The Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has made his alliance with President Vladimir Putin abundantly clear. According to several news sources, both secular and religious, he said;
“If someone, driven by a sense of duty, the need to fulfill an oath, remains true to his calling and dies in the line of military duty, then he undoubtedly commits an act that is tantamount to a sacrifice. . . He sacrifices himself for others," And therefore we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed.”
He is presenting death in this political war as a final absolution and anointing. There is no Biblical or eccleiastical teaching to this effect. He is using theological principles to endorse Putin's war with Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill has attracted many critics of his remarks. Critics of the war were appalled by Kirill's valorization of soldiers fighting in what much of the West has denounced as a war of aggression, accompanied by alleged human rights abuses. Kirill replaced the Christian concept of martyrdom “with the idea of religious terrorism,” said the Rev. Cyril Hovorun, an Orthodox priest, native of Ukraine and professor of ecclesiology, international relations, and ecumenism at University College Stockholm. “Martyrs sacrifice their own lives, but religiously motivated terrorists sacrifice their lives and the lives of others," said Hovorun, founder of Orthodox Against War, a project launched after the start of the war. “And the (Russian Orthodox Church) is trying to find an excuse for this activity.”
The patriarch is speaking to an audience of one, Hovorun said. “I don’t know whom he can convince, because the Russians are listening to him less and less,” Hovorun said. “However, I think the main addressee of Kirill’s messages is Putin. Kirill, through these messages, communicates to Putin: I am with you."
Kirill, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had already refrained from criticizing the Russian invasion – alienating many in the Ukrainian Orthodox churches who had previously stayed loyal to the Moscow patriarch during a schism in their country. Several of these former loyalists are now snubbing Kirill in their public prayers, with some demanding independence from the Moscow church even as their country’s political independence is imperiled.
Kirill, in a sermon delivered Sunday before the start of Orthodox Lent, echoed Putin’s unfounded claims that Ukraine was engaged in the “extermination” of Russian loyalists in Donbas, the breakaway eastern region of Ukraine held since 2014 by two Russian-backed separatist groups. Kirill focused virtually all of his talk about the war on Donbas — with no mention of Russia’s widespread invasion and its bombardment of civilian targets. Kirill, a prominent supporter of President Vladimir Putin who has "blessed" the war effort and warned by Pope Francis against becoming "Putin's altar boy," has previously claimed that Russians were doing a "heroic deed" by killing Ukrainians, even as he has urged them not to see the Ukrainian people as enemies.
"We know that many today are dying in the fields of internecine battle," Kirill said at a church near Moscow on September 25. "The church is praying that this battle will end as soon as possible, that as few brothers as possible will kill each other in this fratricidal war."
There is little doubt that Patriarch Kirill is an educated man. However, sadly, he is using his education to support President Putin. A “martyr” is “one who bears testimony to faith, especially one who willingly suffers death rather than surrender his or her religious faith, usually referring to one of the Christians who in former times were put to death because they would not renounce their beliefs.” Patriarch Kirill sems to conflate the invasion and Putin’s Communist philosophy with religious faith.
Moreover, Kirill seemed to compare the soldiers’ death to that of Jesus Christ on the Cross. “He sacrifices himself for others,” Kirill said. “And therefore, we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed.” He makes an egregious rhetorical error in that he is equating a sacrifice for the soldiers’ own sins being washed away with the redemptive act of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus, as the Patriarch knows full well, was not sinful. The Cross was not to wash away Jesus’ sins, but to wash away our sins. In light of the fact that Kirill’s sermon came soon after Putin’s announcement of instituting a draft, it would be fair to assume that Kirill is trading on his religious position to convince the young men, who are trying to leave the country, that if death finds them, they will be completely absolved of all sins. This is a crass and inexcusable misuse of Theology. Patriarch Kirill is making religion bow to the Communist, atheist, party. Kirill is trying to convince young me to willingly submit to the geopolitical will of Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps an appropriate comparison would be between the High Priest of Jesus’ time and the Roman government. The High Priest class allied themselves with the Roman procurator in order to curry favor. They complied with Rome and kept the populace quiet. In exchange, they lived very comfortable lives. I would suggest that Patriarch Kirill is becoming a modern-day Sadducee, or High Priest. Like the Sadducean class, he has become a puppet of the political forces in power, rather than being the religious leader that he was called to be.