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«The Third Rome», The Fourth, The Fifth?..

"The Third Rome" from Hilarion to Hilarion

The idea of combining the Slavic peoples around the Orthodox faith was expressed in the middle of the XI century in the "Sermon on Law and Grace" by Metropolitan Hilarion. In the XVI century the idea received in-depth and stable expression in the form of a well-known Philotheus’ concept "Moscow is the Third Rome".

In July 2019, i.e., a millennium later, another Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), said that the concept "Moscow is the Third Rome" lost its relevance, and therefore the top priority in the work of the Church should be the work within the Russian society.

Despite the fact that Hilarion’s statement actually claims to shock the foundations of the "Russian idea", it has remained virtually unnoticed and has not caused any resonance in the information sphere, or in the ROC itself.

The consequences of a possible rejection by ROC of the concept "Moscow is the Third Rome" are interesting in two aspects: religious and political.

Religious aspect

Metropolitan Hilarion said that the main reason for the irrelevance of the "Third Rome" concept for Russia is low church practicing of the Russian society in which the Orthodox faith has ceased to be a significant mobilization and spiritual bond. The work of the Church to remedy the situation may involve two further scenarios.

The first one is the positive, when the activities of the Church result in increasing the religiosity of the Russian society, which will make it possible to return to the eschatological rhetoric. The second one is negative, if the percentage of church-going Russians remains low or declines.

The factors hindering the universal mission of the ROC under both scenarios include the image losses of the ROC in the recent years, "exit" of Ukraine from the Moscow Patriarchate and the subsequent split of the Orthodox world in general. At the same time it is the latter factor that may be a new starting point for the ROC in the reconfiguration of the relations between the local churches and the balance of power between the "Russian" and "Greek" Orthodox world - Moscow and Constantinople.

Political aspect

January 2020 was marked by the statement from the Russian leader, who announced a change in the priorities in the development of Russia. Regardless of whether the Metropolitan Hilarion’s statement was a "trial balloon" to "probing" the readiness of the Russian society for change, addressing the internal problems does not mean the exclusion of the foreign policy vector from the Russian agenda.

In this regard, we should expect the modernization of the "Third Rome" concept for ideas and directions that would retain a collective function of the "Great Russia" image, but without explicit religious emphasis. Neo-eurasism as the idea of the continental domination of Russia corresponds to such conditions.

However, the concepts of "centers" and "poles" do not have the principle of novelty, they are largely predictable, and therefore vulnerable. This gives grounds to suggest that in the coming decades the concepts of "routes" - global geopolitical flows, in which it will be difficult to highlight only religious, economic or cultural track, may start competing with the concepts of "centers".