In the flaming ruins and rubble of Mariupol, dogs are eating people and people are eating dogs. Bloodied corpses line the streets, some covered with dusty sheets for burial shrouds, others just decaying in the half-light of holocaust. Mothers are weeping for their dead children, buried beneath the merciless cruelty of godless invasion. Millions upon millions are trudging through mud and stumbling over concrete and girders to reach safety. But nowhere is safe in Ukraine, where the shelling is incessant, and hypersonic missiles scorch the earth. You can’t stop them falling; they are invincible, each one charged with more terror, murder and bloodshed.
What Christian leader can give bread and wine to someone who is steeped in the blood of innocents, deluded by a vision of holy war and miracles of God which emanate from the mouth of hell?
If Putin were Roman Catholic, Pope Francis would have excommunicated him forthwith. If he were Anglican, there isn’t a bishop or archbishop in the Worldwide Communion who would call him ‘brother’. But the Leader of the Russian Orthodox Church is the supreme spiritual authority in his spiritual space, and global guardian of true Christian values. He believes it to be is vocation to reunite the former Soviet Union and its peoples under the patronage of St Vladimir, as Christ desires the unity of the Church under him. Holy Russia or Holy Rus’ must incorporate Ukraine, of which the spiritual heart is Kyiv, of which Kirill must crown himself the true spiritual leader.
The war in Ukraine transcends blood and sinews: “We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance,” he said just after the ‘Special Military Operation’ was launched. So it is God’s will to restore the spiritual space of ‘Russkiy Mir’. Putin is performing a “high and responsible service to the people of Russia”, Kirill said, greeting him as a “Defender of the Fatherland”. The Russian Orthodox Church supports him in his essential mission: “Today we honor the feat of those who carry out responsible military service, stand guard over the borders of their native country and take care of strengthening its defense capability and national security,” he said, emphasising that Russian military service constitutes “an active manifestation of evangelical love for neighbours”.
“Let this image inspire young soldiers who take the oath, who embark on the path of defending the Fatherland,” Kirill said. So, no, he won’t excommunicate Putin, because the Patriarch and the President are symbiotic in their spiritual discernment: they feed on each other by faith.
But if Kirill won’t excommunicate Putin, perhaps more of his bishops might correct him publicly and rebuke him to his face. Hundreds of Russian Orthodox Priests have signed a petition condemning the “fratricidal” invasion, even going so far as to assert Ukraine’s sovereign right to self-determination. But to date only one bishop has dones so, and he happens to be the Presiding Archbishop of the British Isles in the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe.
A few more of these brave souls, and Kirill might listen, lest the Moscow Patriarchate fragment further into schism and sect. But until the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ is delivered from the powerful delusion of religious nationalism and has his eyes opened to the evil before him, he will not excommunicate Putin. And so the Russian Orthodox Church worldwide bears the mark of Cain, and all who commune with its body are tarnished by the sin of their Patriarch’s blessing up “this brutal and murderous war”.