The Russian Orthodox Church and its head, Patriarch Kirill, have appallingly defended President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and are urging Russians to support the war as well.

Russian Patriarch Kirill is completely in agreement with Vladimir Putin’s stated rationale for the invasion – that Ukraine is a part of greater Russia. Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images/TNS

Kirill has actively promoted Russian warmongering, bizarrely describing the nation’s mandatory military service as “an active manifestation of evangelical love for neighbors.” He also seems to have fully bought into the Russian government’s propaganda about a genocidal Ukrainian campaign to wipe out separatists in the country’s Donbas region.

Indeed, Kirill is completely in agreement with Putin’s stated rationale for the invasion – that Ukraine is a part of greater Russia. He has asserted that Russians and Ukrainians “come from one Kievan baptismal font … and share common historical fate.” Unsurprisingly, he has blessed the war in the most purple prose, proclaiming, “We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance,” a war that involves “eternal salvation.”

Kirill has also helped spread conspiracy theories, declaring that pro-Russian factions in Donbas, Ukraine, are being persecuted because of a “fundamental rejection of the so-called values that are offered today by those who claim world power.” He claims this world power is posing a “test for the loyalty” of other countries by demanding that they hold gay pride parades.

Putin, for his part, has also turned to religion to fire up the Russian people. He excitedly informed a crowd gathered for a pro-war rally in a Moscow stadium that the Ukraine invasion was launched on the birth anniversary of the Russian saint Theodore Ushakov. He also quoted the Bible, saying, “There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends.”

The alliance between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church stretches back many years. In 2009, Kirill blessed Russia’s nuclear arsenal, handing out religious images to the crew of a nuclear submarine and the commander of Russia’s strategic missile forces. These weapons, he said, could only be given to people “with a clear mind, an ardent love of the Motherland, responsible for their work before God and the people.”

Kirill then completely supported Putin during protests in 2011-’12 against electoral fraud. He even called Putin’s reign a “miracle of God” for the benefits it provided. The 2012 sentencing of a feminist punk group, Pussy Riot, for holding a protest inside a Moscow cathedral to express opposition to both Kirill and Putin cemented the union even further. Not long after, Putin passed a law, fervently backed by the church, outlawing distribution of LGBTQ materials to minors.

Following his invasion of Crimea, Putin built a gargantuan monument called the Victory Church in Moscow’s Patriot Square, at a cost of $50 million. There are weapons displayed at the entrance and paintings inside touting the achievements of Russian militarism. Around the same time, Putin installed a statue of Vladimir the Great – the person who is said to have made Russia Christian – near the Kremlin.

The tight bond between Putin’s government and the Russian Orthodox Church has manifested itself all the way from the Kremlin to Ukraine, with horrible results. It is a connection that should be repudiated by people of faith – and those without it – all over the world.

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