Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill practicing Russian-style “Byzantine symphonia”
The current invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russian forces may have come as a surprise to some, for many were probably hoping that the massive build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border was a bluff intended to force Ukraine to give in to Russian demands. As things turned out, however, this was no bluff, and the ensuing invasion has been rapid and fierce. For the most part, the world reacted with shock to the Russian aggression, and the field was opened for assessment and judgment of the situation.
One such judgment was made by Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and supreme head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill’s comments were reported by the APF News Agency on February 27, 2022. In his remarks, he described Moscow’s opponents in Ukraine as “evil forces.” Such a statement, issued by the head the the world’s largest Orthodox jurisdiction, is nothing less than a blatant lie and statement of hate. I would even suggest that such a remark must surely be an abomination in the eyes of God Himself. If anyone should want a rebuttal to Kirill’s comment, we might note that Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zoria), speaking for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, stated that “Putin is not the messiah, but really the anti-Christ of our current time.”
It is well known that Vladimir Putin and the Patriarch of Moscow have been hand in glove for years, as they support each other in the obvious desire for power which marks them both. This unholy alliance between the political and ecclesiastical authorities is little else than a rape of the Church. From a theological stance, the Church belongs only to Christ, who is its Lord and Master. Putin and Patriarch Kirill are turning the Church of Christ into the servant and tool of power-hungry politicians.
For centuries, Ukraine was the victim of Russian cruelty and oppression. Stalin’s attack on Ukraine in the early 1930s, exacerbated by the Soviet-engineered famine, was nothing less than a genocide. The Holodomor, a manmade famine that engulfed the Soviet republic of Ukraine from 1932 to 1933, was part and parcel of Russia’s attempts to suppress and even annihilate the country. Finally with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Ukraine was able to regain national independence and enjoy freedom from Russian domination.
But Vladimir Putin was not happy with this situation and still clung to the desire to bring Ukraine back under Russian control. In an attempt to initiate this process, in February and March 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine on the pretense that this action was in the interest of Russians living there.
In more recent years, there were serious ecclesiastical disagreements when many Ukrainians wished to have a Ukrainian Church free from the overlordship of Moscow. The new independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine officially gained autocephaly in January 2019, when Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople signed a tomos to officially establish its freedom. Needless to say, the Moscow Patriarchate was not pleased. Now Russia has attacked Ukraine with a force of over 100,000 troops, intent on spreading chaos and destruction. Is the Patriarch of Moscow pleased with this new development? His comment that Moscow’s opponents in Ukraine are “evil forces” can easily answer this question.
In the light of the past history of Russian-Ukrainian relationships, how can we assess this latest invasion? There are insufficient words to describe the brutality of Russia’s actions. Putin’s actions in 2022 have proven his right to be ranked among the worst tyrannical powers in human history. May his name be remembered as history decrees.
As for “His Holiness” Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow, who claims domination over millions of Russian Orthodox Christians, how shall history remember and describe him? I suspect future generations will deal with that question. Will he perhaps be described as “Kirill of Blessed Memory”? I suppose we could ague that anything is possible in the modern world.
As for Vladimir Putin, someone has suggested that he deserves to be tried for war crimes against Ukraine and punished to the fullest extent. That may perhaps be overly judgmental, but there are surely times when the prophetic voice of Christ’s Church must be judgmental.
A final thought: After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, and the pursuing Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, it is recorded (Ex 15:1) that Miriam led the Iraelite women in this canticle:
Sing to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider He hath thrown into the sea!
Let us pray that time may soon come when all men and women can sing this song over all fallen tyrants who have oppressed humanity, and that all may know that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Ps 24:1).
Rev. Dr. Vladimir Tobin is a priest and monk of the Archdiocese of Canada, Orthodox Church in America, and founder of Nova Scotia’s only non-ethnic, English-speaking parish. He holds a PhD in Old Testament and Egyptology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an MDiv from the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax NS, and an MA in Patristics and BA in Classics from Dalhousie University in Halifax.