This story from the Vatican News is not getting that much coverage, so I thought I would bring it to readers’ attention:
A group of 233 priests and deacons of the Russian Orthodox Church has launched a strong appeal to all those who can bring an end to the war in Ukraine. They have described the situation as “fratricidal” and called for reconciliation and an immediate cease-fire. They write: “We mourn the ordeal to which our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected”. The appeal came following the Sunday of the Last Judgement and in the week before Forgiveness Sunday (the two Sundays preceding Great Lent in the Eastern calendar).
Recalling that each person’s life is a unique and priceless gift from God, the priests and deacons stress that the Last Judgement awaits all. “No earthly authority, no doctor, no guard,” they read, “will protect us from this judgement. Concerned for the salvation of every person who considers himself a child of the Russian Orthodox Church, we do not want him to come to this judgement, carrying a heavy burden. Let us remember that the blood of Christ, shed by the Saviour for the life of the world, will be received in the sacrament of Communion by those who give murderous orders, not for life, but for eternal torment”.
In the appeal, the soldiers who are fighting the war are remembered and hopes are expressed “for all of them, both Russians and Ukrainians, to return unharmed to their homes and families. It saddens us to think of the gulf that our children and grandchildren in Russia and Ukraine will have to bridge in order to begin to be friends again, to respect and love each other”. The firm conviction is also expressed that the Ukrainian people must be free to make their own choices, “not under the crosshairs of machine guns, without pressure from the West or the East”.
Looking forward to Forgiveness Sunday, the 233 Russian Orthodox clerics recall that “the gates of heaven will be open to all, even to those who have sinned greatly, if they ask forgiveness of those whom they have despised, insulted, or killed at their hands or at their will”. They emphasise that there is no alternative to mutual reconciliation. With the wish to start Lent in a spirit of faith, hope and love, the message concludes by reiterating that “no non-violent appeal for peace and an end to war should be rejected by force and considered as a violation of the law, because this is the divine commandment: Blessed are the peacemakers”. The invitation to dialogue is underscored, because “only the ability to listen to the other can give hope of a way out of the abyss into which our countries have been thrown in so few days”.
One of the reasons this is so significant is that the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church is linked very closely to the Russian government. Patriarch Kirill, the Orthodox Primate of Moscow and All Russians, gave a prayer Sunday that seemed to offer cover for the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill has said that the Russian clerics opposing the war are part of a “schism” in the Russian Orthodox church.
There are three primary Christian churches in Ukraine, the Catholic church, the Russian Orthodox church and a separate Ukrainian Orthodox church, which was recognized in 2018 by the Russian Patriarch in Constantinople. The Church of Jesus Christ has more than 11,000 members in Ukraine and a temple in Kyiv. There is one stake in Ukraine with 48 congregations.
I applaud the call for peace from the Russian orthodox clerics. This should be the primary role of followers of the Prince of Peace, to continue to call for peace and the end of war, no matter the circumstances.