“Putin’s Corrupted Orthodoxy” is the title of Philip Jenkins’ new essay in The American Conservative. Jenkins, a distinguished scholar of religion and chronicler of Christianity in the Global South, writes the following:
When Communism fell, the church returned to visibility, and the last quarter-century has witnessed a startling and many-sided revival. Places of worship have been rebuilt, monasteries flourish again, and pilgrimage shrines have begun a new era of mass popularity. The post-Soviet religious restoration was supervised by the then-Patriarch Alexy II (1990-2008) and by his successor, Kirill…
When Kirill presents Orthodox Russia as a bastion of true faith, besieged by the false values and immorality of a secularized West, his words are deeply appreciated by both the state and the church….Holy Russia confronts a Godless and decadent West. It is Putin, not Kirill, who has warned that “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values….We should not see Kirill as a rogue cleric abandoning the interests of his church to seek political favors: he really believes every word. Whether Putin and his circle literally believe the religious rhetoric is not relevant: they act as if they do…Kirill extended the church’s blessings to the pro-Moscow regime in Belarus after a highly troubling election. In Ukraine, Kirill completely echoed Putin’s line that the Russian-sponsored separatist guerrillas were well-intentioned local citizens who justifiably feared oppression by the Kiev regime. Kirill even granted church honors to Cuba’s Castro brothers. All is in God’s hands, it is all His will.
I am not sure what Jenkins means by “corrupted Orthodoxy.” What did uncorrupted Orthodoxy look like? The Russian Church, like its ancestor the Byzantine Church, has always been consubstantial with the State, and Russia has considered itself the center of Christianity (the “Third Rome,” after the fall of Rome in the 5th century and Constantinople in the 15th) since Philotheus of Pskov in 1510. One could argue that Putin represents authentic Russian identity, that is, the only characteristically Russian identity that Russia has ever known.