If you don’t know where this Post is headed, you haven’t been following the news.
1. Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria (AD 298- 373)
“Athanasios against the world”, people said. Athanasios was Patriarch for 45 years – 25 of which were spent in exile – in Rome and with the monks in the desert – because he publicly challenged three Emperors, Constantine the Great, Constantius, and Valens, all of whom tried to impose the Arian heresy on him. He was a hero in Alexandria and spent his last seven years at home with his people.
2. Saint Basil the Great (329- 379)
Saint Basil, who lived very simply, was firmly Orthodox. The Arian Emperor Valens sent his men to threaten Basil with the confiscation of his property, banishment, torture, and even death, if he didn’t submit. Here was Basil’s response: “If you take away my few possessions, you will not make yourself rich, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, which comprise all my wealth. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. . . every place is God’s. Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God.”The Emperor’s envoy was startled and said he wasn’t accustomed to having bishops answer like that. Basil responded: “Perhaps you have never dealt with a real bishop before.” The Emperor backed off.
3. Saint Ambrose of Milan (340-397)
Ambrose publicly chastized Emperor Theodosios the Great (whose theology was firmly Orthodox) over a moral issue: Theodosios had given approval to the massacre of over 7,000 innocent people of Thessaloniki. Ambrose wrote to him: ‘What has been done at Thessaloniki is unparalled in the memory of man… temptation has overtaken you… You, who have so often been merciful and pardoned the guilty, have now caused many innocent to perish…” Ambrose forbade Theodosios to receive the Eucharist till he repented. The Emperor repented.
4. Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. (347-407)
John got into trouble for criticizing the wealthy for lived in excessive luxury but ignored the needs of the many abject poor who surrounded them. This incensed Empress Eudoxia who convinced her husband Emperor Arcadios to send John into exile. When the people of Constantinople rioted, the Emperor brought his back. However, John refused to change his tone, so he was exiled again – this time to a far corner of the Empire, where his health failed and he died.
5. Two Hierarchs (among very many) who resisted the Iconoclastic Emperors
To the right: Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (634-730) refused to remove the holy icons and was deposed and exiled.
To the left: Saint John of Damascus (652–749) wrote brilliantly at length against the Iconoclasts, without fear of retribution – because he lived in Palestine, which was then under the control of the Arabs!
6. Saint Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus (1393-1442)
Saint Mark was among several Hierarchs sent to the Council of Florence by Emperor John Paleologos, who hoped to achieve union of the Roman Catholic and Holy Orthodox Churches, so that he could get military aid from the West to help him defend the Byzantine Empire against the Turks. Of all the Orthodox Bishops present, Mark alone refused to sign the decree of union. When the Heirarchs returned home, Mark was greeted by the people as a hero, a defender of the Orthodox Faith. (The Orthodox bishops who signed the decree were all forced out of their positions in one way or another.)
7. Hieromartyr Philip II, Metropolitan of Moscow (1507-1569)
Despite his many misgivings, the Hieromonk Philip agreed to allow Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich (“Ivan the Terrible”) appoint him as Metropolitan of Moscow. After the Metropolitan publicly refused to bless Ivan’s massacre of Novgorod, he was arrested during Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of the Dormition and exiled to a monastery. The Tsar summoned the Holy Synod which had Philip deposed. A year later, he was strangled by one of the tsar’s men.
There have been many more such brave hierarchs.
However, these are sufficient for you to get the idea. It is the duty of Orthodox bishops (and all Christian leaders) to stand up against heresy and immorality in high places. Some failed to do so. Those who were steadfast never knew what the result would be. Some were exiled or imprisoned or martyred, while others became popular heroes during their lifetime. All are now commemorated as saints.
That brings us to the present case:
Kyrill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Incidentally, I first began to wonder about the man in 2012 when a picture was shown of him wearing a luxury wrist watch, estimated by those who know to be worth over $30,000. Then the same picture appeared with him not wearing the watch – even though the watch’s reflection could still be seen on the shiny tabletop! See for yourself:
The Patriarchate then “explained” the photo: The watch exists, but the Patriarch rarely wears it.
That is obviously only a lead-in to the main point here.
Kirill’s situation is similar to that of Saint Ambrose of Milan and Metropolitan Philip II of Moscow.
Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign nation, saying it was necessary in order to rid Ukraine of Nazis and Western decadence. There was also a third motive which secular sources rarely mention: Patriarch Kirill wants all Ukrainian Orthodox to return again to his jurisdiction.
Are there some Nazi sympathizers in Ukraine? Yes. See: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/ukraine-has-nazi-problem-vladimir-putin-s-denazification-claim-war-ncna1290946
Has Ukraine been easing up gradually on restrictions against gays? Yes. Russian authorities see this as evil Western secular moral decadence.
Since Ukraine’s sovereignty was established in 1991, some Ukrainian Orthodox have declared their independence from the Moscow Patriarchate. This “autocephaly” was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 2019.
But how does this justify a military invasion? in which Russia’s conduct has been barbaric, especially in its targeting and treatment of innocent civilians. They have destroyed apartment buildings, churches *, hospitals. Now daily they are sending a barrage of missiles, trying to terrorize Ukrainians into submission by cutting off electricity and water just as winter approaches.
- Here is a strange turn of events: “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC), which is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate, is the most touched by the bombings of the Russian army. Indeed, 156 buildings of the UOC have been destroyed or damaged, against 21 of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (independent from Moscow), 5 of the Greek and Roman Catholics, 37 protestant buildings, 5 mosques, 13 Jewish facilities.” (The European Times, October 31, 2022)
Kyrill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, supports the war. He says he wishes it would stop, but clearly only when Ukraine loses, because he has called it “an apocalyptic battle against evil”. That may be. Two questions: 1 Which side in this war is the evil side? 2 Is it likely that bombing the hell out of the Ukrainians is the most effective way of winning their hearts and minds over to the Russian side and to the Moscow Patriarchate?
None of us can see into other people’s heart and souls. Patriarch Kyrill may believe he is doing the right thing, following his conscience. Perhaps Josef Stalin believed he was doing the right thing. Who can say? However, viewing it objectively, the Putin/Kyrill alliance bears every mark of old fashioned Russian religious/nationalistic fervor – under the Tsars, the Communists, and now Vladimir Putin.
Patriarch Kyrill has now said something which, so far as I know, no Christian Bishop has dared to say since Pope Urban sent soldiers off on the First Crusade, proclaiming:
“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.”
These are Kyrill’s words:
“Many die in the fields of fratricidal war. The Church prays that this battle will end as soon as possible, so that as few brothers as possible will kill each other in this fratricidal war. But at the same time, the Church realizes that if someone, driven by a sense of duty and the need to fulfill his oath… goes to do what he is called to do and if someone dies in the performance of that duty, then he has undoubtedly committed something that amounts to a sacrifice. He will have sacrificed himself for others. And therefore, we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins committed by such a man.” The Orthodox Times, September 26, 2022
I believe what Kyrill said is entirely contrary to Orthodox Tradition, which does not see war as a glorious thing, but rather a sometimes-necessary evil. Only God knows what is in men’s hearts. Only God forgives sins.
Saint Basil the Great wrote the following balanced explanation of Orthodox teaching:
“Our fathers did not consider killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that their hands are not clean.” Canon 13 of Saint Basil’s 92 Canonical Epistles
1 Imperial soldiers in Saint Basil’s time were fighting to defend the frontiers of the Empire from attacks by pagans.
2 The Crusaders intent (even if sometimes not the result) was to rescue the Holy Land from the Muslims.
3 Russian soldiers today are fighting, as Kyrill says, “a fratricidal war” against their Ukrainian Orthodox brothers and sisters. Who does he think started this fratricidal war? Who attacked their brothers?
An article “Kyrill’a Crusade” from the online journal “Public Orthodoxy” is worth reading. Search “Kyrill’s Crusade Public Orthodoxy”.
Now, let’s consider the effects of this war and Kirlll’s involvement in it in two ways:
I. How the War in Ukraine is affecting the Orthodox Church’s Moral Standing
What has been the reaction to this “Orthodox war” by other Orthodox Hierarchs and their jurisdictions? It has been muted at best
Should non-Russian Orthodox bishops get involved in Russian politics? That I don’t know.
But am I incorrect in believing that Orthodox hierarchs throughout the world have a moral obligation to beg their brother Patriarch Kyrill to repent and stand up to Vladimir Putin (no matter how many times Mr Putin has been shown in staged photographs lighting candles *) and speak out against his evil war.
- I don’t mean to be snarky – but sometime search “Putin lighting candles”.
Have our hierarchs spoken up? With only a few exceptions (see several paragraphs below) No, they have not. Certainly there are many traditional jurisdictional and political concerns involved here. But this is a moral issue. Ukraine has been invaded. Innocent men, women and children are dying. Most of our hierarchs have simply said they hope for an end to hostilities, without even mentioning who started the war.
Or worse (and I sincerely hope the following report is in error): “The Patriarch of Antioch welcomed [Russian] Archimandrite Philip Vsevolodovich Vasiltsev, expressing the depth of the historical relation that unites the Russian and Antiochian Churches, and conveyed to him all feelings of love and appreciation for His Holiness Patriarch KirilI.” (The Orthodox Times, June 28, 2022)
Patriarch Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America (formerly under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow) finally and bravely edged up to saying something, though without mentioning Patriarch Kyrill by name: “When anyone attempts to justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine by pointing to Western decadence, they are only proving their own moral irrelevance.” (Ryan Bauer: “How Russia’s War in Ukraine has impacted its Christian Image”, The Moscow Times, Nov 16 2022)
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has opposed the war from its beginning, and finally lost patience with Patriarch Kirill: “If it is required to even sacrifice his throne, and tell Putin, Mr. President, I cannot agree with you, I resign, I leave, and if he puts him in jail – I don’t know what President Putin would do if the Patriarch reacted to his plans. But that is what we, the other Primates, would expect.” (The Orthodox Times, Interview with journalist George Kouvaras, May 25, 2022)
Elpidophoros, the Greek Archbishop of America, has written: “Violence is a sin in perfect contradiction with the vocation for which men and women were created… Therefore, no war can ever be called ‘holy’ nor even ‘just’ in an attempt to rationalize it as morally acceptable. Today’s bloodshed in Ukraine must be set squarely upon the shoulders of Vladimir Putin, who is risking global peace for his own selfish political agenda… How is it possible that such a fratricide is taking place on the Holy Ground of Kyivan Rus’?” (quoted in ekathemerini.com)
In a very strongly worded article,”Have We Hit Rock Bottom?”, Deacon John Chryssavgis (theologian and advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on the environment) * writes:
“There are very few occasions in our lives—critical, pivotal events—that are truly life-shattering. We Orthodox describe them as kairos moments. World War II was one of these. In my lifetime, there was 9/11. Institutions and individuals are defined by such moments. We might recall how the Roman Catholic Church failed to stand up to Mussolini and Hitler; thankfully there was the selflessness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship. Or we might remember the hostility and conspiracy spawned by the attack on the Twin Towers; thankfully there was the selflessness of first responders and sacrifice of those whose lives are memorialized at Ground Zero.
“Among these moments, I would include the invasion of Russia in Ukraine—arguably a life-changing moment for the autocephalous churches that comprise global Orthodox Christianity…
” And just as I thought that Orthodox bishops could stoop no lower, Patriarch Kirill dug his primatial staff deeper and exacerbated his ideological immorality, looking every inch the ‘Putin altar boy’ that Pope Francis warned him about. How embarrassing for us all that Patriarch Kirill is now being considered for EU and US sanctions as a Putin oligarch.”…. “Once again, we are hopelessly and shamelessly on the wrong side of history”.
I think the whole article is well worth reading. Search “Have We Hit Rock Bottom?” in either “Public Orthodoxy, May 11, 2022” or in “The Moscow Times”.
2 The Effect of the Ukraine War on the Orthodox Church’s life and mission
We Orthodox pride ourselves on being completely unified in Faith and Worship – which is true, thanks to God (not to us). However, should we be satisfied with that? As I recall, Saint Paul wrote something about how if we have all faith “but have not love, we are nothing.”
Here we are today: Russia, the country in the world with the most Eastern Orthodox members (c 100 million) is making war against Ukraine, the country with the second highest number of Orthodox (c 30 million). *
- The total number of Eastern Orthodox in the world is about 220 million.
The Russian Orthodox Church has removed itself (and it’s “allies”) from Eucharistic union with the remainder of us Orthodox. This means that In Milwaukee today I cannot receive rhe Eucharist at three other Orthodox churches (Serbian, Russian). I wrote a few years ago that this Eucharistic schism would be a passing “kerfuffle”. I was wrong. So much distrust and hostility have grown out of this disturbance that I think we will be a long time getting back together again. Surely I will not live to see it.
Consider how this war affects our Orthodox outreach to the world. Or to put it another way, how do we appear now to outsiders? If any in this world are seeking truth and are looking at Holy Orthodoxy, they now see Orthodox countries at war (this time not a war of words but of missiles and bombs) and with the Orthodox invaders even calling it a holy war! and with most Orthodox leaders in the world “passing by on the other side”.
Let me speak only for myself here: Please understand that I am a loyal member of the Holy Orthodox Church. After 33 years here, I believe the Orthodox Faith with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, and I thank God and Saint Nicholas for bringing me here.
However, If this war had been going on 37 years ago when I began seriously looking at Orthodoxy, I can tell you what my first reaction would have been: It would have been “No way! I don’t want to get mixed up with that crowd. If I want division and disunity and argument, I’ll stay where I am. At least Anglicans fight only with words.”
Enough with men! Next Week we’ll honor a brilliant strong young woman: Saint Katherine of Alexandria.
Week after Next: Santa Claus was Greek.