Top Russian cleric accused of “crimes” by other Orthodox leaders to sanction invasion of Ukraine

WASHINGTON – Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been a loyal ally of President Vladimir Putin for years. But his loud support for the invasion of Ukraine has received strong reprimands from religious leaders who say he has abandoned Christian doctrine by supporting the Kremlin’s destructive campaign.

In his latest Sunday sermon, held at the Church of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos in Moscow, Kirill asked worshipers to respect official power – a message apparently aimed at supporting a military campaign that has gone badly for Russia. Once called “the political patriarch”, Kirill was enthroned in 2009 and is closely associated in Russia with the current political regime.

“May the Lord help us all to unite in this difficult time for our fatherland, also 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 leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church signed a letter accusing Kirill of “moral crimes” for his support of the unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which has killed thousands of civilians.

Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates Christmas service in Moscow on January 6 (Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP via Getty Images)

“Our position is fully in line with the gospel and the tradition of the Church,” the Ukrainian priests wrote. “Defending the homeland from the enemy is one of the most important Christian virtues.”

Many Christian leaders in the West have condemned the invasion, including Pope Francis and members of Kirill’s own church. Most Russian priests, however, share Kirill’s views. Metropolitan Mitrofan from Murmansk said the invasion of Ukraine was a fight against the “Antichrist”.

Mitrofan also said that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine “is not a real church”, referring to the schism between the Ukrainian and Russian churches three years ago, which angered both Putin and Kirill.

Long suspected of once being an agent of the KGB – the Soviet-era security service that often singled out religious dissidents – Kirill is a symbol of the re-emergence of the Orthodox Church under Putin, who has used religion to bolster his nationalist, anti-Western vision. In 2013, Kirill rejected same-sex marriage as “a very dangerous sign of the apocalypse.” Four years later, he criticized Western Europe for the “serious mistake” of deviating from Christianity.

Although Russian society has become more and more religious since the fall of the Soviet Union, which officially embraced atheism, Kirill has not completely escaped scrutiny. In 2012, a photograph of him wearing a $ 40,000 airbrush was removed to remove the watch, leading to widespread mockery. Two years ago, he was seen wearing a watch that cost $ 16,000, this time without apparent concern about public backlash.

When Putin decided to launch an invasion of Ukraine in late February – in what he described as an attempt to “de-Nazify” the country’s government, led by a Jewish president – Kirill told members of the armed forces that they were on ” The right way.” He also alluded to threats growing “on the borders of our homeland”, an obvious reference to Ukraine and its Western allies.

Ukraine has been a sovereign nation since 1991 and has sought to set a course distinct from its Soviet heritage. Kyiv’s desire for autonomy has always been seen as an insult to Putin, who first invaded Ukraine in 2014. He invaded again eight years later, expecting an easy victory, only to face protests at home and condemnation abroad.

Kirill remains a key ally of an increasingly militant Kremlin. “The moral blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church on this war has been going on for many years,” Russia expert Samuel Ramani from Oxford University said earlier this month. Although few have been surprised by Kirill’s loyalty to Putin, his apparent lack of concern for the situation of ordinary Ukrainians has renewed criticism of his tenure.

Although he has made generic calls for peace, the 75-year-old bishop has not hidden his true sympathy either. “We have entered a struggle that has not a physical but a metaphysical significance,” Kirill said in early March.

In a widely condemned sermon earlier this month, Kirill slammed the West, imagining the same fictitious unity of Slavic peoples that Putin has invoked and Ukrainians have rejected.

A man pushes his bike through garbage and destroyed Russian military vehicles

Waste and destroyed Russian military vehicles in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 6. (Chris McGrath / Getty Images)

“Today, the word ‘independence’ is often used in almost every country in the world,” Kirill said the same day that a large part of the world came across images of slaughtered civilians in Bucha. “But it is wrong, for most of the countries of the world are now under the colossal influence of one force, which today, unfortunately, opposes the power of our people.”

The sermon on April 3 was held at the main cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces. Kirill did not mention the malicious force he had in mind, but Putin has blamed the United States for developing Ukraine’s successful resistance to Russia.

“We are a peace-loving country and a very peace-loving, long-suffering people who suffered wars like few other European nations,” Kirill continued.

“We have no desire for war or to do anything that could harm others. But we have been so brought up by our whole history that we love our homeland and will be ready to defend it in such a way that only Russians can defend their country. “

The April 3 sermon led to a rebuke from a leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. “From the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill, we can conclude that he has reached the same agreement with Putin and his cronies. This is truly a sad moment for our church and the whole world is watching,” Archbishop Elpidophoros said in a speech today. after.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, called on the World Council of Churches to expel Russia after the April 3 sermon.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

“The act of rebellion must be read,” Williams said in an interview with the BBC.

“When a church actively supports a war of aggression and fails to condemn blatant breaches of any kind of wartime ethical conduct, then other churches have the right to raise the issue and challenge it – to say, unless you can say something effective about it, something recognizable Christian, we must look again at your membership. ”

Present at the sermon that Kirill gave on Sunday were several representatives of Norilsk Nickel, the mining giant that helped build the church where the service took place. The company is led by Vladimir Potanin, an oligarch close to Putin.

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