The man who is trying to build a third Rome – with a little help from Putin
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow / #89
A new chapter in the history of "power and church" is currently written. The focus of this chapter: Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church.
The beginning of the whole story is the East-West Schism of 1054.
The Schism (also known as the "Great Schism" or "Schism of 1054") is the break between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The Western church stayed loyal to the pope in Rome; Eastern Christianity became part of the church in Constantinople (today: Istanbul).
In the ensuing centuries, the Constantinople patriarch maintained a first among equals status among Eastern-Orthodox churches, but others became influential, including Moscow.
With Putin's support, Patriarch Kirill seems to see an opportunity to expand his power and that of his church. His support for Putin's war of aggression can hardly be explained otherwise.
Among others, Kirill has called Putin's long tenure "a miracle of God" and called the war in Ukraine a just defence against liberal conspiracies to infiltrate Ukraine with "gay parades."
Patriarch Kirill stands firmly at President Putin's side. And Putin stands firmly at the side of Patriarch Kirill.
Because the two are beneficial to each other.
When Putin was looking for a conservative ideology, Kirill managed to sell the concept of traditional values to him.
Kirill got thousands of new churches and probably a lot of personal wealth (according to the New York Times, there are reports of luxurious apartments owned by Kirill and his family, billions in secret bank accounts, Swiss chalets and yachts and a photo in which Kirill wore a Breguet Réveil du Tsar model watch, worth about 30,000 dollars, a marker of membership to the Russian elite.)
With Putin's help, Kirill is also trying to expand the power of his church.
"Third Rome" is a theological and political concept which was formulated in the 15th–16th centuries asserting that Moscow is the successor of the Roman Empire, representing a "third Rome" in succession to the first Rome (Rome itself, capital of Ancient Rome) and the second Rome (Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire).
But with the massive resistance to Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the rejection of the invasion by large parts of the world, Kirill's religious fantasies of world power could vanish.
Reconciliation with the Western church is off the table, there are efforts to expel the Russian church from the World Council of Churches, and the European Commission targeted Kirill as part of its sixth package of sanctions against Russia.
"Yet," Jason Horowitz wrote, "Kirill has not wavered." He is calling for public support of the war so that Russia can "repel its enemies, both external and internal," as Kirill has said. And he smiled broadly with other loyalists during the Victory Day parade in Moscow recently.
Even if he thinks differently today, there is probably no way back for him. Kirill will win with Putin – or perish.