In Mariupol, Russian rockets destroy a maternity ward, wounding dozens. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Patriarch Kirill (Gundiaev) blesses the Russian troops. In the same town of Mariupol, Russian bombs kill hundreds of children and elderly in the Drama Theater. Putin’s Patriarch has the gall to describe the war as a “metaphysical struggle” against Western values. A Russian missile destroys a building in Odessa, burying a mother with her three-month-old infant alive. Obedient to his master in the Kremlin, Gundiaev justifies the war as an act of self-defense.
Many western observers are puzzled. Aren’t the troops blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church presently slaughtering fellow-Orthodox civilians in Ukraine? Aren’t the Russian missiles destroying the Orthodox churches and monasteries, along with the schools, hospitals, and train stations, of the fellow-Orthodox in Ukraine? If all of this is true, how can Patriarch Kirill be sending the Russian troops into battle with his blessing? Isn’t this war precisely “fratricidal,” as Metropolitan Onufriy (Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate) called it, in a moment of recently found clarity? It did not previously dawn on Metropolitan Onufriy that Russia’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine in 2014 was also an act of fratricide. Meanwhile, several senior bishops within Onufriy’s jurisdiction continue to promote blind submission to Patriarch Kirill, who rationalizes and justifies the killing of the members of their flock in Ukraine—the bombings and the shelling, the slaughter of children and civilians, and the displacement of millions—as Russia’s act of self-preservation. Have Onufriy’s bishops lost their minds or consciences? Is this foolishness or treason? Whatever the answer, the outcome is the same: complicity in acts of violence on a scale unseen in Europe since WWII.
Hitler delivered his speech of September 12, 1938 to the German Reichstag a few weeks before the German tanks rolled over the German-Czech border to invade Czechoslovakia; Putin delivered his speech of February 21, 2022 to the Russian nation as he was giving orders for the Russian tanks to cross the Russian border with Eastern Ukraine.
As the main reason for invasion, Hitler gave the inflated grievances of the German minority of 3.5 million in Czechoslovakia; Putin often cites the imaginary oppression of the Russian speakers in Ukraine as the main reason for his invasion in 2014 and now in 2022. I am a Russian-speaking Ukrainian. I know from personal experience that Putin’s claim is a lie. Ukraine is a bilingual country, where Russian is nearly as common as Ukrainian. Russian speakers in Ukraine have broader civil rights than their counterparts in Putin’s Russia.
As Hitler was complaining about the imaginary oppression of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia, he was five years into the persecution of the Jews in Germany. In fact, the first concentration camps appeared as early as 1933, and 400 decrees and regulations were published to restrict the public and private rights of the Jews. As Putin was spreading lies about the oppression of the Russian speakers in Ukraine, he began to brutally oppress and persecute the Crimean Tatars, immediately after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. The persecution of Tatars is well-documented.
Our current pandemic has brought us face-to-face with the reality of human mortality, our susceptibility to disease and death. We no longer confront death in the abstract: its long hand has reached out to our communities and, in some cases, even touched our families. In our big extended family called the Church, we have become more aware of our common brokenness, and we are called to become more compassionate, more responsive to each other’s needs.
Throughout the Church’s history, communities that have been visited by similar or greater disasters, including “famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, and sword,” have always asked for divine protection in prayer. In addition to imploring God for protection, their members in the past and today have wondered, where is God amidst horrendous human suffering? And why would God allow suffering on such an astonishing scale?
The Holy and Great Council of Crete (2016) demonstrated that pan-Orthodox gatherings are possible in our time. The Council also made manifest global Orthodoxy’s enduring tensions and divisions. The delegation of the Patriarchate of Antioch did not attend the Council primarily because of its broken communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church did not attend the Council because of its tensions with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which have now escalated into the Moscow Patriarchate’s unilaterally breaking the communion with Constantinople.
Our geopolitical quarrels have turned us inward; they have drained our financial resources; they have distorted our spiritual compass and diminished the potential of the Church’s salvific mission. Nevertheless, the Holy and Great Council has awakened a desire for a more connected global Orthodoxy in the hearts of many. Despite our divisions, the conciliar spirit is afoot. It is time to become the Church of the Councils not only in theory, but also in practice.
Responding to the call of the conciliar spirit, in February 2017 a group of Orthodox scholars and professionals created the International Orthodox Theological Association, or IOTA. Continue reading →