My letter is addressed to the Orthodox bishops in Russia. I have intentionally not collected signatures or involved any Church structures or public organizations, because I am addressing not the episcopal body, not the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchy, but each of you personally. My letter’s addressee is an Orthodox Christian who took holy baptismal and monastic vows, was elevated to the dignity of bishop, and who in his heart recognizes that it is impossible to govern the Church without striving to love Christ, seeking His truth, and serving Him and not Caesar.
Under the circumstances I feel forced to violate Church etiquette by not asking your blessing. This would sound a false note at the very beginning of our conversation. My words may provoke antagonism, vexation, and even wrath on your part. Being conscious of it, I can scarcely hope that you would sincerely bless such conversation, and a ritual blessing just to demonstrate episcopal power means little. If you agree that this conversation is meaningful, simply pray for me and write at least a few lines in response. I pray for you, too, though today this is hard and painful.
But I deeply believe that there is a blessing from above upon such a conversation, that we are called upon to talk about the one thing needful (Lk.10,42, KJV), about our faith, about the love of Christ which is unthinkable without keeping His commandments: If a man love me, he will keep my words (John 14:23, KJV)
Any conflict, especially a military conflict, needs a clear rationale for why it occurs. Usually, this question should be answered by official representatives of the state. However, the situation in Russia after the beginning of the armed conflict with Ukraine is gradually beginning to be explained in religious terms. This language has moved beyond the confines of the church. Today it is already being used by Russian officials and the media. At the same time, their rhetoric is more radical than that of representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church; that is, official church preaching has become part of state propaganda.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has made eschatological rhetoric and thinking key. Not only in a church sermon, but also in state propaganda, radical terms such as “desatanization of Ukraine” appear. Russian officials explicitly call the Ukrainian authorities “Satanists” and “open enemies of Christ,” and the cited goal is to “stop the supreme ruler of hell, whatever name he uses—Satan, Lucifer, or Iblis. For his goal is destruction,” according to Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev in his Telegram. According to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, even the Canadian authorities who imposed sanctions on Patriarch Kirill are Satanists.
On 20 November 2022, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow celebrated his 76th birthday. At a reception to mark the occasion, held in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, the Patriarch warned his guests in apocalyptic terms of the current dangers facing Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. Without explicitly mentioning the war in Ukraine, Kirill called on the Church to play an active part in “the struggle of our Fatherland against global evil” and against “this movement of the Antichrist, which is capable of destroying both the entire world and Russia.” All the forces of the Antichrist, he claimed, would be directed against Russia, because the Russia of today was the “restraining force” (uderzhivuaiushchii) that was mentioned in Scripture in relation to the appearance of the Antichrist in the world.
Speaking to the audience at his birthday reception that mostly comprised hierarchs of the Orthodox Church, Kirill evidently did not feel the need to explain the Biblical concept of the “restraining force.” Several months earlier, however, in a sermon he preached in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on 7 April, Kirill had called for prayers to be said for peace in Ukraine and for the preservation of the unity of the Orthodox Church. Why, he asked, had external forces attacked the “Russian land”? The Bible, he explained by way of an answer, contains a reference to a certain force that restrains the coming of the Antichrist into the world. It does not say what this force is: some think it was the Roman Empire; others believe it is the Church. The latter view is correct, Kirill claimed, but the restraining force is also “the entire pious people of all times and all countries, it is the Orthodox faith which lives and acts in the Orthodox Church.” This, he concluded, is why the enemies of the Church are now attacking its unity.
This year, on Christmas Eve, Patriarch Kirill wrote the shortest text in the fourteen years of his patriarchate: the appeal for a Christmas truce. This document might well have become a masterpiece of the anti-war, peacemaking stance of the Russian Orthodox Church.
However, it turned out quite differently. The appeal for a ceasefire is yet another manifestation of the close alliance between the ROC and the Kremlin and evidence of the patriarch’s complete misunderstanding of his place in the modern world.
The text of the appeal is worth quoting in full. It is simple and laconic: “I, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, appeal to all parties involved in the internecine conflict to cease fire and establish a Christmas truce from noon on January 6 until 12 pm on January 7 so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”
The call for a truce is a good thing, especially if it becomes a prologue to peace, and is based on a Christian understanding of peacemaking. However, the call for a truce can also be part of a political gamble, and church feasts can also be part of the instrumentalization of religion, a form of manipulation of religious feelings.