February 12, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9180

Russian Orthodox Scholar Chapnin: The Church, By Marching Lock Step With The Authorities, Is Alienating Russian Youth

February 12, 2021
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9180

The religious scholar and former deputy editor-in-chief of the Moscow Patriarchate's publishing house, Sergei Chapnin[1] is worried about the long-lasting effects of the church hierarchy's unwavering support for Putin. This support was reiterated in response to the demonstrations supporting Alexey Navalny. Chapnin believes that the church is alienating the youth, who played a major role in the demonstrations, and is making no effort to understand the motivations behind their participation.

Some local priests provide an exception by engaging with the youth. Thus ironically, it turns out that "one task of a priest is to protect young people from church officialdom."

Chapnin expounded his foreboding about the Russian Orthodox Church in an interview with Rosbalt's Leonid Smirnov that follows below:[2]

Sergei Chapnin (Source:

"According to Sergei Chapnin, the church is falling into a rut by showing that its alliance with the state is firm and lasting.

"In the days that the country was gripped by unauthorized protests, Christian Russia 's attention was drawn to Patriarch Kirill’s sermon held in Saint Alexander Nevsky chapel. He expressed concern about the spiritual state of youth.

"As we know, the so-called spiritual crisis of the younger generation is taking place today. We see how often our youth literally falls into madness, losing all the vital guidelines that manifests itself outwardly in their behavior and become known to both society and the world,” stressed the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, “But such a personal state, which can lead to dire consequences for one's personal life, and often has a destructive effect on public life of society, does not barge in unexpectedly out of the blue. It is formed in the recesses of the soul.” The patriarch also listed the ideas, which should imbue the information flow absorbing contemporary man."

Patriarch Kirill and friend (Source:

"In general, displeasure with the morals of youth, is customary for such conservative circles as the church. In this case, however, it could not escape notice that the sermon coincided with the second mass unauthorized street protest action in support of Alexei Navalny, where the youth constituted the majority.

"Earlier, the head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, during a transmission of the 'Church and the World' program (on the Russia-24 channel), found it necessary to remind people that, 'the use of children and adolescents in political actions is a completely unacceptable violation of civil law and order.' 'I think that the perpetrators must be held accountable for this,' stressed master [Hilarion]

The well-known Christian public figure Sergei Chapnin discussed the topic of the day with Rosbalt's correspondent.

— Sergei Valerievich [Chapnin], should the words of the highest [church] hierarchs be perceived as an unconditional condemnation of the protests and opposition, and a demonstration of loyalty to the authorities and the president?

— Yes, it was no accident that Patriarch Kirill spoke about youth on the day of the protests. He condemned the youth protest activity and was not shy about his expressions, bluntly saying that young people 'fall into madness.' He tried to show that he is concerned about the spiritual state of youth, but I’m afraid everyone will read it differently, as unequivocal support for the repressive actions of the state authorities.

Altogether, the Russian church’s position repeats the previously formulated one on the Belarus [protests]. Back then, the church criticized the participants of the protest actions, showing no desire to understand their motivation and admit that the protesters might have their own truth.

At such critical moments, when the authorities are in a huff, the church behaves quietly and extremely loyally. It does not send any signals, [which could be construed] that the church's position somehow differs from the state's. The Church follows in a rut by showing that its alliance with the state is reliable and lasting.

Unfortunately, the church made a huge mistake both in Belarus and in Russia. If the church pretends to spiritual leadership, it must send a clear signal that it understands the problems that lead people, including young people, to street rallies.

Regarding Metropolitan Hilarion’s words, the explanation is much simpler. For many years he was a TV host on the state “Russia-24” TV channel, where he delivers the Kremlin’s temnik [officially approved talking points] in 'church style'. I don’t believe that the problems of youth interest him at all.

Metropolitan Hilarion (Source:

— What, in this case, is the opposition to do? Will it become decreasingly religious, as happened in the 19th century?

— No, not necessarily. Orthodox Christians constitute an organic part of modern society; they, of course, are present both among the protesters and among the detained. The problem with the church revival of the 1990s and 2000s was that the entire church hierarchy, without exception, enjoyed indisputable authority. Each church representative wielded the authority of the church [as an institution]. Thus, over the past 10-15 years, we are witnessing a “painful divorce”.

The church's authority merges with the priest's authority only if he in his life testifies to Christ and evangelical values. The bishop, who utters some kind of dutiful words (like the very same Hilarion), is perceived by public with a healthy amount of skepticism.

The church's official position and the position of certain parishes and some church goers in many cases can be diametrically opposed.

— And what about the youth?

— Of course, the issue of work with the youth generation is important for the church. The patriarch from time to time speaks on this subject (Metropolitan Hilarion in his position, did not touch on these issues so far). There is a whole synodal department for youth affairs, which has been dubbed the "department for combating youth" for more than a dozen years.

At the same time there are various [Orthodox] "scouts" and "knights" groups operating in different cities of Russia. Such Orthodox groups exist in the Russian diaspora too. So, it seems that some kind of work with youth is being conducted. But we must bear in mind that this work has several layers, and at the official level, it is often being done merely for show.

I will provide just one example: a couple of years ago in Moscow the order went down to assemble the youth in order to greet Patriarch Kirill on Easter. The youth was gathered near the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

At the request of the security service, everyone was obliged to come two or three hours in advance, and wait ... When the patriarch appeared and received [holiday greetings], he uttered a few meaningless words and left. The youth dispersed, and the majority had the unpleasant feeling that they were simply being exploited for a pretty picture, for show, for church PR.

Young people are not stupid, they saw that the patriarch did not need them and was not interested. One of the priests who accompanied group of young people admitted that he left this meeting profoundly dejected. He understood perfectly well that these several hundred young people were lost to the church. He honestly said, “I am afraid of how thoughtlessly we are losing the youth.”

But there is also another, healthier level of church life - parishes. If a priest sincerely engages with youth, this will not go unnoticed. Young people value sincerity and are ready to trust such priests. Thus, it turns out that one task of a priest is to protect young people from church officialdom.

Alas, the patriarch does not understand youth and has no feeling for it. His statements are addressed to some mythical youth. Church rhetoric consisting of appeals to traditional values with indiscriminate criticism of the "consumer society" and social networks, provokes at least skepticism, and even [uncontrollable] Homeric laughter with real young people. Today, unfortunately, the official church does everything to make Orthodoxy look as least attractive as possible for young people.

Modern youth are extremely left-wing, socialist ideas are incredibly popular. Even those who were brought up in church going families, reaching 17-18 years old, leave church anyway. Some come back later when they are in their 30s, but there are not many of them.

The established ritual and ideological formats do not attract young people. The cumbersome Byzantine ritual doesn’t appeal to them. They are looking for more simplicity and naturalness. I believe that young people, if some significant part of them will remain in the church, will be supporters of diversity in church life. The demand for this diversity is already quite large.


[2], February 4, 2021.

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