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Church leaders condemn Russian air raids

21 October 2022

Perpetrators will answer to God, says Ukrainian council


Rescuers at the site of a Russian kamikaze drone attack in Kyiv on Monday

Rescuers at the site of a Russian kamikaze drone attack in Kyiv on Monday

CHURCH leaders have denounced Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy and water supplies.

“While we pray for the victims and ask God to bless our defenders, we also appeal to the international community and the world’s religious leaders to condemn these acts of state terror,” said the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, which includes Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant leaders, as well as Jews and Muslims.

“All who participate in these brutal attacks on peaceful cities — the leaders who give orders, the direct perpetrators and all who justify such acts of inhuman cruelty — must know they will answer before Almighty God and be punished for their crimes.”

The council was reacting to renewed Russian strikes against civilian targets in Kyiv and other cities, which wrecked power and water supplies in the approach to winter. President Zelensky confirmed that one third of Ukraine’s power stations had now been destroyed, leaving more than 1000 urban areas without electricity.

The Primate of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said at the weekend that the country’s defenders were counting on the Virgin Mary’s “protection and strength” in their “victorious fight” against “Russian invaders and murderers”.

In support, the Paris-based archdiocese for Russian Orthodox communities in Western Europe again urged Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to call for an end to the “fratricidal war”, now in its eighth month, saying that Russian and Ukrainian Christians had reacted with “pain and incomprehension” to his September pledge that invading soldiers would gain remission for their sins if slain.

Meanwhile, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Estonia, Metropolitan Eugene (Reshetnikov), became the latest Baltic prelate to rebuke the Patriarch. In an open letter, the Metropolitan told government officials that his faithful also rejected Patriarch Kirill’s pro-war stance.

Patriarch Kirill, however, has accused the West of seeking to “destroy and conquer” Russia, and insisted that Ukraine belonged to the “Russian world”. Preaching at a Moscow liturgy on 14 October, he warned that forces were “rising up again” to “destroy and conquer Russia”, and assured his country’s troops that the Virgin Mary would watch over them.

“All this is clothed today in other verbal forms — but behind it remains the indelible dream of those who attacked Russia from the West: to destroy our sovereignty, deprive us of freedom, and then use all the resources of the world’s richest country for their own purposes,” the Patriarch said. He praised President Putin’s commitment to “solidarity, mutual assistance, kindness, and justice” in a birthday message in early October.

“This is no time for doubts — today is the time to mobilise our spiritual forces, asking the Lord and the purest Queen of Heaven to give our people strength from above to stop the enemy and protect our Fatherland’s borders.”

In a new book, I Ask You in the Name of God: Ten prayers for a future of hope”, published on Tuesday, the Pope warned that the Ukrainian conflict highlighted the need for “better multilateralism”, and that “manipulated wars” were especially unjust when “false pretexts were created” for attacking another country.

“We are witnessing a third world war in fragments, which threatens to grow and take the form of a global conflict — there is no occasion on which war can be considered just, and never any place for military barbarism,” the Pope wrote.

“That is why I call on the political authorities to stop ongoing wars, not to manipulate information and not to deceive their peoples in order to achieve military goals.”

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told the Italian weekly magazine Famiglia Cristiana that a truce in Ukraine was “not only plausible, but also urgent and necessary”, and said that Pope Francis remained ready to meet Patriarch Kirill to assist peace negotiations.

This was questioned, however, by Bishop Vitalii Kryvytskyi, who chairs the RC church-state commission. The Bishop said that he saw “no glimmer of peace” in the present situation.

“When an aggressor attacks civilians and tries to destroy basic infrastructure such as electricity, hitting hospitals and neonatal wards, how can this be defined other than as terrorism?” he told Italian TV last weekend.

In a debate last week, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” in late September of four Ukrainian regions, although 35 countries abstained. Russia, Belarus, Syria, Nicaragua, and North Korea voted against.

Speaking on Tuesday, however, in the Cathedral of the Dormition, in the Kremlin, after talks with the Orthodox acting secretary-general of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Professor Ioan Sauca, Patriarch Kirill said that Ukraine belonged to the “lands of historical Russia” and should remain “united by bonds to the Russian Orthodox Church”.

He continued: “For there to be lasting peace, we need diabolical thoughts to be eradicated by the power of God from the consciousness of people who do not strive for the unity of Holy Russia, so everyone will take responsibility for preserving the spiritual unity of the Russian world.”

Professor Sauca said afterwards that the Patriarch was aware of WCC statements “condemning the war and violence”. His delegation had come to Moscow “to build bridges of peace and reconciliation and stop the bloodshed and the danger of nuclear conflagration”.

He also urged Kirill to clarify his “personal position on the war” with a call to “stop the bloodshed, stop the killing, stop the destruction of infrastructure, and look for peace and reconciliation”.

The WCC communiqué said that the Patriarch seemed unaware of how his sermons and speeches appeared to offer “theological augmentation and support for the war”, and that Professor Sauca had asked him to explain how he justified the notions of a “holy war” and “metaphysical war” in Ukraine.

“As Churches, we are called to be peacemakers and to defend and protect life — war cannot be holy,” Kirill replied.

“But when one has to defend himself and his life, or to give his life for the lives of others, things look different. . . As St Paul says, our fight is not against flesh and blood but against the dark powers and authorities of the world, which confront the values of the gospel. And such powers are everywhere present, not only in the West.”

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