Roman Catholic, Anglican and Russian Orthodox Views on Civil Society and Recent Church-Related Civil Society Developments in Russia
There is a widespread view that the Russian Orthodox Church is subordinate to the state and that religious authority is complicit with the political authority of the ruling regime – whether the absolutism of the tsars, the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union or the authoritarianism of Putin’s postcommunist Russia. Linked to this charge of caesaro-papism is the claim that the Orthodox East as a whole has failed to overcome the legacy of Byzantium – above all, there is no clear, constitutionally enshrined separation of powers or a robust rule of law. Since 1993 it has also been suggested that church and state in Russia have sought to put in place a neo-Byzantine settlement where individuals and society are ruled by the twin forces of president and patriarch – the representatives of earthly and heavenly powers. Closely connected with this is the common assumption that the East has no or only a weak civil society. Or, to be less general, that only Central European Catholic countries such as Poland or Slovakia have a vibrant civic culture, while the Orthodox East is statist and lacks a constitutional tradition, which would favour the emergence of intermediary institutions.
Elements for an Alternative Theological and Historical Narrative
However, both the theology and the history of the Russian Orthodox Church are rather more complex than this contemporary caricature suggests. Theologically, there is a clear distinction between state and church. St John Chrysostom, a fifth-century Greek theologian, was opposed to the sacralisation of power – a critique that underpins the distinction by Pope Gelasius I of the two swords. For Chrysostom, and for St Augustine who followed and developed St Paul’s teaching, secular rule is confined to the temporal saeculum (destined to pass into God’s Kingdom) and falls inside the church insofar as it concerns justice and the orientation of human existence to the Good.Continue reading “Roman Catholic, Anglican and Russian Orthodox Views on Civil Society and Recent Church-Related Civil Society Developments in Russia”