Russia-Ukraine War: Where Does the Russian Church Stand?

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Russian society is divided over the war in Ukraine, and we really don’t know how much. Polls are considered unreliable. A new law threatening jail time for “fake” news and discrediting the military has silenced the country.

One block of the population allegedly supporting the war is the Russian Orthodox Church.

Anna Vavilova, a correspondent for Tsargrad TV, Russia’s main religious TV channel, tried to explain the church’s position.

People walk to Red Square in a light snowfall during the Christmas holidays in Moscow, January 7, 2022.
(Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

Vavilova puts it in context that Russia and Ukraine (and Belarus too) are part of the same spiritual and historical family from the days of Kievan Rus’ that became the cradle of Eastern Orthodoxy over 1000 years ago. These are lines that we also heard from President Vladimir Putin. But for the church, it’s about culture wars.

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“Well, that’s not the purpose of the military operation, but we don’t want a Western way of life here,” says Vavilova. “We don’t want it near our families and our society.”

She claims that the “Ukrainization” that has taken place over the past few centuries is illegitimate. And she believes that Ukraine, coming under Western influence, poses a threat to everyone in the region.

Russian Patriarch Kirill reduced it even further and summed it up in one sentence. People in Donbass “are being forced to accept gay pride parades,” Kirill said at a fair earlier this month.

Candles burn during a Russian Orthodox service at Christ the Redeemer Parish.

Candles burn during a Russian Orthodox service at Christ the Redeemer Parish.
(Uli Deck/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

“I’m quite skeptical about the so-called ‘metaphysical struggle’ or the war for values, especially when entire cities are razed to the ground in that war. What values ​​can justify that?” a Russian Orthodox priest in Italy named Vladimir Zelinsky told Fox News.

The Patriarch may have condemned the Western way of life, but he has expressed no regrets over the bloodshed – the plight of millions of refugees fleeing their homes, the deaths of thousands in a month.

It’s a silence that many say was deafening.

“He never said anything about the military operation, but he always prays for peace. We cannot make a politician out of him,” Vavilova said.

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But Kirill is political, as he provides Russian President Putin with spiritual protection, if not inspiration, for this war.

The patriarch, according to Father Vladimir, is “completely incorporated into the authoritarian state.

The Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Mariupol, Ukraine.

The Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Mariupol, Ukraine.
(Christopher Occhicone/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But the war and the patriarch’s stance appear to be backfiring in the country where the perceived struggle for traditional values ​​has become a bloody battlefield. Fifty communities that responded to Kirill in Ukraine have reportedly switched sides recently. You have joined the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Russian President Putin wears his faith on his sleeve.

When asked how intense piety could go together with waging a bloody war, Vavilova said she could not answer for Putin. But she says she has already made arguments for what is happening in Ukraine.

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Father Vladimir, on the other hand, questions Putin’s beliefs.

“He poses as a believer. That’s all,” Father Vladimir said. “Being Orthodox is one of his social roles. In the current context, being seen as a very devout person is useful for him.”