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U.S. Christian Leaders Ask Russian Orthodox Patriarch to Speak Out, ‘Reconsider’ Comments on Ukraine

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The Banner has a subscription to republish articles from Religion News Service. This story by Jack Jenkins was published on March 11. It has been edited for length and for relevance to the Christian Reformed Church.

More than 100 U.S. Christian leaders, including the executive director of the Christian Reformed Church and leaders of multiple other denominations, sent a letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church on Friday (March 11) asking him to use his influence to help stop the invasion of Ukraine and “prayerfully reconsider the support you have given to this war.”

The letter was addressed to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who is known to have a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“With broken hearts, we are making an earnest plea that you use your voice and profound influence to call for an end to the hostilities and war in Ukraine and intervene with authorities in your nation to do so,” the letter read.

Kirill’s initial generalized call for peace at the outset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was lambasted by leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church based in Kyiv, with one cleric decrying it as the words of a “religious politician” and a tacit endorsement of Putin’s justifications for invasion.

But the letter from the U.S. faith leaders says, “We make this appeal with no political agenda. Before God, we bear witness that there is no religious justification from any side for the destruction and terror the world is witnessing daily. Our first allegiance is always to our Lord Jesus Christ. This transcends the narrow claims of all nations and ideologies.”  

“We are in the season of Lent,” the letter continues. “In that Lenten spirit, we ask you to prayerfully reconsider the support you have given to this war because of the horrendous human suffering it has unleashed.”

Signers of the letter include Rev. Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Colin P. Watson Sr., executive director of the Christian Reformed Church; Rev. Eddy Aleman, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America; and Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary emeritus of the RCA.

Related: From CRC communications, Watson Signs Letter to Kirill

Granberg-Michaelson helped organize the letter with Jim Wallis, head of Georgetown University’s Center on Faith and Justice and former president of Sojourners, an American Christian social justice advocacy organization.

“There is not, and can never be, any ethical, religious, or theological justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Wallis said in a statement. “When bombs rain down on maternity wards and hospitals, as well as other innocent civilians, we should be utterly clear: this is the work of an immoral maniac who must be removed from power, and anyone who supports Putin is sanctioning murder.”

The letter is one of several efforts by faith leaders to pressure Kirill, whose church has often operated in tandem with the Russian government. Earlier in March a group of Catholic bishops from Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales called on Kirill to help end the violence, and Romanian Orthodox priest Ioan Sauca, head of the World Council of Churches, similarly implored Kirill to speak with the Russian president.

“I write to Your Holiness as acting general secretary of the WCC but also as an Orthodox priest,” Sauca wrote in an open letter. “Please, raise up your voice and speak on behalf of the suffering brothers and sisters, most of whom are also faithful members of our Orthodox Church.”

Kirill responded to Sauca on Thursday (March 10) by arguing that the “origins of the confrontation lie in the relationships between the West and Russia.” He insisted Western nations have attempted to “mentally remake Ukrainians and Russians living in Ukraine into enemies of Russia.”

Kirill also dismissed Ukrainians who broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in 2018 to form their own Orthodox tradition based in Kyiv, saying the “schism” was “pursuing the same end.”

Yet calls for Kirill to intervene are also coming from inside the Russian Orthodox Church. On Wednesday (March 9), Metropolitan John of Dubna, an archbishop of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe, publicly asked Kirill to “raise (his) voice” with Russian authorities against the “monstrous and senseless war.”

John also challenged Kirill’s framing of the war as a “metaphysical” battle against a liberal West, saying he “cannot subscribe to such a reading of the gospel.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of Russian Orthodox priests recently signed a petition decrying the invasion, and one of the signers was later arrested for preaching a sermon criticizing Russia’s actions. 

c. 2022 Religion News Service

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