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Patriarch Kirill’s ‘Holy War’ decree puts WCC membership at risk

19 April 2024

Alamy

Patriarch Kirill (centre) releases birds to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation in front of the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on 7 April

Patriarch Kirill (centre) releases birds to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation in front of the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on 7 Apr...

PATRIARCH KIRILL of Moscow has been warned that his recent approval of a decree urging a “Holy War” and total takeover of Ukraine is likely to make the Russian Orthodox Church ineligible for membership of international ecumenical organisations.

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said in a statement on behalf of 352 member Churches: “This decree, addressed to the legislative and executive authorities of Russia, has raised grave concerns among our members

“We are seeking clarifications on whether this decree should be understood as expressing the Russian Orthodox Church’s own position, and how such positions can be held by a member-church of the WCC.”

The statement follows the pre-Easter decree by the World Russian People’s Council (WRPC), approved by its chairman, Patriarch Kirill, and circulated through Russian Orthodox media (News 5, April).

The 3000-word decree said that the “special military operation” launched by President Putin’s regime in February 2022 marked a “new stage in the Russian people’s national liberation struggle”, which the decree described as “a Holy War” against the West, “which has fallen into Satanism”.

Professor Pillay said that the decree could not be reconciled with “relevant WCC governing body policy pronouncements”, nor with “the biblical calling for Christians to be peacemakers in the midst of conflict”.

He said that the Russian Church had been represented in June and September 2022, when the WCC had adopted declarations that “strongly affirmed” that war was incompatible with “fundamental Christian and ecumenical principles”, and rejected “any misuse of religious language and authority to justify armed aggression and hatred”.

In his statement, Professor Pillay said that the WRPC decree contradicted a May 2023 assurance from Patriarch Kirill that “any references to holy war” were “related to the metaphysical realm, not to the physical armed conflict in Ukraine”. The WCC, he said, had demanded an “urgent meeting” on how “concerns raised within the fellowship can be addressed”.

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) said that it was also “deeply troubled” by the Russian Church’s “complicity in legitimising an unjust conflict”.

“The unprovoked invasion of Ukrainian territory has inflicted immeasurable suffering upon thousands of innocent civilians, destabilising the region, and violating the fundamental principles of international law and human dignity,” the CEC said in a joint statement on Monday with the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations.

“As followers of Christ, we are profoundly distressed to witness a Church endorse acts of aggression and violence that directly contradict the teachings of peace inherent in the Christian faith.”

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