Алексей Ситников. Религиозный фактор формирования институтов власти в России

Теории общественного развития

Рекомендуемая ссылка на статью:
Алексей Ситников. Религиозный фактор формирования институтов власти в России // ГОСУДАРСТВЕННАЯ СЛУЖБА,
2015, №6 (98)
Алексей Ситников, доктор философских наук, профессор кафедры государственно-конфессиональных отношений ИГСУ РАНХиГС (119571, Москва, проспект Вернадского, 82). E-mail: av.sitnikov@migsu.ru

Аннотация: Автором предлагается ответ на вопрос о том, как религиозные ценности, доктрины и образ жизни влияли на формирование институтов власти и социальной структуры российского общества. Рассматриваются взаимосвязь религиозных традиций и формирования модели господства, православия и становления властных отношений в России.

Ключевые слова: власть, государство, общество, демократия, религия, православие

Strong centralized power and state have always played a leading role in the regulation of political life in Russia. The institutions of power in Russia were formed under the influence of geographical and climatic factors. There was a need to stand up to the harsh nature, to protect the integrity of the country and its territory from external enemies. These problems were resolved by rigid regulatory activities of the central government that was able to mobilize all resources to ensure the defense and development of the country. Only a strong state could protect a huge area from aggressive neighbours and maintain public order. Thus, a strong centralized power became characteristic of Russian society.

At the same time, the identity of Russian people for centuries was closely associated with religion. Language and ethnicity did not have such great significance for the identity as religion did. When it came to religion, the residents identified themselves as Orthodox, whereas political consciousness was determined by people identifying themselves with the ruling dynasty and opposing themselves to the «other» peoples. Religion, however, was the main criterion for distinction of Russian people from non-Russians. In this way, Orthodoxy and loyalty to the king meant inclusion in the Russian community [Nationalism in world history, 2007. P.61].

The legitimization of institutions of power in Russia was based on the model of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine model was adapted to the local Russian reality. The concept of royal power was taken from Byzantium together with the Orthodox Church, culture, norms, ethics, and ideological doctrines. However, the Byzantine model of power changed in the Russian context. The Supreme Ruler had a specific sacred status. It was believed that the king had a special divine gift – a charismatic authority. In the Imperial period, for instance, the Ruler had huge powers in Russia. The functions of the legislative, executive and judicial powers were in the hands of the emperor, although their implementation was carried out through the system of state institutions. Nevertheless, all important decisions were made by the emperor. Such a system of government needed the loyalty and support of the population. In this context, the religious factor was of great importance not only as a symbol of national identity, but also as a means to provide loyalty from the nation.

The power of one man over others requires the consent of people. The power exists because the one who submits to it believes that it exists. Religion helps in this. Religion serves as legitimation and approval of the political system as well as keeps the symbolic order through patterns. Until the 20th century the religious factor helped the government to have control over people in Russia. But government’s reliance on religion to support the institutions of power does not guarantee perpetual authority and influence of the church. The church can still lose its strong position.  It has happened many times in history. In Russia, the church acted as the ultimate source of legitimacy until 1917. After 1917, the function of legitimation and approval of the political system was performed by the communist ideology. The political culture of the Soviet type was like a religious culture. Strengthening and sacralization of statehood has always been supported by the majority of people in Russia. This is especially the case during the times of external danger.

The content of the symbolic power has a different semantic content in different historical periods. The medieval model of legitimation of power, for example, is not found in contemporary societies. Although today the religious factor still has a value in legitimation. For example, politicians can demonstrate closeness to the church to increase their credibility and show their unity with the people. Belonging to a common ethnic, cultural and religious tradition always helps to establish a dialogue between rulers and society. The authority of the church is important in the key moments of the political process. In particular, people find the approval of the church necessary when there is a transfer of power from one president to another. The majority of citizens positively think of the blessing of the Patriarch for the President on the day of inauguration. Also, the majority of Russians have a positive attitude to the fact that priests bless public buildings, ships, submarines, etc.

The traditional legitimation of power by church is found in many countries, including the countries that are considered a benchmark for democracy. Traditional religious legitimacy has played an important role in the development of democracy in such countries of Northern Europe as the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other countries. It is noteworthy to mention that democratic institutions are often developed under monarchy. Many current democracies are kingdoms which preserve the state church, for instance the Danish National Church, the Church of Norway, and the Church of England.

In his book, Seymour Lipset showed that the overthrow of a monarchy reduces the chances for the development of democracy [Lipset , 1960]. As the experience of many European countries illustrates, the public needs the symbolic head of state in the form of a King. Usually his power is legitimized by the state church. Moreover, the public needs to see the difference between the highest symbolic bearer of power and the one who is in power only temporarily, if that is the case in the political life of the country. The opposition, therefore, does not direct its criticism against the system as a whole and does not threaten the very foundations of the state.

How did it happen that the monarchy and the Church facilitated the transition to democracy in Europe, while in Russia it did not occur? In Russia, the Tsar was not only a symbolic bearer of power, but he himself governed the country. Often this governance was unsuccessful, brought destruction and suffering to the people. The Russian opposition struggled against the Tsar, the statehood and against the system as a whole (including the church). The revolution of 1917 destroyed the whole statehood, and made it impossible for the gradual establishment of democratic institutions in Russia.

At the end of the 1980s, in Russia a new transition to democracy began. Today the Russian Orthodox Church is not a state and can only claim a symbolic legitimation of power reminding about the historical traditions of the state.  Orthodox Christianity symbolizes continuity of the tradition of statehood.

The Russian Orthodox Church highly treasures its unchanging values and ideals and critically assesses some spiritual, moral and political standards that are inherent in the secular Western world. Some liberal democratic concepts remain alien to the Orthodoxy.

Although, in Russian history there were attempts to establish Christian democracy. A small group of Christian Democrats existed in the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century. For example, S. Bulgakov in 1905 created a party «Union of Christian politicians” [Bulgakov, 1991. P.33]. However, the party did not start working. Several small Christian-democratic parties existed in the late 1980s [Latest political parties and tendencies in USSR, 1991. Pp.525-532; Shchipkov, 2004. Pp.36-66]. However, all of them suffered a complete failure in the 1993 elections. There are several reasons for these failures. First, the leaders of the Christian democracy in Russia were far from the Russian Orthodox Church. Secondly, the political ideology of the Christian Democrats was taken from the West and was alien to the Orthodox believers and the people of Russia. Thus, Cristian democracy never took root in Russian society.

Furthermore, the modern social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church is different from the doctrines of Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church [Stoeckl, 2014]. First of all, the social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church is critical of human rights and freedoms. “The adoption of the freedom of conscience as legal principle points to the fact that society has lost religious goals and values and become massively apostate and actually indifferent to the task of the Church and to the overcoming of sin”[1]. Freedom and human rights are not called the supreme values for Orthodox believers. The Russian Orthodox Church offers other higher values. “The Christian needs rights so that in exercising them he may first of all fulfil in the best possible way his higher calling to be ‘the likeness of God’, as well as his duty before God and the Church, before other people, family, state, nation and other communities”[2].

Also, according to the social doctrine of the Orthodox Church, the neutrality of the state in relation to the concepts of good and evil is a mistake. The state should support specific ideas about good and evil. “The Holy Scripture calls upon the state to use its power to restrict evil and support good, in which it sees the moral meaning of the existence of state”[3]. The government should not punish people for violation of morality in their personal lives. But in the public sphere, the state should support the moral orientation and moral standards.

At the end of the 1990s, leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church created and successfully promoted the doctrine of «Russian civilization» which explained the unique moral and spiritual superiority of Russia over the West. The ideas from the doctrine are supported by a large part of the population and the faithful of the Russian elite. The social and political views in the upper classes coincide with the dominant political ideology in Russia the main components of which are a strong state, the sovereign ruler and opposition to the outside world. This ideology was common in Imperial and Soviet Russia as well [Fyodorov, 2010. Pp.58-61].

In 2006, the Russian Orthodox Church prepared a special document: The Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights. The document, in particular, says:

From the point of view of the Orthodox Church, the political and legal institution of human rights can promote the good goals of protecting human dignity and contribute to the spiritual and ethical development of the personality. To make it possible, the implementation of human rights should not come into conflict with God-established moral norms and traditional morality based on them. One’s human rights cannot be set against the values and interests of one’s homeland, community and family. The exercise of human rights should not be used to justify any encroachment on religious holy symbols, cultural values and the identity of a nation[4].

Because political issues and problems are outside the scope of the Orthodox faith and the political regime is not a matter of salvation, many believers are not interested in political issues. Everyone in church understands that a person can achieve spiritual perfection and holiness in any political regime.

The Basic Social Concept of the Orthodox Church claims that the monarchical power is God-given and it is a religiously higher form of government. The ideal form of relations between the Church and the State is a symphony. It suggests harmony, consent and cooperation of the State and the Church. This principle was established in Byzantium: the Church does not pretend to secular authority and the emperor does not submit to the Church. “The greatest blessings granted to human beings by God’s ultimate grace are priesthood and kingdom, the former (priesthood, church authority) taking care of divine affairs, while the latter (kingdom, government) guiding and taking care of human affairs, and both come from the same source, embellishing human life… And if the priesthood is well ordered in everything and is pleasing to God, then there will be full harmony between priesthood and kingdom in everything that serves the good and benefits the human race”[5].

In today’s Russian society the symphony model has changed and has a new form. Today, there are two parts of the symphony: traditional religions (Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism) on the one hand, and the state, on the other. All these religions are in contact with the state. It should be noted that Orthodox believers, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews have a lot in common in their attitude to human rights and freedoms, in bioethics, sexual morality, and their attitude to the West.

To sum up, in contemporary Russia the religious factor does not have a big role in politics. The dominant place is occupied by the «imported» system of ideas and institutions of liberal democracy. But Orthodox values, symbols and notions of power maintain certain significance for the development of institutions of power contributing to the legitimization of the rigid hierarchical model of power relations, promoting respect for the institutions of power. Although the Russian society is increasingly secularized, among various factors responsible for the reproduction of traditional Russian power relations, one of the basic factors is the religious one. Orthodox Christianity today has a significant impact on the socio-political values, symbols, and the social pattern.


Bulgakov S.N. Khristiansky sotsializm. Spory o sud’bakh Rossii. [Christian socialism. Debates about destinies of Russia] Novosibirsk, 1991.

Fyodorov V.V. Russkiy vybor. Vvedeniye v teoriyu elektoral’nogo povedeniya. [The Russian choice. Introduction into the theory of voting behavior.] M.: Praksis, 2010.

Lipset Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. New York: Doubleday, 1960.

Natsionalism v mirovoy istorii/ pod red. V.A. Tishkova, V.A. Shnirel’mana. Institut etnologii i antropologii im. N.N. Miklukho-Maklaya RAN. [Nationalism in world history / under editorship of V.A. Tishkov, V.A. Shnirel’man. Institute of ethnology and anthropology named after N.N. Miklukho-Maklai RAN.] M.: Nauka, 2007.

Noveishiye politicheckiye partii i techeniya v SSSR (dokumenty i materialy). [Latest political parties and tendencies in the USSR (documents and materials)] M. 1991.

Shchipkov A.V. Khristianskaya demokratiya v Rossii. [Christian democracy in Russia.] M.2004.

Stoeckl Kristina. The Russian Orthodox Church and Human Rights. London and New York: Routledge, 2014.

[1] The basis of the social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church// Anniversary Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. Materials // https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/iii/

[2] The basis of the social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church// Anniversary Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. Materials // https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/iii/

[3] The basis of the social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church// Anniversary Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. Materials // https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/iii/

[4] The Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights // https://mospat.ru/en/documents/dignity-freedom-rights/iii/

[5] Novella VI, Corpus juriscivilis, vol. III // Rec. E. Scholl. Dublin-Zurich, 1972. N6. P. 36.

Добавить комментарий

Ваш e-mail не будет опубликован. Обязательные поля помечены *