David Satter, writing on Forbes.com:
The Orthodox patriarchate is a bulwark of autocracy.
The installation of Kirill I as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church last month will not end the subordination of the church to the Putin regime. On the contrary, the church is likely to emerge as an even stronger supporter of dictatorship and anti-Western ideology.
Kirill, who was the Metropolitan of Smolensk, succeeds Alexei II who died in December after 18 years as head of the Russian Church. According to material from the Soviet archives, Kirill was a KGB agent (as was Alexei). This means he was more than just an informer, of whom there were millions in the Soviet Union. He was an active officer of the organization. Neither Kirill nor Alexei ever acknowledged or apologized for their ties with the security agencies.
As head of the church’s department of foreign church relations, Kirill gained the reputation of a relatively enlightened church leader. He met with Pope Benedict, and he has been attacked by church conservatives for “ecumenism.”
More important than his contacts with Catholics, however, has been Kirill’s support for a new Russian ideology based on the denial of human rights. At the 10th meeting of the World Russian People’s Council–an international public organization headed by the patriarch, in Moscow, on April 4, 2006–Kirill accused human rights leaders in the West of “dictatorially” forcing societies to accept the right to engage in gambling, euthanasia and homosexuality.
The Council said that there are values “that stand no lower than human rights.” These are “faith, morality, sacred places and homeland.” When these values contradict the realization of human rights, “the society and government and law should harmoniously combine them.” How this could be done was not made clear but, according to the Council, it is impossible to tolerate a situation in which human rights “threatened the existence of the motherland.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn lent his support to Kirill’s remarks. In an interview on May 4, 2006, he said that “unlimited rights are exactly what our cave dwelling ancestor had. Nothing could stop him from snatching meat from his neighbor and finishing him off with a big stick.” He said that what was needed were not human rights but “human obligations.”
Solzhenitsyn, of course, was in error. “Rights” exist in relation to a government, so cavemen did not have human rights, let alone “unlimited” human rights. At the same time, the place of rights cannot be taken by obligations. Rights exist as a counterpoise to the obligations imposed by society. To eliminate rights in favor of obligations is to destroy higher moral authority, leaving the individual defenseless before the power of the state.
On the day after his accession to the Patriarchy, Kirill elaborated on his ideas for “harmoniously” combining the demands of the state and human rights. He said that he wanted to base church-state relations on the Byzantine concept of “symphonia,” in which a distinction is drawn between the imperial authority and the priesthood, with the former concerned with human affairs and the latter with matters divine. The two are regarded as closely interdependent, and neither is subordinated to the other.