Armed conflicts are unfortunately an enduring aspect of human existence, according to Patriarch Kirill, the chief bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. Speaking at the religious festival ‘Faith & Word’ in Moscow Region, Kirill acknowledged that war is part of the inherently flawed nature of humanity. However, he also emphasized the importance of striving to minimize the harm and suffering caused by these hostilities.
Kirill’s statement came at a time when various conflicts are ongoing around the world, including the ongoing tensions between Moscow and Kiev, as well as the escalating violence between Israel and the Gaza-based Palestinian Hamas militant group. In light of these conflicts, the patriarch stressed the need for the international community to come together and work towards averting or mitigating the consequences of war.
The Russian Orthodox Church leader also highlighted the particular responsibility of peoples who share the same faith and beliefs. In this context, he specifically mentioned the Russians and Ukrainians, whose prolonged conflict has deep historical and cultural roots. Kirill asserted that these two peoples should remember their common origins, as they “come from a single baptismal font.” Despite the current animosities, he urged them to seek reconciliation and understanding.
Kirill’s speech coincided with the Ukrainian parliament’s approval, in the first reading, of a bill that aims to effectively ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) due to its ties to Moscow. The bill, known as 8371, targets any religious organization with links to Russia. The proponents of the bill argue that it is necessary to protect Ukrainian citizens’ right to freedom of religion and worldviews as guaranteed by the country’s constitution.
The UOC, which traces its roots back over a thousand years to the conversion of Kievan Rus to Christianity, has faced persecution in Ukraine throughout the conflict. Government authorities have seized its properties, including the iconic Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery. Additionally, the UOC has been outlawed in several regions of Ukraine. Despite these challenges, the UOC remains the largest religious denomination in the country, with numerous dioceses and thousands of individual parishes.
In response to the UOC’s difficulties, the Ukrainian government established a rival organization called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in 2019. The OCU was granted autocephalous status, meaning it is considered fully independent, by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. While denouncing Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, the UOC has not declared itself autocephalous from the Moscow Patriarchate. Russia has consistently condemned what it perceives as persecution of the UOC, although the issue has garnered little international attention.
Patriarch Kirill’s remarks serve as a reminder that while conflicts may be an unfortunate part of human nature, efforts should continually be made to minimize the negative impact and suffering caused by war. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the recent escalation between Israel and Hamas underline the pressing need for global cooperation and diplomacy. As the largest religious denomination in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church faces significant challenges, but it remains resilient in the face of persecution. The international community should pay attention and work towards fostering understanding and reconciliation among different faiths and cultures affected by conflicts.