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To Err Is Human, But the Church Can Forgive

It’s a bad day for any tsar when he loses the support of the Russian Orthodox Church, a faith which historically has been kept on a short leash by generations of Russian rulers.  But that is the problem Prime Minister Puting faces this week when numerous members of the clergy and the Church leadership voiced their concern that the recent Duma elections might be flawed, and required investigation. The NYT has the story:

“It is evident that the secretive nature of certain elements of the electoral system concerns people, and there must be more public control over this system,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the most prominent spokesman for the church, in remarks to a widely followed Orthodox news Web site. “We must decide together how to do this through civilized public dialogue” […]

“I think society simply experienced such a shock,” he added. “We understand very well that elections have been falsified before, but now public consciousness has matured to the point of expressing its opinion or speaking out against it.”

The Prime Minister is no doubt less than thrilled by these statements from the leadership of a church he has cosseted and supported for many years, but the church remains a stabilizing force in Russia that will not want to push Putin over a cliff.  The outrage among the educated, affluent middle class — a key demographic for Russia’s reviving Orthodox tradition — is too strong to ignore.  The church would lose all authority if it failed to speak.

But the Russian Orthodox church has a long history of hating anarchy and of recognizing the need for strong national leadership.  Putin and his allies are working hard to reposition themselves after the electoral disaster, with a national phone-in interview scheduled for Thursday.  (Scripted and rigged, says the opposition.)  While some priests and bishops will take another approach (Russian Orthodoxy is famously feisty with bitter infighting and feuds playing a continuing role in its history), the mainline church leadership is likely to welcome any sign that a repentant prime minister is returning to the fold.

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  • Douglass Lewis

    Walter, having just returned from Moscow, working with the small Methodist seminary there, I was most interested in your blog on the Orthodox church and the government.

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