Top Russian cleric accused of ‘crimes’ by other Orthodox leaders for sanctioning Ukraine invasion
WASHINGTON — Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been a staunch ally of President Vladimir Putin for years. But his vocal support for the invasion of Ukraine has drawn sharp rebukes from religious leaders who say he has abandoned Christian teachings by backing the Kremlin’s destructive campaign.
In his last Sunday sermon, delivered at the Church of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, Kirill told worshipers to respect official power – a message apparently intended to support a military campaign that has gone wrong for Russia. Once called “the politician patriarch”, Kirill was enthroned in 2009 and is closely associated in Russia with the current political regime.
“May the Lord help us all in this difficult time to unite our homeland, including around the authorities,” Kirill said in the sermon. He hoped that the Russian people would retain “the ability to repel external and internal enemies”.
Kirill has been a vocal and consistent supporter of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, despite the fact that the vast majority of Ukrainians are Eastern Orthodox. On Sunday, nearly 300 Ukrainian Orthodox church leaders signed a letter accusing Kirill of “moral crimes” for his approval of the unprovoked attack on Ukraine that killed thousands of civilians.
“Our position is fully in accordance with the Gospel and the tradition of the Church,” the Ukrainian clerics wrote. “Defending the country against the enemy is one of the main Christian virtues.”
Many Western Christian leaders denounced the invasion, including Pope Francis and members of Kirill’s own church. Most of the Russian clergy, however, share Kirill’s views. Metropolitan Mitrofan of Murmansk said the invasion of Ukraine was a battle against “the Antichrist”.
Mitrofan also said the Orthodox Church in Ukraine was “not a real church”, referring to the split between the Ukrainian and Russian churches three years ago, angering Putin and Kirill.
Long believed to have been an agent of the KGB – the Soviet-era security service that frequently targeted religious dissidents – Kirill is a symbol of the resurgence of the Orthodox Church under Putin, which used religion to bolster his nationalist and anti-Western action. vision. In 2013, Kirill denounced same-sex marriage as “a very dangerous sign of the apocalypse”. Four years later, he criticized Western Europe for the “serious mistake” of moving away from Christianity.
Although Russian society has become increasingly religious since the fall of the Soviet Union, which officially embraced atheism, Kirill has not entirely escaped scrutiny. In 2012, a photograph of Kirill wearing a $40,000 watch was airbrushed to remove the watch, prompting widespread derision and mockery. Two years ago, he was seen wearing a watch that cost $16,000, this time seemingly oblivious to the public’s reactions.
When Putin first decided to launch an invasion of Ukraine in late February – in what he described as an effort to “denazify” the country’s government, which is led by a Jewish president – Kirill told reporters. members of the armed forces that they were on “the correct path. He also alluded to rising threats “at the borders of our homeland”, in an obvious reference to Ukraine and its Western allies.
A sovereign nation since 1991, Ukraine has sought to chart a course distinct from its Soviet heritage. kyiv’s desire for autonomy has always been seen as an affront by Putin, who first invaded Ukraine in 2014. He invaded again eight years later, expecting an easy victory, to make facing protests at home and condemnation abroad.
Kirill remains a key ally for an increasingly beleaguered Kremlin. “The moral blessing of this war by the Russian Orthodox Church has taken years to prepare,” said Russian expert Samuel Ramani of the University of Oxford. said earlier this month. While few were surprised by Kirill’s loyalty to Putin, his apparent lack of interest in the plight of ordinary Ukrainians has renewed criticism of his tenure.
While he made generic appeals for peace, the 75-year-old bishop also made no secret of his true sympathies. “We have entered a struggle that has not a physical meaning, but a metaphysical one,” Kirill said in early March.
In a widely condemned sermon earlier this month, Kirill took on the West while contemplating the same fictional unity of Slavic peoples that Putin invoked and Ukrainians rejected.
“Today the word ‘independence’ is often applied to almost every country in the world,” Kirill said on the same day that much of the world encountered the images of civilians massacred in Bucha. “But this is wrong, because most of the countries of the world are now under the colossal influence of a force, which today, unfortunately, opposes the force of our people.”
The April 3 sermon was delivered in the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces. Kirill did not name the malevolent force he had in mind, but Putin blamed the United States for organizing Ukraine’s successful resistance to Russia.
“We are a peace-loving country and a very peace-loving and long-suffering people, who have suffered from wars like few other European nations,” Kirill continued.
“We have no desire to wage war or do anything that might harm others. But we have been so educated by all our history that we love our homeland and will be ready to defend it as only Russians can defend their country.
The April 3 sermon led to a rebuke from a leader of the Greek Orthodox in the United States. “From the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill, we can conclude that he made the same deal with Putin and his cronies. This is, indeed, a sad time for our church, and the whole world is watching” , Bishop Elpidophoros said in a speech the following day.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, called on the World Council of Churches to expel Russia after the April 3 sermon.
“The Riot Act must be read,” Lord Williams said in a BBC interview.
“Where one church actively supports aggressive warfare, failing to condemn patently obvious violations of any kind of ethical conduct in wartime, then other churches have a right to raise the issue and challenge it – to say , unless you can say something effective about it, something recognizably Christian, we have to review your membership.
Present at Kirill’s Sunday sermon were several representatives of Norilsk Nickel, the mining giant, which helped build the church where the service was held. The company is run by Vladimir Potanin, an oligarch close to Putin.