Russian Orthodox Church ejection from World Council likely

Rowan Williams

The Russian Orthodox Church’s use of Christian teaching to justify Russia’s war on Ukraine is leading to calls for its expulsion from the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The most recent call came from former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, after Patriarch Kirill of Moscow praised his country’s armed forces and claimed they were acting in line with the gospel and Christian teaching.

The case for expelling “is a strong one, and I have a suspicion that some other Orthodox Churches would take the same view” the former archbishop says.

Williams, who speaks Russian and is an expert on Orthodoxy, says many in the Orthodox world feel that Orthodoxy itself is compromised.

“The riot act has to be read.

“When a Church is actively supporting a war of aggression, failing to condemn nakedly obvious breaches in any kind of ethical conduct in wartime, then other Churches have the right to raise the question and challenge it — to say, unless you can say something effective about this, something recognisably Christian, we have to look again at your membership.”

He says he cannot accept the use of Christian terminology to justify “a nakedly aggressive, unprincipled act of violence against a neighbouring Christian nation”.

“I’m still waiting for any senior voices in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy to say the slaughter of the innocent in war is condemned unequivocally by all forms of Christianity,” he says.

“I feel rather devastated that the current leadership of the Church is in danger of betraying everything most precious in what Russian Christianity has given to the wider world: the saints, the witnesses, the hugely complex and enriching history in spirituality, art and literature. All of that is being tarmacked over by this extraordinary and almost obsessive nationalist fervour.”

Other Christian Church leaders are even more blunt in their views on Kirill’s behaviour.

The leader of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany Dumenko, says Kirill has “made his choice in favour of the Antichrist. . .

“I urge those who still have him as their shepherd: open your eyes … and do not be his accomplices.”

The US-based Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute has accused Kirill of turning President Putin’s “military campaign into a religious war”. It has been urging the World Council of Churches to prevent Russian Orthodox leaders from “using Christianity as a cover for mass murder”.

What Kirill needs to do

Williams says the “minimum” to be expected is for Kirill and others to “press for an effective and credible ceasefire”. The Patriarch is “answerable to Jesus Christ” for the Orthodox Ukrainians being “killed by other members of his own flock”, he notes.

The former archbishop’s wish seems unlikely to be granted however. Kirill has been urging Russians at Mass to pray for “multiplying the power of our armed forces” and reminding soldiers of “the historical importance of the present moment”.

Those caught up in the Ukraine war were “peoples of Holy Russia”, he says.


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