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The Visible Religion

The Russian Orthodox Church and her Relations with State and Society in Post-Soviet Canon Law (1992–2015)


Alexander Ponomariov

«The Visible Religion» is an antithesis to Thomas Luckmann’s concept. The Russian Orthodox Church in post-Soviet canon law suggests a comprehensive cultural program of modernity. Researched through the paradigms of multiple modernities and post-secularity, the ROC appears to be quite modern: she reflects on herself and the secular environment, employs secular language, appeals to public reason, the human rights discourse, and achievements of modern science. The fact that the ROC rejects some liberal Western developments should not be understood in the way that the ROC rejects modernity in general. As a legitimate player in the public sphere, the ROC puts forward her own – Russian Orthodox – model of modernity, which combines transcendence and immanence, theological and social reasoning, an afterlife strategy and cooperation with secular actors, whereby eschatology and the human rights discourse become two sides of the same coin.

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1. Introduction


In July 2013, high representatives of all Local Orthodox Churches (LOCs) of the world came to Russia to celebrate 1025 years of its baptism. On July 25, Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, held a ceremonial meeting in the Kremlin with the hierarchs of the world’s Orthodoxy (Vstrecha 2013).3 Despite the fact that 1025 is not a milestone birthday, the ROC under Patriarch Kirill managed to arrange the fullness of Orthodox presence in the “Third Rome,” unexperienced by Russia before.4 The closest analogy to this event, though weaker in terms of representation, was the pan-Orthodox Meeting of 1948, held in Moscow, dedicated to 500 years of the ROC’s autocephaly (see section 4.3.2). The somewhat “overstretched” 1025 jubilee vividly emphasized the role of the ROC both in Orthodox Christianity and in Russian polity.

No other LOC can evidence this degree of “Byzantine” splendor. On the one hand, after the fall of the communist rule, when the ROC received independence from the state pressures and Communist Party ideology, there passed only two full decades, during which time the development of the Church in Russia has been deemed “unprecedented in scope”5 (Sovet 2013: 19),6 despite the Church’s growing public importance being not quite what sticklers of “pure” secularism might prefer.7 On the other hand, the new social and political constellation in the ← 19 | 20 → countries of the former USSR created a number of challenges for the ROC. For example, the Church had to go...

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