An open letter to the Russian state authorities has created a sensation. The text – still open for signature on an independent Orthodox website, pravmir.ru – criticised as “unjust” and “cruel” prison sentences meted out last month to democracy campaigners who demonstrated against the blocking of opposition candidates from Moscow City Council elections. In a respectful yet firm tone, priests and deacons alleged glaring miscarriages of justice and condemned “any violence, be it by protesters or by authorities”.
The open letter took the existing crisis in the Russian Orthodox Church to a new level. It also made waves among those critics of the Russian regime who had thought the Church was a lost cause in their struggle for justice and democracy. That clerics came out in defence of those hounded by the state will no doubt make many think twice about the role the Church could play in the future. It may even be that they saved it from becoming irrelevant in a new Russia that will eventually emerge after Vladimir Putin has gone.