Paul Goble

Window on Eurasia

Oct 25, 2020


The coronavirus pandemic has weakened the church nomenklatura not only by infecting and killing so many of its members but by highlighting the sad reality that the Moscow Patriarchate has become little more than the branch office of the state and, unlike in Soviet times, has done so voluntarily, Mikhail Sitnikov says.

In a commentary for Credo Press today, the religious affairs journalist says that many fundamentalists have drawn apocalyptic conclusions from the pandemic, seeing this plague as ushering in the last days, but far more Russian believers have come to recognize that they can be Christians without “the effective managers” of the hierarchy (

They have reached that conclusion, Sitnikov says, both because they have been forced by the pandemic to self-isolate and maintain their religious life on their own, reducing still further the number of people attending services, and because the church itself has failed to speak for Christ, preferring instead to follow the Russian state.

The pandemic has decimated the clergy of the Russian church like nothing since the purges of 1938, he continues. In many places, there won’t be any priests or even bishops to serve once the pandemic finally passes; and consequently, the genuine believers in the laity will have to continue to make their own way.

And that is leading many Christians in Russia to draw the conclusion that “even if one doesn’t count COVID-19, something unusual is taking place in the world.” They have recognized that “today the ROC MP is not the same religious organization which bore that name two or three decades ago.”

Without being forced, the ROC MP has sacrificed the role it should have assumed when the fall of communism made it possible to once again proclaim the truth of Christ. Instead, it has all too willingly accepted “its status as ‘the ideological department of the empire.’” The pandemic has clarified that reality for many believers, Sitnikov says.

But within that tragedy, there is hope, he continues. Russian believers as a result of the pandemic are increasingly on their own; and they are increasingly aware that they can set the weather for the future of faith in Russia. It will not be the priests and hierarchs but the believers among the people who will form the church of Christ in Russia.

To the extent they draw that conclusion, the ROC MP will only be able to recover its formal dominance if it changes course. And if it doesn’t, that institution will become increasingly irrelevant to the people and to the faith, however much support it receives from the Russian state and however wealthy its hierarchs become.