PATRIARCH KIRILL of Moscow has again defended Russian intervention in Ukraine, denying that it constituted an invasion.
“Russia has never attacked anyone — it’s amazing that such a great and powerful country has only ever defended its borders,” the Patriarch told a congregation in the Cathedral of the Archangel, in the Kremlin.
“May God grant that our country remains like this till the end of the century: strong, powerful, and loved by God. . . May the Lord protect our Russian land from internecine strife and invasion by foreigners, and strengthen the Orthodox faith, the only spiritual force that can truly hold our people together.”
Preaching on Tuesday, the Patriarch said that Russia’s past rulers had “faithfully served the Orthodox Church and their fatherland”, and should be turned to in prayer “for the Russian state, so that our sacred borders remain impregnable”.
In the latest sign of disagreement between Orthodox leaders, however, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, said that Orthodox Christians believed that war “should not even be a last resort”, and were “deeply hurt and worried” by sermons “which characterise this war as sacred. . .
“We must understand that war, the murder of a neighbour and brother, is the most disgusting, unacceptable imprint of a destructive and declining situation — a reality that contrasts sharply with our Lord’s teachings,” the Patriarch told the Cypriot daily Kathimerini on Sunday.
“You cannot claim to be brother to another people and yet bless the war waged by your state against them. You cannot stubbornly insist that Ukraine belongs to you ecclesiastically, while allowing its faithful, under Moscow’s ecclesiastical structure, to be killed and have their temples destroyed by Russian bombing.”
The exchange took place as Russian forces continued their offensive against eastern and southern Ukraine, bombarding last-ditch defenders at the port of Mariupol, where up to 22,000 people are reported dead, despite efforts by the United Nations and Red Cross to evacuate the city of stranded civilians.
In a statement last week, the Moscow Patriarchate’s external-relations department said that Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia had assured Patriarch Kirill in a “long fraternal talk” that the Serbian Orthodox Church shared Russian concerns, and would “do everything to support the Russian Orthodox Church and believers in Russia and Ukraine”.
This was not, however, confirmed on the Serbian Church’s website, amid hardening attitudes around the world to Moscow’s military campaign, and growing calls for Russian Orthodox leaders to face sanctions and exclusion from ecumenical bodies.
alamyPatriarch Kirill during an Easter service in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, on 23 April
Addressing pilgrims in Rome on Sunday, the Pope deplored the “macabre regression of humanity” taking place in Ukraine, and demanded an end to “continued military and verbal escalation” and the “perverse spiral of weapons”.
In an interview on Tuesday with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the Pope compared Ukraine to Rwanda, which suffered genocide in 1994, and disclosed that he had offered to visit Moscow to speak with President Putin, but had received no reply.
The Pope said that he was unsure whether it was right for Western countries to supply “Ukrainian fighters” with weapons, but said that defence forces could not be blamed for fighting back after Russia’s shock invasion on 24 February.
He said that he had reprimanded Patriarch Kirill during an online conversation on 16 March for reading out “all the reasons that justify the Russian invasion”, urging him not to “speak the language of politics” or “lower himself to become Putin’s altar boy”, and had also called off a planned June meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Jerusalem, after “agreeing it could send the wrong message”.
Speaking last weekend to the daily La Stampa, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also criticised attempts to “find justifications in the word of God” for the invasion, and said that he was “pessimistic” about future negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, told domradio.de, the media portal of the Cologne archbishopric, on Monday that dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church would continue, but confirmed that relations had been complicated by the Russian Church’s acceptance of a symphonic relationship between Church and State rather than the “separation-with-co-operation” model followed by Western Churches.
“Today, it’s Christians fighting Christians, and even Orthodox fighting Orthodox — this is a terrible message for the whole of Christianity, which is going out to the world,” Cardinal Koch said.
“The Christian God is a God of peace, not of war. And we cannot, in the name of this Christian God, declare for war and support war. Such a position would be non-Christian.”
Foreign ambassadors, including the British ambassador, have been returning to Kyiv, where half the population of four million remain in place, despite missile attacks during last week’s visit by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres.
Addressing the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, on Tuesday, Boris Johnson announced £300 million in extra military support from the UK, and said that Ukrainian resistance forces had achieved “the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century”, exposing “Putin’s historic folly”.
The European Union said it would ban Russian oil imports by the end of 2022, as Moscow announced retaliatory counter-sanctions, and Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Iryna Venediktova, accused Russia of using rape as a war tactic.
Western officials said that Russia was slowly advancing in its latest offensive, however, inflicting heavy civilian casualties through indiscriminate bombing, and could be preparing to annex the self-declared eastern republics of Donetsk and Luhansk after staging local referendums.
The Primate of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), described the conflict to Italian aid workers as “not just a war between two states, but a deeper struggle of good and evil, of the devil against the whole world”.
Meanwhile, the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church, led by Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), listed dozens of churches, monasteries, and shrines damaged or destroyed during the hostilities, as well as its continued humanitarian measures to help refugees and displaced civilians.
A delegation from France’s ecumenical Taizé community was expected to hold prayers this week in Lviv, despite overnight missile attacks on Tuesday, after a pastoral mission by the RC Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
In a post on Facebook, Ukraine’s Evangelical Church said that one of its volunteer chaplains, Macharashvili Temur, had been killed last week by Russian forces.
The Kharkiv-based Bishop of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, Pavlo Schwartz, said that his own city remained “unconquered”, thanks to “courageous defenders, brave rescuers, incredible communal workers, and wonderful volunteers”.
The Primate of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk, however, said that Russian officials had admitted deporting more than one million Ukrainians, including 200,000 children, and he accused the Russian Orthodox Church of assisting the forced resettlement programme.
In a report the same day, the intelligence department of Ukraine’s Defence Ministry alleged that President Putin’s government had asked the Russian Church to encourage young people to enlist for the war in Ukraine.
The report named 245 Orthodox leaders, including Patriarch Kirill and his foreign-relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), who had “co-operated with Russian propagandists and occupation units in information and psychological operations”. They would be “brought to justice for crimes against the territorial integrity and people of Ukraine”.