Cyril I: Patriarch of Putin |

Status: 04/15/2022 03:50

The Russian president is trying to get closer to the Orthodox Church. Instead of messages of peace, their patriarch, Cyril, preaches loyalty and hatred of the West. He is also criticized for this in his own ranks.

By Tilmann Kleinjung, BR

Dietrich Brauer did not have high expectations of the patriarch. But “a silent rejection of the war on his part would have given hope”, believes the archbishop of the small Lutheran church in Russia. Kyrill has dashed Brauer’s hopes: the 75-year-old patriarch has backed President Putin’s war policy since day one. “What has been said makes you sad and disappointed,” Brauer wrote in an email. And he didn’t even know the sermon of the Patriarch of Moscow last Sunday. “May the Lord God help us all to unite at this difficult time for our homeland, also around state bodies,” Cyril said at the inauguration of a church in Moscow.

So again no criticism of the Kremlin. Instead, Cyril religiously legitimized Russia’s attack on Ukraine – as a “metaphysical battle” of good versus evil, says Regina Elsner of the Center for Eastern European and International Studies at Berlin: “It’s the idea that evil, Western evil is attacking this traditional world with its degenerate values, with liberality and secularism.”

Theme of life: Denouncing the West

This seems to be the theme of the life of the Patriarch of Moscow. Even as a foreign representative of the Russian Church, he denounced on every occasion the so-called postmodern arbitrariness of Western societies, demonized euthanasia, same-sex marriages and abortions. Believers “could not simultaneously recognize the value of the family and the legality of same-sex relationships,” he said at a 2007 ecumenical gathering in Sibiu, Romania.

And when the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) elected Margot Käßmann as its council president in 2009, Cyril, who was elected patriarch the same year, broke off the dialogue with German Protestants: the patriarch could not meet a female bishop, it was said from Moscow at the time. Women in the office of bishop or equal rights for same-sex couples – in the vision of the world and of the church of Cyril I, this is a “violation of the laws of God”.

Cyril I during the inauguration of a cathedral in Moscow.

Image: via Reuters

Conversation with François is always possible

In wartime, it looks like this: Russia only wants to protect the people of eastern Ukraine from gay parades, Kyrill said in a sermon a few weeks after the war began.

Kyrill’s influence on the Russian president cannot be precisely determined. Conversely, Vladimir Putin repeatedly sought to get closer to the Orthodox Church. And while the Russian government is increasingly isolated internationally, the patriarch continues to maintain ecumenical relations – for example with the pope in Rome. After a videoconference with Francis a few weeks ago, Cyril was delighted “that our interlocutors did not move away from us or become our enemies”.

Arm in arm: Pope Francis and Patriarch Cyril

Image: Reuters

In terms of content, it is unlikely that this conversation went the way the pope intended. The patriarch did not unequivocally condemn the war. And yet Augsburg church historian Jörg Ernesti considers such ecumenical encounters to be important – if only because “a channel of communication remained open to Russian Orthodoxy.”

critics in their own ranks

However, many in the Catholic Church are calling on the pope to distance himself more clearly from Putin and the patriarch. Theologian Regina Elsner finds “that the way in which Patriarch Cyril has supported this war over the past six weeks no longer offers a basis for talking to each other about Christian values”.

Pressure on Kyrill is also growing within his own ranks: around 260 Russian Orthodox clerics in Ukraine are demanding a religious trial against the Patriarch of Moscow.

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