UKRAINIAN officials are bringing charges of complicity in war crimes against Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who insisted this week that Ukrainians were really Russians, and redoubled his support for President Putin’s invasion.
“The Moscow Patriarch belongs to the inner circle of Russia’s top military and political leadership — he was one of the first publicly endorsing a full-scale war,” the Security Service and Prosecutor General’s Office in Ukraine said in a joint statement last weekend.
“To spread propaganda, he extensively uses Russian Orthodox religious communities under his control in Russian Federation territory, as well as representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, regularly spreading Kremlin narratives in online sermons and video comments.”
The statement said that evidence for criminal proceedings included the Patriarch’s blessing of Russian invasion forces and justification of Moscow’s occupation, as well as his regular denials that Moscow had launched an “aggressive war”.
The Primate of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that his Church, formed in December 2018, now outstripped its Moscow-linked rival UOC, after gaining 9000 parishes, compared with the UOC’s 7000.
The OCU, he said, had carefully abided by legal regulations in its bid to create “a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church” as the “spiritual foundation” for an independent state. He admitted, however, that some Ukrainians remained confused over the identity of the two denominations.
“We can see how, in many different spheres, the enemy tries to disguise itself as Ukrainian, while doing all it can to support the occupier,” the Metropolitan told the radio network Voice of America on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, there are religious organisations that still maintain institutional ties with the aggressor country, and that’s why our parliament has now passed the first reading of a Bill prohibiting this. . . Now is the time to distance ourselves from everything Russian that’s been instilled into us for a century.”
The exchanges took place as the strategic eastern town of Avdiivka, near Russian-occupied Donetsk, came under fierce attack by invading troops, and Ukraine’s regions prepared for new winter attacks on energy and heating facilities.
Speaking on Tuesday, President Zelensky denied media reports of a stalemate along the 900-mile front line, amid mounting casualties and war fatigue, but said that he doubted the feasibility of holding scheduled presidential elections next spring.
In the northern city of Chernihiv, a UNESCO mission arrived to assess the damage to churches and cultural monuments.
As a government-backed Bill to ban Orthodox parishes maintaining jurisdictional ties with the Moscow Patriarchate neared its second parliamentary reading, prosecutors confirmed that more than 70 criminal proceedings were under way against UOC clergy, including 16 metropolitans, for aiding and abetting the Russian invasion.
In a statement on Monday, the UOC complained that it had not been included in a delegation from the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations which visited the United States in late October. It also rejected a Council statement that Ukraine had maintained “a high level of religious freedom” despite the war.
Preaching on the same day as he received a five-million-rouble prize from President Putin for his “contribution to strengthening the nation’s unity”, Patriarch Kirill urged Russians to continue backing the war, and praised those who had volunteered “to defend the fatherland” in its mission as “a stronghold of Orthodoxy in the world”.
He said that “belonging to the Russian people” should be “accompanied by a deep Orthodox faith”, and citizens who failed to attend church should ponder whether they could genuinely “talk about themselves as Russian people”.
“The enemy of the human race laughed at the strength of spirit of the Russian people — when I say ‘Russian’, I also mean Ukrainians and Belarusians,” the Patriarch told a congregation at the Mother of God Orthodox Church, Moscow.
“Today is a special time for rethinking our attitude to God and the Orthodox faith. Those who doubt should cast all doubts aside. Those who have not found this faith must seek it — they must come to God’s temple, pray for their relatives and loved ones, and for the soldiers who are giving their lives for Russia today.”
Ukrainian media said the criminal offences charges against Patriarch Kirill, who is already barred from Ukraine and under sanctions in Britain and other Western countries, carried potential prison sentences of 15 years, which could be imposed after a trial in absentia.
Several governments, including those of Moldova and Bulgaria, have recently taken steps to remove Moscow-aligned Orthodox clergy, amid security fears that Russia could be seeking to stoke new conflicts in the Balkans and South-Eastern Europe.