by Luigi Sandri*
For three years there have been two Orthodox Churches in the country: the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church (UOAC), linked to the patriarchate of Constantinople led by Bartholomew, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), linked to Moscow. The Russian patriarchate, led by Kirill, was absolutely opposed to the creation of the former and, after Bartholomew, in January 1919, gave the tomos of autocephaly, officially creating the UOAC, the Russian patriarch and his Synod cut the Eucharistic communion with Constantinople. That is, they proclaimed a schism with it.
Then, on February 24, the starting date of what the Kremlin calls a “Special Military Operation”, Kirill said: “It is with deep pain in my heart that I feel the suffering of the people, caused by the events that are happening. As patriarch of all Russia and primate of the Church, whose flock is found in Russia, Ukraine and several other countries, I have deep compassion for all who have been affected by misfortune. I urge all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties”.
But Onufriy, primate of the UOC, said on the same day: “Defending the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, we turn to the president of Russia and ask him to stop the fratricidal war immediately. The Ukrainian and Russian peoples arose from the baptismal fonts of the Dnieper and the war between these two peoples is the repetition of the sin of Cain, who killed his brother out of jealousy. Such a war finds no justification either before God or before men”.
Then an ecclesiologically important event occurred: starting from Sunday 6 March to today – 18 March, as I write – about fifteen metropolitans of the UOC (which is to say about ninety bishops) – in the Sunday celebration of the “divine liturgy”, that is the mass, they deliberately omitted Kirill’s name. Among them, Serafim of Ivano-Frankiv and Kolomyia, Antony of Khmelnitsky and Starokonstantinov, Theodory of Muchacevo, Agapet of Mogilev Podolsky and Chargorod, Eulogy of Sumy, Nicodim of Jitomir, Filarete of Leopoli and Galizia et Novograd-Kirynovsky and Novomirgorod. To understand the significance of this gesture, it is necessary to know that, in Orthodoxy, the memory of one’s patriarch, during the liturgy, is crucial; not doing so, in itself, is an act of schism.
Dozens of parish priests of the UOC have also done so, but adding a crucial request to Onufriy: that of convening a “local council” (where representatives of both the priesthood and the faithful participate with the bishops) to proclaim the autocephaly of their Church. But in Ukraine there is already the UOAC! Will the Russian invasion that is ravaging Ukraine now cause all the Orthodox Churches in the country to unite into a single autocephalous Church? And who would be the point of reference? Constantinople with which Moscow is in a state of schism? Or what if Moscow finally condemns Putin’s war?
It should be added that even metropolitans linked to the patriarchate of Moscow, but pastors of Russian Orthodox who live outside the homeland, have begun to publicly contest Kirill. Metropolitan Innokentzy of Vilnius and Lithuania declared: “The position of the Orthodox Church in Lithuania remains unchanged: we strongly condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine and pray to God for its swift end .. Patriarch Kirill and I have political views and different perceptions about current events. His political statements about the war express his personal opinion. We, in Lithuania, do not agree with it “.
Metropolitan Jean of Dubna, archbishop of the Orthodox Churches of Russian tradition in Western Europe, wrote to Kirill on March 9 from Paris: “On behalf of all of our faithful I turn to Your Holiness to raise your voice as Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church against a monstrous and senseless war, and to intercede with the authorities of the Russian Federation so that this deadly conflict, that until recently seemed impossible between two nations and two peoples united by centuries of history and from their common faith in Christ, end as soon as possible “.
Jean also disagrees with the anti-gay statements made three days earlier by Kirill, who took against Gay Pride, which wants to make the practice of homosexuality moral, prohibited, he underlined, by the law of God: “Your Holiness, in your homily on Forgiveness Sunday, delivered on March 6 in the patriarchal cathedral of Christ the Saviour, you intimate that you justify this cruel and deadly war of aggression [against Ukraine] as ‘a metaphysical fight‘ in the name ‘of the right to to be on the side of the light, on the side of God’s truth, of what the light of Christ and His Gospel reveals to us‘. With all the respect that is due to you, I must tell you that I cannot subscribe to such a reading of the Gospel”.
Even within the Russian Church itself, at home, public dissent against the war is beginning to emerge. About 240 Russian priests and deacons, in early March, after describing the ongoing war as “fratricidal”, added: “We weep for the Calvary to which our brothers and sisters in Ukraine have been undeservedly subjected”.
Many heads of autocephalous national Orthodox Churches have asked for the immediate cessation of hostilities: above all Bartholomew, patriarch of Constantinople; the archbishop of Athens, Jeronimos II, and the Albanian primate, Anastasios of Tirana. The most cutting was the Romanian patriarchate, which defined Kirill’s attitude as “cynical” and “dishonourable”.
There are also signs of strong dissent against Putin from civil society. Thousands of people were arrested in various cities, from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, for publicly protesting against the war. But perhaps the most sensational fact is the explicit dissent of the Lomonosov University in Moscow, one of the most important in Russia. In a manifesto, dated March 5, and signed by more than seven thousand professors and students, it is stated:
“We, the students, postgraduates, lecturers, staff and graduates of Russia’s oldest university, Lomonosov Moscow State University, categorically condemn the war our country has started in Ukraine.
Russia and our parents have given us a serious education, the foundation of which lies in the ability to critically evaluate what is happening around us, to weigh arguments, to listen to each other and to commit oneself to truth both scientific and humanistic. We know how to call things by their name and we cannot remain inert.
The actions carried out by the Russian Federation, actions that its leadership defines as a “special military operation”, are war, and there is no room for euphemisms or excuses in this situation. War is violence, brutality, death, loss of loved ones, helplessness and fear that cannot be justified by any purpose. War is the most brutal act of inhumanity, which, as we have learned within the walls of schools and universities, must never be repeated. The values of the absoluteness of human life, humanism, diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of differences that we learned in university were trampled and thrown away in an instant when Russia treacherously invaded Ukraine. The lives of millions of Ukrainians have been under constant threat since Russian military forces invaded Ukraine.
We express our support for the people of Ukraine and categorically condemn the war that Russia has started against the Ukrainians.
As graduates of the oldest Russian university, we know that the losses suffered in six days of bloody war, mainly human, but also social, economic and cultural, are irreparable. We also know that the war is a humanitarian disaster, but we cannot imagine the depth of the wound that we as the Russian people are inflicting on the Ukrainian people and on ourselves right now.
We demand that the Russian leadership immediately cease the fire, leave the territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine and put an end to this shameful war.
We call on all citizens of Russia who care about its future to join the peace movement. We are against the war!“
*”Confronti” Editorial Board