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Churches react to Moscow gun massacre

26 March 2024

Crocus attack framed within the Ukrainian war story

Alamy

Orthodox priests on Sunday cense a makeshift memorial in front of the Crocus City Hall, Krasnogorsk

Orthodox priests on Sunday cense a makeshift memorial in front of the Crocus City Hall, Krasnogorsk

RUSSIAN religious leaders have condemned Friday’s massacre at a concert venue in suburban Moscow. After suggestions from the Kremlin that there were links to Ukraine, churchmen there warned, after heavy raids, that their own population was suffering constant death and destruction at Russian hands.

“A terrible criminal crime has taken place on Moscow soil, with innocent people insanely and brutally killed,” Patriarch KirIl of Moscow told an all-night vigil at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow.

“There is nothing more terrible than the death of an innocent person — and when large numbers of innocents are killed, such a crime remains long in the people’s memory. But we must respond to such terrible events, as Christians, in accordance with our calling to pray.”

The attack by gunmen on the Crocus concert hall, in the suburb of Krasnogorsk, left at least 139 dead and dozens more injured. The building was set alight.

Preaching on the Sunday of Orthodoxy festival, however, the Primate of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that his country had felt Russia’s “poisonous, murderous breath” on the same evening, as 150 missiles and drones rained down on civilian and energy infrastructure targets in the largest attack for months.

He said that he hoped those “distorting and blaspheming [against]” the Orthodox faith would undergo conversion, and abandon the “lies, crimes, bloodshed, torture, and murder” inflicted daily by the Russian state.

“This state insists it is the only one truly preserving and implementing Christian teachings,” Metropolitan Epiphany told a Kyiv congregation. “Yet its actions clearly testify that it is an evil empire spreading falsehood and acting in the spirit of the Antichrist.”

The Ukrainian government has firmly denied involvement in the Krasnogorsk atrocity, which was claimed by Islamic State. United States officials said that their public warnings of an imminent terrorist attack had been ignored by Moscow.

On Monday, Russian state TV showed four apparently badly beaten Tajikistan nationals appearing in court on terrorism charges, as President Putin confirmed that “radical Islamists” had perpetrated the atrocity, but also repeated an earlier claim that Ukraine’s “neo-Nazi regime” stood behind it.

An exiled Russian politician, Andrei Zubov, told the Italian press agency Servizio Informazione Religiosa that the attack had exposed the vulnerability of ordinary citizens, and raised questions about how Moscow’s special services had “deprived us of civil rights and fundamental freedoms, while missing such a large-scale, well-prepared terrorist attack”.

Funerals were held this week for victims of the Krasnogorsk attack, after a national day of mourning on Sunday. Messages of sympathy and condemnation were published by Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Adventist leaders across Russia, as well as by Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist associations.

Among messages from Orthodox Churches abroad, the Ecumenical Patriarchate condemned the attack “with disgust”, and extended “sincere and warm condolences to the beloved Russian people”.

Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria, who is in dispute with the Russian Orthodox Church over its expansion into Africa, said that his Church stood by Russia’s side in “serving only unity, love, reconciliation, dialogue, and brotherhood”.

In a weekend message on X/Twitter, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was “shocked and saddened” by the “senseless act of violence”. The Pope said that he was praying “for victims of the vile terrorist attack”.

In his Sunday message from St Peter’s Square, however, Pope Francis also prayed for the people of “tormented Ukraine”, many of whom now lacked electricity “because of the intense attacks against infrastructure, which, besides causing death and suffering, risk an even greater humanitarian catastrophe”.

Bishop Jan Sobilo, a Roman Catholic auxiliary from Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv-Zaporizhzia diocese, told the Church Times that his home region had also come under fresh Russian shelling at the weekend. He feared that the Moscow atrocity would serve as a “great provocation”, enabling President Putin’s government to “justify further terrible acts” against Ukraine.

“Our soldiers and civilians are being shot at and shelled every day by Russian forces, who are also destroying our energy and water supplies in a great tragedy of death and suffering,” Bishop Sobilo said.

“Russians should be reflecting right now on where Putin’s policies are leading them, and thinking seriously and realistically about their own future. If things continue as they are, it’s Russia which will be destabilised, and it will bear the guilt itself.”

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