Christian leaders must unite in calling Moscow patriarch to account on Ukraine

Kirill remains intractable despite considerable backlash against his support for war

By Maria Jansson

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia refuses to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, despite repeated calls for him to do so. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty

Christian churches have from time immemorial colluded with political ambition and expansionism, be that imperialist, nationalist or economic, providing each with ideological justification, and benefiting in social leverage in return.

This phenomenon has reared its ugly head again in the person of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, leader of 110 million Russian Orthodox Christians and who has been an ardent supporter of Vladimir Putin since he came to power in 2006.

Kirill refuses to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, despite repeated calls for him to do so from Pope Francis, other Orthodox Church leaders and more recently from the World Council of Churches.

Putin’s election as president of Russia for the third time in 2012 was described by Kirill as a “miracle of God”. Allegedly having worked for the KGB in his early career, as did Putin, Kirill shares his expansionist ambitions.

Russkiy Mir (Russian World), is a nationalist ideology, developed over the last 20 years, which views Ukraine, BelarusMoldova, in fact all Russian-speaking nations, as part of the Russian world.

In this schema, Ukraine is not viewed as a sovereign nation. The Russkiy Mir Foundation was set up by Putin to further the Russian language and culture at home and abroad.

For Kirill, its anti-West ideology suited his position that western consumerist society, with its concomitant moral depravity best epitomised in a “gay pride parade”, amounted to a spiritual threat.

Both he and Putin had a certain appeal for the Christian far right, especially in the United States. For Putin, Russian Orthodoxy served as a symbol and instrument of national identity, which extends far beyond national borders. Within this world view, the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine are presented as “liberation” from the threat of western influence.