Russian Orthodox Church Calls for Election Reform

From Moscow comes word that there is a new voice calling for changes in the Russian electoral system ? and it’s coming from the pulpit.

From Moscow comes word that there is a new voice calling for changes in the Russian electoral system — and it’s coming from the pulpit.

The New York Times reports:

The Russian Orthodox Church added its influential voice over the weekend to calls for a just election process in Russia. The step followed demonstrations across the country that called for a recount or a fresh vote, and outpourings from individual members of the church’s clergy, who reflected popular anger at the flawed Dec. 4 election.

“It is evident that the secretive nature of certain elements of the electoral system concerns people, and there must be more public control over this system,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the most prominent spokesman for the church, in remarks to a widely followed Orthodox news Web site. “We must decide together how to do this through civilized public dialogue.”

The pronouncement by Father Chaplin, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s synodal department of church and society relations, was especially significant because he is often criticized as an apologist for the Kremlin. He has made several conservative statements in the past year, including a call for an Orthodox dress code in Russia, that have stirred controversy.

In a telephone interview on Sunday night, Father Chaplin said that if the church obtained proven documentation of election violations from named sources, it would be ready to take it up with government officials.

“If there are proven facts, then of course we’re going to examine them, present them to the church hierarchy and discuss them with the Central Election Commission and other government bodies,” he said.

Father Chaplin’s remarks to the Web site appeared intended to get the church back out in front of individual clergy members’ condemnations of election rigging, a first for the post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church. The comments might suggest the government is accommodating the critique of the political system, perhaps because it has become too widespread to stifle.

“It’s amazing that this awakening of civic consciousness has affected the church as well, and not just lay people but clergy, too,” Sergei Chapnin, editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, said last week, on the sidelines of a seminar about Russia’s historical identity, before the new statement by Father Chaplin.

For years, Mr. Chapnin noted, many Orthodox were skeptical or indifferent toward electoral politics, though the church has regained influence since the fall of Communism and is publicly embraced by the Kremlin.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Mr. Chapnin said, “it would have been impossible to imagine” priests speaking out in such sympathy with public anger over election manipulation and fraud.

“I think society simply experienced such a shock,” he added. “We understand very well that elections have been falsified before, but now public consciousness has matured to the point of expressing its opinion or speaking out against it.”

You can read the rest at The Times’s link.

The challenges of a changing Russia — and how that affects its Orthodox clergy — is a subject ONE explored just last year. In March of 2010, writer Victor Sonkin wrote in Orthodoxy Renewed:

As with everything in post-Soviet Russia, the revival of the Orthodox Church has provoked controversy. Hierarchs now participate in most important state functions. And the highest state officials, including President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, regularly attend major Orthodox celebrations, which air on all state-sponsored television stations.

Many observers fear the church’s return to favor has happened too quickly and its growing dependence on the state has gone too far. Some bishops and priests, anxious about accusations of corruption and xenophobic nationalism, have been marginalized for their criticism.

In the mid-1990’s, a dispute erupted involving several Orthodox bishops and the tobacco trade regarding tax exemptions. And recent plans to introduce the “basics of Orthodox culture” into the curriculum of state schools have fueled bitter public controversy.

Read the rest and view a slideshow here.

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