Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, many religious leaders have strongly condemned this « special military operation » led by Moscow, with one exception: Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. A longtime ally of Vladimir Putin, Kirill has publicly aligned himself with his troops, castigating the West and the " forces of evil ranged against Russia in a conflict not only military but metaphysical ».
Such remarks, along with Kirill's apparent deafness to calls to persuade Putin to end the war in Ukraine, have revived troubling questions about the Muscovite patriarch's relationship with state power.. The question is not new: it is widely known that his entire career since the communist era has been intimately linked to the Kremlin. In a way, this should come as no surprise: until 1991 the Moscow Patriarchate – reorganized by Stalin in 1943 – operated under the direct supervision of the state, first of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, then of the religious affairs of the USSR.
According to the article « The Mikhailov Files » by researcher Felix Corley, writing in 2018 from archival documents, Kirill was already a KGB agent in 1972, at the age of 25 (code name « Mikhailov "). Subsequently, as the representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow to the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Kirill was subordinate to the KGB in Leningrad; his tasks included encouraging ecclesiastical figures in Central and Eastern Europe to adopt positions loyal to the Soviet state.
Heading the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate from 1989, Kirill's career took another turn. It was considerably enriched in the post-communist period through various activities which, according to Forbes, included notably lucrative imports and resales of alcohol and tobacco (made possible by the Church's tax-exempt status), including a highly profitable cigarette business with iraq at the time of the American trade embargo. In 2006, 3 years before his appointment as Patriarch, Kirill's personal fortune was estimated at $4 billion.
At the institutional level, one could say that the current controversy around Kirill has only heightened the tensions within Orthodoxy that were already running high. when Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople decided to grant the " tomos of autocephaly (independence) to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2019, ending 300 years of Russian church jurisdiction. The immediate condemnation by Bartholomew of the invasion of Ukraine is therefore only a confirmation of its break with Moscow. However, opposition to Kirill is not limited to the Independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but also stems from the Moscow Patriarchate itself, Metropolitan Onuphrius of kyiv also calling the war " repetition of Cain's sin without possible justification. On April 10, Archpriest Andrei Pinchuk posted online a texts signed by 190 ecclesiastical figures demanding that Patriarch Kirill be brought before a Church court and stripped of his patriarchal authority, citing as a precedent the case of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in 1666. The letter appeals in particular to a very negative evaluation by 500 orthodox scholars of the doctrine of russian world (that Ukrainians and Belarusians are Russians even without knowing it), calling it a serious theological drift.
Yet Patriarch Kirill clearly feels that Heaven is on his side. On March 13, he gave his blessing to Viktor Zolotov, commander-in-chief of the Russian National Guard, also gifting him with an icon of the Virgin Mary which, according to Zolotov, " will hasten our victory " against the " nazis " in Ukraine. For many faithful, such an invocation of religious images to sanctify a military cause would not only be blasphemous, but also a double-edged sword. For the previous Sunday, as noted the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, another famous icon of “ Mary who softens evil hearts ", had been brought by soldiers to the main church of the Russian armed forces and from it had mysteriously emanated a red liquid, similar to blood. If for some the interpretation of such phenomena – scientifically unexplained – as celestial signs is superstition, the Orthodox world takes them very seriously. Since blood would be already appeared on the icon in question during the disaster of the Kursk submarine in 2000 or the massacre of the Beslan hostages in 2004, it is logical that believers perceived this new outpouring as a cry of lamentation, presaging a tragedy rather than the blessing and approval of a murderous war. Patriarch Kirill did not comment on the incident.
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