Metropolitan Stephanos: Russia's war on Ukraine is not holy

Metropolitan Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia.
Metropolitan Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia. Source: Toomas Kokovkin

Russia's war on Ukraine is an unprovoked war of conquest and approving it contradicts the teaching of the church, while perishing in combat does not somehow automatically absolve the deceased of their sins as Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has said, writes Metropolitan Stephanos, leader of the Estonian Orthodox Church (Esti Apostlik-Õigeusu Kirik).

A large proportion of the Christian and Orthodox world was shocked by the recent sermon delivered by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, on September 25, in which he asserted, among other things, that the self-sacrifice of Russian soldiers cleansed them of all their sins.

Employing spiritual and ideological vocabulary, he supported the mobilization which the Russian state is trying utilize to intensify its current war of conquest against Ukraine. 

The fact that the leader of the Orthodox Church has been using a lexicon that is not very different from that of religious fundamentalism, with calls for a holy war, as if the concept of jihad or of crusade is possible in the Orthodox Church, is particularly alarming.

It must be added that that this is not the first time that the Russian patriarch has expressed himself in this way. 

He has repeatedly expressed his support for this war, thus diminishing the faith of the church to one relating to the ideologies of this world. Such an understanding has nothing to do with the nature of Orthodoxy or the tradition of the Church Fathers. 

These views from Patriarch Kirill will contribute to the deepening of religious and national contradictions, as well as a growth in aggression. At the same time, Orthodoxy had already condemned rabid ecclesiastical nationalism, a desire to base church life only on national-tribal principles and in opposition to other countries and peoples, a phenomenon known as Phyletism, in the 19th century.

All this is essentially alien to the Orthodox Church, which has no concept of a holy war, where those soldiers who die are more than absolved of all their sins. 

Defensive warfare as an emergency measure is permissible, though even then those who participated in it and who have shed blood are separated from communion for three years, according to church rules.

Needless to say, any killing, torture and other atrocities against peaceful residents is completely unacceptable, but the automatic pardon offered by the Russian Patriarch also seems to extend to the perpetrators of these too.

Consequently, any notion of self-sacrifice and duty in this war as a path to the kingdom of heaven is mistaken in three ways: First of all, the aggression against Ukraine is not a defensive war, but an unprovoked war of conquest on the part of Russia. 

Second, according to Orthodox tradition, death in war does not in and of itself forgive a person of their sins.

Finally, according to the understanding of the Eastern Church, there is no such thing as a holy war, and the Church cannot, without contradicting her own teaching, bless an attack on another country, not to mention any injustice and savagery in wartime.

Metropolitan Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia is the head of the Estonian Orthodox Church (Eesti Apostlik-Õigeusu Kirik), which is organizationally a part of the  Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, headed by Bartholomew I of Constantinople. It is thus wholly separate from the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, led by Patriarch Kirill.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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