21 April 2022, The Tablet

Patriarch Kirill has said Putin is a 'miracle of God' but the realities of war and politics might yet find him out


When the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted self-government Moscow was incandescent with rage and immediately broke off relations.

Patriarch Kirill has said Putin is a 'miracle of God' but the realities of war and politics might yet find him out

Kirill has referred to Moscow’s opponents in Ukraine as “evil forces” adding: “We must not allow dark and hostile external forces to laugh at us.”
Photo: Alamy/Kommersant/Sipa USA, Gleb Schelkunov

 

The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia may have lost former friends in Western Churches, and rumbles of dissent from his own priests and faithful may be growing, but for now he remains unchallenged as the leader of Russian Orthodoxy

Four years before Russian soldiers crossed into Ukraine in February, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church was already making it clear that, like President Vladimir Putin, he saw the unity of Ukraine and Russia as essential and was prepared to back any measure to bring Ukraine back into the Russian fold.

During an official visit by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to Moscow in November 2017, Patriarch Kirill and a group of senior Russian clergy received him to discuss how to improve relations between Anglicans and Russian Orthodox Christians. To publicise this breakthrough meeting – Welby’s first in Moscow – Russian television cameras were invited to film part of the event. Without warning, Kirill handed the archbishop a paper condemning the “schismatic” move by Ukrainian bishops to seek separation from Moscow. He furiously denounced the Ukrainian authorities for permitting the property of Orthodox parishes loyal to the Moscow ­patriarchate to be occupied by “nationalists” who supported a breakaway Ukrainian Orthodox Church, saying these seizures were attempts to split Ukraine along religious boundaries. The moment the cameras left the room, Kirill said no further word about the issue. Clearly, his tirade was for domestic consumption.
Since then, the patriarch’s anger has grown. Almost a third of the Russian Orthodox Church’s parishes and churches – and its wealth – was in Ukraine. When the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted autocephaly – self-government – by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in January 2019, Moscow – incandescent with rage – immediately broke off relations with the ecumenical patriarch, the first among equals in global Orthodoxy. Kirill has since stepped up his campaign against Bartholomew and reasserted Moscow’s claim that, as the largest of the world’s Orthodox Churches, it should rank first in the Orthodox hierarchy. He has referred to Moscow’s opponents in Ukraine as “evil forces” adding: “We must not allow dark and hostile external forces to laugh at us.”

 

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