- JACK JENKINS
Washington D.C., United States
More than 100 American Christian leaders, including leaders of multiple denominations, sent a letter Friday to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, asking him to use his influence to help stop the invasion of Ukraine and “Prayerfully reconsider your support for this war.
The letter was addressed to Patriarch Cyril of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who is known to have a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“With broken hearts, we sincerely ask you to use your voice and deep influence to call for an end to hostilities and war in Ukraine and to intervene with the authorities in your country to do so,” reads the letter. letter.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Russia, early Thursday, January 7, 2021. PHOTO: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko.
The letter appeared to refer to Kirill’s widely criticized responses to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. His first widespread call for peace at the start of the attack was lambasted by Kyiv-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church leaders, with a cleric decrying him as the words of a ‘religious politician’ and a tacit endorsement of justifications of Putin for the invasion.
Kirill’s rhetoric has since intensified: he called Russia’s opponents in Ukraine ‘forces of evil’ in a statement and claimed in a recent sermon that the conflict was part of a larger battle against sin. and pressure from Western nations to hold “gay parades”. .
“We are in the season of Lent,” reads the letter from the American religious leaders. “In this spirit of Lent, we ask you to prayerfully reconsider your support for this war because of the horrific human suffering it has unleashed.”
Signatories to the letter include Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, president of Churches Uniting in Christ and chair of the board of trustees of the National Council of Churches; Rev Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Bishop Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church; Reverend Teresa Hord Owens, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada; Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America; Sister Carol Zinn, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; and Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.
Granberg-Michaelson helped organize the letter with Jim Wallis, director of the Center on Faith and Justice at Georgetown University.
“There is and never can be any ethical, religious or theological justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Wallis said in a statement. “When bombs rain down on maternities and hospitals, and other innocent civilians, we must be absolutely clear: it is the work of an immoral maniac who must be removed from power, and whoever supports Putin sanctions the murder.”
The letter is one of many efforts by church leaders to pressure Kirill, whose church has often operated in tandem with the Russian government. Last week a group of Catholic bishops from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales calls on Kirill Kirill to help end the violence, and Romanian Orthodox priest Ioan Sauca, head of the World Council of Churches, also implored Kirill to speak with the Russian president.
“I am writing to Your Holiness as Acting General Secretary of the WCC but also as an Orthodox priest,” Sauca wrote in an open letter. “Please raise your voice and speak on behalf of the suffering brothers and sisters, most of whom are also faithful members of our Orthodox Church.”
Kirill responded to Sauca on Thursday by saying that the blame for the invasion lies not with Russia but “with relations between the West and Russia.” He insisted that Western nations have tried to “mentally remake Ukrainians and Russians living in Ukraine as enemies of Russia”. ”
Kirill also dismissed Ukrainians who split from the Russian Orthodox Church in 2018 to form their own Kyiv-based Orthodox tradition, saying the “schism” “pursued the same goal”.
Yet calls for Kirill to do more also come from within the Russian Orthodox Church. On Wednesday, Metropolitan John of Dubna, Archbishop of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe, publicly called on Kirill to “raise [his] voice” with the Russian authorities against the “monstrous and senseless war”.
John also took issue with Kirill’s framing of the war as a “metaphysical” battle against a liberal West, saying he “cannot subscribe to such a reading of the Gospel”.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Russian Orthodox priests recently signed a petition denouncing the invasion, and one of the signatories was later arrested for preaching a sermon criticizing Russia’s actions. And in Ukraine, Russian Orthodox priests chose Kirill, refusing to commemorate him at liturgies and even raising the question of initiating their own break with the Church.
Pressure is also mounting on other Russian Orthodox leaders. Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations department who spent years trying to build relationships with American conservatives such as former Vice President Mike Pence, lost his post as teaching at the German University of Freiburg this week because of his silence. on the Russian invasion.