In recent weeks a number of conflicting news items related to Ukraine have appeared in various sources which combine to demonstrate the scope of “Byzantine symphonia” in its 21st-century Russian reincarnation.
As I noted previously on these pages, the expression denotes a religio-political ideology from Orthodox Byzantium according to which church and state were said to speak with a single voice. This produced mixed outcomes in the Byzantine Empire, and later in Tsarist Russia, resulting in some of the most shameful pages in the history of the Orthodox Church. In Russia’s case we have only to recall the brutal persecution of its Old Believers from the middle of the 17th century over how to make the sign of the cross and which prayer books to use.
This made it all the more ominous when, at the state-sponsored banquet in honour of his enthronement as Patriarch of Moscow in February 2009, former KGB agent Kirill Gundyaev expatiated on the restoration of Byzantine symphonia as his vision for the Russian Orthodox Church’s relations with the Kremlin in the Putin era. The ensuing ten years have shown how this plays out in the lives of real human beings in Russia and its ever-widening sphere of influence. Implicitly or explicitly, the Russian Church has supported the draconian response to Pussy Riot’s 2012 protest in Christ the Saviour Cathedral; repressive LGBT laws and the wilful blindness of law enforcement and the judiciary to incidents of homophobic violence on Russia’s streets; the weakening of legal redress for children and women subjected to domestic violence; the Kremlin’s geopolitical aggressions near and far, including the unlawful annexation of Crimea, election meddling in the US and elsewhere, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the acceleration of hostilities in the wake of the Ukrainian Church’s autocephaly. The list goes on and on. Read More