Again, this is a good thing, not only for the healing of the Church but also of Russia. Whatever is in Putin’s heart, he’s allowing this to happen, and that can’t be taken away from him. Although the whiff of Caesaropapism stings my Western nostrils. It struck me as telling that Alexy praised Putin’s essential quality, the thing that won over the ROCOR holdouts, as devotion to Russia, not to Christ. ~Rod Dreher

I would take issue with two points in Rod’s otherwise good post on the reconciliation with Moscow.  First, he refers to it as ROCOR’s schism with Moscow, as if the Russian Orthodox in exile had chosen to break away from Moscow out of some sort of pique rather than principled resistance to collusion with an anti-Christian regime.  On the contrary, the Church Abroad had gone out of communion with Moscow because the Patriarchate had begun colluding with what was remembered in Synodal service books until the early ’90s as “the godless authority.”  It was a question of conscientious refusal to participate in that error, an error that fortunately was brought to an end with the collapse of that authority.  It is now in the past, slava Christe Bozhe, but it is important to remember that the Russian Orthodox outside Russia were doing the only thing that they could have done when the Soviets were in power.  There is, incidentally, something slightly inconsistent in hitting ROCOR for schism while at the same time complaining about “Caesaropapism” because of Putin’s involvement in helping to facilitate the reconciliation.

The other thing I would say is that Caesaropapism is not evident here.  This is mainly because Caesaropapism does not exist, at least not in the Orthodox world.  What people think of when they hear that term is the emperor or sovereign governing the church as if he were in a position of authority akin to that of the Pope.  Hence the name.  Caesaropapism in that form found its first real expressions in…England under Henry VIII and various Lutheran and other Protestant states in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  When Otto of Bavaria became King of Greece after independence, the relations between the sovereign and the Church of Greece were organised along the traditions inherited from the post-Augsburg German context (cuius regio, eius religio) rather than anything resembling either the idealised Byzantine symphoneia or the more basic, mundane distinction of secular and religious authorities that prevailed in Byzantium and again in Muscovy.  This German and Protestant Caesaropapism served as the model for the Petrine reforms, including ther introduction of Caesaropapism into Russia along with advance of Western-style absolutism.  Obviously, the subjection of the Church to the Soviet state was a more extreme example of this relationship, which outsiders have routinely and wrongly assumed to be the norm of church-state relations in Orthodox countries.   If there was or still is any Caesaropapist tendency in Russia, it came there by way of Westernising and modernising reforms that aimed to exalt the state and diminish any institutions that might pose a challenge to the centrality of the state. 

I generally try to offer some perspective on why Putin does what he does and why he is not quite the villain the Western media make him out to be (which is not to say that he is a particularly good or just President), and I certainly don’t and wouldn’t dispute Putin’s profession of Orthodoxy, but he has been a major booster of reconciliation at least partly as a way to encourage Diasporan Russians, including second and third generation Diasporans, to either come home to help or to do more to reinvest in Russia.  It is not so much a question of Putin “allowing” this–since he does not actually control the Church–as it is a question of Patriarch Alexei permitting him to receive some of the credit for the fruits of what have been the labours of Orthodox bishops from Russia and throughout the Diaspora.  The disunity among Russian Orthodox presented some practical obstacles to rallying ethnic Russians around the world to support Russia more than they have done.  There is also some small truth to the charge that some Diasporans have wanted the reconciliation for both nationalist and patriotic reasons: they wish all Russians to be (at least theoretically) joined together, and they also believe this will be good for Russia.  If these were the overwhelming or primary reasons for the reconciliation, that would be more of a problem, but I am of the opinion that these are contributing, mostly harmless factors that have added impetus to the fundamental drive to restore the unity of Russian Orthodox Christians.