RELIGIOUS leaders around the world continue to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and contribute to growing pressure on Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
Condemnations of the invasion this week came from Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Muslim leaders in various countries, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, and Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus, who said the conflict had vindicated Bartholomew’s recognition of Metropolitan Epiphany’s independent Church in January 2019.
“The Russian President is making a huge mistake in ruining such a large country, without caring how many souls, made in God’s image, his action takes away,” the Archbishop said last weekend.
“How can Mr Putin go to church, repent, hold up his cross and receive communion, while killing at the same time? Is this his Orthodoxy?”
Speaking on Sunday, the Pope said that he, too, was joining his voice to that of “ordinary people begging for an end to the war”. He was grateful, he said, for the “great network of solidarity” currently helping Ukrainian refugees.
“In the face of the barbarism of the killing of children, innocent people, and defenceless civilians, there are no strategic reasons that hold: the unacceptable armed aggression has only to be stopped before it reduces the cities to cemeteries,” Pope Francis told pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.
“In the name of God, hear the cry of those who suffer and put an end to the bombings and attacks! Focus really and decisively on the negotiation, on humanitarian corridors that are effective and safe.”
In an apparent reference to Patriarch Kirill, the Pope said that God’s name was profaned by “those who support violence”, and said that he was praying for God “to convert hearts to a firm will for peace”.
Calls have continued abroad for the 75-year-old Patriarch, who lauded President Putin’s “high and responsible service to the people” in a speech hours before the invasion, to stop offering moral and spiritual justification for what Russia calls a “special military operation”.
In a letter last week, more than 100 Christian leaders from the US National Council of Churches urged that Patriarch Kirill “prayerfully reconsider” the support that he was giving the war, and use his “profound influence” to intervene with Russia’s rulers.
The letter was signed by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, as well as by Evangelical Baptist leaders, who, in a separate statement, also called on Christians to demand that the US administration increase pressure on President Putin’s government and “help Ukraine resist aggression”.
But last week Patriarch Kirill blamed the West for stoking church divisions and turning Ukrainians into enemies of Russia.
“The peoples of Russia and Ukraine, who came from one Kievan baptismal font, are united by common faith, common saints and prayers, and share a common historical fate,” he said in response to an appeal from the Revd Ioan Sauca, the Romanian Orthodox acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches.
“This tragic conflict has become a part of a large-scale geopolitical strategy aimed, first and foremost, at weakening Russia and stirring Russophobia.”
On Tuesday, the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, told a press conference he had also received a reply to his appeal to Patriarch Kirill, which emphasised the “eternal covenant of blood and faith between Russia and Ukraine”, and warning Poland’s bishops they would be better employed “dissuading politicians from aggressive statements and actions against Russia”.
Opposition to Patriarch Kirill’s pro-war stance nevertheless appears to be growing within Russia, where hundreds of Orthodox clergy have defied draconian new penalties against “public dissemination of falsehoods about Russia’s armed forces” by signing a petition against the war — as well as among Russian Orthodox communities abroad.
In a letter last week, the chief pastor of the Paris-based archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, Metropolitan Jean of Dubna, warned Patriarch Kirill that his Church’s unity was under threat, as members were expecting “an evangelical message of peace”, and called on him to raise his voice “against this monstrous and senseless war”.
The Metropolitan also deplored Kirill’s attempt to justify the war as “a metaphysical battle” in a Moscow sermon on 6 March, and condemned the Patriarch’s claim that Russian forces were “on the side of the light and God’s truth”.
Staff at the Moscow Patriarchate’s new Holy Trinity Cathedral in Paris were reported to have refused admission to French Protestant and RC leaders when they arrived to deliver an appeal to Patriarch Kirill on 10 March.
The Russian Orthodox seminary outside Paris, however, denounced “imperialism and nationalism” in a statement last week, and urged Russia to “end its bloody offensive”.
Meanwhile, Russian Orthodox clergy at St Nicholas of Myra, Amsterdam, closed their church and requested Dutch police protection, having sought a transfer of jurisdiction to the Ecumenical Patriarch after alleged threats by their pro-Moscow archbishop.
Divisions are also widening in Ukraine’s Moscow-affiliated Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Onufriy of Kiev reiterated last week that there was “no excuse for those who start wars”, and urged an exchange of prisoners and repatriation of wounded servicemen.
At least 20 Moscow-linked Orthodox eparchies, or dioceses, in Ukraine have removed Patriarch Kirill from their prayer lists. Several senior metropolitans have backed demands by clergy groups for independence from the Moscow Patriarchate.
In Facebook on Monday, after a Russian missile strike killed 35 and wounded 130 at a military base close to the Polish border, Metropolitan Filaret of Lviv-Halych denounced the war “treacherously started by the Russian Federation” as “not just a sin, but satanic madness”, and said Russian actions were “increasingly bearing signs of genocide”.
The Metropolitan told the French Catholic daily La Croix that he had personally written to President Putin demanding withdrawal of the Russian army, and that only 40 per cent of Orthodox fellow-bishops still favoured links with Patriarch Kirill.
Preaching in Moscow on Sunday, Kirill nevertheless reiterated earlier claims that Russian Orthodox Christians were being “persecuted” in Ukraine, and expressed the hope that Ukrainians and Russians would stay united, regardless.
“We believe the Orthodox faith and Orthodox Church will not suffer damage from the ongoing political processes, which we hope will soon pass,” said the Patriarch, who also presented a special icon on Sunday to leaders of the Russian National Guard which is fighting in Ukraine.
“If we endure, then our Russian land will be preserved, which now includes Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, as will our Church, whose children live in different states all over the planet. We believe the Lord will be with us if we preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith.”
In Russia, where at least 15,000 people have been arrested for protesting against the war, a Roman Catholic priest, who asked not to be named, told the Church Times that his church had been unable to publish recent peace appeals by the Pope and other Christian leaders because of current curbs on free speech.
The Chaplain of St Andrew’s, Moscow, Canon Malcolm Rogers, said in a weekend message that many young Russians appeared “crushed by what has been done in their name”, and that many feared a return to the “isolation and economic depression” of the 1980s.
“Today, as many of our dear friends have left Russia, and as we nervously wonder whether or when we should leave, we are even more conscious of our powerlessness,” said Canon Rogers, who is the diocese in Europe’s area dean for Russia and Ukraine.
“We pray for the time when there will be no more ‘fake news’, lies, betrayals or violence, and no more fear and death. And it is our very powerlessness which opens to us our dependence on God and on him doing wonderful works.”
Comment: Kirill fails to hold evil to account