A political slap in the face of Cyril of Moscow, the difficult balance of the Assembly of Churches (CEC) and the objective harmony with the attitude of Pope Francis: these seem to be the major elements of the current situation of the Christian Churches in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The slap in the face is that of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at the inauguration of the eleventh Assembly of the Ecumenical Council of the Churches in Karlsruhe (Germany, 31 August – 8 September 2022).
The assembly, made up of 400 delegates and almost 4,000 present from 120 countries, representing 352 Churches and 580,000 million believers, renewed an ecumenical event whose last stop was in Busan in South Korea in 2013.
Cyril the Warmonger
During the seven months of the war, Patriarch Cyril of Moscow confirmed his role as “Putin’s altar boy” as Pope Francis defined him. I cite some of his latest positions which do not differ from the first and seem impervious to the avalanche of criticisms that they have provoked against his Church.
On 13 August he repeated the parallel between participation in war and martyrdom: “The memory of the new martyrs (of the 20th century) will help us to be faithful not so much in conditions of persecution, but in the midst of those temptations that modern impious civilization discharges to us. on. That is, having the strength to resist what an enormous number of people stumble upon. I am referring to the moral foundations of life “for which our homeland is fighting.
August 28 exalts the courage of the military to face death: «The absence of fear of death makes a person invincible. That is why the Orthodox faith very often helps those who are on the battlefield, who need to go on the attack for the duty of defending their homeland. If a person at this moment is guided by his deep religious feelings and his faith, then he boldly goes on the attack ”.
The first of September returns to the metaphysical contrast between good and evil: «There is a struggle between cosmic good and evil … Today our country has a special mission. We are among the few who call evil evil and good good … What is imposed on us is the terrible idea that good and evil do not exist, but only a pluriformity of behaviors, in which everyone has the right to choose the model that the more he likes ».
In this apocalyptic clash there is the centrality of the city of Moscow, of its religious and political authority. Recalling the start of Christianity in Kiev and the subsequent migration to Moscow, in a speech on 6 September he states: “It was a single Church whose center moved hand in hand with the transfer of the capital, so that the patriarch was always near the prince and the spiritual center was in the same place as the political center ».
While Vladimir Putin emphasizes the new and great anti-Nazi war, Cyril uses the call of faith and moral values. Regardless of the complaints that rain down on him. Great Britain, Canada, Lithuania, as well as Ukraine, consider him persona non grata.
Only because of the blackmail of Viktor Orban, president of Hungary, the European Union has not followed the same path. He does not respond to the courageous internal voices that ask to make his personal wealth public, much less to those who, in a carbonara way, await a different judgment on the war.
The stinging words of the German president, Steinmeier, of evangelical faith, resound from the WCC assembly with the force of thunder: “The leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church are currently leading their faithful and their Church on a dangerous and essentially blasphemous path that goes against everything they believe in. They are justifying a war of aggression against Ukraine, against their own and our brothers and sisters in the faith. We must speak here here, in this assembly against a propaganda that attacks the freedom and rights of citizens of another country, against a nationalism that arbitrarily feeds the dreams of the imperial hegemony of a dictatorship in the name of the will of God “.
«Here, today, we cannot be silent. We have to call things by their name. We have to report. As a Christian community we must express our commitment to the dignity, freedom and security of the Ukrainian people ”. He recalls the courage of the more than 300 Russian priests who dared to disagree, the responsibility of faiths for peace and the co-responsibility of the Russian ecclesial leadership with the crimes committed in Ukraine.
CEC place of dialogue
The intervention forced the German Protestant Churches themselves to moderate its reception to avoid the ouster or abandonment of the Russian delegation to the assembly.
The entire leadership of the CEC is committed to defending the institution as a place for dialogue and discussion, precious precisely in moments of maximum international tension. This did not prevent the assembly from passing a severe motion against Russia’s war aggression. The document recalls the more than 13,000 victims, the 14 million displaced persons, the grave danger of an atomic explosion in Zaporizhzhia and qualifies the war as “illegal and unjustifiable”.
It “is incompatible with the nature and will of God for humanity and against our fundamental Christian and ecumenical principles. Consequently, we reject any abuse of language and religious authority to justify armed aggression and hatred ”.
The role of the Ecumenical Council of Churches is confirmed as a “platform and safe space for encounter and dialogue”. «The post-war recovery task will be arduous and long, with enormous human, financial and ecological costs. The churches are called to play a key role in the healing of memories, reconciliation and diaconal care. We recognize that in war there are no “winners” and that no one should ever resort to war ».
States are invited to work for peace and non-violent conflict resolution, rather than investing in arms and divisions. The text proposed at the meeting did not undergo any particular changes. Only one to the advantage of Moscow, when we talk about a “multinational delegation” by Russia and one against it: instead of “war” we say “Russian invasion of Ukraine”.
The real event that many hoped for was the direct meeting between the two delegations, the Russian and the Ukrainian. It would have been a sign of great significance, similar to the letter that, at the end of the Second Vatican Council, the Polish episcopate wrote to the German one in 1965 to initiate the reconciliation of the memoirs. But that didn’t happen.
Even if their simultaneous presence in the assembly is not without positive significance. The vote on the document saw the Russian delegation choose abstention and not rejection. As evidence of an effort, in particular by the head of the delegation, Metropolitan Antonio, president of the department of foreign ecclesiastical relations of the patriarchate, who appreciated the prudence of the text, the defense of the participation of the delegation by the CEC leaders and the reference to humanitarian actions of the Russian Church towards the populations involved in the conflict. But the politicization of the writing would violate its impartiality.
Ecumenism of suffering
The assembly that dealt with many other issues (migration, role of women, ecology, different world situations – Middle East, Africa, Korea, Nagorno-Karabakh etc. – anti-Christian persecutions, social injustices, xenophobia, racism, human rights, pandemic etc.) did not hide the deep divisions between the Churches, in particular the Orthodox.
The Ukrainian bishop, Yevstratiy, in an interview with Orthodoxtimes he underlined the undue and hurtful intervention of Moscow on the Churches of Alexandria, Greece and Cyprus and on Georgia. Preliminary pro-Russianism is active in Romania, Antioch, Bulgaria and Serbia.
The Russian Church and especially its leaders appear condemned to isolation and heavy criticism. It will take years and courageous choices to regain confidence. It is no coincidence that the Anglican Archbishop Welby spoke in Karlsruhe of an “ecumenism of suffering”, of a time in which the thousands of deaths for the faith in anti-Christian persecutions active in hundreds of states in the world, in which confessional affiliations and distinctions theological have no weight, they should lead us to “drink the spirit of love of Christ” by relativizing the differences. “We can no longer afford the luxury of separation.”
The way in which the WCC dealt with the issue of the war in Ukraine, keeping all possible gates open, trying not to demonize anyone, to combine truth and understanding, not to confuse the political leaders with the people and ecclesial leaders with the communities of faithful is close to the approach of Pope Francis and his desire not to be the “chaplain of the West”, without neglecting the aggressor’s responsibilities.