INTERNATIONAL CHURCH TRIBUNAL
This is how our contemporaries would call the highest court of world Orthodoxy. We are talking about the Council of the Primates of the Ancient Eastern Churches. For several centuries there has been a tradition in the Orthodox Church to appeal to the court of such a Council in case of serious conflicts. The Council of the Eastern Patriarchs has repeatedly considered lawsuits against the highest church dignitaries.
In the history of the Russian Church, there was also a precedent for the appeal to the court of the Eastern Patriarchs. In 1666, it was the Eastern Patriarchs who condemned the Moscow Patriarch Nikon, depriving him of his patriarchate and episcopal rank. Nikon was made a simple monk and sent to repent in a monastery.
Today, when Patriarch Kirill of Moscow openly supports Russia’s war of conquest against Ukraine, we, the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, have decided to appeal to the Council of Primates of the Ancient Eastern Churches with a lawsuit against Patriarch Kirill.
Our main accusations:
- Kirill preaches the doctrine of the “Russian World”, which does not correspond to Orthodox teaching and should be condemned as heresy.
- Kirill committed moral crimes by blessing the war against Ukraine and fully supporting the aggressive actions of Russian troops on the Ukrainian territory.
We hope that the Council of Primates of the Ancient Eastern Churches will consider our appeal and make its fair decision.
TO THE PRIMATES OF LOCAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
We, the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in these tragic days, when the cruel war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine is ongoing, consider it our pastoral duty to appeal to the fullness of World Orthodoxy.
On February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded the territory of the sovereign Ukrainian state without declaring war. The military aggression has been going on for more than a month. Russian troops systematically destroy not only military infrastructure, but also residential areas, businesses, schools, hospitals, theaters. The Ukrainian economy is suffering heavy losses. But the biggest sadness for us is the fact that thousands of civilians have already died during the war. The actions of the Russian army in Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Akhtyrka, Hostomel, Vorzel and especially in Mariupol and Bucha demonstrate obvious signs of genocide of the Ukrainian people and cause outrage around the world.
Already on the first day of the war, the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry, condemned the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin with a request to stop the war. In addition, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry appealed to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow with a request to raise his voice against the war. After that, both His Beatitude Onufry personally and the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church again appealed to Patriarch Kirill with calls to oppose the war and contribute to the cessation of military aggression. However, Patriarch Kirill ignored these appeals.
Moreover, since the beginning of the war, Patriarch Kirill has repeatedly made public statements containing de facto support for the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. On March 13, 2022, during a liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Patriarch Kirill presented the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard of the Russian Federation V.V. Zolotov with an icon of the Mother of God and gave his blessing to the employees of this state military organization.
In his acceptance speech, V. V. Zolotov openly stated that the troops of the National Guard of the Russian Federation are taking an active part in the war that Russia had unleashed against Ukraine. At the same time, he called the Armed Forces of Ukraine “Nazis”. The Patriarch, after listening to Zolotov’s words, did not express any objections. Patriarch Kirill’s blessing of the Russian National Guard troops was a clear endorsement of the war that the Russian Federation had unleashed against Ukraine.
Despite the fact that Patriarch Kirill for many years in his public statements (including during his visits to Ukraine) claimed that he considers the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine to be his flock, for which he is responsible, today he directly blesses the physical destruction of this flock by the Russian troops.
The actions of Patriarch Kirill caused indignation among the clergy and believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At least fifteen dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have already officially announced that they were ceasing the commemoration of Patriarch Kirill at the Divine services. We know that in many other dioceses the ruling bishops gave verbal permission to the clergy not to commemorate Patriarch Kirill. Thus, the bishops, priests and ordinary parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church expressed their unequivocal distrust in Patriarch Kirill.
We fully support the refusal of the bishops and clergy of our Church to commemorate Patriarch Kirill at the Divine services. But today this is no longer enough.
We firmly declare that it is impossible for us to remain in any form of canonical submission to the Patriarch of Moscow. This is the command of our Christian conscience.
We see the brutal actions of the Russian army against the Ukrainian people, actually approved by Patriarch Kirill. As pastors of the Church and simply as Christians, we have always been, are and will be with our people, with those who suffer and need help. We fully support the Ukrainian state and the Armed Forces of Ukraine in their struggle against the aggressor.
Our position is fully consistent with the Gospel and Church Tradition. Protecting the Motherland from the enemy is one of the chief Christian virtues. We especially want to emphasize that our position is also in line with the internal legislation of the Russian Orthodox Church. Back in 2000, the Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church was adopted. This document endorses Christian patriotism, which manifests itself, among other things, “in defending the fatherland from the enemy” (II, 3). Also, the Basis of the Social Concept clearly states that “the Church … does not forbid its children to participate in hostilities when it comes to protecting their neighbors and restoring violated justice” (VIII, 2). Also, in this document it is noted that “in time of war it is necessary to ensure the protection of the civilian population from direct military actions” (VIII, 3).
We, as citizens of Ukraine, today act within the framework of these principles. We call for the defense of our Motherland from the enemy who came to us with weapons; we support the Ukrainian army, which stood up for our people and seeks to restore the violated justice; we call for an end to the brutal destruction of the Ukrainian civilian population by the Russian military.
At the same time, both Patriarch Kirill and numerous bishops and priests in Russia directly violate the norms of the Basis of the Social Concept. This document clearly states that the Church cannot assist the state and cooperate with it if the state is waging an aggressive external war (III, 8). Today, the actions of the Russian Federation against Ukraine are nothing more than an aggressive foreign war. This fact is recognized by the entire world community. In particular, on March 2, 2022, 141 countries supported the resolution of the UN General Assembly condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine. But Patriarch Kirill himself and numerous clergy in Russia continue to support the aggressive foreign policy of the Russian Federation. Consequently, the position of the Moscow Patriarchate regarding the war against Ukraine does not correspond to the norms of Christian morality,
Thinking about the origins of the position of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the war in Ukraine, we must admit that one of the ideological foundations of this war was the doctrine of the “Russian World”, which Patriarch Kirill has been personally promoting for many years. This doctrine has been actively formed by Russian political scientists and sociologists since the 1990s. Its goal is to preserve the influence of the Russian Federation on the territory of the former Soviet Union after its inglorious collapse. The ideologists of the “Russian World”, in particular within the Moscow Patriarchate, have never concealed the fact that this doctrine should promote Russian irredentism, that is, the gradual establishment of Russian political control over the territories that were previously part of the Soviet Union or even the Russian Empire.
Patriarch Kirill is one of the main ideologues of the “Russian World” doctrine. In his opinion, the “Russian World” is a single civilizational space, covering territories on which Russian culture has historically had a significant impact. He has repeatedly stated that he considers modern Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians to be “one people”, the people of the “Russian World”. In particular, in 2014, in one of his speeches on television, Patriarch Kirill said: “The Russian World is … a special civilization to which belong the people who today call themselves by different names – Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians” (http: //www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/3730705.html). That is, Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, according to the Patriarch, simply call themselves by different names, but at the same time remain one people.
In 2021, in an interview on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday, Patriarch Kirill said: “For me, as the Patriarch of All Russia, there is no division into peoples and states, but there is a flock of the Russian Orthodox Church” (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db /text/5863267.html). Although Patriarch Kirill always emphasized that he did not question the existing state borders, he nevertheless stated that these borders “create unnecessary obstacles between the peoples of the Russian World” (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/928446.html).
On March 20, 2022, already during the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill, in his sermon at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, stated that Russians and Ukrainians are indeed one people. He emphasized that he considers this to be God’s truth, which is not changed by the fact that we live in different countries today. Therefore, the Patriarch said that he would continue to pray “for our united people, who today live in different countries” (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5909901.html).
All these statements are fully consonant with Russian state propaganda, which rejects the very existence of the Ukrainian nation and Ukrainian culture, and therefore, in fact, does not recognize the right of Ukrainians to their own statehood. Thus, the doctrine of the “Russian World”, propagated for many years by Patriarch Kirill, today contributes to the justification of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.
However, we, Orthodox priests, want to pay special attention to those aspects of the doctrine of the “Russian World” that are directly related to the doctrine of the Church. In particular, Patriarch Kirill stubbornly identifies the “Russian World” with the so-called “canonical territory” of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2009, in his speech at the Assembly of the “Russian World” Foundation, Patriarch Kirill said that “the Russian Orthodox Church performs a pastoral mission among peoples who accept the Russian spiritual and cultural tradition as the basis of their national identity, or at least as an essential part of it. That is why, in this sense, we consider Moldova as a part of this Russian World” (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/928446.html).
In his official speeches Patriarch Kirill repeatedly stated that, according to the charter of the Eastern Patriarchs on the establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate (1593), all territories located north of Byzantium were transferred to the jurisdiction of this Patriarchate. For example, on September 24, 2014, speaking in Moscow at the Sixth International Festival “Faith and Word”, Patriarch Kirill said that in 1593 the Moscow Patriarchate received “the Christian oecumene north of the Byzantine Empire. This is all that is north of Byzantium.”
According to this logic, the Eastern Patriarchs supposedly recognized the extension of the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarch to Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic countries, and Moldova. It is these territories that Patriarch Kirill proclaims as the zone of his “canonical responsibility” and identifies with the “Russian World”. From the point of view of Patriarch Kirill, all Churches in these territories do not have the right to church independence (autocephaly). According to his logic, the Churches in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the Baltic countries are literally doomed to forever remain part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
These statements of Patriarch Kirill come into obvious contradiction with historical facts. But it is especially surprising that Patriarch Kirill presents this false interpretation of history as the position of the entire global Orthodoxy. Moreover, in the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill, we see obvious distortions of the Orthodox teaching about the Church. Patriarch Kirill’s statements about the “Russian World” are reminiscent of ethnophyletism condemned by Ecumenical Orthodoxy, where “Russian civilization” plays the role of an ethnos. Patriarch Kirill’s statements that the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate extends to all people who accept “Russian spiritual and cultural tradition as the basis of their national identity” come into obvious contradiction with Orthodox canon law.
In March 2022, a group of Orthodox theologians published a Declaration on the Doctrine of the “Russian World”, which has already been supported by more than 500 intellectuals from around the world (https://publicorthodoxy.org/ru/2022/03/13/10845/). We believe that this Declaration has become an important step towards comprehending the distortions of the Orthodox teaching about the Church that have taken place in the Moscow Patriarchate.
All these considerations compel us to turn to the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches. We declare our allegiance to Ecumenical Orthodoxy, the desire for the fullness of our communion with it, and we condemn any attempts to limit our involvement in it. We also believe that it is the Plenitude of Ecumenical Orthodoxy that should treat the statements and actions of Patriarch Kirill with all care and responsibility. The tragedy that is unfolding today in Ukraine was, among other things, the result of the policy pursued by Patriarch Kirill during his tenure as the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is obvious that this has already become a challenge for the entire World Orthodoxy.
Therefore, we call on the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches:
- Clearly and unequivocally condemn the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.
- Call on the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to immediately stop the war and liberate all the occupied territories of sovereign Ukraine.
- Consider the public statements of the Moscow Patriarch Kirill regarding the war against Ukraine and evaluate them in the light of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition of the Church.
- Consider at the pan-Orthodox level the “Russian World” doctrine, which has become one of the ideological justifications for the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, which Patriarch Kirill has been promoting for many years, and evaluate this doctrine from the point of view of Orthodox teaching, and in case of condemnation of this doctrine, involve Patriarch Kirill to liability and deprive him of the right to occupy the patriarchal throne.
This appeal is open for signing for the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Who among the clergy of the UOC wants to sign our appeal, please write to me in private messages (067-6-333-112 in any messenger) the following text: “I am signing the appeal. Clerical rank, last name and first name. Name of the diocese. After the collection of signatures is completed, the appeal will be sent to all Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches. It will also be brought to the attention of the Moscow Patriarch Kirill.
(As of 8:32 pm on April 11, 2022, there are 324 signatures of the UOC clergy on the Facebook page of Fr Andriy Pinchuk.)