News media world-wide described the event as a step in overcoming Russia’s tragic history. The New York Times called the merger “the symbolic end of Russia’s civil war.” But the reality is far more complicated. Not only are there theological and moral issues at stake, but there is also the suspicion among some that Mr. Putin is building new networks of influence by using the church to reach out to Russian émigré communities all over the world. ~Nadia Kizenko

I imagine that there will be a more proper official response to Prof. Kizenko’s unfortunate article than my various blog posts, but until then I want to say a few more things about this.  People at church on Sunday who had seen the article were upset by this, and they regarded it very poorly.  While Prof. Kizenko may encourage those intent on breaking away from the Russian Orthodox Church, which would be a terrible thing for all, she has certainly not persuaded anyone.  One reason is that her article is so thoroughly inaccurate.  Perhaps she felt the need to give the story a political spin to make it attractive to the editors at WSJ.  Perhaps those editors twisted or manipulated her words to give them the worst possible meaning.  I do not know the full story about that, but what I do know is that Prof. Kizenko has misrepresented or misunderstood central issues and matters of fact in the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The reality is complicated and the history of the negotiations much more involved and drawn out than she claims, but it is Prof. Kizenko who has opted to tell a simple story of political meddling and “Putin’s acquisition.”

As for the charge that Mr. Putin would like to reach out to emigre communities, I’m sure this is true.  This is hardly some sinister plot.  Many countries often look to build up networks of communication and support with their Diasporan communities abroad, and as I have suggested in the past this probably was a motive of Mr. Putin in supporting the reconciliation.  In any case, his motives in the matter are beside the point.  An important point to be made here is that the emigre communities of the Russian Church Abroad are hardly so large as to constitute a major resource that the oil-rich master of the Kremlin would make much effort to “acquire” it, to use the Journal’s unfortunate phrase.  Certainly, no one familiar with the Synod would confuse it with having the rather larger financial resources of some other Orthodox jurisdictions.  The gain for Putin and the Moscow Patriarchate in purely wordly terms is very, very small.  Prof. Kizenko’s claim that Moscow now will have access to a “ready-made network of 323 parishes and 20 monasteries in the U.S. alone, and over a million church members in 30 countries [bold mine-DL]” is simply not true.  Would that we had so many parishes and monasteries!  Would that we had so many members!  That would be wonderful news indeed, but it would certainly be news to us.  

The numbers of members worldwide in Synod parishes come to something like 150,000 people.  News stories are frequently inflating the number of parishioners in our churches.  Certainly, if there are so many of us in America alone, it is remarkable that our representation in the greater Chicago area–one of our archdiocesan centers–should be limited to our cathedral and one modest parish.  The ROCOR parish directory is available to anyone who would care to peruse it.  There you will find that, counting parishes and monasteries together, there are only 111 Russian Orthodox Church Abroad churches, monasteries and hermitages in the United States, roughly one third as many as Prof. Kizenko claimed.  In the rest of the world, including what were the ROCOR parishes in Russia, there are 126 listed churches and monasteries outside the U.S., bringing the global total to 237.

More worrisome and dangerous is the hint that there is something suspect about the loyalty of Russian Orthodox, as if they take their orders from the Kremlin.  This sort of argument is absurd when it is applied to Catholics, it is absurd when applied to Mormons, and it is absurd when it is applied to us.  Priests are being cast as agents of political influence, and Orthodox parishes are being made out to be conduits of Moscow’s power.  This is shameful and untrue.  This would be insulting enough, but it also revives ugly and tiresome stereotypes about the Orthodox that we are unacceptably submissive to state control or that state authorities have some undue control over the operations of the Church.  The hoary charge of Caesaropapism lurks just out of view, and with it the claim that we are not much more than “the emperor’s men” or, in this case, “Putin’s men.”  Such compromises have happened occasionally, rarely, in the history of the Church during times of great trials.  Many of the heretical emperors exercised such excessive interference in the affairs of the Church, but this has been so far from the normal state of affairs that it is amazing that this stereotype has endured.