article or their loved ones must have already had a coronavirus.
The disease is very bad, no one argues, but it hardly even remotely resembles the description of the plague epidemic in Moscow mentioned by Patriarch Kirill in the middle of the 17th century: “Sometimes, when it [the plague] entered a house, it cleansed it completely, so that no one was left in it. Dogs and pigs wandered around the houses, as there was no one to drive them out and lock the doors. The city, which was once teeming with people, is now depopulated. The villages, too, were undoubtedly deserted, and the monks in the monasteries also died out”, “a man could stand and suddenly instantly falls dead or rides on horseback or in a cart and falls on his back lifeless, immediately swells like a bubble, turns black and takes on an unpleasant appearance". By the way, with all the quarantine measures, then not only the temples were not closed, but also mass cross processions were held and the so-called ordinary temples were built. On the one hand, scientists argue that this only contributed to the spread of the disease, but on the other hand, there is numerous historical evidence of the cessation of the epidemic after such prayer services, in particular in Kazan, Moscow, Tver and other cities.
Of course, it is foolish to ignore the presence and danger of the coronavirus epidemic, but it would be perfectly logical to ask the question: aren’t the quarantine measures obviously exaggerated? Don’t they serve some other purpose that is not directly related to the disease? His Holiness Patriarch Kirill did not ask these questions and for some reason did not connect the topic of coronavirus with the next topic of the interview, despite the obviousness of such a connection.
It is foolish to ignore the presence and danger of the coronavirus epidemic, but it would be perfectly logical to ask the question: aren’t the quarantine measures obviously exaggerated? Don’t they serve some other purpose that is not directly related to the disease?
Topic 2: Electronic control over people
His Holiness the Patriarch expressed his serious concern about the development of digital technologies: “Digital technologies are capable of creating tools that ensure total control over a person. Easily. Nothing like this could have happened in the past. <…> The book of the Apocalypse says that the coming of the Antichrist will be accompanied by total control over a person, these words are not used there, but from the content it is quite clear that it goes about the ability to totally control human behaviour. The following image is used there: the seal of antichrist will be imposed on a person's forehead, and without this seal it will be impossible to buy, sell, or participate in any social relations. Man is doomed to perish."
According to His Holiness, the image of the Antichrist will be very attractive, he will offer an effective solution to the serious problems that will exist in his time and open up great opportunities for people never seen before. But at the same time, a precondition for access to these opportunities will be the same seal. Already today, many opportunities are already tied to various kinds of electronic cards and there is very little left to make such access total. The Patriarch in rather harsh words declared his rejection of such total control: “The maximum development of total control over a person means slavery and everything depends on who will be the master of these slaves. That is why the Church is categorically against the use of digital technologies to ensure total control over the human person."
On this issue, one cannot but agree with the words of His Holiness the Patriarch. Everyone can watch today how the prophecies of the Apocalypse come true. Indeed, everything should be done to oppose such totalitarianism. But the words that “we are categorically against” are still just words and cannot resist the frantic pace of development of digital technologies. In 2013, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted the document "The position of the Church in connection with the development of technologies for recording and processing personal data", in which it insisted that the state should provide an alternative to digital accounting, and citizens who do not want to receive an identification number should not be infringed upon in rights. But since then, the "digitalization" has gone far ahead.
It is impossible to stop this development. The 19th century Luddite movement against the Industrial Revolution and all similar attempts were demonstratively unsuccessful. However, it is possible to develop such solutions that will allow for some time to keep digital technologies within certain legislative frameworks that do not infringe on fundamental human rights. And for this, it is necessary not only to declare a protest but to propose our own model for the functioning of digital technologies, the principles and conditions under which human rights and the inviolability of personal life would be observed. We would like to think that such work is already being carried out in the Russian Orthodox Church and we will soon hear about its results because the ROC is probably the only Local Church in the world that can mobilize the necessary personnel, organizational and political resources to solve this problem.
Topic 3: Conflicts in Belarus and Karabakh
Regarding the situation with protests after the presidential elections in Belarus, the words of the Patriarch were predictable: “We fully support metropolitan Benjamin, the new head of the exarchate of Belarus and of the Belarussian Orthodox Church and all the Belarussian episcopate who have appealed to the people to stop the violence and go along the path of reconciliation. This appeal was made to everyone. The authorities permitted instances of unjustified violence and excessive use of force, yet on the side of the protesters there have also been instances of radical behaviour.”
As for the conflict in Karabakh, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill provided very interesting information: “The Russian Orthodox Church initiated discussion of the Karabakh problem with the participation of the Catholicos of All Armenians and with the participation of the Grand Mufti of Azerbaijan Allahshükür Pashazadeh. We conducted several rounds of negotiations and reached agreement upon many things. <…> it is the religious leaders who bear in full measure responsibility for the spiritual state of their nation. And what is a spiritual state? Whatever power takes the upper hand – whether it be the power of peace, love and tranquillity or the power of evil – will determine peoples’ behaviour. <…> In the course of these negotiations concrete results were attained – an exchange of prisoners, the refusal to use religious symbols and religious rhetoric or a religious motivation to incite the warring factions.”
It turns out that in military conflicts, religious leaders may well act as peacemakers (which, in fact, they are obliged to do), and not stir up warlike sentiments in their flock.
Of course, the conflict in Donbass differs significantly from the conflict in Karabakh, but one cannot fail to notice how the heads of the OCU and the UGCC, Sergei Dumenko and Sviatoslav Shevchuk, set up the people who trusted them for further confrontation, inspire them to fight "to the very end", to set them up to dislike the opposite side, using precisely religious phraseology and motivation. It turns out that what the leaders of the Monophysites (the Armenian Church) and the Muslims of Azerbaijan were able to understand is incomprehensible to the leaders of the OCU and Ukrainian Greek Catholics. It's very upsetting.
Topic 4: The Crime of Patriarch Bartholomew
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill did not clothe his words in diplomatically streamlined forms but said directly: “The Phanar did not simply make a mistake but committed a crime. I say this with a sense of great sadness. The Patriarch of Constantinople did what he did not off the top of his own head and not upon his own say so.”
Patriarch Kirill said that he possesses information that allows him to assert the interference of "powerful political forces emanating from one of the world superpowers" in the Phanar's decisions on Ukraine. Actually, the officials of the U.S. State Department did not try to hide this, conducting negotiations with church hierarchs in different countries and making appropriate statements. And the goal of all these efforts was one – to destroy the unity of Orthodoxy.
“What was the logic of those who were behind Patriarch Bartholomew, of those who properly speaking stirred up this conflict? The logic was to tear Russia, Orthodox Russia away from her Orthodox brothers and sisters in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Because, as these strategic analysts believe, Orthodoxy has played and continues to play far too big a role in the formation of a spiritual and cultural commonality.”
Can we say that the goal of these strategists has been achieved? Yes and no. Indeed, a split in Orthodoxy has taken place and its healing is not yet visible. Indeed, a split occurs along the national line between the conditionally Slavic and conditionally Greek Churches. This is a completely wrong principle of separation that was imposed from the outside, but it worked. However, "these strategists" did not take into account some points.
First, the division of the Church is impossible in principle, simply because the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. It is possible to separate from Her through the sin (in this case, of schism) of separate parts. It is also possible to reunite these parts through repentance. Organizationally and quantitatively, it is possible to weaken the Church, but essentially, ontologically – never.
Secondly, the recognition of the OCU by the Churches of Greece, Alexandria and Cyprus is accompanied by the active resistance of a significant part of the bishops of these Churches, moreover, bishops who have very high authority both in their homeland and throughout the world. For example, the famous theologian Metropolitan Athanasius of Limassol. This gives hope that, despite the apostasy of the heads of the aforementioned Churches and part of the episcopate, the spiritual commonality that Patriarch Kirill spoke about will still be preserved.
But speaking about the fact that the decisions of the Phanar on Ukraine were imposed from outside, Patriarch Kirill did not mention that this imposition from outside met with the desire of the Phanar itself to obtain the primacy of power in the Orthodox world and dominate over the rest of the Local Churches. Without this desire to be “First without equals”, the efforts of U.S. State Department officials would be in vain. And this desire, which directly contradicts the Orthodox teaching about the Church, must be properly assessed by the Local Churches. In other words, the papal claims of the Bishop of Constantinople should be called the same heresy as the claims of the Bishop of Rome were called in due time.
His Holiness the Patriarch also paid attention to the transformation of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque: “Patriarch Bartholomew has brought schismatics into the holy Church of Sophia in Kiev and lost the Church of Sophia in Constantinople as it has now become a mosque. I would like people to reflect upon what has happened. You have taken away the Church of St. Sophia in Kiev from Orthodox people, from the Orthodox Church, you have gone there and brought with you schismatics, and then you lost your own Church of St. Sophia… I believe that it is hard to imagine any clearer consequences resulting from God’s command, and these consequences came about rapidly because the sin was too great.”
It is a pity that Patriarch Bartholomew himself and the bishops supporting him do not see this.
Epilogue: On fun and joy
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill: “The holiday is accompanied by the manifestation of two emotions: fun and joy. It would seem the same thing, but this is not at all the same. Fun is an external emotion <...>, and joy is a state of mind. When we partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, no one entertains us, but we leave the church with joy in our hearts. <...> Let people laugh and have fun, but let's remember that the fun will pass very quickly: the TV is turned off, the lights are turned off, the feast is over, and the fun is over. But it is important to keep joy in the heart, and joy is a gift from God. <...> And I wish to keep this Christmas divine joy in my heart as long as possible."
It is difficult to add anything to these words of Patriarch Kirill. This Christmas joy should never leave us. After all, whatever happens around, no matter what winds and hurricanes rage, we are in the true Church – the Father's home, which will stand indestructible until the end of time.