January 7, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9127

Russian Orthodox Liberal Sergei Chapnin: Corona And Patriarch Kirill's Policies Have Deepened The Crisis Of Russian Orthodoxy

January 7, 2021
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9127 posted an article by Leonid Smirnov on his conversation with the Russian-Orthodox liberal media figure Sergei Chapnin the former deputy editor-in-chief of the Moscow Patriarchate publishing house, and a person active in church relations with the secular population. Chapnin believes that the pandemic has hit the church hard and made it even further dependent on government patronage. This comes at a price, because the government dictates terms in terms of the design of church windows to the place of god in the Russian constitution. Additionally, the severed ties between the Moscow and Greek Orthodox Patriarchates over the latter's recognition of the independence of the Ukrainian Church from Moscow,[1] is leading to splitting Orthodoxy into national churches with no connection between them. Chapnin's misgivings were merely reinforced by the decision of the Moscow patriarchy to strip protodeacon Andrei Kuraev a liberal churchman and whistleblower, who is also critical of the schism in Orthodoxy, of his honorary rank. Chapnin is convinced that Patriarch Kirill must resign for the good of the church but is equally convinced that this is not going to happen.

Chapnin's discussion with Smirnov follows below:[2]

Sergei Chapnin (Source:

"The past year was a difficult one for the Russian Orthodox Church [“ROC”], and not only due to the pandemic, which has posed a challenge for the church (as well as for society in its entirety), but also due to the decisions of the church hierarchy.

"The results of the year 2020 for the Russian Orthodox Church (from the point of view of its liberal and intellectual wing) were discussed at an online round table with the well-known Christian journalist and public figure Sergei Chapnin According to the speaker, the previous year was momentous for the ROC: 'in 2020 the church has changed in a way that it hadn't changed for 10 years. Perhaps this process is comparable to the entire 30-years-long church revival after the fall of the USSR.'

"The discussion at the online round table started with the most pressing issue - the coronavirus pandemic.

“'Many sorrowfully remember today their enthusiasm for religious processions and “[hot air balloon] ascensions' - said Chapnin, recalling that some Christians also ascended on a hot air balloons with icons, hoping to drive away the infection. 'Some bishops said that the [church] bell ringing kills the virus ... Orthodox “magicians” should be ashamed of such games today.' - emphasized the speaker.

"Most importantly, it seems that the coronavirus has infringed upon the centuries-old immutable Orthodox tradition of communion from a single spoon (Lzhitza) [Lzhitza- a liturgical communion spoon in Orthodoxy]. 'When the church decree on disinfection of Lzhitza in an alcohol solution was issued,' - said Sergei Chapnin, - 'at first the priests tried to implement the decree just formally. However, they quickly realized, that swirling a Lzhitza for 3-4 seconds in an alcohol solution does absolutely nothing. The virus was not destroyed.'

"Thus, many priests looked for another solution, and two 'unique practices' arose: in some churches disposable or metal Lzhitzas appeared. (Wherein, the metal ones were issued to each priest and later were sterilized.) And the second solution was:  to return to the ancient practice of 'communion in hand'. In this case the prosphora [a leavened bread] is given to the communicant on a napkin, and a priest splashes a few drops of communion wine on it with a liturgy spear-shaped knife.

"According to Chapnin’s testimony, many priests, both old and young, quite easily switched to these new practices. 'But there were different stories. I know several priests who directly forbade serving “communion in the hand,' - added the speaker, claiming that he saw a denunciation in one of the parishes, in which an overzealous man wrote: 'We do not know what kind of sacrament we received: Russian Orthodox or Catholic.'

"From particular topics the discussion moved to general ones: the speaker commented on the financial state of the church, which was devastated by the pandemic. Of course: the most beautiful temples and monasteries in landmark places survive primarily thanks to tourism. Many parishes live 'not at the expense of parishioners, whose number is miniscule, but at the expense of visitors, of whom there are many'. And very many priests survive due to income from church services: weddings, christenings, funeral services ...

"So, it is clear that the market for church services (except funerals) shrunk significantly during the epidemic. 'I know dozens of churches where there was not a single wedding in the summer'” said Chapnin. He also revealed that giant Orthodox publishing houses can no longer sell large book runs.  The main manufacturer of church utensils – Sofrinsky Workshops couldn't extricate itself from financial crisis for many years even without the epidemic. Now, apparently, this business won’t ever be able to recover at all.

"As one of the solutions to overcoming the financial crisis, Sergei Chapnin suggested that the Russian state, that in any case perceives the church's role as a large state corporation, can actually assign it such a status (choosing the appropriate wording), and after that provide direct state aid.

"Moreover, this year, on Victory Day [May9] the main temple of the Russian Armed Forces in Patriot Park was opened, which could be perceived as a certain demonstrative gesture depicting the church’s role as a state corporation.

“'The big cathedral was deliberately constructed outside the city and at a distance from the parishioners' dwelling places, in the military-patriotic park [Patriot Park]. -  noted the speaker. – filling the front of the church, on a large square, is an ice rink, and people are invited to ice-skate. There is nothing wrong in such entertainment. The question lies in the church's purpose.'

"The cathedral, as Chapnin correctly interpreted, 'was created as a tourist site', it 'wasn’t intended to be a parishonal center, of any community, it is a corporate temple of one of the most influential, powerful and wealthy corporations – the [Russian] army'. And it must incorporate obvious opulence, including technological opulence.

"Most of all, Chapnin lamented the stained-glass depiction of [military] medals on the glass vaults of the cathedral. The 'sincere lack of church-oriented thinking of the decorators' was expressed by the mix of Imperial and Soviet medals, including even a depiction of the 'Order of the Red Banner”, with the visible caption: “Workers of all countries, unite!”. 'But the most appalling thing: in the interior decoration the idea of the patronage of the Mother of God is demonstrated so bluntly [rudely], that is just horrifying,' - stated the speaker.

"At the same time, the speaker noted that the new amendments to the Constitution will hardly please every believer, especially a thinking one. According to Chapnin, God was mentioned in the Constitution not on the first, and not even on the fifth place. Instead God in the new edition of the basic law was just “the cherry on the cake”, 'God is in a subordinate position in relation to our ancestors.' “God is powerless to influence anything; it is a small “Pocket God”.' - said Chapnin. 'One should be ashamed of God’s mention in such a context.'

"The same [problematic conditions] exist in foreign policy. Sergei Chapnin believes that the most alarming moment is that a few months ago, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) of Borispol and Brovary 'made a public anti-Greek manifesto. And no one objected to Anthony's rejection manifesto of the ecumenical mission of Russian Orthodoxy.'

"'We can say, that the ideology of opposition to the Ecumenical Patriarchate has already emerged: such people claim that it [Ecumenical Patriarchate] is no longer part of the Orthodoxy, but an imperfect likeness,' - noted the speaker. 'The next move could be a declaration on the complete autonomy of the Church of the Russian Federation and, possibly, the Church of Belarus, Kazakhstan, etc. Churches that would be totally unconnected with other local churches. So much has already been done in this direction, that the task is practically completed.'

"The Orthodox intellectuals themselves would prefer a completely different way out of the crisis: ' maximum freedom to parishes', so that only those issues, which cannot be resolved at the parish level, would be delegated to the top church authorities.

"'This, of course, will require a 180-degree U-turn from the policy pursued by Patriarch Kirill for many years. '[In this case] the parishioners will be able to decide on language of worship, and on the appointment of a priests,' - Sergei Chapnin briefly outlined the proposed solution. – 'These far-fetched [ideas] can become reality a pretty soon. Otherwise, at the next stage, everything might simply collapse.'

Patriarch Kirill (Source:

"By the way, Church Slavonic as a language of service is slowly being replaced by Russian, although the number of such parishes is still very small, there is a tendency nonetheless.

The participants of the round table also discussed two church antiheroes of the year, who were subjected to church punishments. One of them is the rebellious fundamentalist, former schema monk Sergius (now – just Nikolai Romanov) - and the other one is the overly cheerful Bishop Flavian (Mitrofanov), who was banned from performing church services and fled to London.

"Regarding [the Covid-denier] Sergius, a lot has already been said before: Chapnin only noted that this populist has successfully proved himself to be a charismatic leader against the background of bureaucratic church priests. These days 'All Orthodox holding office, generally behave like bureaucrats., and a social demand exists for such leaders.'

Regarding Flavian, the speaker noted that this is 'a priest who served in Samara, but ended up in London, practically leaving his family,'. This priest after only three months of monasticism, became a bishop in a small but well-sponsored diocese (in Cherepovets).

"According to the information that Chapnin revealed, the patriarch intended to make Flavian the administrator of the ROC parishes in North America. (A certain role in favor of this decision was played by the fact that Flavian received British citizenship. According to the speaker, after a number of scandals [in Russia–United States relations], the patriarchate feared that the new ROC administrator simply wouldn’t get a visa to the United States).

"'Flavian even paid a visit to American parishes (at first with a delegation). However, he somewhat abruptly began behaving like a boss. And 'our Americans' wrote a letter to Patriarch Kirill, stating that they did not want such a bishop. I think that Flavian’s resentment over his failed relationship with America had a very strong impact on his psyche,' - suggested Chapnin.

P. S. Already after this article was written, the news came that the Diocesan Court deprived Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev[3] of his honorific rank.

“'After everything that has happened, I see only one way out of this situation: the voluntary resignation of Patriarch Kirill and the removal of his team from any administrative posts. But alas, it is ridiculous and naive to expect wisdom or even sobriety of thought from the current patriarch in assessing the situation. The opposition sits silently by, and this means that the degradation of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will be profound and difficult,' – wrote Sergei Chapnin in his Facebook account."

Andrei Kuraev (Source:


[2], January 5, 2021.

[3] Kuraev a former protodeacon of the church has been a frequent critic of the Moscow Patriarchy. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7721, Russian Theologian Andrey Kuraev: There Is An Attempt To 'Smear' The Ukrainian Conflict Over The Entire Ecclesiastical World, October 22, 2018.

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