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Russian ‘Holy War’ declaration condemned

05 April 2024

Kirill-backed edict justifies crimes, Ukrainians object


An image of the Risen Christ is carried in St Nicholas’s Roman Catholic Church, Kyiv, on Easter Eve

An image of the Risen Christ is carried in St Nicholas’s Roman Catholic Church, Kyiv, on Easter Eve

UKRAINIAN Churches have urged Christian organisations to condemn a Russian Orthodox declaration that called for a “Holy War” that would, they say, wipe their country from the map.

“We have repeatedly condemned ‘Russian world’ ideology, which serves to justify Russian aggression,” said the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, grouping Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders, as well as Jews and Muslims.

“This latest document denies the Ukrainian people’s existence as a unique ethnic group and right to its own sovereign statehood. It justifies war crimes and acts of genocide already committed by the Russian Federation on Ukraine’s territory and calls for new ones to be committed.”

The appeal was published in response to a declaration issued by the World Russian People’s Council (WRPC) last week, approved in Moscow by its chairman, Patriarch Kirill, and circulated by Russian Orthodox media.

The Ukrainian response said that Russian religious leaders bore “full moral responsibility” for the declaration, which also called for Russian rule over all Ukrainian territory. They urged the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, and other international bodies to denounce the document and support sanctions against its backers.

The Primate of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that his country’s “entire religious community” condemned “criminal, anti-human and godless” teachings about a “Russian world”, and urged Moscow-linked Orthodox communities to reject Moscow’s “imperial pride” and “Antichrist delusions”.

“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine isn’t sacred, but diabolical, and everyone who justifies it, who assists the Russian destruction of Ukraine, serves not God, but Satan,” Metropolitan Epiphany told a Kyiv congregation on Sunday.

“We call again on all Orthodox brothers and sisters still under the Russian Patriarchate’s spell to see its poisonous fruits and free themselves.”

The WRPC, founded in 1993, is headed by Patriarch Kirill, and holds special consultative status at the United Nations.

Its declaration, approved by 500 delegates at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow, said that the “special military operation” in Ukraine, launched by President Putin’s regime in February 2022, marked a “new stage in the Russian people’s national liberation struggle” against the “criminal Kyiv regime and the collective West behind it”, and must end with the “entire territory of modern Ukraine” locked in a “zone of exclusive Russian influence. . .

“The Russian people, arms in hand, are defending their lives, freedom, statehood, civilisational, religious, national and cultural identity, as well as the right to live on their own land within borders of a single Russian state.

“This is a Holy War, in which Russia and its people, defending the single spiritual space of Holy Rus, are fulfilling the mission of protecting the world from the onslaught of globalism and victory by a West which has fallen into Satanism.”

Commending the 3000-word declaration, Patriarch Kirill said that its aim was to use all necessary means to “protect and strengthen the Russian world” — understood not as a “narrowly national phenomenon”, but as a “community of ideals and values” linking all peoples working “for a united Fatherland”.

At least one senior Russian Orthodox cleric, Metropolitan Innokenty (Vasiliev), of Lithuania, said later, however, that he was withdrawing from the WRPC because of the declaration, which was widely seen as going beyond previous “Russian world” exhortations.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) also “categorically condemned” the WRPC’s assertions, saying that its calls for a “Holy War” contradicted “basic principles of Christian morality”.

“The Orthodox Church in Russia should raise its voice against this war — justifications of military aggression are incompatible with evangelical teaching,” the UOC said in a weekend statement.

“Ukrainians have a right to national identity and independence, which we are ready to protect in the future. . . From a Gospel viewpoint, military action cannot be justified as ‘holy’ — nor can this come from people who call themselves clergy.”

The latest bitter exchanges took place as Ukraine’s Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches celebrated the Western Easter on Sunday, against a background of continued Russian missiles and drone attacks.

In a message on X/Twitter, President Zelensky said that Easter recalled “the power of the spirit that will not allow darkness to prevail”. He expressed the hope that faith would “unite all good hearts and strengthen those defending their homes”.

Ukraine’s Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches thanked those “protecting life today on the front lines”. It said in its Easter message that belief in Christ’s resurrection, against a background of “brutal war”, made Ukrainians aware that “darkness cannot defeat light,” nor “death take away life for ever”.

The Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, thanked the Pope for calling in his Urbi et Orbi address for a “general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine”.

In its declaration, the WRPC said that the “Russian world” extended, as a “spiritual, cultural and civilisational phenomenon”, well beyond the Russian Federation’s current and historical borders to embrace all “eastern Slavs”, including Ukrainians and Belarusians, whose reunification should be a key priority.

It also embraced, however, all those deriving “meaning in life” from Russian culture and civilisation, including “millions of foreigners” who “defend traditional values and are loyal to Russia”.

The WRPC demanded “comprehensive state measures” to quadruple Russia’s population to 600 million in a century, and to protect families from “abortion propaganda, sexual immorality and debauchery, as well as sodomy and sexual perversions”.

It called for the “mass repatriation of compatriots to Russia” and “mass relocation of city residents” to the countryside, as well as moves against migrants “incapable of integration into Russian society”.

“Building Russia’s thousand-year statehood is the highest form of political creativity for Russians as a nation,” the WRPC said.

“Deprivation of our spiritual and vital forces have always led to weakening and crisis for the Russian state — restoring the unity of the Russian people, their spiritual and life potential, are thus key conditions for the survival and successful development of Russia and the Russian world in the 21st century.”

Preaching on Sunday in the Tushino suburb of Moscow, Patriarch Kirill compared Ukraine to the paralytic healed by Christ at Bethesda (John 5.1-15), and said that the Russian Orthodox faith would soon be strengthened again across the war-ravaged country.

Media reported that a Moscow Patriarchate circular last week reminded all Russian Orthodox parishes of their daily duty to recite a prayer, drawn up by Kirill in September 2022, for Moscow’s victory, as well as for “forgiveness of sins and blissful repose” for Russian soldiers who died fighting in Ukraine.

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