Orthodox brothers leave Kirill in the cold
The Russian Church gets more and more isolated in the Orthodox world. Even seminary students from the Ukrainian Church (Moscow Patriarchate) are cooking for the Ukrainian army fighting against the Russians.
Orthodox church leaders around the world condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine. In a sermon, the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, said that the “pious people of Ukraine bear their heavy cross as they suffer the untold abuses of an unprovoked, irrational and hostile war.” The spokesman of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate, Vasile Banescu, declared that the war was caused “by a political pathology, a morbid imperialist vision”.
The Greek Metropolitan Chrysostom stated that the Russian president Putin had no reason for attacking Ukraine. “It’s tragic to kill people because of a tycoon’s stubbornness”, the Athenian said. This was reported by the Christian German press agency Idea.
The Metropolitan further criticised the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church sharply. According to him, the church shows the same mentality as Putin. “They are used to slaves, to servitude; they cannot understand that one can live in independence.”
Other churches seem to distance themselves from the Russian Orthodox Church as well. Voices in Sweden raise their voices to exclude the Russian Orthodox Church from their Council of Churches. At the same time, the Czech pastor Pavel Cerny, former chairman of the Council of Churches in the Czech Republic, argues for the Russian church’s exclusion from the World Council.
Christian Krieger, president of CEC (Conference of European Churches), has urged Patriarch Kirill to raise his voice clearly against the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
However, Kirill does not seem to do that. On the contrary. On Sunday, the Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia appeared to justify the war in a sermon. According to Kirill, the war is about the future of mankind. The church father, likely referring to Covid measures, said that before the invasion, the Donbas region and Ukraine were tested to get “a kind of pass to a ‘happy’ world, the world of excess consumption, the world of visible ‘freedom’”. Kirill continued: “The test is straightforward and at the same time terrible – this is a gay parade.”
On Thursday, Patriarch Kirill responded to the calls of churches worldwide. In a letter to Archpriest John Sauke, Acting Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches, Kirill says that the culprits of the war should not be sought in Russia or Ukraine, but in the West. “When the 1990s rolled around, Russia was promised that its security and dignity would be respected. However, the forces openly considering Russia as an enemy came close to its borders over time. Year after year, month after month, the countries of the NATO bloc are building up their military power, ignoring Russia’s fears that these weapons will one day be turned against it.”
According to Kirill, the people of the Donbas region only defended their right to speak Russian and demanded respect for their historical and cultural traditions. “But the voices of the people were not heard, just as the thousands of dead residents of Donbas were not noticed in the Western world.”
According to the Patriarch, the current war became part of larger geopolitics to weaken Russia. “Now Western leaders are imposing economic sanctions on Russia that will harm everyone. At the same time, they do not hesitate to say that they seek to bring suffering to the leaders or military leaders of Russia and the Russian people. Russophobia is spreading across the Western world at an unprecedented pace.”
The day before, on Wednesday, Kirill said similar things in a sermon. Despite the conflict, the church father said that Ukrainians and Russians are one people and are bound by historical faith. “We all came out of the Kyiv (baptism) font together; we are united by faith.” However, according to the Patriarch, “the enemy of the human race –through specific people, through specific associations of people– throws a lie into relations between our peoples.” Kirill said that it is not just a quarrel between neighbours, “but a conflict in which states are involved.”
Ukrainians are unsurprisingly not a fan of the Russian Orthodox Church as well. Since the schism in 2018, there have been tensions between the churches under the patriarchates of Moscow and Kyiv. However, since the war, 63 per cent of the Ukrainians favour the idea to cut ties with the Moscow Patriarchate. Just 10 per cent of Ukrainians still support the Moscow leadership of the Ukrainian church. Among parishioners of the ROC in Ukraine, 52 per cent voted in favour of separation.
These numbers are published on the Ukrainian news portal Spiritual Front. The survey was conducted in all of Ukraine, with the exception of Crimea and the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Although some Russian churches in Ukraine do not want to speak out against the invasion, theological students of the Moscow Patriarchate in Kyiv do. The website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate showed young theologians-to-be preparing and distributing food for Ukrainian defence forces. Apart from this, the website is full of reports that shows support for the Ukrainian army.
Meanwhile, the (independent) Ukrainian Church under the Kyiv patriarchate is quite outspoken about the Russian Orthodox Church. On February 28th, Metropolitan Epiphanius compared the Russian president Putin with the German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. According to Epiphanius, Putin has a spirit of the antichrist within him.
However, Kirill’s subordinate in Kyiv, Metropolitan Onuphry, does not go along with Kirill’s ideas. He calls for peace and an end of the war “caused by the attack by troops of the Russian Federation.” Onuphry further states that, due to the hostilities, some Ukrainian servicemen, “while fulfilling their oath and duty to defend the Homeland”, had been wounded. The Kyiv prelate, therefore, calls for extradition of the wounded.
Onuphry, however, does not seem to want to cut ties with the Moscow Patriarchate, although the Dormition Cathedral of the ROC in Kharkiv was shelled by Russian forces.
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