Estonian archbishop: Patriarch Kirill has approved of killing

Urmas Viilma.
Urmas Viilma. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, essentially approved of the horrors and crimes committed in Ukraine by "brothers" from Russia in his sermon on September 25, and it is still unclear what Orthodox Christians living in Estonia think of Kirill's statements, writes in his commentary the Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Urmas Viilma.

The Russian Orthodox Church's Patriarch Kirill delivered a sermon on Sunday on self-sacrifice as the highest form of love, drawing on the analogy of Jesus' sacrificial death.

Speaking of those who died on the battlefield, Kirill said:

"We are aware that people are dying in the battlefields of internecine feud. The Church is praying for this feud to cease as soon as possible and that as few brothers as possible kill each other in this fratricidal war. And at the same time, the Church is aware that if someone, motivated by a sense of duty and the need to fulfill his oath, remains true to his calling and dies while performing his military duty, he has committed an act equivalent to a sacrifice. He sacrifices himself for others. Therefore, we believe that this sacrifice expiates all the sins one has committed."

Kirill also mentioned the beleaguered Church of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and many other peoples who live in the vast expanse of traditional "Russian land."
He said that the Church prays for a quick resolution of the disputes, the triumph of justice, the restoration of brotherly relations, and the overcoming of all that has accumulated over the years, leading to a bloody conflict.

Holding the countries of the above-mentioned "Russian land" in a prayerful embrace suggests there is little chance of escaping this historic "hug." Rather, the Patriarch expressed the idea that if you pray long enough things could return to the way they were.

Reading daily reports of the horrors and atrocities, rapes and tortures perpetrated in Ukraine by the "brothers" from Russia, one wonders how Patriarch Kirill can believe it himself and openly declare that all the sins one has committed in violence can be washed away.

Kirill's statements can be interpreted to suggest that taking up weapons against a brother nation at the risk of one's life redeems all tortures, rapes, murders, humiliations and exterminations committed in the name of "duty" and "the need to honor one's oath."

All of the above abominations, in my opinion, are implicitly invited or even approved. Although not mentioned in the sermon the actual facts confirm the horrors that have occurred in Ukraine's seized lands.

With his patriarchal authority, Kirill guarantees that if a soldier dies in this endeavor, his sacrifice will "wipe away all the sins that man has committed."

This "license to kill" message was timed to coincide with the Russian mobilization announcement, indicating that Patriarch Kirill and President Vladimir Putin are coordinating their efforts.

Patriarch Kirill's sermon echoes Pope Urban II's 1095 call for a crusade against the Muslim Seljuks, which was delivered before the Clermont Church Council and recorded by many in attendance.

"All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested /…/ Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the kingdom of heaven."

The difference between Russia's aggression in Ukraine and the First Crusade is that it did not occur a thousand years ago somewhere in the medieval world. Moreover, the fight in Ukraine is not against pagan infidels from whom the Holy Land must be reconquered.

Patriarch Kirill refers to the conflict in Ukraine initially as a "war," but he later refers to it as a "feud" between "brotherly nations." If, in the view of the clergy of a neighboring country, Russia's invasion in Ukraine is nothing more than a squabble between brotherly nations, why should those who sacrifice their lives be granted a disproportionately generous redemption? It would not be difficult now even to declare all the deceased martyrs.

The question arises: if this is a fratricidal war, does the patriarch's call to self-sacrifice on the battlefield in order to receive automatic and radical absolution apply to "brothers" who fought on both sides?

Kirill's comments and prayers sound nearly sacrilegious in light of the daily accounts of horrible bloodshed and crimes taking place in the seized regions.

How could Patriarch Kirill's words be taken to heart in which he asks God not to let the ongoing squabble to create a wall of enmity between the brotherly nations and not to allow the hostilities to undermine the spiritual unity of Holy Russia?

What should we think when a church priest prays for God's grace to heal all wounds, for everything that causes many people grief to be erased from their memories, for as few people as possible to die or be injured during quarrels, for as few widows and orphans, separated families, and broken friendships and fraternities as possible?

In the context of Russia's seven-month-old war in Ukraine, there are very few voices of members or leaders of the Estonian Orthodox Church connected to Moscow that provide insight into what Orthodox Christians living in Estonia think about Patriarch Kirill's views.

The tense atmosphere between Estonia's different or same-language ethnic and religious groups could be defused much faster if it was clear whether the Russian Orthodox Church members living on this side of Lake Peipsi and the Narva River support Patriarch Kirill's statements or clearly and unequivocally repudiate them.

In a culture that does not have a common understanding of Russia's war, its spiritual and physical aggression in Ukraine, does not equally condemn this violence and its proponents, it becomes increasingly difficult for Estonian Christians to share a church ministry.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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