We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Betrayal of God by Church and State

The Betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot

The Betrayal of God by Church and State

by R.E. Slater

“For me, Russia is the guardian of
Christian values.” - quote from a
Russian Orthodox Leader

It is curious that so many traditional bible commentators have added unloving words and deeds to a God of love.

Not only so, but we find these same kind of statements about God's violence over and over again in the bible throughout the Old and New Testament books and in large biblical passages speaking to God's judgments and wrath.

Further, wishing to be suitably "biblical," the American evangelical church echoes these same passages of the bible declaring "the violence of the God of old" even as it actively participates in the dismantling of American civil democracy. In place of the United State's Bill of Rights and the American Constitution today's conservative Christian religionists seek to replace these legal documents with their own less qualified, and unloving, religious drafts.

Worse, such radical American groups have become voices for Russia's Putin, for global conservative Church Dominionism, and for White Christian Nationalism, as led by the immoral and failed presidency of Trump, his fascist GOP party members, and White supremacist groups found throughout America.

So then, we might ask, "Why is it Christians acknowledge 'God as love' but then divert this truth about God's holy personage for an idol made in man's own violent image?

It is hard to charge the Christian church with its misplaced beliefs about God if it is simply repeating biblical writer's claims in the bible of an unloving God made in their own ancient, religious and cultural, assessments of God.

But where have these errant beliefs about God gotten religious man?

After 4000+ years of preaching of a violent God might we ask just where has all this violent God-talk gotten us?

Nowhere... absolutely nowhere...

More pain... more suffering...

More inequity... more injustice...

Just more church-sanctioned violence begetting more and more brutish Christian violence used by religious zealots to purge unwanteds from their lands so to steal their oil, farms, and water resources including their faith adherents.

Our most recent example of the "Church gone bad" (besides the aforementioned Trumpian evangelicalism of America) is Komrade Putin's genocidal massacre of Ukraine under the guise of impugning Nazism to the Ukrainians. All the while being encouraged by a thoroughly corrupt and power-hungry Russian Orthodoxy urging Putin forward by-right-and-by-might 

So my question stands... what comes of violence... but even more violence? Both by the State and by religion, each together united in purpose to wield Russian Imperialism and Russian doctrinal dominionism over a civilly free and sovereign populace such as the Ukrainians.

Moreover, what comes of a God of violence but endless ages of violence committed in God's name however immorally and religiously justified?

And how can a God of love be taught when so much scripture in the bible speaks to God's violence and wrath? 

Let me suggest this small observation:

"Perhaps Jesus came to show the Jewish priesthood just how wrong their unloving doctrines of God really were? That they were making the same error - now carried to extremes in today's postmodernity era - within their first century sanctimonious religious creeds and confessions even as their wicked predecessors had done before them... albeit the empires of Assyria, Babylon, and later, Persia and Rome."

Ironic isn't it?

That the God of love is violently crucified by an unloving faith of religious zealots protesting their own self-rightness by their very acts of religious paganism?

In contrast, Jesus showed love, care and compassion to all who came to Him, all-the-while strongly pronouncing anathema upon the entire unloving Jewish religious system (and upon all future religious systems built on sin and evil)....

"And what did Jesus' intolerance for unloving creeds and behaviour get Him?" The very same religious and cultural violence He had preached against....

And we wonder today WHY the Christian church is so full of self-righteous anger and violence within its piestic halls and chambers?

If anything, the church acts no differently than has its religious progenitors over the aeons before it:

Like the prophets of old who testified to man's ignoble end by violence and sword, so too may we say, "Yeah, verily, it will be so." 
Violence begets violence. Bloodshed and war begets hatred and evil. What is sowed shall be reaped a hundredfold.

If we chose to live by the sword we will die by the sword. And in Putin's case - who commits no less crimes than his ignoble line of Russian despots before him - Putin is murdering innocents in the name of God and the church showing himself and his religious beliefs to be as vain and empty as all other ways of religious men and their heinous institutions: "Unrepentent, violent, evil."

The blood of the innocent of this world, who are trying to live by love, cries out from the earth for justice and an end to violence. 
Violence is not God ordained nor God inhabited. But love is.... 
Know this, God is a God of love, goodness, and justice. Stop impugning God for what God is not. And start becoming what God is. This is the betrayal of God by man both by church and state.

R.E. Slater
April 30, 2022

* * * * * * * *

Russian President Vladimir Putin is using religion for political purposes, and Patriarch
Kirill has instrumentalized the invasion for Russian Orthodoxy’s purposes. | Photograph
by Mikhail Svetlov / Getty

The Long Holy War Behind
Putin’s Political War in Ukraine

by Paul Elie
April 21, 2022

Eastern Orthodox and Catholic leaders in the U.S. weigh in
on the Russian invasion—and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin and
Orthodox Patriarch Kirill attend a ceremony together.

In the eight weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, the war there has been interpreted in terms that are familiar from previous wars—terms that often seem to be in contradiction with one another. It is a proxy war, and it is a fight for national self-determination. It is a reprise of the Cold War, and a reset of Yalta. It is an inevitable consequence of nato expansion, and an unprovoked act of aggression by an autocrat bent on reclaiming a “greater” Russian unity that he thinks was taken by Western forces of globalization and political integration. All those ways of seeing the war are apt, but another familiar interpretation is pertinent, too. This is the view of Ukraine as a religious hot spot, where competing claims to a holy city, Kyiv, can be traced back hundreds of years, and where religious commitments and rivalries are deeply enmeshed in the society.

Since March 6th, when Kirill, the patriarch of Moscow and primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, gave an incendiary homily likening Russia’s invasion to a culture war against the West, plenty of questions have been asked about his role and his motives. Is he a tool of Vladimir Putin or Putin’s spiritual adviser? Is his vision of “Russky Mir” (“Russian World”) the basis for Putin’s war or just a rhetorical glaze applied to it? How can a religious leader with any integrity support so brutal a war, and might another leader—Pope Francis, with whom Kirill entered into dialogue in 2016—persuade him to withdraw his support and urge Putin to stand down?

Leaders of religious communities in the U.S. with histories in the region have some answers. Throughout Lent—the penitential season prior to Easter, which for the Orthodox is this Sunday—Ukrainian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops, metropolitans, clergy, and scholars have been consumed with the issues of the war. At conferences, on Zoom, and on Public Orthodoxy, a Web site hosted by the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, they have engaged in arguments that are often abstruse, but the underlying feeling is simple and shared: Anyone paying attention should have seen this coming. At a conference at Georgetown University, Metropolitan Borys Gudziak, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic archbishop based in Philadelphia, who also serves as the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University, in Lviv, said, “There are so many precedents, and there are so many trends, that were under way for such a long time.” He listed several long-term developments that he saw as having enabled an eventual Russian invasion, from the lack of any Nuremberg-like reckoning with the evils of Soviet Communism to the personal friendships that Western politicians of all stripes have cultivated with Putin. “There are so many explicit expressions of intention that our surprise is actually a result of us not wanting to hear—not hearing,” he said.

Last week, on Fox News, George Demacopoulos, a theologian at Fordham who has been honored as an archon—a distinguished Christian—by Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, declared that “Putin is an instrumentalizer of religion.” Demacopoulos meant that, rather than looking to religion as a guide to action, Putin (who is Russian Orthodox) attacked Ukraine and then invoked Christianity to justify the invasion as an act of holy war. At a March 18th rally in Moscow, Putin paraphrased from the Gospel of John to exhort the self-sacrifice that his war against “genocide” in Ukraine would require of many Russians: “And this is where the words from the Scriptures come to my mind: ‘There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends.’ ”

There’s no question that Putin is using religion for political purposes, yet it is also true that Kirill has instrumentalized the invasion for Russian Orthodoxy’s purposes. Eastern Orthodox and Catholic leaders in this country thought it improbable that Kirill would stand back from this war, because they see the war as an extension of the Russian Orthodox Church’s efforts in Ukraine. For two decades, the R.O.C. has used state money and propaganda to assert itself in that country. Through his full-throated support for the war for a greater Russia, these leaders say, Kirill is militating against their own transnational Orthodox project, which has been under way since the fall of Communism.

Ukraine is where, more than a thousand years ago, a warrior prince took up Christianity to marry a daughter of the patriarch of Constantinople, and then compelled thousands of others to convert as he had. The conversion of St. Vladimir—also known as St. Volodymyr—is claimed as the foundational act of Christianity in the region, to which both Russian Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy in Ukraine trace their roots, and Ukraine has been religiously controverted territory ever since. José Casanova, a sociologist of religion at Georgetown, with Ukrainian family ties, sets out the modern religious history of the country in a recent essay. The historic center of Orthodoxy is Constantinople—present-day Istanbul—and the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople is recognized by other patriarchs (there are nine in all) as primus inter pares, or first among equals. In the nineteenth century, national churches that were allied with Constantinople but autocephalous (each with its own head) became “the norm throughout the Orthodox world,” Casanova writes, but Ukraine, which had not gained national sovereignty, remained mainly Orthodox but dividedly so, with the west in the sphere of Constantinople and the east in that of Moscow, due in part to a grant of authority that the ecumenical patriarch gave to the Moscow patriarch in 1686—and which has been contested repeatedly since then.

After the Russian Revolution, in 1917, the U.S.S.R. suppressed all churches. When Ukraine declared independence, as the Soviet Union dissolved, in 1991, and religion was freely permitted in civil society again, many Ukrainians sought to worship in churches with local or national ties rather than in those with ties to Moscow, and the new nation claimed many formerly Russian Orthodox churches as its own. In response, the renewed Russian Orthodox Church—then led by Patriarch Alexy II, with Kirill as its director of external relations—sought to reassert itself in Ukraine, using state funds to build several thousand new churches there. The R.O.C. wound up as the Orthodox church with the most property but the fewest adherents; Ukraine, a country with thirty-five million Orthodox Christians, was still without an autocephalous church.

As Russia’s 2014 occupation of parts of the Donbas and annexation of Crimea—regions where Russian ethnicity and Orthodoxy are robust—escalated the Russia-Ukraine fight, the conflict in Ukraine between Russian and Eastern Orthodoxy was also growing. Bartholomew I had attended Pope Francis’s inauguration in Rome, in 2013, becoming the first ecumenical patriarch ever to attend that papal event. Then, in 2015, his ideas were featured in the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, “Laudato si’,” auguring an alliance of the two leaders and their churches on “care for our common home.” Meanwhile, a pan-Orthodox council was being planned for 2016, and Bartholomew signalled an intention to eventually grant autocephaly to the church in Ukraine, aware that Kirill—now the patriarch of Moscow—would see the act as an encroachment on R.O.C. territory.

Kirill, too, was strategizing. Capping two decades of negotiations between Rome and Moscow, he met with Francis—the first such meeting in a thousand years—in Havana, and saw to it that their joint declaration referred to plans for a more independent Ukrainian church as a “schism” violating “canonical norms”—a clear rebuke of Bartholomew. And Kirill deepened long-standing relationships with Christian fundamentalists from the United States, making common cause with them on issues of gender and sexuality, especially. When the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church was held on the island of Crete in July, 2016, the R.O.C., along with a number of other national churches, did not participate. After the council, several dozen Eastern Orthodox leaders who had attended drafted a hundred-and-ten-page document framing a common “social ethos” in terms associated with the West—denouncing nationalism and racism, and affirming liberal democratic ideals of freedom and equality. “What we’re seeing on full display” in the R.O.C.’s support for Putin “is a kind of rejection” of that ethos, “a kind of religious nationalism that in many ways is cancelling out the other,” Aristotle Papanikolaou, an Orthodox theologian at Fordham, who helped draft the document, said at the Georgetown conference. “Regardless of how the other Orthodox churches see it, it’s out there, and thank God it’s out there, because it’s at least a prophetic witness for a different way of thinking and living the Orthodox faith.” Finally, in December, 2018, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was established at the St. Sophia Cathedral, in Kyiv. The next month, Bartholomew recognized it. Kirill declared the new church illegitimate and accused Bartholomew of “violating all rules.”

All this maneuvering, José Casanova writes, has resulted in “three competing ‘national’ churches”: one loyal to the ecumenical patriarch; one loyal to the Moscow patriarch; and a third, much smaller one that is loyal to the Pope. In polls conducted in 2019 and 2021, between a third and just over half of Ukrainians identified with the new church, and between a fifth and a quarter with the Moscow-allied church; others identified as “simply Orthodox,” as Ukrainian Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, or Muslims, or claimed no religion. Yet the striking element was how well all these communities (the Russian Orthodox excepted) were working together. Given Russian Orthodoxy’s long sway over Ukraine and the historic pattern of religion in the region—a dominant state-allied church in each country, and a limited presence for other churches and other faiths—the religiously diverse post-Communist Ukraine, Casanova says, was a “sociological miracle.”

After the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s religious diversity has been subsumed into national unity. Whatever the war’s outcome, the biggest loser, in religious terms, will almost certainly be the Russian Orthodox Church. Last month, nearly three hundred R.O.C. priests and deacons signed an open letter in which they denounced the “fratricidal war in Ukraine” and called for an “immediate ceasefire.” (Those church leaders, however, are a tiny minority of the forty thousand clerics in the R.O.C.) Ukrainians who worshipped in churches tied to Moscow may sour on a religious leader who has lent holy purpose to Russia’s bombing of their country and its killing of their neighbors, and whose stature has been diminished forever by those acts. During services in Moscow on April 10th, Kirill gave a long discourse on the exercise of power, and concluded with a prayer: “May the Lord help us all in this difficult time for our Fatherland to unite, including around the authorities,” in order to “have true solidarity and the ability to repel external and internal enemies” for the sake of “goodness, truth, and love.”

But, if it’s clear that Kirill is not going to waver in his support of Putin, it is less clear what his Eastern Orthodox counterparts can do about it. They have encouraged the ouster of the R.O.C. from the World Council of Churches, and lauded the suspension of Kirill’s deputy, Metropolitan Hilarion, from the theology faculty at the University of Fribourg. Some have openly supported Ukraine’s effort to defend itself militarily and have spoken of it in terms not unlike those that Putin used last month: as a Christ-like act, a sacrifice, as Borys Gudziak has said, “for something that is greater than their very lives.” Mostly, though, they have been forced to look on from a distance, having no more power to stop the carnage than seemingly anyone else.


* * * * * * * *

Vladimir Putin with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox
Church, in 2020. (Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin Pool/Sputnik/Reuters)

How Putin’s invasion became
a holy war for Russia

by Jack Jenkins
March 21, 2022

Two days before he launched a bloody invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin sat alone in front of a camera and delivered a rambling hour-long address. It outlined the ideological justification for what would ultimately become his “special military action” in Ukraine — an invasion that, as far as Putin was concerned, had more than a little to do with religion.

“Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” he said.

Two days later, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, spoke to military leaders and published a statement in honor of Defender of the Fatherland Day. The cleric congratulated Putin for his “high and responsible service to the people of Russia,” declared that the Russian Orthodox Church has “always striven to make a significant contribution to the patriotic education of compatriots,” and lauded military service as “an active manifestation of evangelical love for neighbors.” Within hours, bombs began to rain down on Ukraine.

This religious ramp-up to war was the culmination of a decade-long effort to wrap Russia’s geopolitical ambitions in faith — specifically, the flowing vestments of the Russian Orthodox Church. Fusing religion, nationalism, a defense of conservative values that likens same-sex marriage to Nazism, and a version of history that seeks to define Ukraine and other nearby nations as mere subsets of a greater “Russkiy mir,” or Russian world, the partnership of Putin and Kirill laid the ideological and theological groundwork for the invasion.

But as explosions continue to rock Ukraine, some in the church are beginning to resist the religious appeals of Putin and Kirill, pushing back on efforts to recast naked Russian aggression as something that sounds a whole lot like a holy war.

The partnership of Putin, 69, and Kirill, 75, began in about 2012, when the politician was reelected for a third presidential term. It was then that Putin began embracing the Russian Orthodox Church — not necessarily as a point of personal conversion so much as a mechanism for political gain, something foreign policy experts often call “soft power.”

The relationship between the president and the prelate escalated rapidly. Kirill, allegedly a former KGB staffer like Putin, hailed the president’s leadership of the Russian Federation as a “miracle of God.” Meanwhile, Putin worked to frame Russia as a defender of conservative Christian values, which usually meant opposing abortion, feminism and LGBTQ rights. The pitch proved popular among a broad swath of conservative Christian leaders, including prominent voices within the American religious right: In February 2014, evangelist Franklin Graham offered cautious praise for Putin in an editorial for Decision magazine, celebrating the Russian president’s support for a law barring dissemination of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” — a statute which, activists argued, effectively banned children from accessing media that presents LGBTQ identities and relationships in a positive or normalizing light. Graham would travel the next year to Russia, where he met with both Kirill and Putin, and told local media that “millions of Americans would like [Putin] to come and run for president of the United States.”

By 2017, Politico was already describing Russia as “the leader of the global Christian right.”

The impact of this religious diplomacy was even greater in Eastern European nations that once belonged to the Soviet Union, where the Russian Orthodox Church and its allies still enjoy outsize influence. When Moldova sought stronger ties with Europe, Orthodox clerics operating underneath the Moscow Patriarchate campaigned against the move, with one bishop telling the New York Times in 2016, “For me, Russia is the guardian of Christian values.” Things were similar in Montenegro, where the Serbian Orthodox Church has a close relationship with the Russian patriarchate; priests there advocated against the nation’s plans to join NATO, and last year Russian Orthodox leaders lambasted Montenegro’s leaders for supporting “eurointegration.”

Kirill has long perpetuated a version of history that insists many countries that made up the former Soviet Union are one people with a common religious origin: namely, the 10th-century baptism of Prince Vladimir I of Kiev, known as St. Vladimir. It’s often paired with a geopolitical (and geo-religious) vision that hundreds of Orthodox theologians and scholars recently decried as a heresy: a “transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world.”

It’s a Russian world with Moscow as its political center, Kyiv as the spiritual heart, and Kirill as its religious leader.

“May God grant that the Moscow Patriarchate, which unites us not on the political level, not on the economic, but the spiritual level, might be preserved to take pastoral care of all the ethnoses united in the great historical Rus,’ ” Kirill said in 2018.

But Russia’s religious and political arguments hit a wall in Ukraine, where protests — aided, in some instances, by Orthodox clerics — thrust off a pro-Russian government in 2013 and 2014, triggering Putin’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Frustration with Russia boiled over into the religious realm, exacerbating an existing divide between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Constantinople: In 2018, many of Ukraine’s Orthodox Christians declared independence from the Moscow Patriarchate. Kirill refused to acknowledge the new body, but the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, recognized it. So dangerous was this schism to Russia’s interests that Kremlin-linked hackers responded by reportedly infiltrating the email accounts of Bartholomew’s aides.

And then came 2022, when soft power morphed into support for outright war in Ukraine. Shortly after the invasion began, Kirill issued a statement making a vague call for peace and asking all parties to limit civilian casualties. But Archbishop Daniel, head of Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, which is loyal to Kyiv, decried the statement as the words of a “religious politician” and rejected Kirill’s appeal to a “common centuries-old history” rooted in St. Vladimir’s baptism.

“To say that we share the same ethnic background and what have you — I think it’s a mistake,” Daniel said. “It’s an incorrect statement. And I wish the religious leaders would correct that terminology [when Kirill is] utilizing it.”

Kirill’s rhetoric has only escalated in the days since. He referred to Russia’s opponents in Ukraine as “evil forces,” and delivered a sermon on March 6 in which he suggested the invasion was part of a larger “metaphysical” struggle against immoral Western (read: liberal) values.

“Today there is a test for the loyalty to this new world order, a kind of pass to that ‘happy’ world, the world of excess consumption, the world of false ‘freedom,’ ” Kirill said. “Do you know what this test is? The test is very simple and at the same time terrible — it is the gay pride parade.”

It’s a distillation of an argument Kirill has pushed for years, contrasting Western values with those of the purported Russian world. For Kirill, this is often rooted in anti-LGBTQ sentiment: He has suggested that acceptance of same-sex marriage is a “dangerous sign of the apocalypse,” and once blamed the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group on efforts to escape “godless” Western societies that embrace gay pride parades.

As for his take on the ongoing conflict, Kirill reportedly has presented an image of the Virgin Mary to Viktor Zolotov, leader of the Russian national guard.

“Let this image inspire young soldiers who take the oath, who embark on the path of defending the Fatherland,” Kirill said.

But after years of wielding faith as a tool for accruing power, Kirill’s support for the war — tacit or otherwise — may end up costing him influence this go-round. To be sure, some of the pushback has come from expected corners: Kirill’s rhetoric triggered an immediate response from Orthodox Christians whose leadership is based in Kyiv, with one cleric dismissing Kirill as “discredited” and likening Putin to the Antichrist.

Yet calls for change are also coming from inside the manse. Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev, who oversees the Russian Orthodox faithful in Ukraine, immediately decried the invasion as “a disaster” and a “repetition of the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother out of envy.” Many of his priests in the country have since stopped commemorating Kirill during worship, and some even asked Onuphry to entertain breaking away from the Russian Orthodox Church — much to the chagrin of the patriarchate.

Outside Ukraine, more than 280 Russian Orthodox priests — most of whom operate within Russia — recently signed a petition condemning the “fratricidal” invasion and emphasizing Ukraine’s right to self-determination. One of the signers was later arrested in Russia after he preached a sermon criticizing the war. Authorities reportedly charged him with “discrediting the use of the Armed Forces.”

Meanwhile, the archbishop of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe has publicly implored Kirill to raise his voice with Russian authorities against the “monstrous and senseless war.” He also rejected the characterization of the conflict as a “metaphysical” battle.

“With all the respect that is due to you, and from which I do not depart, but also with infinite pain, I must bring to your attention that I cannot subscribe to such a reading of the Gospel,” read the archbishop’s letter.

And at least one Russian Orthodox church in Amsterdam has made moves to leave the church because of Kirill’s stance on Ukraine, hoping to affiliate with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. This despite an intimidating visit from a Russian archbishop: The cleric, who arrived in a car from the Russian Embassy, told priests that the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Foreign Ministry were keeping an eye on their church.

“We cannot go back on our decision to distance ourselves from Patriarch Kirill,” read a statement from the church’s priests. “Our consciences will not allow that.”

It remains to be seen whether these and other efforts will push Kirill to deviate from years of operating in lockstep with Putin. The Russian president’s drive to continue the war remains strong, as does his embrace of religious rhetoric: At a rally Friday, Putin praised Russia’s troops in a way that echoed Kirill and paraphrased the Bible, saying, “There is no greater love than giving up one’s soul for one’s friends.”

But religious pressure on Kirill doesn’t appear to be letting up either. When Pope Francis held a meeting with Kirill last week to discuss the conflict, he made a point of warning against trying to justify armed invasion, expansion or empire with a Christian cross — something the Catholic Church knows something about.

“Once upon a time there was also talk in our churches of holy war or just war,” Francis told Kirill, according to the Vatican press office. “Today we cannot speak like this.”

— Religion News Service