Christianity has often sucked up to power. Even in these days of generally more enlightened religion, there are still Christian leaders who will kiss the king’s ring in order to advance the interests of the church, or at least of the church leadership.
There is no better example than the Grand Poobah of Russian Christianity, Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev, better known as Kirill I of Moscow, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’.
Days before the war, Putin claimed “Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.” Kirill followed with a sermon in which he emphasized the God-given unity of Ukraine and Russia and denounced the “evil forces” in Ukraine that would destroy this unity. In effect, they were declaring a holy war.
The two leaders share a vision. Both believe in a “Russkiy mir” (Russian world) which includes all Russian speakers and is grounded in orthodoxy. Both see the war as part of a culture clash between this world and Western liberal values, exemplified by expressions of gay pride. Both seemed obsessed by the latter.
Kirill was also, according to material from the Soviet archives, like Putin a KGB agent, not a mere informer but an active agent.
Both have also profited materially from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin is reputed to be worth billions. Kirrill, too, may be very rich. After the empire fell, the Russian church gained the right to import duty-free alcohol and tobacco. The sale of these two mildly unchristian products was apparently immensely profitable.
One might wonder how the patriarch squares his warmongering with the teachings of the gentle Jesus he is supposed to represent on this earth. Not much room in this Christian leader’s philosophy for any of that Jesus stuff, for turning the other cheek or loving your enemy.
Fortunately such sentiments have not been abandoned by many of Kirril’s colleagues. After the conquest of the Crimea, many of Ukraine’s Orthodox Christians declared independence from the Moscow Patriarchate. One Ukrainian Orthodox leader has gone so far as to liken Putin to the antiChrist, calling him today’s Hitler, not a bad analogy. Only days ago, A Russian Orthodox church in Amsterdam announced it will split from Moscow. More than 280 Russian Orthodox priests and church officials from around the world have signed an open letter expressing opposition to the invasion, stating ominously that “eternal torment” awaits those who gave “murderous orders.” Pope Francis has condemned the war, pleading “In the name of God, I ask you: stop this massacre.”
But Putin and Kirill remain unfazed. The two old homophobes no doubt picture themselves strolling arm in arm, sharing the retrograde power to oppress and exploit the Russian masses as God willed, making Russia great again in the pattern of its medieval past.