Patriarch Kirill I has offered Putin a religious justification for his invasion of Ukraine, while Pope Francis stands firmly with the Ukrainian people. The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church is a close ally of Putin’s, and has surprising links to the KGB.
Even the Virgin Mary has been drafted into Putin’s war: “We believe that this image will protect the Russian army and bring us a swifter victory,” Viktor Zolotov, director of the National Guard of Russia, said when receiving an image of Mary from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow recently.
Bestowing the icon on Zolotov is a clear sign that the Russian Orthodox Church is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Russian army and Vladimir Putin’s government.
While Kirill aimed to give Russia’s attack on Ukraine a veneer of legitimacy through the ceremony, Zolotov told the Patriarch why "things are not progressing as quickly as we would like”. According to the Orthodox Times, he said the problem was “that the Nazis [by which he means the Ukrainians] are using civilians, elderly people and children as human shields”.
Since the first Russian troops entered Ukraine, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has taken on a more prominent role, as he offers Putin a religious justification for his war of aggression.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, on the other hand, has shown strong support for Ukraine. At midday prayers in St. Peter’s Square earlier this month, he said, “In the name of God, I beg you, stop this massacre.” The Argentinian condemned the “barbarism” and “unacceptable armed aggression”, which threatens to transform “entire cities into graveyards”, as the Catholic News Agency reported.
Clash with Catholic Church
The military clashes between Russia and Western-backed Ukraine are not the only battle lines being drawn; there is also the conflict between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. Pope Francis’s attempts to sway Kirill, most recently in a video call last week, have thus far proved fruitless.
Kirill is a stalwart supporter of Putin’s. Like most of the Russian president’s entourage, he has ties to the KGB, as a former informant and possibly an agent, according to past investigations by various media outlets, including Forbes magazine.
Kirill became patriarch in 2009, after Putin had already shown signs of aggression towards neighboring countries through his war in Georgia. Since then, Kirill has provided the Kremlin with an ideological and religious justification for Moscow’s confrontations with the West. Since the invasion of Ukraine, he has deliberately avoided using the word “war”.
Kirill believes Western countries want to weaken Russia.
“The Russian and Ukrainian people share a centuries-old history, which dates back to the birth of the Rus,” Kirill said. On July28, 988, Vladimir the Great converted to Christianity and adopted it as the state religion of the Kievan Rus, the forerunner of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in a teleconference call on March 17
Protection from Western evil
That is why Kirill sees Russia’s power grab in Ukraine as legitimate, because the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv is an important site for the Russian Orthodox Church, both geographically and spiritually. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest and most powerful religious organization in Russia and one of the most important Orthodox Churches in the world. There are an estimated 100 million worshippers in Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union.
Over the past few years, the Church’s influence has been steadily growing, as we can see from the rising numbers of priests. In the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which comes under the authority of the patriarch in Moscow, Kirill’s pro-war rhetoric has led to calls for independence and a rejection of his leadership.
Like Putin, Patriarch Kirill I blames the West for developments in Ukraine. He believes Western countries want to “weaken Russia, as it has become a strong, truly powerful country”. He claims the West is fomenting conflict between the Russian and Ukrainian people and spreading diabolical lies. According to local news reports, in a recent sermon, Kirill said that one aim of Putin’s military operation in Ukraine was to protect Russia from the West’s gay pride parades.
Klitschko invites the Pope to Kyiv
The two Christian Churches collide in the Ukrainian capital, as we can see from Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko’s invitation for Pope Francis to visit the city. In a letter, the former boxer said that the Pope’s presence would be “decisive in saving lives and bringing peace to the city, the district and beyond.”
In response to the Russian Orthodox Church’s ceremony in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Vatican is also staging a special liturgical act. During a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 25, Pope Francis will consecrate Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
On the same day, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski will carry out the same consecration in Fatima, one of the most important pilgrimage sites dedicated to Mary. During the ceremony, priests ask Mary to offer her maternal protection to people or entire countries, to deliver them from danger and evil temptations.
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