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Russian President Vladimir Putin has portrayed himself as a defender of members of the Orthodox Church and traditional Christian values. The West’s legacy media widely reported a defense of Russia’s war by His Holiness Kirill, the patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia. Yet at least a dozen Orthodox Church bodies — including some under the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church — have condemned Russia’s month-long invasion of Ukraine, a majority Orthodox country. Some Orthodox Christian leaders have gone so far as to call the war “paranoid,” describe this “aggression” as the “worst sin in the world,” and to question the sincerity of President Putin’s Christian faith. These statements have received little to no coverage in the Western media.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, said that Russia’s “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, an independent and sovereign state,” violated “every sense of law and morality. … It is the domination of irrationality over reason, hatred over love, darkness over light, death over life.” He concluded, “We are certain that the Lord will hear our prayers and will not abandon his beloved children in Ukraine.”
Similarly, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus condemned “the huge mistake that the Russian president makes to demolish a big country, and he does not care how many souls will depart from this act.” He asked pointedly, “Mr. Putin can go to church, repent, put up his cross, commune, but at the same time kill. Is this his Orthodoxy?”
The Patriarch of Alexandria and All-Africa, Theodoros II, blasted “the paranoid war in Ukraine.” He prayed “that logic will prevail and that the bloodshed will stop immediately … We sympathize with the innocent victims of the unjust war, we sympathize with those who lost their loved ones, we sympathize with the refugees who have been forced to flee their homes, and we continue to pray for world peace and the stability of the Holy Churches of God.”
The Albanian Orthodox Church posted the statement of a Christian organization to which it belongs, which calls “the war and aggression of Russia against Ukraine” an “unjustified aggression against a sovereign state.” Albanian Orthodox Christians “strongly condemn the violence and bloodshed against innocent people, which has seriously hurt the hearts and souls of all our believers.”
Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel forthrightly described “the war in Ukraine” as “a war launched by Russia against a sovereign and independent state.” He praised Romanians who assisted Ukrainian refugees pouring across the border, adding, “At the same time, we are called to increase our prayers to God so that the war may end and there may be peace, so that the refugees may return to their homeland.” He added that Orthodox Christians must not return evil for evil, even during sermons condemning the invasion: “Military violence in war should not be imitated by verbal violence, assault, or denigration.”
Some may say several of these personalities are associated with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whom former Vice President Al Gore dubbed the “Green Patriarch” and who has associated himself with the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress. The patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow have had a long-simmering feud over primacy and authority, not least in Ukraine.
But the condemnation of Russia’s military assault on Ukraine extends to Orthodox Churches with ties to Moscow, including some tied closely to the Russian Orthodox Church.
One of those bodies is in the United States: the Orthodox Church in America, which received its autocephaly from the Moscow Patriarchate in 1970. “I ask that the hostilities be ceased immediately and that President Putin put an end to the military operations,” wrote Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and all America. “As Orthodox Christians, we condemn violence and aggression.” A snap collection by the OCA took up $650,000 for the suffering people of Ukraine.
The Patriarch of Georgia, known as the Catholicos, Ilia II lamented, “Unfortunately, Russian-led hostilities continue in Ukraine, costing thousands of lives.”
The Council of Bishops of the Polish Orthodox Church issued a statement on March 22 saying, “Ukraine and all people of peace are in great pain; brotherly blood is being spilled, as was the blood of Abel in the murder committed by his brother Cain,” it said. “As in the Old Testament, and today God calls out to all participates in hostilities: The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground (Gen. 4:10).” Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw also sent a letter to ask Patriarch Kirill of Moscow “to raise your Patriarchal voice, that the war taking place in Ukraine, carried out by the Russian army, might come to an end. … Knowing the power of your spiritual authority, we believe that your voice will be heard.”
This ignores five church bodies that are part of the Moscow Patriarchate itself:
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)
“Today, our country is going through a difficult ordeal caused by the attack on our country by the troops of the Russian Federation,” wrote Onufriy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Ukraine. “War is the worst sin in the world. It forces us to look at another person not as an image of God, but as an enemy to be killed. Therefore, there is no excuse for those who start wars.”
The statement highlights civilian sufferings and praises Ukrainian soldiers. “Unfortunately, a large number of civilians died during these few days, including the elderly, women and children; humanitarian infrastructure was destroyed – hospitals, maternity hospitals, schools, orphanages; and the survivors are forced to leave their homes and even the country to save their lives, becoming refugees and displaced persons,” wrote Metropolitan Onufriy. “Ukrainian servicemen, in carrying out their oath and duty to defend the Motherland, were unfortunately wounded or taken prisoner.”
He seemed to close with a plea for Ukrainian victory. “We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercession of His Immaculate Mother, will preserve our country and its God-loving people.”
The Orthodox Metropolis of Lithuania
The Orthodox presence in Lithuania, which is largely Russian-speaking, said all Christians must pray for an end to Russia’s war of aggression. “An honest man and a God-fearing Christian cannot look dispassionately at what is happening. The voice of his conscience cries to Heaven, his prayer is directed to God, to whom the One belongs judgment, and to whom those who brought grief to the people of Ukraine, suffering to mothers, tears to relatives and friends, death and destruction, mass exodus from their country will answer.”
“We strongly condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine and pray to God for its early termination,” Metropolitan Innokenty noted. “As you may have already noticed, Patriarch Kirill and I have different political views and perceptions of current events. His political statements about the war in Ukraine are his personal opinion. We in Lithuania disagree with this.”
“We live in a free, democratic country. Lithuania is not Russia,” he said. For 30 years, the Orthodox Church in Lithuania “without hesitation, strongly sided with the Lithuanian people, for the independence of their state. The position of the Orthodox Church remained absolutely unchanged. It can’t be otherwise.”
He added that the church in Lithuania will “continue to strive for even greater church independence” from Moscow.
The Orthodox Metropolis of Latvia
Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia said that “the Latvian Orthodox Church, its clergy, monastics and laity pray for an end to aggression, for ‘softening evil hearts,’ for reconciliation, an end to bloodshed and for peace.”
“We believe that the solution of issues of international relations by military means is unacceptable. These issues should be resolved peacefully, through negotiations, not through military action and aggression. Military action is the most ruthless phenomenon.” The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church preaches “about love, about peace, about mercy, about compassion, about mutual respect, not accepting vindictiveness and vengeance.”
“We want to remind you,” Metropolitan Alexander continued, “that Orthodox Russian-speaking Latvians are patriotic and loyal to Latvia and are not responsible for the actions of other states.”
Russian Orthodox Churches in Europe
Metropolitan Jean of Doubna is the archbishop of the Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, which the Moscow Patriarchate accepted into its fold in October 2019. Yet that close relationship did not stop Metropolitan Jean from issuing a scathing open letter to the patriarch on March 9, which read in part:
On behalf of all the faithful of our Archdiocese, I turn to you to raise your voice as Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church against this monstrous and senseless war and intercede with the authorities of the Russian Federation to put an end as soon as possible this murderous conflict that until so little time ago seemed unthinkable between two peoples and two nations united by centuries …
Your Holiness, in your “homeship” for Forgiveness Sunday, pronounced in the patriarchal cathedral of Christ the Savior on March 6, you suggest that you justify this war of cruel and murderous aggression as “a metaphysical fight”, in the name of “the right to stand on the side of the light, on the side of God’s truth, what the light of Christ, his word, his Gospel reveals to us…”
With all due respect to you, and from which I did not give up, but also with infinite pain, I must bring to your attention that I cannot subscribe to such a reading of the Gospel. Nothing can ever justify that the “good shepherds” that we must be transferred to be “peacemakers” and this regardless of the circumstances.
Your Holiness, humbly, with a tight heart, I beg you to do everything possible to put an end to this appalling war that divides the world and sows death and destruction.
Holy Autonomous Orthodox Church of Japan
The Church of Japan grew out of the work of a Russian missionary, St. Nicholas of Japan, and its leadership is still confirmed by the Moscow Patriarchate. Yet the church’s leadership implored Patriarch Kirill to counsel Vladimir Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine. After noting in his March 27 letter to Patriarch Kirill that the Church of Japan is “under the protection of Your Holiness,” Archbishop Daniel of Tokyo, wrote, “We fervently ask Your Holiness to exert your spiritual and ecclesiastical power to the uttermost, so as to work for the reconciliation and resolution of the conflict between our brothers as soon as possible.”
These statements seem to have generated less coverage in the West’s legacy media than the personal stray remarks of Patriarch Kirill. It should be clear his words are not the normative position of the world’s second-largest church.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.