23 March 2022, The Tablet

Nothing can excuse the failure of the Russian Orthodox Church to condemn Putin's war on Ukraine

The crisis of Orthodoxy: the Orthodox Church will not emerge unscathed from this reckoning.

Nothing can excuse the failure of the Russian Orthodox Church to condemn Putin's war on Ukraine

The Orthodox world is being shattered by the war in Ukraine. A close adviser to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew reflects frankly on the state of Orthodoxy before the invasion, and imagines how it needs to change if it is to have a future

On the Sunday of the first week of Great Lent, which this year began on 7 March, the Eastern liturgical cycle celebrates the Feast of Orthodoxy. Sometimes conceitedly called the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”, it would be more accurate to describe it as the celebration of the “restoration of images”. On this day, Orthodox Christians together remember the final laying to rest of the iconoclastic controversy, which had questioned the veneration of icons. This year’s observance was tarnished by an unprecedented lack of ceremonial unity across the Orthodox world. At the same time as many Orthodox Christians were praying for the suffering people of Ukraine, the head of Russia’s National Guard – often referred to as President Vladimir Putin’s private army – was thanking Patriarch Kirill of Moscow for presenting him with an icon that he declared would give his soldiers a “swift victory” over their enemies.

Although religion should never be used to justify war, all too often it infiltrates and intensifies violent conflict. The echoes of the association between religion and violence have been amplified in recent weeks by the way President Putin and Patriarch Kirill have both used the “historical and spiritual unity” between Russians and Ukrainians as a pretext for a war of conquest against a neighbour.


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