This is a slightly edited version of the public address Archbishop Elpidophoros delivered on Monday, April 4th, at Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Port Washington, NY, at the beginning of an event entitled “Understanding the Role of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.” The event was sponsored by the Order of St. Andrew.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a sorrowful and, indeed, painful subject for us all. This unjust, fratricidal war must not be laid at the feet of our Russian Sisters and Brothers, who are being deceived and victimized by their leaders—both civil and religious. Even the poor Russian soldiers being sent as cannon fodder into Ukraine deserve our sympathy and our prayers. But for those committing atrocities, there will be justice—in this life or the next.
The images coming out of Bucha fill our hearts with much pain and righteous outrage. As we contemplate the loss of innocent life—especially of children—I ask this one thing: please join me in a moment of silent prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of all those who are suffering.
Thank you, and thank you for standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Thank you for extending mercy and compassion to all victims of this barbarity, especially for those who are suffering most directly in Ukraine as they defend their homeland. They have seen their fellow citizens—innocent, non-combatants—brutally and mercilessly slaughtered by invaders.
But it is too easy just to condemn Russians as a whole. We must extend our compassion to those Russians who are standing up and speaking out against this immoral and senseless conflict; to those mourning the deaths of their sons, who were sent to die for the vanity and madness of others; and to the ordinary people, who are suffering from economic sanctions that their rulers—political and ecclesiastical alike—avoid without harm.
We must also thank those who defend the truth against the onslaught of lies being perpetrated to justify this unjustifiable war—lies that circulate even here in the United States.
When we contemplate the “role” of the Moscow Patriarchate in this conflict, we must first marvel at the question itself. Should it not be clear that the Church—by its very nature—is opposed to such a fabricated conflict? Certainly, we should all hope so! But what is more insidious, is the fact that the attackers themselves are the Christian brothers and sisters of the very ones they are being sent to kill and destroy!
It calls to mind what Abraham Lincoln said during America’s bloody Civil War, just a few weeks before it ended:
“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God,
and each invokes His aid against the other.”
(Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865)
This invasion is of one sovereign nation against another. But make no mistake; this unjust military aggression is also causing a needless, religious civil war.
In this respect, responsibility for condoning such unrighteousness rests squarely on the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church and, especially, on Patriarch Kirill.
We all remember what the members of the Sanhedrin cried out, as the unjust Pilate sat in judgment against our Lord Jesus Christ:
“We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)
Based upon the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill since the start of the war, we can conclude he has made a similar bargain with Putin and his cronies. This is, indeed, a sad moment for our Church. And the whole world is watching.
Remarkably, these actions are in stark contrast to the Moscow Patriarchate’s own Metropolitan of Kyiv, His Eminence Onuphry, who has stood with his flock despite the silence of his brother bishops across the border. One can only hope that the Ukrainian Orthodox—who are divided between the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, under His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphanios, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate—will find a bridge of fraternity and solidarity to come together as Orthodox Christian brethren, so as to sustain their fellow Ukrainians.
In the meantime, even as we learn from tonight’s dialogue, let us take to heart the words of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Just a few days ago, among Ukrainian refugees in Poland, our Patriarch taught us all how we must approach those who lives are being ruined—Ukrainians and Russians alike—by this unconscionable war. He said
[C]ontinue to remember that—but for the grace of God—anyone of us could be in their vulnerable position;
Then your hearts will melt.
Their fears will become your fears,
their pain will penetrate your own body,
their hopes will become your hopes,
and this entire crisis will be the standard by which your identity and love are measured and judged.
Let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.
Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) of America is the eighth Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.