The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Patriarch of Moscow have had a video conference in which they both agreed on the need for disciples of Jesus to be peacemakers, and for Russia and Ukraine “to achieve a lasting peace based on justice as soon as possible”. We are told:
During the conversation, Archbishop Justin Welby expressed his grave concern about the war in Ukraine which he said is a great tragedy. He stressed the need for an end to the violence in Ukraine and said that war and violence is never an answer. The Archbishop said we need to find ways to live as neighbours in Europe without the aggression and human suffering which have been too much part of our life and history.
It’s a summary, of course, and we are given no indication of how His Holiness responded to His Grace, but it’s all rather anodyne, isn’t it, if not rather lacking? When is war not ‘concerning’? When is not a ‘tragedy’? Setting aside the apparent abrogation of the Just War theory (if it is “never an answer”, how does a nation restore justice if it is invaded?), where is Archbishop Justin’s robustness of the necessary (you’d have thought) challenge to the fact that His Holiness not only supports the war and justifies the violence, but believes it to be God’s will that Ukraine be defeated because Russia’s opponents are “the forces of evil“?
The website of the Moscow Patriarchate gives a little more detail. Both sides acknowledged the “crisis in Ukraine”, but then we are told:
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill set forth in detail the stand taken by the Russian Orthodox Church on the developments since 2014. They dealt with the humanitarian aspect of the crisis, including the church aid to refugees. His Holiness in particular stressed that each person should have the right to freely confess their faith and speak their mother tongue without being subjected to political persecution for it.
This is an allusion to his dissatisfaction with the enduring Kyiv-Moscow Orthodox schism, and a desire to restore the historic ecclesial authority to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv in the ‘mother tongue’. There have long been inter-parish and wider regional tensions between Ukrainian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox, with both sides appealing to historic nationalism and political patriotism to bolster their ecclesial jurisdictions. Indeed, churches have been demolished, congregations scattered, and individuals persecuted for their Orthodox beliefs. The Patriarch of Moscow believes military intervention is justified to restore the historic ecclesial order and reconcile the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, “who came from one Kievan baptismal font, are united by common faith, common saints and prayers, and share a common historical fate”.
We are told that Archbishop Justin “appealed to His Holiness to join him in speaking for peace in public”, but who can cavil with that in the absence of any understanding that Kirill’s peace is conditional on the reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate, which necessitates the destruction and humiliation of the schismatic Kyiv Patriarchate? Peace will come, he would say, when the enemies of Christ and the “forces of evil” have ceased their moral depravity and repented of their rebellion.
Pope Francis also had a video conference with the Patriarch of Moscow, which appears to confirm the abrogation of the Just War theory. He said, “At one time we also spoke in our churches of holy war or just war. Today we cannot speak like that. The Christian conscience has developed on the importance of peace. The churches are called to contribute to strengthening peace and justice… Wars are always unjust, because the ones who pay are the people of God.”
Like the Archbishop, he doesn’t explain what happens if your nation is invaded by an evil force which destroys your culture, rapes your mothers and kills your babies. If they won’t depart when politely asked, what then is the justifiable last resort if it isn’t to go to war? Can either the Archbishop or the Pope really say to the Ukrainian Orthodox priest, “Lay down your arms”?
Fr Maxim Kapelan is one such priest. “Even though I’m a priest, I have the full moral right to take up arms to defend my people and my family,” he said.
On the war, he says: “There’s no justification for it. We all speak Russian in Kherson. No-one’s ever been discriminated against here. There are no Nazis here. We never asked Russia to save us.”
But nonetheless, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill believes Fr Maxim Kapelan and his family need saving. And this form of ‘saving’ has been clarified by President Putin: it is a ‘cleansing’; a ‘purification’, which Kirill might call atonement or purgation. The spiritual echoes the political: ethnic cleansing is symbiotic with religious cleansing.
The Pope responds: “The Church must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus.”
While Jesus would undoubtedly speak to Kirill of the barbarism of killing children, reminding him of the need to weep with the weeping mothers who cradle tiny corpses in their arms; and of the murder of innocent people, defenceless civilians, bombed as they shelter from the slaughter; and of the tide of humanity now forced to live in a strange land, he wouldn’t stop there.
Yes, he would exhort all to be peacemakers, mindful of the many suffering souls which are made in God’s image, but he might just ask Kirill directly why he hasn’t demanded publicly that Putin cease the violence and repent, on pain of excommunication.
He might ask Kirill why he is offering moral and spiritual justification for this monstrous slaughter and destruction. He might repudiate directly that this war is not “a metaphysical battle”, as Kirill preached on 6th March, and that Russian forces are not “on the side of the light and God’s truth”. He might say that this war is not just a sin, but it is evil; it is satanic madness.
Archbishop: “Your Holiness, you are not calling for peace, though you are claiming to desire it. You preach about the need to restore the ‘sacred borders of Russia’ as though you were blessing a holy war.
Patriarch: Ah, my dear Archbishop, that’s not quite –
Archbishop: You have not said this is an unprovoked and unjustified attack on a sovereign and independent state, and a violation of human rights.
Patriarch: But –
Archbishop: You have not denounced President Putin’s aggressive regime, or exhorted him to repent of his sin. You have not threatened religious sanctions against him, his government or his military leaders. They continue to participate in your Eucharist, and feed on the body and blood of Christ to nourish their murder and barbarism.
Patriarch: There’s a season –
Archbishop: One of our journalists here in the United Kingdom, David Aaronovitch, recently observed something interesting about the lonely courage of standing up to tyranny. “Challenged morally, we fall into three rough camps,” he observed, “the dissident, the silent and the actively complicit. The dissidents are the smallest group, the silent are the largest. The complicit are the worst.”
Patriarch: Your Gra –
Archbishop: Your Holiness, you are an accomplice to evil. You are complicit in this war, and you are the worst.
The patriarch terminates the video conference.
Doesn’t war demand something more than a bit of Anglican ‘good disagreement’?