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The Russian Orthodox patriarch of Moscow, who has thrown his moral weight behind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, has admitted that war “cannot be holy.”
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, in a meeting with World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Fr. Ioan Sauca, said he does not think that any Church or Christian can take a position in support of wars and killings, and that Churches “are called to be peacemakers and to defend and protect life,” according to a WCC report.
“War cannot be holy,” the Russian Orthodox leader said.
Kirill, who recently said that God placed Putin at the “helm of power, so that you could perform a service of special importance and great responsibility for the fate of the country and the people entrusted to your care,” received Fr. Sauca, an Orthodox priest from Romania, and a WCC delegation on October 17 at the Patriarchal Residence in St. Daniel’s Monastery in Moscow. The two discussed how Churches are called to be peacemakers.
“I appreciate that you have come to Russia in these hard times to meet with me and my people and talk about the difficult international relations we live in and are confronted with today which naturally affects our inter-Church relations, as well,” said Kirill, who represented the Moscow Patriarchate to the WCC in Geneva from 1971 to 1974.
Fr. Sauca explained that the WCC delegation had a mandate from the WCC central committee to visit WCC member Churches with “bleeding wounds.” Those visits have included the Middle East — Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine — and then Ukraine, and now Russia.
“You are aware of the concerns” that WCC member Churches have with regard to the war between Russia and Ukraine, said Fr. Sauca, “and of our statements that condemn the war and violence which we made in our governing bodies – the statements which were elaborated with the participation of delegates from the Russian Orthodox Church.
“The reason for coming here is to see what we can do together to build bridges of peace and reconciliation and stop the bloodshed and the danger of nuclear conflagration,” Fr. Sauca continued.
Make your position known
He told Kirill that it would be “very helpful” to repeat a statement Kirill had made earlier, concerning the war between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk (the Donbas) beginning in 2014. In that statement, Kirill had urged warring parties to “stop the bloodshed, stop the killing, stop the destruction of infrastructure, look for peace and reconciliation.”
Repeating such a statement now, Fr. Sauca told the patriarch, “will make it clear what is your personal position to the war.”
A Patriarchate of Moscow report on the meeting with the WCC quoted Kirill as laying the blame for the war on Ukraine itself.
“We all are going through difficult, I would say, critical times because of the certain conflicts, including the one concerning Ukraine,” Kirill told his visitor. “Eight years ago there were first Ukrainian shellings of Donbas. Destroyed houses, heavy casualties – that’s the reality. More than 2 million refugees from that area found refuge in Russia. Personally, I wrote three letters during those years to the political and religious authorities of the world, including WCC, and asked to intervene that the problems be solved through dialogue and mediation and to avoid killings and destructions. I had no concrete answers and such requests were met with total silence. Yet, my hope was and still is that as Churches we have to go beyond the logic and interest of the politicians and look for just peace.”
The patriarch, who is seen as a close ally of Putin, gave a sermon on March 6, less than two weeks after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, saying Ukraine was engaged in the “extermination” of Russian loyalists in Donbas. He also suggested that some of the separatists there were suffering for their “fundamental rejection of the so-called values that are offered today by those who claim world power.” An example of those values, he said, is the West’s demand that countries hold gay pride parades in order to join their global club of nations.
“We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance,” he said.
Although he conceded to the WCC’s Sauca that no Church or Christian can support wars and killings, the Russian Orthodox leader said that when one has to defend oneself, “things look different,” the WCC reported. “We have so many examples in our Christian history,” the patriarch said. “Yet, as peacemakers we have to make all efforts to bring peace through dialogue and avoid any conflict or violence.”
Patriarch Kirill added that the times in which we live today are very difficult — yet these difficulties do not come from the Churches, “but from the political context, and this context constitutes an extreme danger today,” he said.
Churches today “must not add fuel to the fire,” he added. “On the contrary, we must do everything within our power to put out the fire. In this regard, the World Council of Churches has a very important function.”
Among others attending the meeting were Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, and Fr. Mikhail Gundyaev, representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to the WCC and international organizations in Geneva.
In addition to a public conversation, Kirill and Sauca had a private meeting to discuss Orthodox matters.