Monday, July 11, 2022
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    Theologian: Cyril’s justification of war is no heresy but crime, cooperation with aggressor

    We publish the opinion of theologian Andriy Shyshkov regarding Cardinal Kurt Koch’s interview with the German publication Die Tagespost, in which he called Patriarch Cyril’s legitimization of war a “heresy.”

    “Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, in an interview with a German Catholic publication, called Patriarch Cyril’s support for the war a heresy: “In my opinion, the heresy consists in the fact that the patriarch dares to legitimize the cruel and absurd war in Ukraine on a pseudo-religious grounds.”

    Since the onset of war, there have been several attempts to classify Patriarch Cyril as a heretic. However, I believe that this is a false path with no way out, which shifts focus away from the essence of the problem. And Koch’s words are simply beautiful language, behind which stands nothing.

    Traditionally, heresy in Christianity is understood as a systematic theological error. But where there is no theology at all, there can be no theological errors. Neither Cyril’s justification for the war nor the doctrine of “Russian world” promoted by him have any systemic theological foundations. There is a certain historiosophy and political philosophy there – the idea of ​​a triune Russian people, which arose from the font of Prince Volodymyr. This font, by the way, is the only valid religious argument in the whole concept, but not a theological one. The rest of the religious arguments are rather random and are used by Cyril purely rhetorically – as an illustration of certain theses.

    Even Cardinal Koch spoke about “pseudo-religious grounds” in the position of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. But pseudo-religious grounds can only be defined as heresy in one case: if there is only one true religion and all other religions are various deviations. However, the Vatican in the 1960s abandoned such a vision, which means that the word “pseudo-religious” in the speech of the main Catholic ecumenist indicates precisely the imitative nature of “religious argumentation”, which cannot be referred to as heresy.

    Another reason, in my opinion, is more serious. The very concept of heresy is a powerful tool in the spiritual arsenal aimed at suppressing any dissent. For the Apostle Paul, the word “heresy” means a difference of opinion, which is necessary: ​​”there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (in 1 Cor. 11:19 – namely αἱρέσεις). But very soon this concept was privatized by church authorities to fight dissent. Through it, the clergy exercised and continue to exercise control over the faithful, as they have the tools to identify heresy and punish it. In Orthodoxy, it is also a tool of imperial power, with the help of which the policy of the metropolis is carried out (historical heresies were discussed at councils convened by the emperor).

    The development of theology shows that the concept of heresy is not only outdated, but has completely outlived itself. According to some historical and theological studies, the fight against heresies historically had more political than theological grounds. And the modern pluralism of denominations demonstrates the absurdity of this concept: what is heresy for one denomination is Orthodoxy for another. In fact, these are regional variations of theological language.

    The format of Cyril’s support for the war is the extreme degree of clericalism and imperial thinking, where his personal opinion is identified with the whole church and dissent is suppressed. The antidote to this is declericalization and decolonization of the church. But you can’t fight against clericalism and imperial thinking on your own, even if the goal is good.

    Finally, one more important point: if Patriarch Kirill’s position is qualified as a heresy, it will allow him to easily escape responsibility. After all, a secular court has no jurisdiction to hear such a case; in the all-Christian and all-Orthodox context, the concept of heresy has long been irrelevant, except in the circles of fundamentalists and ultra-conservatives.

    Therefore, I repeat once again: Patriarch Cyril is not a heretic, but an accomplice of the aggressor who justifies war crimes.”

    Andrii Shyshkov is a PhD student at the School of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Tartu (Estonia) and a junior researcher of the project “Orthodoxy as Solidarity” supported by the Estonian Research Council (PRG 1599).

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