The official Church could not find the strength not only to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but also to call things by their proper names: to call war war, and aggression, aggression. Patriarch Kirill sent a clear message: he is with Putin, not with the congregation, which has not received a single word of truth or a drop of help from him, says Sergey Chapnin. The leading media preachers - Archpriests Andrei Tkachev and Artemy Vladimirov, along with many other priests - have taken the same stance. However, within the Orthodox Church there are also voices calling for peace and an end to the fratricidal war, while dissenting priests are being tried in court for «discrediting the armed forces».
Not all members of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate sing along with government propaganda. Among the clergy there are those who openly oppose the war. Although there are considerably fewer such voices. «We Christians dare not stand by when a brother kills a brother, a Christian kills a Christian. Let us not repeat the crimes of those who welcomed Hitler's actions on September 1, 1939. We cannot shamefully cover our eyes and call black white, or evil good... The blood of Ukrainian civilians will remain not only on the hands of the rulers of the Russian Federation and the soldiers who carry out their orders. Their blood is on the hands of all of us who approved of this war or simply kept silent...» These are perhaps the most vivid and powerful words of an anti-war sermon ever delivered within the walls of the Russian Orthodox Church.
On the website of a small parish in the Kostroma region the anti-war message remained posted for only a couple of days and then was removed by court order. Although there were just over ten parishioners at the service, one of them turned out to be Judas: on the same day he denounced the priest Ioann Burdin, the author of the sermon. A few days later Judge Aleksei Chudetskiy doled out punishment to Father Ioann under a new article of the Code of Administrative Offenses (article 20.3.3, part 1, of the Administrative Code), hastily adopted by the parliament and signed by the president just two days before. Father Ioann himself plead not guilty.
On March 10, the «guilty» priest was fined 35,000 rubles for «discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens». Simply put, for reminding his parishioners of the existence of the commandment «Thou shalt not kill!» For any authoritarian regime, the Gospel is too dangerous a book.
For any authoritarian regime, the gospel is too dangerous a book.
The state makes no secret of its intentions: to suppress the anti-war movement and intimidate all those who openly oppose the war, be it doctors, cultural workers, journalists, or priests.
Even parishes outside Russia are under pressure. On March 4, St. Nicholas Parish in Amsterdam diplomatically stated its disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill:
«We as clergy have signed an appeal to Patriarch Kirill to break the silence about the conflict and to petition the authorities for peace... We distance ourselves from the description of events expressed by Patriarch Kirill. In light of the above, we will cease mentioning Patriarch Kirill in services. By doing so, we will follow the example of the Orthodox clergy in Ukraine, who in increasing numbers have stopped mentioning Patriarch Kirill».
Two days later, Archbishop Elisha (Ganaba) arrived at the church in a car with diplomatic plates, and announced that the appeal causes «great concern» not only in the Patriarchate, but also in the Russian Foreign Ministry, which «shows great interest in your church». After this, pressure on the parish began to grow, and members of the clergy received anonymous threats. The parish asked the city authorities for help.
Russian authorities made it clear: The only appropriate and permissible format for statements is statements by Patriarch Kirill. He does not call war war, he does not call aggression aggression. He says stock words, as if he deeply empathizes with all those affected by the misfortune. He urges to offer his earnest and fervent prayers for the soonest restoration of peace... At the same time he is like a grass snake on a frying pan, and even when putting together prayers, he avoids the slightest hint of the truth about the war.
The words of a new prayer: «And thou shalt prohibit and overthrow the foreign tongues' plans for war against Holy Russia». It is difficult to understand these words, so one interpretation sounds unexpected: if we admit that Russia attacked Ukraine, then «foreign tongues» are the Russian army, and «Holy Russia» is Ukraine, which defends its independence. Is it true that the patriarch, by juggling words not too skillfully, composed a prayer against aggression?
However, is difficult to understand what's inside the patriarch's head. On the same day that Father Ioann Burdin delivered a powerful anti-war sermon in a small village church, Patriarch Kirill spoke at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in such a way that not only the entire Russian Orthodox Church, but the entire Christian world, too, gasped.
«For eight years there have been attempts to destroy what exists in Donbass. And in Donbass there is a rejection, a principled rejection of the so-called «values» that are being offered today by those who claim world power. Today there is a test for loyalty to this power, some kind of a pass to that «happy» world, the world of excessive consumption, the world of purported «freedom». Do you know what this test is? The test is very simple and at the same time terrible: it is the Gay Pride parade. The demand for many to have a gay pride parade is the test of loyalty to that very powerful world; and we know that if people or countries reject these demands, they are no longer welcomed to that world, they become strangers to it.»
The official Church, whose only voice during the war was Kirill himself, turned out to be bankrupt not only evangelically but also morally. A popular Moscow preacher, Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov, preaches even more bluntly than the patriarch:
«Those who say «no to war!» are in solidarity with fascism... Ukrainian fascists are serpents, nurtured by Europe.»
Archpriest Igor Pashmenov from Ulyanovsk calls for daily prayers for the president and for the victory of Russian arms: «What can and should we Orthodox patriots do now? I urge everyone to pray fervently every day for the victory of Russian arms, for our heroic soldiers-liberators now fighting the enemy. And, of course, we must pray daily for our president, who has become the true leader of our people, the symbol of Russia's might, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.»
He condemns any anti-war statements as a betrayal of Russia: «Reconciliation with the enemy who wants to destroy our people, our Faith and our values, is a betrayal not only of Russia, but of all of Holy Russia, our holy Orthodox faith. This is exactly what some irrational pseudo-intellectuals and so-called «cultural figures» are now calling for.»
Church pro-war preaching fully conforms to the tenets of state propaganda and is, in fact, a form of that propaganda. The invasion of Ukraine takes place under the slogan of saving the «Russian world,» which is threatened by those forces that deny traditional values and «hold gay pride parades». Moreover, Patriarch Kirill goes further and involves his flock in an extremely dangerous gamble, claiming that «we have entered a struggle that has not physical but metaphysical meaning.»
The invasion of Ukraine takes place under the slogan of saving the «Russian world,» which is threatened by those forces that deny traditional values and «hold gay pride parades.»
The priest Elizbar Orlov of the Rostov region picked up on the idea, arguing that the war can have a religious justification: «The Russian army is now, as many years ago, cleansing the world of the devil's contagion. For eight long years Russia cried out for peace, reason and conscience, but was ridiculed and slandered by madmen. And now, as our soldiers, sacrificing themselves, are humanizing the neighbor, who got carried away with overindulgence, the rootless scoundrels living in Russia, who for eight years failed to notice the killing of civilians in Odessa, Mariupol, Kharkov, Donetsk, Lugansk and all of Little Russia, hypocritically protest, demanding peace for Ukraine, but in fact they approve the atrocities of the Ukrainian government and the genocide of their own people».
What «metaphysics» is the patriarch talking about here? What «diabolical force» is Father Elizbar preaching about? We must admit there is no metaphysics here. There is not the slightest doubt that history will eventually put everything in its place. And in the end it's not Ukrainians who will be called a «diabolical force», but the Russian troops, who brought death and grief upon the people of Ukraine. And the preachers themselves, led by Patriarch Kirill, will also be called a «diabolical force».