Patriarch Kirill I has not been shy about flexing his political muscles
since being enthroned in February. Now it seems he will be granted a semi-formal role in shaping legislation.
Gazeta.ru is reporting
that Kirill met on July 8 with representatives from the ruling United Russia party to hammer out the church's legislative role.
Here's how Andrei Isaev, a leading United Russia member who heads the State Duma's Committee for Social Policy, described the results:
We agreed to inform the church of legislation that we are working on that is of interest to the patriarch. These bills will be sent to the church so they can study them and let us know if they have any objections or suggestions.
There is nothing unusual in this. When we work on labor issues we discuss them with trade unions. In the same way, we will discuss spiritual and moral issues with the church.
And it seems that Kirill already has some moral and spiritual issues on his mind. Specifically, he is seeking to keep sex education out of Russia's schools.
In May, Russia ratified the European Social Charter
, which calls for health education in schools, including sex education. Kirill is determined
to make sure this doesn't happen when the Duma codefies the charter into Russian law.
And what about other denominations and other confessions? Will they have a voice in the Duma's business as well? Here's what Isaev had to say about that:
The Russian Orthodox Church initiated this themselves. They are the only church that has done so. If other religions want to participate in the work of the legislature, they can appeal to us. If they represent a significant portion of the electorate, we will consider their request.
The clause "if they represent a significant portion of the electorate," it seems, speaks volumes about the authorities' attitudes toward religious minorities. Any other denomination or religion, of course, is going to be dwarfed by Orthodox Christianity in terms of representation among voters.
What is going on between the Orthodox Church and the Russian state appears to be much more than just routine lobbying.
Instead, church and state are increasingly acting in concert and Orthodoxy seems be inching closer and closer to becoming a de facto state religion.
Russian public schools, for example, have been incorporating Orthodox Christianity
as a required part of their curriculum in some regions. This is causing fierce opposition
in predominantly Muslim regions like Tatarstan.
But anybody who speaks out too loudly against the church, can easily find themselves in trouble with the law.
As Paul Goble blogged reported over at Window On Eurasia back in April, Tatar activist
who wrote an article protesting the baptism of infants by Orthodox priests without the knowledge of their parents was convicted of "provoking interethnic and inter-religious hostility."
One has to wonder, given these trends and Kirill's rising influence, if Russia's much-discussed diarchy of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin is on the way to becoming a de facto troika.
-- Brian Whitmore