A couple days ago I published the post Martyrdom vs Mayhem in which I commented on how troubling it was that Russian Patriarch Kirill made comments about the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine in which he suggested Russians would be forgiven their sins if they were killed in battle. It sounded very much like Pope Urban’s comments to Latin Christians when he called for a crusade in 1095AD. Orthodox were troubled by Urban’s comments.
On Friday, I saw an article by Fordham Professor and Orthodox scholar George Demacopoulos, PATRIARCH KIRILL’S CRUSADE, calling into question not only Kirill’s attitude toward the war, but also the silence of other Orthodox bishops in the face of what Kirill is doing. Demacopoulos writes:
To be sure, Putin is not the first politician to attempt to manipulate the church to his own ends. Byzantine history is filled with similar episodes. In the middle of the tenth century, the emperor Nikephoros II Phocas asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to declare martyrdom for all Byzantine soldiers who died fighting Muslims. Patriarch Polyeuktos and his synod refused to do so because, they said, it would break nearly six hundred years of canonical tradition (stretching back to St. Basil the Great) that treated killing in war as a spiritually damaging event, requiring repentance. “How can we declare as martyrs,” the synod asked, “those whom St. Basil claims to have blood on their hands?”
It is exactly because Kirill claims to be a patriarch in the Orthodox tradition, and Putin claims to be an Orthodox Christian, that their behavior is so troubling and unChristian and should be rejected by all Orthodox people. While other Orthodox bishops may be loath to break communion with the Russian Church, surely, they can speak truth to power and denounce what cannot be defended by the Orthodox Tradition.
In Hebrews 12:14 we read the Christian moral perspective: Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Those who want to pray with or for Kirill ought to be clear that they are praying that he, like the Prodigal, might come to his senses, repent and humbly change his entire direction and return to our Father in heaven.