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God save Kirill’s integrity

While Pope Francis begs for peace, the Moscow Patriarchate strikes back against him (and against everyone!). An illustration of what the new Russian Orthodox Church language is made of and who is creating it

Алексей Малютин , специально для «Новой газеты. Европа»
Алексей Малютин , специально для «Новой газеты. Европа»

Patriarch Kirill (center). Photo: Oleg Varov / patriarchia.ru

Pope acting as a mediator

Pope Francis introduced his new so-called doctrine of the end of hostilities in Ukraine in a long interview published by the Jesuit periodical “La Civiltà Cattolica” 14 June. The doctrine is deserving of attention based on the fact that the Pope is preparing a meeting with Patriarch Kirill and representatives of the Kremlin in Kazakhstan, and, possibly, even a visit to Moscow. In the interview Francis explained what his position during the meeting will be.

On the one hand, once again he noted the “ferocity and cruelty” of the Russian army. On the other hand, he urged not to put all the responsibility on one side of the conflict. “We need to move away from the usual Little Red Riding Hood pattern, where Little Red Riding Hood was good and the wolf was the bad one,” the pontiff said. “Something global is emerging and the elements are very much entwined.” He explained that shortly before the war NATO had been sending risky signals towards Moscow which ended up provoking the Russian beast. The Pope, however, clarified that he was not “pro-Putin” and admitted that Russia had “miscalculated” the war. According to the Novaya Gazeta. Europe sources close to the pontiff,

this new “middle ground” position was needed to establish Pope Francis as a mediator in the “Vatican peace process” that will feature Russia, Ukraine, EU, and the US.

In contrast to all the other possible peace brokers, the Vatican seems to still hold some weight in the eyes of the participants of the potential peace talks.

At the beginning of May, Pope Francis called his two Russian friends “ambassadors of peace”. One of them, Svetlana Kasyan, a famous Russian opera singer, is the first ever female recipient of the Order of Saint Sylvester. She told Novaya Gazeta. Europe that in the current situation, which often feels like a dead-end, the pontiff has retained his status of the “moderator of the peace process”. A few days ago, she and her husband Leonid Sevastianov received a handwritten letter from the Pope where he predicted that the people would “choose the path of agreement”. All the parties accept the Vatican being the negotiation platform, the only one who is against it is Patriarch Kirill…

Patriarch with a broken compass

Francis will meet the Russian delegation in Kazakhstan this September unless the Pope has the opportunity to visit Moscow before that (nothing is out of the question in the current geopolitical situation). The pontiff is obviously more interested in negotiations with Putin and his closest circle; he does not consider the Russian patriarch to be an independent figure (he famously called Kirill “Putin's altar boy”). As if to confirm this description of himself, the Russian patriarch recently used one of the Kremlin’s main narratives during a speech in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour: he claimed that Lenin had “invented” Ukraine. “The decision to divide Russia was made by the then leader Lenin. Some fellow came around and destroyed a united country… He signed all the decrees establishing independent states on the Russian territory”.

Pope Francis. Photo: vaticannews.va

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) was very hurt by the “altar boy”, that description sure touched a nerve. “Francis chose the wrong words to convey the meaning of the conversation” that the pope and the patriarch held via Zoom on 16 March, said the press service of the Moscow Patriarchate. According to Pope Francis, the patriarch had spent 20 minutes reading some propagandistic text off a piece of paper, trying to justify the “special operation”, until the pontiff stopped him. The Moscow Patriarchate press service meanwhile states that the paper contained the info on the “Odesa lesson” from 2 May 2014 and on the “flight time” of the NATO missiles in the direction of Moscow.

The spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Christians Bartholomew I of Constantinople also considers Kirill’s stance to be derogatory and to go against the position of the Church. “It would not be possible for all the Churches not to condemn the violence and the war. But the Church of Russia let us down. <...> I don’t know how he [Patriarch Kirill] can justify himself to his conscience. <...> He should sacrifice his throne and tell Putin: ‘Mr. President, I cannot agree with you, I resign,’” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said.

It really is quite a task to comprehend Kirill’s arguments ever since 24 February. Sometimes he claims that the “special operation” has a “metaphysical” meaning and is t HYPERLINK "https://novayagazeta.ru/articles/2022/03/08/tserkov-antitserkov-i-ukraina"he only way to avoid gay pride parades. Other times, he denies the presence of the Russian troops on the territory of a different country. During his entire tenure he had been trying to convince the Kremlin that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) was entirely on the Russian side and under his control — Putin even used a corresponding argument during his speech on 21 February. Reality turned out to be completely different.

ROC’s rejection of moral subjectivity and its inability to give an honest, Christian assessment of the situation will naturally lead to the religious people refusing to consider the organisation a part of their faith any longer. 

“I came to the Church that was small and persecuted,” remembers a disgraced protodeacon Andrey Kuraev. “I did not want to become a member of an aggressive police structure… The patriarch is pretending that he cannot tell aggression and defence apart. Therefore, the moral compass of our ecclesiastical hierarchy is completely broken.”

The recent dismissal of ROC’s “Foreign Minister” Metropolitan Hilarion from all his positions in Moscow is a clear sign of the patriarchate aligning itself with the most radical position. Hilarion was a loyal ecclestical official but he just could not grasp the language of street hooligans with mental health problems that the Russian politicians now have to use if they want to stay on top. In banishing Hilarion the Russian Orthodox Church left itself without a representative that could appeal to the Russians who do not support the war or even the moderates.

Sanctions and punishment

On 16 June, the UK included Patriarch Kirill and the Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights in Russia, who is also a priest’s wife, Maria Lvova-Belova into their sanctions list. The reasoning for the inclusion of the patriarch was “multiple public statements in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine”, meanwhile for Lvova-Belova it was “providing support for policies or actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine”. Novaya Gazeta. Europe has not yet managed to verify which assets the patriarch possesses in the British Isles; supposedly, some of his money was stored in the off-shores under British jurisdiction.

Patriarch Kirill (center). Photo: Sergey Vlasov / patriarchia.ru

Patriarch Kirill’s press secretary Vladimir Legoyda compared UK’s actions with Bolsheviks’ persecution of the Church in the 1930s, which Kirill’s family faced first-hand (his grandfather died in the Solovki prison camp). Kuraev considers it immoral to compare a symbolic gesture of the United Kingdom with the plight of the patriarch’s grandfather. Meanwhile, the chief editor of the Christian almanack “Dary” (“Blessings”) Sergey Chapnin accuses his ex-colleague Legoyda of switching definitions: “Imposing sanctions means that a person, in this case the Russian patriarch, took a dishonourable, immoral stance and is not planning on changing it… The UK government are the ones acting like Christians here by reminding him that his position is not only immoral but also anti-Christian.”

The heroic suffering of the New Martyrs of the 20th century is being used by the Moscow Patriarchate to advance their political agenda; they are not seeing their deed as the celebration of truth winning over death that it is. Legoyda’s statement that the UK is burning its last bridge when it comes to communication with Russia by sanctioning the patriarch holds no weight — seeing as “ROC is unambiguously taking a pro-Putin stance, it is not an independent entity but a technical instrument in the hands of the Kremlin.”

Complaints and hysteria

The official political rhetoric of the Moscow Patriarchate, which lost its subjectivity with the start of the “special operation”, is now down to political complaints and hysteria. The Department for Church's Society and Mass Mediа Relations led by the aforementioned Vladimir Legoyda is responsible for the Church’s communication with the public. He has two deputies that are the ones who mostly deal with the communication aspect. One of them, Vahtang Kipshidze, recently published a political complaint against the still popular among the Orthodox Andrey Kuraev. Kipshidze publicly accused the disgraced protodeacon of “political battle against his own country”, adding “fuel to the flames of the conflict”, increasing “the number of victims”, and “warmongering”. And these are all criminal charges in the current Russian political climate, with Kuraev not planning to emigrate…

Alexander Shchipkov. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The other deputy of the Department for Church's Society and Mass Mediа Relations Alexander Schipkov, who during the Soviet times was part of the underground Orthodox movement and was even expelled from university for his faith, is competing with extreme national-chauvinists in their goal of radicalising the “Russian peace” ideology that is the basis for imperialist aggression. Schipkov tries to use scientific language but does not go further than recounting theses from Putin’s famous speeches. While admitting that we are in the middle of a war, he sees its goal in the “destruction of mobilisational mechanisms of the Russian society”, the main one being “civil religion” reflected in “remembering the Victory of 1945”.

At the same time, the slogan “No to War!”, according to Scipkov, is “commercial pacifism” (15 years of prison is “business” now?!), which in the context of the “special operation” is a “betrayal of national interests”.

Fighting against the horrors of “de-Russification”, the ecclesiastical official identifies a “theological war” which comes down to an “aggressive denial of Russian peace”. By the way, the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs, who plan to meet at a summit in July, included the review of the “Russian peace” concept in their agenda. They will review whether the concept is a false teaching about one separate nation having special charisma and status in the Orthodox world.

Valentin Lebedev. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to ROC’s “Orthodox community”, the situation is getting absurd. While the Patriarchate officials are combating enemies from inside the Church, the Union of Orthodox Citizens led by a member of the Inter-Council Presence of the Russian Orthodox Church Valentin Lebedev has found a foe in the Kremlin itself. “Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, and many others changed their minds and declared it necessary to immediately stop the special operation without achieving its objectives… Subversive activities of “Europe’s friends”, who demoralised the General Stuff of the Russian Armed Forces by being the reason for the rumours about the Russian political leadership intending to not only immediately stop the operation but also to return a part of the liberated Russian lands to the Nazis, should be thoroughly investigated, and those responsible should be punished to the full extent of the law,” states the Union’s 16 July declaration.

The Union’s partner—the Association of Orthodox Experts—is meanwhile busy with creating an alternative reality. We apologise in advance for directly quoting these righteous men led by the veteran of the Ortodox expert service Kirill Frolov, who was granted the title “Confessor of the Faith” by Patriarch Kirill. Here is the recent update from the Association: “Nazi and Banderite occupiers are publishing elimination lists for the Russian Church pastors located in Novorossiya, who are faithful to Patriarch Kirill… The enemy has noted and is happy about the change in Patrushev, who turned out to be in favour of Macron and the [Western] lewd world instead of liberation of Novorossiya and Malorossiya… The homosexual British hysteria against Patriarch Kirill is revenge for him having dared to dismiss Metropolitan Hilarion, the man who played the part of a systemic and talented symbol of saving the relationship with the anti-Crhist West.”

This is pretty much what the Russian Orthodox Church sounds like, and it is very hard to find any trace of Christianity in its voice. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the country’s Parliament, officially recommended that its National Security and Defence Council impose sanctions against Patriarch Kirill (V.M. Gundyaev, born 20.11.1946), Metropolitan Hilarion (father’s last name: Dashevsky, born 24.07.1966), Archpriest Nikolai Balashov (born 13.12.1956), Metropolitan Tikhon (G.A. Shevkunov, born 02.07.1958), Archbishop Pitirim (P.P. Volochkov, born 02.02.1961), Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov (born 21.02.1961), Archpriest Andrey Tkachev (born 30.12.1969), Professor A.I. Osipov (born 31.03.1938)

#patriarchy #church
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