A few websites and discussion forums have drawn attention to one of the leaked cables published by Wikileaks, describing a conversation between a U.S. ambassador and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of the Russian Orthodox Church. The cable, among other things, details the cozy relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the post-communist Russian State. It is possible that the cable seriously misrepresents the statements of Metropolitan Hilarion, but that seems unlikely as it merely reinforces information that can already be found elsewhere on the Internet. (Think as well of the recent dedication of icons on the Kremlin Towers -- see this and this).
Some passages in the cable should be of interest to Traditional Catholics, and I reproduce them here with a bit of commentary:
9. (C) Although the ROC has accomplished a great deal recently in its efforts to gain more social and political prominence, a significant gap remains between its teachings and the ethos of modern Russian culture. The GOR may see no problems with eroding the wall between Church and State, but that appears to be affecting the ROC’s political role more than its social one. Hilarion lamented that although 70-80 percent of Russians call themselves Orthodox, very few (about 5 percent) attend church regularly, and even fewer “have their life influenced by the Orthodox faith.” The Church’s dilemma, he explained, is that it needs to build a bridge to young people who see no role for the Church in their lives, while at the same time maintaining the original essence of the Church’s teachings. “We don’t need to update or modernize services,” Hilarion said, but “we must still overcome cultural and psychological barriers” separating religious and secular life in Russia. In his opinion, the best forum for accomplishing this is education, and he envisioned a comprehensive program that raised awareness without appearing invasive.
One of the justifications for major liturgical reform and endless innovation in the Catholic Church -- both in the Roman Rite and, in recent years in the Eastern Rites -- is that such changes are needed in order to reach out to the youth and to the unchurched. In contrast, Metropolitan Hilarion -- who is sometimes considered as one of the more liberal Russian prelates -- sees that the path to reaching out to the youth is not by changing ancient liturgical traditions, but by educating them in the faith, despite the great difficulty of this endeavor. Why can't more Catholic bishops see this as well?
2. (C) In a January 28 conversation with the Ambassador, Head of the ROC’s External Relations Division Archbishop Hilarion made the case for the Russian Orthodox Church’s (ROC) recent push to assert its influence over Russian society and politics. By turns candid and circumspect, Hilarion freely admitted that the ROC has been ramping up its public statements in favor of its interests, and has been extending its reach further into heretofore secular areas of society such as children’s education***
10. (C) In the absence of a widespread, active following among most people (at least in their day-to-day activities), the ROC is clearly attempting to throw its weight around politically. For those of us accustomed to seeing a firewall between Church and State the ROC’s growing assertiveness, and open admission that they intend to pervade all aspects of public Russian society may appear alarming...
Given the difficult and often violent history of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church in schism and the Catholic Church, and the memory of the persecution of the Catholic Church in Ukraine and Russia, a persecution often carried out by the Soviet (and then the Russian) State in collaboration with elements of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is understandable that many Catholics would hesitate to criticize the negative tone of this particular cable. I, personally, have a different take on this. Notwithstanding the fact that Russia remains in a lamentable state of schism from Rome, the Russian Church continues to have a view of its own role in society that in many respects is nearer to Traditional Catholic doctrine than the uncritical championing of relativistic concepts of "religious freedom" and "pluralism" that has become accepted even among a lot of "conservative" Catholics. No traditionally-minded Catholic can possibly object to the idea that the Church must fight for its interests in the public sphere, and must influence children's education, and must seek to pervade all aspects of public society. I personally wish that more Catholic prelates would speak openly of their desire to suffuse society with the influence of the Church, instead of being content to settle for "the right to voice their opinions" in the public square.
(To those wishing to post in the combox: no conspiracy theories or politics, please. CAP)