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December 10, 2010
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WIKILEAKS REVEALS RUSSIAN CHURCH LEADER’S CONVERSATION WITH U.S. AMBASSADOR

• +Hilarion explain’s Church’s desire “to promote current Government of Russia policies”
• Defends Church’s lack of tolerance against “non-traditional religions”
• Laments that while “….70-80 percent of Russians call themselves Orthodox”, very few, (5%) attend church regularly and even fewer ‘have their life influenced by the Orthodox faith’
• Accountability “theoretically possible” but “does not always work in practice”

Source: ocanews.org

A Russian website posted transcripts of [confidential US] diplomatic cables today obtained from the Wikileaks site, including a fascinating summary of a conversation between US Ambassador John Beyrle and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) held last year in Moscow.  The transcript of the Church leaders’s comments as reported by the Ambassador were posted in both English and Russian:


“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 000241 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/28/2020 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, SOCI, RS SUBJECT: HILARION ON THE ROC’S ROLE IN RUSSIA’S DEVELOPMENT REF: 09 MOSCOW 2842 Classified By: Ambassador John R. Beyrle for reason 1.4 (d)

1. (C) Summary: In a January 28 conversation with the Ambassador, Archbishop Hilarion freely admitted that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has been extending its reach further into all areas of society. The Church has recently adopted a more confrontational tone regarding the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report (IRF), and Hilarion defended the ROC’s stance against some non-traditional religions. Hilarion also explained the ROC’s desire to promote current GOR policies, including “managed democracy.” Despite the ROC’s increased assertiveness, Hilarion acknowledged a gap between the Church’s teachings and the daily lives of most Russians, especially youth, and wondered aloud how the ROC might address this problem. Despite this gap, Hilarion concluded, many Russians hunger for spiritual guidance, and the ROC intends to fill that gap.

2. (C) In a January 28 conversation with the Ambassador, Head of the ROC’s External Relations Division Archbishop Hilarion made the case for the Russian Orthodox Church’s (ROC) recent push to assert its influence over Russian society and politics. By turns candid and circumspect, Hilarion freely admitted that the ROC has been ramping up its public statements in favor of its interests, and has been extending its reach further into heretofore secular areas of society such as children’s education. Calling the ROC “a significant actor” in the life of the country, Hilarion said that Patriarch Kirill is “not only symbolic,” but can also influence major currents in Russia, including its political development.

3. (C) “Church diplomacy” takes on the IRF.  The ROC has been referred to as “a government within a government,” a political entity as much as a theological one (reftel). As such, in Hilarion’s view, the ROC has a role to play in Russia’s relations with other countries, which is why Kirill considered it important to meet President Obama during his July, 2009 visit to Moscow. Hilarion echoed the Ambassador’s support of the recent warming trend in U.S.-Russian relations, saying that “now is a good time to be an American Ambassador in Russia,” and adding that the ROC is happy to lend its assistance in bringing bilateral relations to an even higher level. (Note: ROC leaders also frequently engage in “Church diplomacy” in the near abroad, strengthening ties with Orthodox Churches in countries, such as Ukraine or Georgia, whose governments in the past six years have had tense relations with the GOR. End note.)

4. (C) Notwithstanding these improved relations, the ROC in November struck a confrontational tone regarding the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report (IRF), released in October. Hilarion penned a letter to the Ambassador — posted on the website of the ROC’s external relations division — in which he complained of perceived U.S. support for “extremists and Satanists.” The negative tone of the letter (as well as the somewhat brazen manner in which it was presented) contrasted sharply with the ROC’s initial public praise of the report’s “objectivity” in observing that the ROC has attempted to promote interfaith tolerance in Russia.

5. (C) Hilarion defended the substance of the letter, saying that although “we are satisfied with the general dynamic,” and “each report is better than the one before,” there are still some issues that “need to be looked at carefully.” If we look at religious freedom exclusively through American eyes, he explained, then the report will inevitably be imperfect, because it will not sufficiently take into account the individual historical and cultural development of Russia. “We don’t want to discriminate,” he said, but the distinction between traditional and non-traditional religions is “rooted in our history.” (Note: As for the manner in which the letter was made public via the ROC website, Hilarion said that “the report was public, as well,” but otherwise passed the buck to his predecessor, who he claimed had established the practice. End note.)

Hilarion added (rather disingenuously) that there is no law favoring traditional religions over non-traditional ones, a statement that was not true on its face — the 1997 Law on Religions elevates the status of the four “traditional” religions (Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism) — and that also ignored the key question of the implementation of the law, which in practice has marginalized non-traditional groups. As if to underscore that point, Hilarion acknowledged that “some groups” within the ROC might express intolerant views, but Kirill consistently speaks out in favor of tolerance — and otherwise there are limits to what Church leaders can do to discourage this.

6. (C) “Managed democracy” just fine for the ROC. On a more positive note, the Ambassador praised the ROC’s ability to re-establish its moral authority and rebuild its institutions, in the space of a scant twenty years. Agreeing on this point, Hilarion noted that the ROC must heal wounds not only from the monumental changes of the past 20 years, but also from the destruction that took place in the past 90 years, since the Revolution. “Most of our problems today are rooted in the Soviet period,” he said, including the pervasive problems of corruption and hypocrisy. Hilarion emphasized the need for patience with Russia’s development, a point we have heard many times during political discussions with Russian interlocutors (GOR officials and NGO activists alike), given that Russia has only had 20 years to build a democracy, unlike countries such as the U.S. or Great Britain, which built their democracies over hundreds of years. Hilarion also said that “our democracy does not have to look identical to the U.S.,” and, taking Russia’s history and culture into account, should rather be a form of “managed democracy.”

7. (C) Appearing to borrow from the United Russia playbook, Hilarion essentially equated authoritarianism with stability, noting that “Russians have always liked having a strong and powerful figure at the top,” and lambasting Russia’s experiments with democracy in the 1990s, calling the election of 1996 a “catastrophe” in which the country was paralyzed by its unappealing choice between Yeltsin, Zyuganov, and Zhirinovsky. As to whether Russia might aspire to a system in the future whereby the people hold their government accountable for its policies, Hilarion said that this was “theoretically possible,” but does not always work in practice.

8. (C) Hilarion made it clear that he sees a prominent role for the ROC in promulgating the GOR’s current policies. Notwithstanding his claim that the ROC enjoys no special status among religions, he asserted that the Patriarch is not only the head of the Orthodox Church in Russia, but “the spiritual leader for the whole nation.” He noted that on the November 4 National Unity Day, the Patriarch celebrated the divine liturgy in Red Square, then led a procession where he was followed by leaders of other faiths. The ROC also appears to be first among equals in the context of the new program to teach religion in schools in 19 regions of the country (reftel). (Note: Under this program, students will have a choice between studying one of the four traditional religions, or taking a course on “secular ethics.” Different religions will be emphasized depending on the majority population in the region where the program is taking place. End note.) Hilarion stressed that this is only a “pilot program,” but there is little evidence to suggest any GOR intention to abandon the program once it is underway. On that issue, Hilarion said only that the GOR would “assess” the efficacy of the program some time after its inception in the Spring.

9. (C) A longer road to travel in the social sphere. Although the ROC has accomplished a great deal recently in its efforts to gain more social and political prominence, a significant gap remains between its teachings and the ethos of modern Russian culture. The GOR may see no problems with eroding the wall between Church and State, but that appears to be affecting the ROC’s political role more than its social one. Hilarion lamented that although 70-80 percent of Russians call themselves Orthodox, very few (about 5 percent) attend church regularly, and even fewer “have their life influenced by the Orthodox faith.” The Church’s dilemma, he explained, is that it needs to build a bridge to young people who see no role for the Church in their lives, while at the same time maintaining the original essence of the Church’s teachings. “We don’t need to update or modernize services,” Hilarion said, but “we must still overcome cultural and psychological barriers” separating religious and secular life in Russia. In his opinion, the best forum for accomplishing this is education, and he envisioned a comprehensive program that raised awareness without appearing invasive.

10. (C)  Comment. In the absence of a widespread, active following among most people (at least in their day-to-day activities), the ROC is clearly attempting to throw its weight around politically. For those of us accustomed to seeing a firewall between Church and State, the ROC’s growing assertiveness, and open admission that they intend to pervade all aspects of public Russian society may appear alarming. At the same time, Hilarion is correct to note that Russia has been through cataclysmic changes in the past two decades, on top of decades of moral bankruptcy under communism. A widespread feeling of disgust at the excesses of oligarchs and “new Russians” who acquired vast wealth during the sell-off of state assets in the 90s (and during the oil boom of the Putin years), is still strong among the populace at large. The feeling that people are surrounded by examples of empty values and cynicism has led to a corresponding spiritual hunger. The ROC seeks to fill that void, and we should be ready to address this phenomenon with open eyes, while making clear our view that the virtues of Christian tolerance should apply equally to the non-Orthodox faithful.

Beyrle

16 Comments to “BORusia’s Met. Hilarion & U.S. Amb.”


  1. Administrator Says:

    Iata de ce nu este bine sa ne supunem oricarei Biserici straine aici in America. Cu astfel de politica, Biserica sa declara singura o unealta a Guvernului. Ce ne facem aici daca am fi supusi Patriarhiei Romane care este o unealta a Guvernului Roman? Nu este asa ceva inadmisibil pentru noi, cetatenii Americii si Canadei? Hilarion al Rusiei ne arata clar cum procedeaza o Biserica neo-comunista in strainatate. Cine vrea asa ceva aici, in comunitatile ROEA? Numai cei de la ambasada!


  2. Anonymous Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Just more proof of why the OCA must maintain its autocephaly and not engage in the politics of the ROC. It’s quite clear the ROC cannot divorce itself from the Russian government and its vision & goals. All the more reason the Orthodox church in N. America needs to be independent of ALL foreign bishops and patriarchates. We’ve already seen how Russia had secret mole agents in the U.S. - What about the church? Doesn’t the GOA and it’s bishops proclaim the politics of Greece and Istanbul? How about Damascus and the Syrian govt? Romania? Etc. Are we Americans with our own church and identity or do we really belong to some other country?


  3. ACN Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    “Head of the Russian Orthodox Church Condemns US Economic Blockade of Cuba”

    The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, met on Tuesday with the president of the Cuban National Assembly (Parliament), Ricardo Alarcon, who is on a five-day official visit to Russia. During the meeting, Patriarch Kirill strongly rejected the almost 50 year-old economic, trade and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba and said this unilateral measure should be immediately eliminated as it deliberately brings hunger, diseases and desperation to people. According to Prensa Latina news agency, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church praised the efforts being made by the government of his country to focus its attention and give top priority to human beings and the family, in particular. He also expressed interest in the ongoing process to improve the Cuban economic model.

    Prior to this meeting, Alarcon gave a press conference in which he noted that Moscow and Havana have the potential to further develop bilateral cooperation in almost every sector. He said there are good prospects in the field of energy and, particularly, in the search and production of petroleum and in the generation of electricity using this kind of fuel. Alarcon added that other areas in which cooperation could be mutually beneficial include biotechnology, bio-pharmacy and transportation.


  4. Gail Sheppard Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Too funny!


  5. Nilus Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Wow, I never expected to see OCANews and WikiLeaks in the same sentence together, but you know… it really makes sense.

    While this doesn’t appear to be particularly shocking in substance, it certainly vindicates the suspicions which have been voiced over the questionable motivations of foreign patriarchates in the American Orthodox unification process. The case of the Diocese of Sourozh certainly takes on another layer of complexity in light of this document.

    To the commenters on this forum whom suggest that foreign patriarchates are our only source for ‘true, untainted spiritual authority’ - take note. I’m curious what effect this will have on Met. Hilarion’s visit in February for his concert and the SVS Schmemann lecture.

    As always, great job Mark. I just hope an extradition to Sweden doesn’t suddenly crop up…


  6. Kevin Allen Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    I am concerned by the comment of Met Hilarion of the desire of the Russian Orthodox Church to “promote current Government of Russia policies”. With two jurisdictions in the U.S. (Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR) under the Russian Orthodox Church omophorion, these American-based jurisdictions also exist, by default, to “promote current Government of Russia policies”. This seems to me to lend even more credence to the founding fathers’ (of America) insistence of separation between the church and the state and of the need for an autocepahlous American Orthodox Church, free once-and-for-all from all and every interference from political influences outside its borders.


  7. Gregg Gerasimon Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Kevin, I enjoy your comments and your podcasts as well, and I agree 100% with your statement that “This seems to me to lend even more credence to the founding fathers’ (of America) insistence of separation between the church and the state and of the need for an autocepahlous American Orthodox Church, free once-and-for-all from all and every interference from political influences outside its borders.” But doesn’t that autocephalous American Orthodox Church already exist? I don’t understand it — people (not only you) comment on how much there is a need for an autocephalous church here in America, on how we need to be free from foreign patriarchates, all the while not acknowledging the existence of the OCA.

    I don’t understand — why is this? Do they not believe the OCA’s autocephaly? It’s all make-believe?
    Is it an ethnic pride thing? Is the autocephaly of the OCA illegitimate because it was borne out of a Russian mission to America and not from Greek or Antiochian (or whatever) roots? It boggles my mind, and many times is like talking to a wall. Why ignore reality?

    The fact of the matter is that an autocephalous Orthodox church here in America already exists. If one chooses to not worship at an OCA parish because of attachment to one of the other jurisdictions or to their home parish which happens to be in another jurisdiction, then fine, but more often than not, that is one’s choice. I am baffled as to the continued complaints about the need for an autocephalous Orthodox church here in America when one has existed here for 40 years. Not ironically, today is feast day of St Herman of Alaska, the patron saint of our church in America. Saint Herman, pray for us and for the growth of the church here in America.


  8. Kevin Allen Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Dear Gregg, my comment meant no disrespect of the OCA and its - in my opinion - valid autocephaly. But the odds of the other churches in North America joining the OCA under its omophorion seem slim to none (the Antiochians are the most likely candidate but they (we) appear to be keen on remaining independent). So when I wrote of an “American Orthodox Church”, I meant one that encompasses all Orthodox in North America as an existential reality, rather than a denial that the OCA IS already an American Orthodox Church.


  9. Anonymous Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t see what’s particularly wrong with anything Metropolitan Hilarion says here… Unless you’re trying to somehow paint the Church of Russia once again with the colors commonly used against it by the American jurisdictions during the Cold War. Those headings do look nice, though, as fairly juicy quotes picked out of much larger trains of thought that are not nearly as controversial in context.


  10. Mark Stokoe Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    It’s nothing like the Cold War, friend. In the Cold War, the american jurisdictions ( correctly) chided the Russian Church for being willing tools of the Soviet’s foreign policy objectives. This time, we’re not the ones saying the ROC-MP is a willing tool for the Russian government’s foreign policy - they’re saying it themselves. The former instance has been explained as “expediency in the face of terror”; what is their excuse this time, other than Russian patriotism, which is not an evil in itself…. But neither is it a virtue for Americans, let alone American Churches. Caveat Emptor, friend, Caveat Emptor.


  11. Fr. Ted Bobosh Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    The musings of +Hilarion certainly call into question, for me at least, Metropolitan Jonah’s mantra of “maximum autonomy” as the way to redefine autocephaly. For the OCA in relationship to the Russian Church maximal autonomy is a non sequitur. It won’t be maximal in any sense of the word and it won’t be autonomous either. Hopefully he will come to his senses and abandon such ill conceived ideas.

    Orthodoxy in America is not going to be benefitted by trying to shape itself in the image of the Russian Church or of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Nor are we going to be helped in our mission by asking surrendering our apostolic commission and leadership to their control. The symphony between church and state does not exist in America and cannot as envisioned by the Founding Fathers and established in the Constitution. Symphony is no longer possible for Constantinople. Ever changing historical realities reveal exactly how symphony hurts the mission of the Church by entangling it in the intrigues of the kingdoms of this world.

    Jesus did refuse the temptation of making all the worldly kingdoms His. We can never seem to resist that temptation as we want both worldliness and worldly kingdoms to be ours. It is much harder to embrace the values and reality of a kingdom not of this world. Autocephaly gives American Orthodoxy a chance to work on this as does the American prohibition against the state establishing religion.


  12. Bob Koch Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Well they said they were the Third Rome, looks like they meant it.


  13. Moley Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Those of us who were in the old Diocese of Sourozh know only too well what “managed democracy” as run by Alfeyev meant.


  14. John Bennett Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    As a former parishioner of the London Russian Orthodox Cathedral of The Dormition & All Souls I witnessed the power of the MP during the recent schism. It was somewhat frightening to watch, leaving me with a feeling of what it might be to live in the former Soviet Union. Hilarion played a prominent role in this.
    A tragedy for me was to see much of 30 years of the work of Metropoliton Anthony vanish.
    At the time of the split I remember the Russian tea ladies in the Cathedral kitchen chanting “We won, We won”. A win perhaps for the MP, but definitely not for the Orthodox Church, with much anger and many broken hearts.


  15. Anonymous Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Do we follow Christ or do we follow this empire or that country? What values and policies? Do bishops of the Orthodox Churches in N. America go around the world professing democracy and policies of the U.S. govt?


  16. Morton Says:

    As posted on ocanews.org ‘Comments’ regarding “BORusia +Hilarion & U.S. Ambassador”

    Nationalism is the ugly underbelly of the national churches. Nothing new or unique in it. Ever since Byzantium, the church and state have sought to be one. Of course it is completely contrary to the notion of a secular, pluralistic democracy, but nobody should be surprised. The same thing is happening in other Orthodox lands. Need one mention Serbia or Romania? Or the influence the church in Greece has always wielded?


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