Patriarch of Moscow stokes Orthodox tensions with remarks on war | Religion
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, leader of Russia’s dominant religious group, has sent his strongest signal to justify his country’s invasion of Ukraine – describing the conflict as part of a struggle against sin and pressure liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades” as the price of admission into their ranks.
Kirill, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had previously refrained from criticizing the Russian invasion – alienating many members of Ukrainian Orthodox churches who had previously remained loyal to the Moscow Patriarch during a schism in their country. . Several of these former loyalists now snub Kirill in their public prayers, some demanding independence from the Moscow church even as their country’s political independence is in jeopardy.
Kirill, in a sermon delivered on Sunday before the start of Orthodox Lent, echoed Putin’s baseless claims that Ukraine was engaged in the “extermination” of Russian loyalists in Donbass, the breakaway region in eastern Ukraine held since 2014 by two Russian-backed separatist groups. Kirill focused almost all of his speech on the war on Donbass – not to mention Russia’s widespread invasion and bombardment of civilian targets.
Kirill described the war in spiritual terms on Sunday.
“We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical meaning, but a metaphysical one,” he said.
He claimed that some separatists in Donbass suffered from their “fundamental rejection of the so-called values that are proposed today by those who claim world power”.
He claimed this unnamed global power poses a ‘test for the loyalty’ of countries by demanding they hold gay pride parades to join a global club of nations with its own ideas of freedom and ‘consumerism’. .
But many Orthodox Christians in Ukraine were appalled by Kirill’s stance on the war in Ukraine. The Patriarch of Moscow has claimed for centuries the ultimate loyalty of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, even though the latter has retained a large degree of autonomy. And many priests, monks and worshipers had remained loyal to Kirill even with the formation of a more nationalist Kyiv-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 2018 and 2019.
The war shatters that loyalty for some, however.
Many bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have authorized their priests not to commemorate Patriarch Cyril in their prayers during public worship services – a symbolically important statement in the Orthodox tradition, which emphasizes the communion of the faithful with their divinely ordained hierarchy.
Since the start of the war, up to 15 dioceses of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine have allowed the patriarch’s name to be omitted, according to the Union of Orthodox Journalists, a news site providing generally positive information on the Church with a Muscovite tendency.
Rev. Mykola Danilevich, who has served as a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, confirmed on his Telegram account that “many of our priests have stopped commemorating the Patriarch of Moscow for worship services.”
“And the reason is obvious,” Danilech wrote on March 1, before Kirill’s final Sunday sermon. “The open treacherous invasion of Ukraine is a huge mistake by Russia. … People have not heard from the Patriarch a clear assessment of this war and his call to stop this madness.”
The clergy of at least two dioceses – Lviv and Volodymyr-Volynskaare – are calling for the independence of the Moscow church, according to their Facebook pages.
Many Ukrainian Orthodox are shocked that Kirill “condemned evil in the broadest terms but said nothing about the war let alone its initiation by Russia,” said Catherine Wanner, professor of history, d Anthropology and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University.
“In the violence, death and terror that overwhelms Ukraine right now, I don’t think anyone cares about specific jurisdictions,” said Wanner, whose studies focus on the region. “But it will be a radical change.”
The Reverend Cyril Hovorun, professor of ecclesiology, international relations and ecumenism at University College Stockholm, said Kirill’s latest comments showed him in a “golden cage”.
He said Kirill helped “provide the ideology” that Putin used to justify Russian hegemony over the region, and in return the church received strong support from the government.
“Even if he (Kirill) understands what is happening in Ukraine with the war, even if he wants to speak and call things by their proper name, he cannot,” said Hovorun, author of several books on the war. Orthodoxy in Ukraine. and beyond. “He’s a completely unfree character who must follow the official narrative faithfully.”
Archbishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States said Patriarch Kirill’s latest comments were “incomprehensible.”
“Regardless of our beliefs and whatever our position on social and moral issues, you cannot use this as a propaganda tool to justify the Russian invasion and the slaughter of innocent people,” he said.
Many Orthodox and other religious conservatives, including in Ukraine, share Kirill’s position on sexual ethics, said the Reverend John Burgess, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of ‘Holy Rus’: The Rebirth of Orthodoxy in the New Russia”.
“But Ukrainians and Ukrainian Orthodox are under attack, suffering, fearing for the future of the nation,” Burgess said. “None of that is reflected in the sermon. If rockets fall on Kharkiv and Kiev, and the Patriarch starts talking about gay parades, it seems something is wrong here.
Burgess said the practice of refusing to commemorate a patriarch in prayer has precedents. Some Russian Orthodox priests suffered persecution under the communist regime for refusing to commemorate a patriarch whom they considered too compromising with the Bolshevik government.
Religious people who are currently walking away from Kirill could be “risking their future,” Burgess said.
“If President Putin and the Russians really win in Ukraine, what will happen to these bishops? he said. “They will be removed, or they will have to go into the basement.”
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