Moscow Patriarch Cyril (Gundyaev) is not the only one who is offering “spiritual” support for Russian aggression toward Ukraine. While calls are already being voiced to hold accountable the Russian Orthodox Church and its primate, the actions of ordinary Russian priests have yet to see a worthy response.
Operations in “liberated territories”
In early May 2022, the Russian Orthodox Church convened a meeting of the bishops of dioceses bordering Ukraine. Bishop Savvatii, head of the ROC department for cooperation with the armed forces and law enforcement, arrived from Moscow to attend the event.
Among the issues discussed was the new ROC sector responsible for operations in the “liberated” (that is, temporarily occupied) territories of Ukraine. These include searching for those loyal to the invaders and engaging them to become part of the occupation authorities. Orthodox churches in the “liberated territories” are set to become certain hubs for performing the task.
At that meeting, the parties also discussed a three-month plan to replace Ukrainian priests of the UOC MP with Russian ones in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.
Restoring churches and saying “prayer for the protection of the Russian army”
In a few weeks, the plan was already being implemented. In late June, a large delegation of ROC clerics came to Mariupol, the city on the Sea of Azov, temporarily occupied by the Russians. As part of the visit, the collaborators were given the task of restoring churches in Mariupol, first of all, and intensifying propaganda targeting the local population.
“Instructions have been issued to collaborators – to first of all restore local temples. The number of prayers for the protection of the Russian army was also to be increased. Local priests should strengthen propaganda through prayers for those innocent ‘killed by Ukrainian military,’” said Petro Andryushchenko, an advisor to the Mariupol mayor.
After the visit of the occupiers sporting cassocks, the reports came that the entire library containing several unique copies of Ukrainian books, which are now lost forever, was seized from the Petro Mohyla temple of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and burned in the church backyard.
After cynical shelling by the Russian occupiers of civilians in Mariupol, which led to mass graves emerging near the city, the Russian Orthodox Church began to deliver humanitarian aid to the area. Formally, this aid came from the “Simferopol” diocese of the UOC MP, which just in a few days, the ROC Synod appropriated without any resistance on the part of the UOC MP.
In mid-July, it became known that the ROC is deploying a network of “doctor’s offices” in temporarily occupied Mariupol, Melitopol, Horlivka, and Novoazovsk. According to the ROC, “volunteer medics” of Moscow’s St Alexiy Central Clinical Hospital will work there.
ROC priests’ complicity in Russian war of aggression
In August, the Russian Orthodox Church and its priests stopped hiding their “works” in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Thus, ROC priests sporting a tactical uniform with the infamous letter “Z” seen on chevrons arrived from Russia to temporarily occupied Izyum, Kharkiv region, to pray for the success of further “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine. The guest clerics, together with a local collaborator priest, consecrated the occupation forces’ flag and blessed the Russian military for further killings of Ukrainians.
Around the same time, it became known that a Moscow Patriarchate’s priest Roman Bogdasarov, who deals with the ROC’s interaction with Russian Guard, was conferred a Medal of Assistance. The ROC press service boasted that the priest had visited the Russian Guards’ positions in the zone of hostilities as many as three times. According to Bogdasarov, more than 150 ROC priests offer “spiritual guidance” to the Russian Guards.
It’s not only about Cyril
Recently, church leaders in Finland made a statement that no religion can justify the war in Ukraine. The position of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Cyril (Gundyaev), who unconditionally supports Russian aggression against Ukraine, is already receiving an appropriate response in the form of personal sanctions. Calls for excluding the ROC from the World Council of Churches are gaining momentum. We believe that the time will come when the Russian priests, who are acting as actual invaders, will be held accountable, as deserved.