Before the war between the armies, there was the war between the churches
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill has unequivocally joined the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts. His sermons became a kind of editorial in the “Pravda” of old, glorifying the Great War for the Defense of the Fatherland. But now, in Ukraine, it is a war of aggression against “Orthodox brothers”. If for the Russians, who are intoxicated by the news and lack access to real information about the conflict, a rift has already begun to form within the Church, and the Russian Orthodox Church is rapidly losing its status as the “third Rome.” (the Orthodox one) to which he aspires, but also a lot of parishes, as well as their own believers.
For years, there has been a smoldering conflict between the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, and Kirill of Moscow. It intensified after the occupation and annexation of Crimea in 2014, when the Russian patriarch “sanctified” the invading troops and blessed the action. Over the next two years, Ukrainian politicians and clergy began working to separate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Moscow, which had come under it half a millennium ago. The steps were encouraged by Patriarch Bartholomew, who, after taking the necessary canonical steps, granted autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on January 6, 2019.
Even before Bartholomew signed this document, his relations with Moscow were frozen. On September 15, 2018, the Synod of the Russian Church severed ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, declaring that the mention of the name of the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew was suspended during the services, the meeting with the hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in all episcopal assemblies. with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. All this, for one reason only: “the anti-canonical actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine”, which aimed at the subsequent recognition of its autocephaly. But Bartholomew was not intimidated by Kirill, although the difference in “economic power” between the two patriarchates is immense. Bartholomew has only symbolic prestige.
The war between the two patriarchs was waged on other levels. The attempt to block the recognition of autocephaly by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was accompanied by repeated demonstrations against the Patriarchate of Constantinople, some of which took place even in Kyiv, where the effigy of Bartholomew, or even a mannequin with a face, was repeatedly burned. his. But the war started by Moscow against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was lost, with the completion of the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 2019. Patriarch Bartholomew, on the other hand, had much to lose: he faced the schism of the Orthodox Church in Cyprus and the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the whole of Africa, simply “bought” by Patriarch Kirill, with money and investment from Putin. It was the answer given to Patriarch Bartholomew, because he removed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the tutelage of the Russian Church, consecrating its autocephaly to the wrath of Moscow.
Bartholomew has withstood and is enduring the crisis well, despite his advanced age and the pressures to which he is subjected. In Turkey, three attacks have been carried out on him in the last decade – the most well-known and well-organized, in 2011 and 2013. The last time, on March 3 this year, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople himself declared that he become “a target for Moscow.”
In Russia and in territories “controlled” by Patriarch Kirill, unorthodox and sometimes extremely vulgar language has been adopted in attacks on the Ecumenical Patriarchate, not only in the streets but also from the pulpit. In general, the Moscow Patriarchate officially denies any connection to such demonstrations after they have taken place. From sermons to protests, foreign to the spirit of Orthodoxy, which were more reminiscent of Iranian demonstrations against the Americans, there was nothing to shake Bartholomew in his support for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Ecumenical Patriarchate lost parts of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the whole of Africa, historically linked to Constantinople, by the establishment of a so-called Russian metropolis of Africa, in response to Bartholomew’s autocephaly offered to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Patriarch Bartholomew’s support for Ukraine made him a “target” for the Russians
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, this autocephalous “National Church”, has about 20 million believers, compared to 9.6 million at the beginning of the Russian invasion. south. But from the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the first ruler of this church, Metropolitan Onufrie, faced enormous pressure from the clergy and the faithful, so he was forced to disavow the invasion and not to mention himself in prayer. Kirill, as head of the Ukrainian Church in office, but only as “Patriarch of Moscow.” What Onufrie could not prevent was a strong “leak” of believers, who went from the “warrior orthodoxy” of Moscow to that of the “national church” of Ukraine.
On February 27, three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said in a sermon after Holy Mass in the Cathedral of Constantinople: “A tragic humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in Ukraine. A war that, like any war, is an abominable and reprehensible situation. It is the domination of irrationality over reason, hatred over love, darkness over light. Death over life. We call, from this position, another church to end the war now! To immediately stop any act of violence, everything spreads pain and death. Let reason prevail, love of fellow man, reconciliation and solidarity, the light of the Risen One, the gift of life! ”.
Patriarch Bartholomew’s last call was undoubtedly to Kirill. But the latter did not listen to him, declaring himself an open supporter of the Kremlin’s “special military operation”, which he dressed in mystical clothes and gave him “dogmatic cover” in his sermon on the same Sunday. , in Moscow: “God forbid that the present political situation in our fraternal Ukraine, which is close to us, should be aimed at overcoming the forces of evil, which have always fought against the unity of Russia and the Russian Church. We must not allow the dark and hostile external forces to laugh at us; We must do everything we can to maintain peace among our peoples, while protecting our common historical homeland from any external action that may destroy this unity. May the Lord guard the Russian land. When I say Russian, I use an old expression from the Chronicle of the Past – which is where the Russian land comes from, which now includes Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. ”
On Monday, February 28, the fourth day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew personally called Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he encouraged and assured that he was “praying for the people of Ukraine.” Following the phone call, President Zelenski wrote on Twitter: “Thank you for the warm conversation, Your Holiness Bartholomew. Your words are like hands that lift us up in this difficult time. Ukrainians feel the spiritual support and strength of your prayers. We hope for peace as soon as possible. “.
But peace will not be soon, and part of the Orthodox Church has betrayed its mission. Patriarch Kirill has, in several sermons, apologized for the war in Ukraine, which he considers a “metaphysical” struggle against evil. Although it is not at all metaphysical – it is very real, with bombings, bullets, dead and wounded – of which, a number that has passed more than a hundred children. Patriarch Bartholomew I, leader of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, has instead strengthened his position as the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians around the world by declaring that Russia has called for an end to all acts of violence in Ukraine. He sided with the “church of peace.” Kirill is with Putin and his “crusade”, becoming more and more a “militaristic” patriarch, who left his flock and went to war with Caesar.
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