“May God protect us from using the current political situation in Ukraine, our brotherly country, for forces of evil to triumph,” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and formed two separatist areas in eastern Ukraine under its control. Then – after analyzing the statements of Russian church officials, publicists and participants in the conflicts – I wrote that “it would be an exaggeration to say that we are witnessing the first steps of Orthodox Russian imperialism and the initial stages of a military campaign to create Holy Russia, i.e. an Orthodox civilization.” But now, after Russia has launched military aggression against Ukraine, this seems pretty likely. The great Russian motherland is coming to Ukraine on tank treads – this was the message from Vladimir Putin’s speech broadcasted before the invasion.
Putin spoke about Ukraine as an inseparable part of Russian history, culture and spiritual space; about Ukrainian statehood as a product of the Soviet period and an incident of Russian history; about the Nazis who rule Ukraine, and about geopolitics. He did not mention Holy Russia, Orthodox civilization and the Russian world, but it wasn’t even necessary: the notes on spiritual space and geopolitics were enough. According to Russian Patriarch Kirill, Orthodox civilization consists of all Orthodox believers around the world, as well as all nations that have formed their national identity under the influence of Orthodoxy. The heart of this Orthodox civilization are Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, which belong to the Russian world. And “that term is not only ecclesiastical, it is not only cultural, but, I would say, even geopolitical,” said Kirill.
According to him, these three countries form a “historic Russian state,” and what is happening in it is of “colossal significance for the fate of the whole of universal Christianity, which is facing a deep crisis in Western Europe and America. I think that Russia can give new life to the Universe.” Thus spoke the Russian patriarch, like a prophet whose sermons strengthen the muscles of warriors. And a new life is indeed being born: by launching a military campaign, Putin’s Russia has brought fear and disbelief to the entire universe, and death to Ukrainians and Russians. But in that steel birth, it also died spiritually.
Metropolitan Onufriy, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, called on the believers and citizens of Ukraine to be brave, to show mutual love and love for God and the homeland. Onufriy also called for intense prayer for Ukraine, its army and people. “In these tragic times, we express special love and support for our soldiers who guard, protect and defend our homeland and our people. May God bless and preserve them,” he said. In defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity, Onufriy appealed to the Russian president and called for an immediate end to the fratricidal war, saying that the war between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples – brothers by common baptism – was “a repetition of Cain’s sin, who killed his own brother out of envy.”
“Metropolitan Onufriy of Kiev is experiencing a great crucifixion today,” said Metropolitan Joanikije of Montenegro, probably imagining himself in a similar situation. “Only in the last ten years,” wrote historian Aleksandar Rakovic in the new issue of “Pravoslavlje,” (February 15, 2022) “within the scientific, cultural and political elites of Serbia and Srpska, we are witnessing the awakening of ideas about a new Serbian unification which would include Serbia, Republika Srpska and Montenegro. A new term, the Serbian world, has also been coined.” Rakovic added that Serbian unification is a “legitimate and legal topic.” It is just not clear when the military action will start: immediately or after the triumph of the Russian world in Ukraine and capitulation of the entire West?
Serbian bishops were hoping to get Vladimir Putin’s support regarding the Kosovo issue. He was solemnly welcomed in Belgrade, where he added the last tile into the mosaic in the Temple of St. Sava in January 2019, together with then-Patriarch Irinej, Vucic, and the party masses. Bishop Jovan of Pakrac and Slavonia said that Putin came into power in 1999 during and because of the bombing of Serbia, which “marked a radical change in global relations.” What would the Serbian bishop say now, when that change has stepped onto the battlefield? Nothing, the same as when Putin was welcomed: “There is no doubt that any agreement on Kosovo and Metohija that neglects the spiritual dimension will bring additional suffering.” The spiritual dimensions and spiritual spaces of the Serbian and Russian worlds bring suffering, but primarily to those who do not want to join them voluntarily. According to this legend, Putin was spiritually born in Kosovo in 1999.
That is why Rakovic’s articles are published in the official gazette of the Serbian Orthodox Church, while in Pecat (December 31, 2021) Bishop Irinej Bulovic said that Orthodoxy is the bearer of the “spirit of traditionalism, conservatism, sanctified morality” and that the Orthodox world and Russia, as its most powerful representative, are also under threat from the “neoliberal” and “ultraliberal” West. He went on to say that the West and the East are “no longer geographic, but cultural categories.” Ukraine is an inseparable part of Russian history, culture and spiritual space, added Putin recently.
The Orthodox armies of the Third Rome did not withstand the threat of the West and struck first, in order to return Ukraine to the Russian world and cleanse it of Western sins. But what could Cain have thought before he killed his brother Abel? If we stay within the Orthodox Russian tradition, the following thought may have crossed his mind, as a slightly modified statement from Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov”: “If there is no God in the West, then any action against the West is allowed.” And, consequently, against Ukraine.
Translated by Marijana Simic