The Russian Orthodox Church is a foundation stone of Russia’s political order and its influence in the so-called ‘Russian world’. It has played a central part in Russia’s imperial wars and in the rewriting of history. Therefore, more awareness must be raised about the political impact of the Russian Orthodox Church on historical controversies.
This was one of the leading messages that all speakers agreed on during the presentation of the recent report „The Russian Orthodox Church: Faith, Power and Conquest“ on 28 January 2020 organised by the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute (EFPI) at the ICDS.
Together with the authors of the report – James Sherr (Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at ICDS) and Kaarel Kullamaa (Aarhus University) – the report was discussed by Viktor Yelenski (Dragomanov National Pedagogical University) and Natalia Frolova (´The Insider´ and Ekho Moskvy). The event was moderated by Kristi Raik, Director of the EFPI at the ICDS.
The speakers stressed that awareness must be raised especially in Western countries where understanding of particular parts of history regarding the Russian Orthodox Church is very much shaped by Russia whose reading of this history is not acceptable to countries like Estonia and Ukraine – the two case studies examined in the report. For example, just as the Russian Federation has preserved the Soviet line that the Baltic states had joined the USSR voluntarily, so the Russian Orthodox Church has maintained the fiction that the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church had returned to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarch in 1940 at its own request.
James Sherr, Senior Fellow of the EFPI at the ICDS, emphasized that the ideas of president Putin are not something new but hundreds of years old. According to him „war against Ukraine is not going away“, while Russia would be willing to take any measures to confront patriarch Bartholomew who granted a tomos to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
Kaarel Kullamaa, MA Student in European Studies at Aarhus University, noted that the Russian Orthodox Church in Estonia has been representing the minority and therefore has not had such a considerable role in shaping the country´s politics as it has in Ukraine and Russia.
Natalia Frolova, Correspondent of Ekho Moskvy in Lithuania, underlined that only few authors and journalists dare to analyse the topic due to its sensitivity: „There are a lot of believers in Russia as well as in Ukraine and they do not write about the Orthodox Church because there is a saying that one should only speak good about the dead, if at all.“ She noted that while 75% of the Russian population claim they are Orthodox Christians, only less than 10% actually attend to church.
Viktor Yelenski, Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion, Dragomanov National Pedagogical University in Kyiv commended the report as honest and „not common at our time of post-truth era“.