Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine is a turning point in European history, comparable to the beginning of both world wars. Therefore, it is completely understandable that theologians and ordinary believers would respond to it, first, with gestures of solidarity with the victims of the aggression, and second, with condemnation of the aggressors and those who support them. In an attempt to understand the spiritual causes of the war, a group of Orthodox theologians issued a Declaration on the “Russian World” teaching and denounced this doctrine. Today there are more than a thousand signatures under the document. As in other similar cases, people signed the declaration, on the one hand, out of solidarity, and on the other hand, with the desire to condemn the supreme leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, which directly or indirectly supports the war. While the document deals perfectly well with the first task, problems arise with the second.
I put my signature under the Declaration because I want to demonstrate my solidarity with other theologians and believers in condemning the war and supporting its victims. In addition, I am close to the intention of the authors of the document in trying to analyze the Russian World teaching formulated and promoted for many years by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. At the same time, I believe that this text does not achieve its goal, neither in its substance nor in its overall argument. It is impossible to formulate an indictment of this doctrine and its author on the basis of this Declaration, which does not deal with the real Russian world, which is killing innocent people, but rather with an imaginary world.
For purposes of discussion, I would like to outline three points on which I believe the Declaration on the Russian World falls short. I believe that my critique will serve as a constructive impetus to further develop this topic and better understand the spiritual malady that has led the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church to support aggression against Ukraine. I am glad that Public Orthodoxy, which was the first to publish this document, can provide a forum for such discussion.
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.
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon Members of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America
We write as painfully concerned, truth–seeking, and truth–committed Orthodox Christians: we are chagrined clergy and lay members of the Orthodox Church in America, who as American citizens value religious and political freedom. Conscience compels us to speak. The unprovoked Russian military invasion and indiscriminate bombardment and levelling of Ukrainian cities have resulted in the violent deaths and maiming of thousands and the dreadful displacement of millions of innocent Ukrainian citizens, among them vulnerable non-combatants: women, children, hospital patients, and the aged. We are perturbed that the episcopal leadership of the Orthodox Church in America has not only refused to identify in a public and straightforward manner but, instead, has chosen to cloak and shield through its silence and platitudes about the evils of war, the two primary and immediate agents responsible for commanding and defending the unjust Russian attack on Ukraine: Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, who directly ordered the invasion and continuing attacks, and Kirill (Gundyaev), the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’, who willingly serves as the chief religious ideologist and propagandist for President Putin.
There are beleaguered and oppressed Russian dissenters who, at great personal cost, repudiate President Putin and Patriarch Kirill’s war against Ukraine. Their heroism speaks for itself but it also should speak to our Holy Synod. There should be no need to demonstrate to our OCA bishops what persons throughout the world—of many different political persuasions but with rightly informed consciences—know: that Russian President Putin bears primary responsibility for the morally unjustifiable Russian invasion and continuing barbaric attacks on Ukraine, and that Moscow Patriarch Kirill willingly defends the viciously aggressive and repressive Putin regime. Now if there really is a need to demonstrate such evident facts, may God help the OCA! For, apparently, no merely human political or theological analysis of these facts will ever suffice to motivate the Holy Synod to speak out in defense of truth and justice! Nonetheless, there is such a theologically precise and convincing demonstration available, which was issued by an international group of Orthodox theologians, churchmen, and intellectuals: “A Declaration on the ‘Russian World’ (Russkii Mir).” The Declaration is a cogent theological refutation and strong condemnation of (what it labels) President Putin and Patriarch Kirill’s “heretical” religious–political ideology.
I, Bohdan Oghulchanskij, a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, am writing this text on February 27, 2022, the fourth day of the Russian mass invasion. I can’t know what will happen by the time this text gets published. I have poor mobile communication, and it is difficult to access the Internet. Many times a day, day and night, my family and I are forced to quickly descend into the shelter under the howl of an air raid siren. But I want to convey the truth to readers, especially those who are outside Ukraine, who do not understand the reasons for Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Why is this happening? What did Europe, the democratic world, the countries and people defending freedom, human dignity, and the value of human life do that allowed this terrible, brutal massacre in Europe, for the first time since 1945?
I am writing from the experience of my long-time observations. First, my observations of the information field created by Russia, which was very powerful in Ukraine before 2014. Even after 2014, Russia retained considerable influence. Secondly, having almost thirty years of experience of priesthood, including a long tenure in the Moscow Patriarchate, I can testify to how the rhetoric and narrative of the Russian Church have changed during this time. Its policies, in my opinion, made a great ideological contribution to the current tragedy.