By Paul Goble
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is by personal conviction a Russian nationalist who “professes that kind of Russian fascism which was close to part of the Russian emigration in the 1920s and 1930s and is reflected in the works of Ivan Ilin,” Nikolay Mitrokhin says.
But despite that, the specialist on Russian Orthodoxy at Bremen University says, he and his church have been remarkably careful in their words about Putin’s war in Ukraine. Neither he nor the ROC MP’s Synod has spoken “direct words of support for the war or given it their official blessing” as such (graniru.org/Society/Religion/m.285145.html).
During the first month of the conflict, Kirill and his church leadership kept silent about the conflict, apparently because in the patriarch’s view, this was “the best way to avoid getting into a dispute with the authorities of the Russian Federation and Ukraine,” both of whom are important to the Russian church.
It was not until May 4, during a telephone conversation with Pope Francis that Kirill spoke in support of the Kremlin’s position on the Donbass and “partially justified Putin’s rhetoric about the causes of the war. But even in this case, it is incorrect to say that he ‘blessed the war in the Donbass,’” as many have asserted.
And even if he had, that by itself would not have represented the official position of the ROC MP. Only the Holy Synod or an assembly of the highest church leaders can do that; and those bodies have remained silent although individual churchmen have spoken out in support of the Russian side.
This needs to be remembered, Mitrokhin says, in evaluating calls to bring Kirill to trial for violating his religious affiliation or to ban the Russian church in Ukraine. The situation is at a minimum more complicated than his opponents and those who are against the UOC MP typically present the case.