(RNS) – The acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches met this week with Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church who has drawn worldwide criticism for providing spiritual support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to a WCC meeting reading, Acting General Secretary Fr. Ioan Sauca, a Romanian Orthodox priest, met with Kirill at the Patriarchal Residence in Moscow on October 17 to discuss “how churches are called to be peacemakers.” The two reportedly engaged in a public discussion as well as a separate private conversation.
The meeting followed months of controversy over the Russian Orthodox Church’s membership of the WCC. After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, Sauca sent a letter to the Orthodox leader urging him to help facilitate a ceasefire. But Kirill has instead repeatedly voiced his support for the invasion, prompting calls for expel the Russian Orthodox Church from the WCC. sauce and other WCC leaders ultimately dismissed the idea, keeping the ROC in its fold. WCC members issued a statement at its September assembly denounce the warbut Ukrainian observers at the rally criticized him as weak.
Sauca reportedly referenced these concerns during his meeting with Kirill, mentioning “statements condemning war and violence that we have made in our governing bodies – statements that were crafted with input from delegates from the Orthodox Church Russian”.
“The reason to come here is to see what we can do together to build bridges of peace and reconciliation and stop the bloodshed and the danger of nuclear conflagration,” Sauca said, according to the reading. “I think it would be very helpful now to make the same statement, telling the world clearly what you told us here today: stop the bloodshed, stop the killing, stop the destruction of infrastructure. , seek peace and reconciliation.
A separate report of the discussion posted on the Patriarch’s website on Thursday said Kirill also acknowledged the debate.
“There were critical challenges and issues, one of which concerned the Russian Orthodox Church. Demands have been heard for the Russian Church to be expelled from the World Council of Churches. However, nothing like this happened during the Assembly,” Kirill said, according to the report.
According to the WCC account, Kirill agreed that churches should be peacemakers, that Christians should not “support wars and killings” and that “war cannot be holy”. He also reportedly insisted that churches “must not add fuel to the fire”, referring to political rancor and violence.
Yet Kirill has repeatedly been accused of doing just that, especially amid Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.
In addition to to lay the spiritual foundations of war – Kirill has spent years promoting a concept of the ‘Russian world’ or ‘Holy Russia’ which insists that Ukraine is part of Russia’s spiritual space – the patriarch described Russia’s enemies in Ukraine as “forces of evil” and suggested that the conflict amounted to a “‘metaphysical battle’ with the West and ‘gay parades’.
More recently, Kirill said that Russian soldiers who died fighting in Ukraine have all their sins forgiven, comparing their death to the sacrifice of Jesus. The remarks, delivered as part of a Sunday sermon in September, came days after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a “partial mobilization” of military reservists in Russia after the country’s military suffered a series defeats in Ukraine. A few days later, Russia illegally annexed four eastern provinces of Ukraine.
Religious leaders around the world have criticized Kirill’s rhetoric, including Pope Francis. In-person meeting expected between world faith leaders in August collapsed when the patriarch canceled his travel plans, but the two met virtually earlier this year, when the pontiff warned of spiritual justifications for war.
“Once upon a time, in our churches, we also spoke of a holy war or a just war,” Francis told Kirill, according to the Vatican press office. “Today we can’t talk like that.”
Despite this, the account of Kirill’s conversation with Sauca published on the Patriarch’s website claimed that Kirill “appeared unaware” of the criticism leveled at him regarding his rhetoric, prompting members of his delegation to blame others. of having tried to “conceive charges against the primate”. of the Russian Orthodox Church.