Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill has de-facto blessed Russian soldiers to die in Ukraine, promising them forgiveness of sins in his Sunday sermon on 25 September.
Reiterating the Kremlin’s imperial myth of Ukraine and Russia as “fraternal nations” and labeling the Russian invasion of Ukraine “internecine warfare” happening “on the vast expanses of [the medieval kingdom of Kyivan] Rus,” he assured Russian soldiers that it is their “military duty” to occupy a sovereign state and in the (probable) event that they would be killed, they would “undoubtedly” commit an act of “sacrifice” that “washes away all sins”:
“We know that today many are dying in the fields of internecine warfare. The Church prays that this battle will end as quickly as possible, that as few brothers as possible will kill each other in this fratricidal war. And at the same time the Church is aware that if someone, moved by a sense of duty, by the need to fulfill his oath, remains faithful to his calling and dies in the performance of his military duty, he is undoubtedly committing an act tantamount to sacrifice. He sacrifices himself for others. And so we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins one has committed.”
Commenting on Russia’s murderous invasion of Ukraine, where Russian retreats are invariably accompanied by discoveries of Russian torture chambers and mass graves of Ukrainians, he said it is important that the “fraternal peoples” are “not divided by the impassable wall of hatred,” and that the war Russia started “will not destroy the united spiritual space of Holy Rus.”
This is not the first time he used spiritual argumentation to prod Russian soldiers to pay with their lives for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On 21 September, he supplied spiritual motivation to Russian President Putin’s decision to announce mobilization, suggesting that Russian soldiers are removing a “danger” hanging over Ukraine by invading it:
“We know the danger that hangs over the Ukrainian people, who are trying to reformat, to turn a part of the holy united Rus into a state that is opposed to this Rus, hostile to Russia,” said Kirill.
“Christ is Risen, and we all shall rise with Him. And life is eternal! And therefore, go forward bravely to do your military duty. And remember that if you lay down your life for your fatherland, for your friends as the Holy Scripture says, you will be together with God in His Kindgom, in His glory, in His eternal life.”
Andrey Shishkov, who until 2020 headed the Secretariat of the Synodal Biblical-Theological Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church, says that the Russian Orthodox Church leader is promoting “the most genuine heresy”: sins can only be washed away by repentance, baptism, and martyrdom for Christ. Fulfilling a military duty has no relation to Christ, and the “sacrifice” that Russian soldiers will make if killed during the war will be placed on the altar of the “statist cult whose priest Kirill had long ago become,” in which the state, not God, is worshipped.
This heresy has been termed the “Russian world” — a politico-theological ideology which, according to theologian Cyril Hovorun, is “driven by the idea of a counterposition between sacrality and profanity, between the holiness of Rus (which they identify with Russia), and what they call the unholiness and godlessness of the West.”
“The ideology of the Russian world, which underpins the war in Ukraine and is consistently propelled by the Russian Orthodox Church, is effectively a substitute for the theology of the Kingdom of God. Putin’s regime, according to this ideology, is seen by many in Russia as a reflection of this Kingdom,” Fr. Cyril told Euromaidan Press.
The recent statement of the patriarch of Moscow Kirill, where he promised the forgiveness of sins to all Russian soldiers fallen on the Ukrainian battlefields, is a move in the same direction of deification of Putin’s regime.
“What the patriarch implies is that terrorism is like martyrdom. However, Christian martyrs sacrificed only their own lives for the sake of their beliefs. Terrorists, in contrast, take not only their own lives but also the lives of others. That is what the Russian soldiers do in Ukraine — in the name of quasi-religious ideas promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church. The ideology of the Russian world amalgamates such ideas, which drive many Russian soldiers to come to Ukraine to kill and to get killed.
Effectively, the patriarch, who is one of the architects of the Russian world ideology, has now endorsed religious terrorism, which he confuses with martyrdom. Such confusions and substitutions need to be deconstructed theologically, together with the ideology of the Russian world. That is what I and my fellow theologians try to do. I hope the Orthodox and other churches could eventually address such blasphemous substitutions as well,” Cyril Hovorun summed up.
He is among the coauthors of a declaration of Orthodox theologians decrying the “Russian World” (Ruskii Mir) ideology as a “a form of Orthodox ethno-phyletist religious fundamentalism [which is] totalitarian in character,” which as of April 2022 was signed by 1,300 theologians.
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