The Metropolitanate of Moldova is one of the instruments Russia is using to exert its influence in Chișinău. From backing pro-Russian politicians in election campaigns to blocking certain pieces of legislation that would take Moldova closer to Europe, the Metropolitanate has constantly shown that religion is hardly its sole concern.
The Church and its tolerance of domestic violence
On October 14, 2021, the Metropolitanate of Moldova sent a long letter to the Moldovan Parliament, calling on the latter not to ratify the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women. The Church was disgruntled with the fact that the Convention uses a definition for the word “gender” other than the classic division between masculine and feminine, and which the Russian and Moldovan clergies see as an attempt to support the LGBT movement. In fact, the Convention states that gender “shall mean the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men”.
Semantics aside, the Republic of Moldova has serious issues in terms of domestic violence.
The number of cases of family violence, reported and investigated by the authorities, is growing by the year. According to a report of the General Police Inspectorate (IGP), published in a recent study of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in 2020 the Police recorded 12,970 domestic violence complaints, compared to 11,840 in 2019 and 11,026 in 2018.
Nevertheless, the men of the cloth in the Republic of Moldova have obstructed the ratification of this document in Parliament for nearly 4 and a half years since it was signed by Moldovan authorities on February 6, 2017.
The official position of the Metropolitanate of Moldova reflects the viewpoint of the Moscow Patriarchate, to which it is hierarchically subordinated.
The Patriarchate of Moscow and all Russia, in addition to Russian conservative groups, oppose the signing of the Istanbul Convention. Moreover, Russia and Azerbaijan are two members of the Council of Europe that have so far refused to sign the Istanbul Convention, a document adopted in 2011 (meanwhile, Turkey has withdrawn from the Convention). Russia is the only country that doesn’t even provide criminal punishment for acts of domestic violence. In the last decade, some 40 draft laws regulating domestic violence fell through after being read out in the Russian State Duma.
The Church and the election campaign
Opposition against the Istanbul Convention is but one example of how the Metropolitanate of Moldova is rallying to the actions and rhetoric of the Russian Patriarchate, and even to Moscow’s political decisions – the Patriarchate is known to enjoy close ties with the Kremlin and to align its policies with Moscow’s.
In election campaigns, some Metropolitanate clergymen turn into agents of conservative and pro-Russian parties, and are ready to resort to offensive and discriminatory language in order to attain certain goals.
In November, 2016, a group of priests led by Marchel, the bishop of Bălți and Fălești, encouraged their parishioners in the midst of the election campaign not to vote for Maia Sandu, claiming she poses “a threat to the Church” and alleging she is “barren”.
“The fruit of my labor and yours must yield a result. As since we couldn’t find any fruit of her endeavors, I said she is a barren seed. The world says she won’t close down churches, because she’s a churchgoer. I, for one, haven’t seen her in church”, said Marchel, bishop of Bălți and Fălești, a known friend of former pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon.
The winner of the 2016 election, Igor Dodon, used the Church as a trump card during his term in office, in addition to the narrative about the traditional family. The Socialist leader also tried open Moldova’s doors to “God’s oligarch”, Konstantin Malofeyev.
Malofeyev is close to the Kremlin’s inner circle, and is trying to encourage and fund conservative movements in Western societies, under the pretense of orthodox advocacy. Every year, Malofeyev joins other religious leaders from Europe and the United States, in particular representing neo-Protestant churches, in organizing “the World Congress of Families”. Chișinău hosted the 2018 edition under the high patronage of president Igor Dodon.
The Church and the pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, the Metropolitanate of Moldova was somewhat reluctant to cooperate with the Government. Despite the serious epidemiological situation, priests invited the faithful to enter the church without a mask, while continuing to use the same teaspoon in distributing the Eucharist.
In an act of defiance, large groups of people led by priests embarked on pilgrimages over hundreds of kilometers across Moldova. Petru, bishop of Ungheni and Nisporeni, boarded a plane and toured the Republic of Moldova, carrying icons and crosses and chanting prayers to ward off COVID-19.
On the other hand, the Metropolitanate leadership have promoted Moscow’s narratives about the pandemic, as well as conspiracy theories disseminated by Russian media about 5G antennas and the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. “They use satellites and antennas to track where we’ve been and what we’ve visited. (…) All that used to be just a myth, the gallows, but now it’s become a reality. (…) The new rules forced upon us by Satanist globalists are a poison, like a devilish snake thirsting for our souls. We’re left without action, without worry”, Marchel, bishop of Bălți and Fălești, said in May, 2020, in a video posted on YouTube.
Ironically enough, less than a month later, the bishop himself got infected with COVID-19, together with dozens of other priests who attended a clerical meeting.
The clergy’s attitude hasn’t changed so far. On September 22, the authorities introduced new measures regulating the organization of religious services amidst an exponential increase in the number of COVID-19 infections in the Republic of Moldova. The next day, on September 23, the Metropolitanate of Moldova announced the organization of the Youth Pilgrimage in areas around Chișinău.
Not all priests in the Republic of Moldova did the same. The Metropolitanate of Bessarabia, which is subordinated to the Romanian Patriarchate, has called on parishioners to observe health safety measures and show civic responsibility during the pandemic. But this is just a small measure, given that the number of churches owned by the Metropolitanate of Bessarabia makes it eight times smaller than the Metropolitanate of Moldova.
A useful instrument for Moscow
In a country where nearly 97% of the population is Orthodox-Christian, the influence of the Metropolitanate of Moldova remains significant, considering that surveys show 75% of people in the Republic of Moldova put their trust in this institution, which is directly connected to Moscow. Under these circumstances, the Church also becomes a political extension that can play on Russia’s interests, the blocking of the Istanbul Convention by pro-Russian political and religious groups being a telling example in this respect.
Moscow is struggling to keep the Republic of Moldova in its sphere of influence, whereas the Metropolitanate of Moldova is nothing but a tool to achieve this goal. Moscow’s interest is to keep the Republic of Moldova away from Western culture, including by blockings its connection to European legislation. The role of the Church will not diminish in the near future, and Russia will continue to adeptly convey its messages to the political class and citizens of Moldova through the voice of its priests.