LEADERS of the Russian Orthodox Church took part in Russia’s annual Victory Day celebrations this week.
“We must all work to ensure that our Fatherland becomes strong and invincible,” Patriarch Kirill said at a wreath-laying ceremony near the Kremlin Wall on Sunday.
“The prosperous, comfortable situation in which we live today often contributes to relaxing a person’s will and a dependence on certain life conditions. At such a time, our Church and armed forces must work especially together to instil in the people a sense of patriotism, loyalty to ideals and readiness to defend the Fatherland.”
The Patriarch was speaking a day before joining President Vladimir Putin, government and military officials on Monday’s Victory Day, which was marked by military parades in Moscow and other cities.
He said that Russian troops had resisted “enslavement” by Nazi Germany thanks to their people’s “strength of spirit”, and welcomed the “new direction” now being taken by church-army relations in the country.
The Orthodox Church was “not in the rearguard or even on the flanks, but at the front”, Patriarch Kirill said, as it strove “to protect the people and educate them in faith and love for the Fatherland, in the capacity to resist standards of life, behaviour patterns and philosophical ideas alien to the Orthodox faith and the people’s historical tradition”.
On a separate occasion, when he spoke at Moscow’s Military Cathedral, Patriarch Kirill dismissed as “nonsense” claims that he had made “militaristic speeches”, and said that Russia sought only “true freedom, regardless of those world power centres that are becoming hostile to it today”.
He told military personnel: “We must consolidate all our forces, both spiritual and material, so no one dares encroach on our Fatherland’s sacred borders.
“Russia does not wish harm to anyone, or to capture and occupy anyone. Nor does it want to drain resources from anyone, as most of the world’s rich and powerful countries do by economically occupying weak and helpless countries. We do not need this, since we are self-sufficient.”
The head of Ukraine’s Moscow-affiliated Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), held requiem liturgies for fallen Second World War fighters in Kyiv’s Holy Dormition church. According to his Church’s website, he also prayed for soldiers killed “defending Ukraine during the current war” and for “deliverance from the enemy”.
By contrast, the leader of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church vowed that his country would emerge spiritually strengthened from victory over “the new antichrist Putin”, regaining its territory and becoming “united, independent, democratic, and European”.
Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko) told a Kyiv congregation on Sunday: “For decades, it seemed that such an evil as Nazism could not be repeated in Europe — but next to us, in the neighbouring country, whose people suffered much in that war, the evil of Nazism has now grown again, nurtured by false propaganda and fierce hatred of truth and freedom, by a desire for war and bloodshed, as Russian fascism does the devil’s work, sowing ruin and death.”
The Victory Day parades took place as US intelligence sources warned of a stalemate as Russia’s latest offensive was held back in eastern Ukraine, sustaining heavy losses around Avdiivka, north of Donetsk.
On Tuesday, the United Nations human-rights monitoring mission said that Ukraine’s civilian death toll could be much higher than previously reported. Their statement coincided with a missile attack on the blockaded Black Sea port of Odesa, and a report by council officials in Mariupol, who said that more than 800 war crimes had been reported by residents fleeing the besieged city.
The Pope has continued to urge church leaders to oppose the “cruel and senseless war” as a threat to world peace. He told the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that the crisis could not “fail to challenge the conscience of every Christian and every Church”.
He has been criticised, however, for suggesting in an interview last week with Corriere della Sera that NATO bore some responsibility for the conflict by “barking at Russia’s door”, and also for questioning whether Western countries were right to supply Ukraine with weapons.
In response, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry thanked Pope Francis for his efforts to “establish a just peace”, but recalled that “the only culprit for the war” was Russia.
A prominent Italian RC theologian, Archbishop Bruno Forte, said that Russia’s invasion could be compared to Hitler’s attack in Poland in 1939 and warned against “the proclamation of naive pacifism”, telling Corriere della Sera on Monday that Ukraine’s “indisputable right to self-defence against Russian aggression” was “recognised by Catholic morality”.
Russia’s Moscow Patriarchate questioned the Pope’s account of the online conversation he had with Patriarch Kirill on 16 March, in which he said he had urged the Patriarch not to “speak the language of politics” or “lower himself to becoming Putin’s altar boy”.
“It is regrettable Pope Francis chose the wrong tone to convey the content of this conversation”, the Patriarchate said. “Such utterances can hardly further constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, so necessary at the current time.”
AlamyA mother with her children evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol arrive in Zaporizhzhia, on Friday
Roman Catholic and Orthodox representatives are due to meet in June at a Rome plenary of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue. Both Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill have said they plan to attend a world congress of religious leaders in Kazakhstan on 14-15 September.
The UN has reported that more than eight million Ukrainians were now internally displaced by the war, in addition to the 5.5 million refugees seeking shelter abroad.
In a statement last week, before 60 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on a school in Bilohorivka, UNICEF said 1454 Ukrainian educational institutions had been damaged, and more than 100 totally destroyed, during 11 weeks of fighting.
Representatives of the Vienna-based Organisation on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has 57 member-countries, condemned as “shocking and sad” a TV interview given by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on 1 May, in which he compared the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to Hitler, who “also had Jewish blood”.
The OSCE said that Lavrov, whose remarks sparked protests in Israel and across Europe, had distorted “the very facts of the Holocaust” and revived “a shameful anti-Semitic image, all in order to promote Russian aggression against Ukraine”.
Ukraine’s Culture Ministry confirmed this week that at least 91 Orthodox churches and 25 Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim places of worship had so far been destroyed across the country, and requested data on other damaged religious sites.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church has complained of acts of vandalism at its places of worship, as a small but steady flow of its 12,000 parishes transfer allegiance to Metropolitan Epiphany’s independent Church.
In a statement last weekend, the Church’s legal department also complained that at least 24 Ukrainian local councils had sealed its properties and suspended its work under current martial law regulations, and warned that further moves against it would “weaken the state in conditions of war and pose a significant obstacle to peace”.
“Since the first day of the war, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has condemned Russia’s military aggression, supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence, and constantly provided assistance to defenders and displaced persons”, the Moscow-affiliated Church insisted.
“Believers who belong to our religious communities are citizens of Ukraine, born and living on this land. Forbidding them to confess and pray in the faith in which their ancestors were born and died is a crime before God and the law.”
Among messages to mark Victory Day, Patriarch Kirill thanked Russia’s premier, Mikhail Mishustin, for assisting his Church’s efforts to “preserve traditional moral values in people’s lives”, and assured President Putin that close co-operation between his Church and “state power” would help “the patriotic, spiritual and moral education of contemporaries, and the establishment of high moral ideals”.
“We must ask the Lord to show his mercy over our country, to protect it from external and internal enemies,” Patriarch Kirill told a congregation in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow on 6 May.
“Today is the time for special consolidation of all our people, and we must all be together, aware that we are passing through a difficult, dangerous and fateful stage in our history . . . As long as we burn with faith, combining ardent prayer with sacrificial labours, each in his own place, the divine heavenly shield will remain over us.”
A Russian Orthodox delegation, headed by Metropolitan Hilarion, arrived in Cyprus this week to attend planning talks for the eleventh plenary assembly of the World Council of Churches, which opens at Karlsruhe on 31 August.
Orthodox and Lutheran churches in Estonia are to host a general assembly in Tallinn on 14-20 June of the Conference of European Churches, from which the Russian Church suspended its membership in 2008.