|World Russian National Council took place in Moscow on December 16-17. It is a very important institution that connects Church and society, Church Hierarchy and Orthodox intelligentsia. The New Law of ROC MP (adopted two years ago) doesn’t establish fixed terms of convening the Local Council (it is the supreme organ of church management, consisting of bishops, clerics, monks, and laity). The Law just says that "the terms of convening the Local Council are defined by the Sobor of Bishops". While according to the principles of church management, laymen have the right to participate in Church management only through the Local Council. In result, they find themselves left aside of solving church problems.
To make up for this defect of the Law, to restore the dialog between laymen and Church Hierarchy is the aim of the World Russian National Council. The chairman of the Council is Patriarch Alexei II, his deputies being Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad and the chairman of the Writers Union Valeri Ganichev. Traditionally, bishops of ROC MP, representatives of Orthodox intelligentsia, and many Russian politicians who have some reason to seek Church support, take part in forum meetings. In the course of a few years, the status of the Council and its role in the social life of Russia was constantly increasing and culminated during the former sixth Council – with the President of Russia Vladimir Putin participating.
The present, seventh forum is extremely important, for it took place in the situation when Church was actively searching for its place in the changing world. The recent discussion about the introduction of "The Foundations of Orthodox Culture" into schools has shown that Church is not satisfied with the "separation from state", practiced by Soviet government, but it doesn’t yet know for certain how to form its relations with the authorities and society in the new environment.
The illness of Patriarch Alexei, who couldn’t take part in the meetings of the forum, rapidly decreased the status of the Council. With the principal persons missing, the Council turned into the benefit of Metropolitan Kirill, the director of the Department of Church Foreign Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. Obviously, it was he who was the direct organizer of the forum from the church side. The issue, presented for discussion to the Council participants, is quite topical: "Faith and Labor: spiritual and cultural traditions and the economical future of Russia".
Discussion on the suggested topic showed that Church (ROC MP) has finally found its social niche. Having occupied it, Church hopes to find stable positions in the situation of changes in Russian economical and political system. Church is seriously biased towards the social domain. Earlier, the discussion of social matters between the authorities and Church has been secretly tabooed. Now Church takes the role of protecting the poor from the authorities and businessmen. It suggests to the businessmen (and it was discussed at the Council) following Orthodox ethics with respect to their employees. At the same time, Church establishing relations with professional unions. It is evidenced at least by the fact that the chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia Shmakov participated at the meetings of the Council.
The principles of church understanding of the relations among employees and employers were summarized by Metropolitan Kirill in his interview to the trade union newspaper Solidarity: "Church shouldn’t interfere with the matters of state administration, in the Savior’s words, "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s" (Matthew 22:21). However, it doesn’t mean that it refuses to ethically evaluate the unseemly actions of the strong or employers. The Scripture justly says: "The labourer is worthy of his reward" (I Timothy 5:18)". Therefore Church always points out the inadmissibility of such sinful deeds, as not paying the salary, disrespecting others’ work, deliberately depriving a person of his possibility to provide for the living. Church always defends the dumb and the wretched, it is for maximally fair distribution of the product of labor".
In fact, at the Council Metropolitan Kirill has voiced a whole program of the interaction of Church and society. It is clear why this program has been put forward exactly at present. Patriarch’s illness has inevitably started the intra-church struggle for the right to become his successor. Sooner or later, the prolonged Patriarch’s illness will force the church administration to pick out a bishop from their milieu who will provide the supervision of the current Church matters. It is clear, that such a church figure will have that best chances of becoming a Patriarch. The Head of Church should have "a good support from the outside", including the benevolence of the authorities and positive image in the society. Therefore, the one who will become an ideological leader, a leader in the opinion of the society, will be able to take "the highest ranks" in church administration.
Metropolitan Kirill is traditionally considered to be one of the most influential candidates for the patriarchal throne, and therefore has to formulate his views of the directions in which Church should develop and of its position in the society. It should be admitted that he has successfully formulated the new understanding of the role of Church in Russian society. The new niche will allow Church not to quarrel with the main political figures, and, at the same time, to increase its influence on political and economical processes. Therefore the last Council should be recognized as Metropolitan Kirill’s big success.
At the same time, the fact that the principal figures of the state didn’t participate in the Council shows, that Russian leaders have not yet taken the final decision about whom to support in the intra-church struggle and have deliberately separated from participation in the World Russian National Council. Taking into consideration the Patriarch’s absence, V. Putin’s participation in the forum would have looked like his support of Metropolitan Kirill (the other Council deputy-chairman is a secular person and doesn’t have any influence in the intra-church matters). Together with the President, leaders of the Government and Russian Parliament refrainedfrom participating in the forum.
It means that the struggle in the administration of ROC MP it not yet over. Metropolitan Kirill has presented his view of the Church role in the life of the country. According to the logic of opposition, his opponents’ move comes next. If the Patriarch doesn’t take part in Christmas service, he should be substituted by one of the vicars. Metropolitan Kirill is not one of them. It will be curious to see, who of the vicars will become the Patriarch’s "understudy", if the latter doesn’t participate in the service, and also who of the strong will be at the central church of the country at Christmas.