Thursday, March 24, 2022

Putin’s Russian World, Basis of His War in Ukraine, ‘a Theological Heresy,’ Orthodox Leaders Around the World Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 18 – More than 400 leading Orthodox theologians from around the world have signed a joint declaration urging the Moscow Patriarchate to press for an end the war in Ukraine and denouncing the very idea of “a Russian world” as a theological heresy that must be rejected by all Christians (

            In reporting this for a Russian audience, Aleksandr Soldatov, a specialist on religion for Novaya gazeta, says that this declaration may become the basis for some form of punishment against Moscow Patriarch Kirill and the ROC MP at the upcoming summit of the Pentarchy, as the five most ancient Orthodox churches are known.

            That meeting is to take place in Constantinople in April; and there have already been calls for the Orthodox world to strip the ROC MP of its autocephalous status for five years. This declaration will only add pressure on the group to take some step against Moscow (

            One of the signatories, Archimandrite Kirill of the Saint Ignatius Theological Academy in Sweden, says that Putin’s ideas about the Russian world reek of Manicheanism, a syncretic doctrine of the third and fourth centuries CE which “influenced later occultism” and many parapsychologists and charlatans.

            “Putin’s Manicheanism,” the archimandrite says, “is based on the belief that NATO and the US are some kind of ontological evil and that everything they say is a lie.” For the Kremlin leader, Ukraine is now “an arena for the struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness,” and it must be “’saved’” from the West.

            Father Kirill further observes that Putin’s “Orthodoxy” diverges at many points from church traditions. “For example,” he says, “the president has said that Islam is closer to Orthodoxy than to Catholicism and that Saints Boris and Gleb should not be venerated because they voluntarily went to their deaths instead of struggling with their enemy.”

            Another foreign signatory, Sergey Shumilo, director of the International Institute of the Mount Afon Heritage, says that “Soviet-Orthodox worldviews” have had a baleful influence on Russian thinking for the last 30 years and have encouraged people like Putin to think that there is no such thing as Ukraine and that Russia and Russians occupy a privileged position among believers.

            Remarkably, several prominent Orthodox theologians living inside Russia signed this document, as did 246 ROC MP priests there who signed one that echoed its positions, Soldatov says. Given the approach of the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate to any dissent from the current Putinist line, they are truly profiles in courage.

            Not only has Kirill denounced foreign Orthodox leaders for daring to criticize Putin’s war in Ukraine, but he has signaled that he will not spare anyone whose careers he currently holds in the balance. In his own words which are hardly those of the Gospels, such people can hardly expect to be forgiven because “forgiveness without justice is capitulation and weakness.”

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