Published by The Spectator
Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, has again preached to the faithful of the Russian world. He told them that if they heed their president’s call to arms, they shall be absolved of their sins and avoid any possibility of Hades.
‘The Church realises that if somebody, driven by a sense of duty and the need to fulfil their oath… goes to do what their duty calls of them, and if a person dies in the performance of this duty, then they have undoubtedly committed an act equivalent to sacrifice,’ he told his national congregation earlier this week. ‘They will have sacrificed themselves for others,’ he continued, before deploying his thermobaric bomb of salvation: ‘And therefore, we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed.’
Kirill’s speech was a tactical weaponisation of spirituality designed to stem the flow of Russians fleeing to the mountains for safety, or flying out of the country to escape Putin’s zealous ‘partial mobilisation’ draft. If coerced and conscripted Russians should die in the righteous process of slaughtering Ukrainians and taking back the historic territory of ‘Holy Russia’, his message went, their souls shall fend off all demons, and the angels shall lead them directly to paradise with Kirill’s passport to eternal rest.
This is a perversion of the gospel of Christ, who came to bring peace, not a sword. It is also contrary to the Orthodox understanding of war and peace. There is no tradition of the ‘just war’ as there is in the Western Church: the whole spiritual vision, worship and liturgy of Eastern Orthodox Christianity is permeated with prayers and petitions for peace.
Of course, war may sometimes be inevitable in the pursuit of justice against evil, or necessary in self-defence against corrupt and aggressive nations. But St Basil the Great would take issue with Patriarch Kirill’s blanket absolution. Far from combatants being granted forgiveness for their sins on account of their sacrifice, he taught that those who kill in war must repent for the blood they have shed. ‘It might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that they are not clean-handed’, he wrote in the fourth century. It remains Canon XIII of the Orthodox Church Fathers.
Kirill’s call to violence with the promise of salvation might sound familiar to some western ears. It has something in common with Islamic clerics who encourage their fellow Muslims to become suicide bombers and slaughter the Kuffar – the non-believer – with the promise of martyrdom that will wash away all their sins for the glory of the Ummah (the Muslim world).
It is this very kind of Jihad that the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ is preaching to his disciples. While Moscow is quite secure under his spiritual leadership, all Rus’ is occupied by the heretics and schismatics of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine – the non-believers. The people of Holy Rus’ would benefit eternally, his logic goes, from the choice to sacrifice themselves in pursuit of the restoration of the Russkii mir (the Russian world).
He has preached on this theme before: Putin’s political objective is a national cleansing or purification, which Kirill might call atonement or purgation. He believes the liberties and moral licentiousness of Ukrainians need to be restrained. The spiritual discipline echoes the political oppression: for him, ethnic cleansing is symbiotic with religious cleansing.
President Putin is a faithful disciple of this ideology. Together, the patriarch and the president have purposefully conflated religion and political power to propagate a strong delusion of Christian nationalism. This foundation paved the way for their claim that Orthodox Russian civilisation includes the territories and peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. In the vision they are pushing, the salvation of all Russia depends on the visible unity of the Russkii mir and the restored fellowship of Holy Russia’s peoples under the supreme authority of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’.
It is here that Kirill exposes his greatest sin: ecclesiastical racism, or the idea that jurisdictions and congregations within any given territory should be aligned by ethnicity or nationality. The concept condemned in 1872 at the Holy and Great pan-Orthodox Synod of Constantinople, as ‘contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed fathers.’
The way of Christ is peace and love; healing and reconciling. The Christian’s vocation is one of service and kenosis – the self-emptying of one’s own will and desires in order to be receptive to God’s will and purposes. If Patriarch Kirill believes otherwise, then he transgresses the foundational precepts of the World Council of Churches, and they ought to expel him for his heresy.