Moscow continues to ignore calls for peace from religious leaders | News
The churches are among those providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine and helping those who have fled the war. In addition to material aid, churches also seek to provide pastoral care. Immediately after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February, for example, some Ukrainian troops who were in Tartu went to confession at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Tartu before returning to their homeland.
“They said [the priest], “Yes, we know that some of us will die there,” recalled Bishop Philippe Jourdan, Apostolic Administrator of Estonia for the Roman Catholic Church. “This priest has actually already told me that he already knew that several of them were already dead. I believe that is precisely the specific kind of work that the church can do. Our job is to take care of his soul.”
All churches aim to provide pastoral care, regardless of their specific denomination. Along with this work, however, churches also have another role. If the countries fail to find a diplomatic solution, the religious leaders will try to convey their message of peace to Russia. As the world is home to nearly two and a half billion Christians, church leaders also have a large following.
“Particularly with the Roman Pope, of course,” said Priit Rohtmets, associate professor of Church history at the University of Tartu (TÜ). “Roman Catholics represent the largest part of Christendom; they are more than 1.3 billion. On such an ideological level, precisely in speaking of war as a moral deficit, in speaking of the value of the soul human being, speaking of the value of a person – the churches undoubtedly have their own role to play in this respect.”
The pope wanted to meet Putin
Last week Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, wanted to visit Moscow. President Vladimir Putin, however, would not agree to meet the pope.
“The traditional title for the pope in Latin is summus pontifex, and pontifex means ‘bridge builder’ in Latin,” Jourdan explained. “If there is a person in the world whose moral authority is such that he could talk peace with Putin, then it certainly cannot be [US] President [Joe] Biden, [French President Emmanuel] Macron or [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz or others. To some extent, our only hope is the pope; I don’t believe Putin would consider anyone else.”
But to build a bridge, you need support on both sides. Jourdan said the pope understands that a message of peace would probably be sent in vain, but since the end of the war mainly depends on Putin, he must nevertheless try to convince him.
However, it should also be borne in mind that the majority of Russians are Orthodox, which is why Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) Urmas Viilma doubts that even the Pope has enough influence in Russia to bring peace.
“The only one who could sufficiently influence this process at the religious level is actually still Patriarch Kirill, who – I believe – is still very knowledgeable about what is happening in Ukraine,” Viilma said. “But I will have to tell you who could influence the patriarch, because the different denominations and churches are not subordinate to each other.”
EU considers sanctions against Kirill
Another potential hope may be international religious organizations involved in the pursuit of peace.
“Like the World Council of Churches, headquartered in Geneva,” Viilma cited as an example. “I myself participated a month ago in a round table involving church leaders from this region – also invited to these talks were church leaders from the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate – precisely in the purpose of discussing how to achieve peace and what contribution the churches can make. . Unfortunately, due to various sanctions, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate were unable to enter Europe.”
Meanwhile, Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is himself one of the authors of the ideology used to justify the ongoing war in Ukraine.
“Since the beginning of the war, Kirill, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, has made a whole series of statements in which he emphasizes that Russia has never attacked anyone, and that this whole war is like a metaphysical struggle between good and bad,” Rohtmets said.
“As such, justifying Russia’s actions and championing the concept of a Holy Russia with its great Christian history, he is still one of the ideologues and one of the co-conspirators of this war”, stressed the theologian. “Not a collaborator or anyone in any way coerced into taking those positions – he took that position on himself. He didn’t just take that position at the start of the war; that rather, are his beliefs and opinions for decades already. This is a concept that was conceived by both the Russian Orthodox Church and the state.”
This is why the EU is considering imposing sanctions on Kirill personally.
Viilma stressed that this war must be condemned. “But if other churches in that same area are now expected to somehow call these sanctioned people to order, or engage with them, well, it doesn’t. is not possible to dialogue if it is not possible to sit at the same table with them,” he said.
“So these sanctions on the one hand send a very clear political message to the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate, for example, but on the other hand they prevent other churches in the world from engaging with them,” the leader said. of the Lutheran Church in Estonia. continued. “It’s hard to say what would be good and what would be bad here. Fortunately, here in Estonia, all of us church leaders can discuss everything together, including discussing the war, and develop common positions.”
Metropolitan Yevgeny chooses his words
Viilma referred for example to the joint statement issued by the Estonian Council of Churches in March echoing the UN General Assembly’s condemnation of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Among the signatories was Metropolitan Yevgeny (Eugeni), head of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MPEÕK), one of two separate Orthodox Churches represented in Estonia.
During an appearance on ETV+’s Russian-language program “Nädala intervjuu” later that month, the Metropolitan said the leaders of other major countries should also acknowledge their responsibility. However, he did not remove his signature from the churches’ joint statement.
“I also haven’t heard of him praising or justifying Putin’s war in Ukraine,” Viilma noted. “On the contrary, he’s really neutral. Personally, I wouldn’t be so neutral, but that’s his decision and his church.”
Yet Yevgeny’s carefully chosen messages do not come from a place of avoiding Moscow’s displeasure. Rohtmets noted that in relation to the head of the Estonian Orthodox Church, the heads of the Orthodox Churches of Latvia and Lithuania, both of which fall under the Moscow Patriarchate, unequivocally condemned the war.
“They also said they disagreed with Patriarch Kirill,” the professor said, adding that nothing bad had happened to them so far.
“I believe it’s not so much a matter of Metropolitan Yevgeny’s personal punishment, or a matter of personal fear,” he continued. “It’s always a matter of what he, as the leader of the church, deems right to say to members of his congregation.”
The MPEÕK is diverse and includes many members with diverse opinions, so the Estonian Orthodox Church cannot be seen as an extension of Moscow’s influence, Rohtmets found. Nevertheless, the metropolis still issues ambiguous statements.
“Ultimately, the leader of the church is always the voice of the church, making statements on behalf of the church – even though some pastors or congregational members may not agree with that. “, said Rohtmets. “There is indeed a question – whether Yevgeny, the head of the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate here should reflect and address the Orthodox believers here with a clear and affirmative message. At this time, indeed, many Russian-speakers await affirmation, as there is a lot of information – and conflicting information – first and foremost in the Russian-speaking sphere.”
The ERR was unable to contact Metropolitan Yevgeny directly for comment. MPEÕK representatives proposed that the next opportunity to do so would be after May 9.
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