jQuery Slider

You are here



By David W. Virtue, DD
March 4, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Considering the growing ground events in the Ukraine, I have put together a special edition of VIEWPOINTS for VOL readers. These stories represent the best of the unfolding situation in the Ukraine; the background to it all, and of course reflections on Putin and Zelensky, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, other Protestant groups and Anglican communion presence in that area.

I will not dwell on the military situation; the response from NATO and the US; that news is better documented elsewhere.

ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD, especially on the domes of Russian Orthodox cathedrals. Joseph Stalin had a complex relationship with the Orthodox Church. He attended an Orthodox seminary in his youth but was expelled for reasons that remain unclear. As Soviet leader, he oversaw a vast campaign of persecution against the Russian Orthodox Church that saw countless churches being destroyed.

Under Putin that all changed. In the intervening years, he has transformed Russia back into an imperial power with global ambitions. One of his key tools in that transformation has been the Russian Orthodox Church.

Putin often invokes the Russian Orthodox Church in his public speeches, giving the church a much more prominent place in Russian political life than under his predecessors. But are these invocations sincere in the religious sense? Many, like this writer, believe he has used the church to justify Russian expansion and to try to discredit the West's influence in Eastern Europe.

Many conservative figures in America, including Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham, have been attracted to Putin's rhetoric, with its heavy emphasis on traditional Western-Christian values and its seeming rejection of the culture of "degradation and primitivism," which Putin says has produced "a moral crisis in the West."

Russian commentator Alexis Mrachek says Putin has cleverly cast himself as a belligerent in the culture war. In doing so, he has appealed to some conservatives in America who have grown skeptical of the liberal democratic tradition inherited from the Enlightenment, which they believe contains the seeds of America's spiritual and cultural demise.

Putin has set himself up as a defender of traditional morality--for instance, by opposing homosexuality, penalizing divorce, and supporting the "traditional family." He loves to pose for photo-ops with the Russian Patriarch Kirill and has even published calendars of himself featuring traditional liturgical celebrations.

But Westerners who are not so easily taken in by Putin's love affair with the ROC see his public affinity for Christianity having more to do with geopolitics than religious sincerity. After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Putin sought to justify his action by pointing to a shared religious and cultural history.

Now we have a situation where Putin is seen as a military aggressor in the Ukraine, effectively deepening the rift between the ROC with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

In October 2018, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church officially split from its Russian counterpart, after more than 300 years.

The decision, which was approved by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the symbolic "first among equals" of the world's Orthodox churches, triggered a major fallout within the Orthodox world, possibly the most serious in 1,000 years.

The same month the declaration was made, the Russian Orthodox Church announced that it would break off relations with the Patriarchate.

Unlike Western splits, these have not been over homosexuality, divorce or women priests. They have been basically nationalist in nature.

But a strange thing happened this week. Journalist Terry Mattingly of GetReligion.com got hold of an appeal from Russian priests urging peace and reconciliation.

"We, the priests and deacons of the Russian Orthodox Church, each on our own behalf, appeal to everyone on whom the cessation of the fratricidal war in Ukraine depends, with a call for reconciliation and an immediate ceasefire. We are sending this appeal after the Sunday of the Last Judgment and on the eve of Forgiveness Sunday.

"The Last Judgment awaits every person. No earthly authority, no doctors, no guards will protect you from this trial. Caring for the salvation of every person who considers himself a child of the Russian Orthodox Church, we do not want him to appear at this court bearing the heavy burden of maternal curses. We remind you that the Blood of Christ shed by the Savior for the life of the world will be accepted in the sacrament of Communion by those people who give murderous orders, not into life, but into eternal torment." You can read more here: https://virtueonline.org/appeal-clergy-russian-orthodox-church-calling-reconciliation-and-end-war

Putin has poured millions of rubles into building orthodox churches, with Russian Orthodox Church Leader Patriarch Kirill. He claims that Russia constructs three new churches per day, less than two weeks after mass protests erupted over the construction of a new cathedral in Yekaterinburg.

The Orthodox Church's influence has grown in recent years as it has received increased support from the Kremlin. Last year, Patriarch Kirill said that 25 new churches were built in Moscow alone.

But what of actual church attendance? A new study revealed just 6 percent of the population and 43 percent of believers go to church several times a month. According to Interior Ministry statistics, 4.3 million people across the country attended Easter services in 2019 -- around 100,000 fewer than a year before. Russia's population is just over 144 million. In the US., Church attendance is 42% and sinking, with Nones increasingly becoming the most significant non-religious group in the US.

One of the more outrageous statements made by Putin to sustain his aggression in the Ukraine is the preposterous pretext that "de-Nazification" was necessary. Accusing the Ukrainians of being Nazis and drug addicts, Putin claimed his invasion was "to protect people who for eight years now have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime".

This is clearly ludicrous, writes Melanie Phillips, a British Jewish columnist. "Not only is Zelensky a Jew, but so was Ukraine's former prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman. In the 2019 general election, Zelensky gained the support of around 70 per cent of voters." For the Jewish people it has special and deeply troubling resonance.

During the Holocaust, an estimated 1.2 million to 1.4 million Ukrainian Jews were slaughtered. Volodymyr Zelensky, the country's heroic president who is inspiring its resistance, is a Jew who lost relatives in that cauldron.

Now Ukraine's Jewish community, which carries a long history of trauma from waves of pogroms over the centuries, is again in terror. Jews are taking refuge in synagogues and bunkers while some have fled to Israel. Once again, antisemitism is stalking their land.

Putin's bombs have fallen on the site of Babyn Yar where the Nazis killed tens of thousands of Jews in one of the worst single massacres of the Holocaust. As Zelensky emotionally asked, "What is the point of saying 'never again' for 80 years if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar?"

The only crime committed by democratic Ukraine is to be independent of Putin's Russia.

One wonders what the whole situation would have been like if Donald Trump was still in power. Many commentators believe he would have tried to destroy NATO, given Putin a pass to take the Ukraine so his own financial interests in Russia which run as high as $4 billion would still be preserved. We may never know.

What we do know, at this time, is that a financial noose is being tied around Russia, Putin and his pals the oligarchs and threats of a nuclear war now hang in the air.

The following stories will help pull it altogether for you.

Anglican hold their breath as talks continue between Russia and Ukraine:

Anglican Archbishop Foley Beach appeals for funds for Ukraine relief: https://virtueonline.org/archbishop-foley-beachs-appeal-ukraine-relief

Ukrainian clergy staying to help: https://virtueonline.org/ukrainian-clergy-staying-help

Anglican Bishop in Europe condemns "unjustified and aggressive" war in Ukraine: https://virtueonline.org/anglican-bishop-europe-condemns-unjustified-and-aggressive-war-ukraine

Diana Butler Bass asks the question Next year in Kyiv? When it comes to Russian Orthodoxy, Kyiv is essentially Jerusalem, and this is a conflict over who will have control of Orthodoxy -- Moscow or Constantinople. While the secular media tries to guess Vladimir Putin's motives in Ukraine, one important aspect of the current situation has gone largely ignored: religion.

Will Vladimir Putin ignore Orthodox voices praying for ceasefire asks Terry Mattingly. https://www.goshennews.com/news/lifestyles/will-russia-listen-to-orthodox-prayers-for-ceasefire/article_a491e3ae-9b30-11ec-bead-67ffccc82f12.html

Ukrainian Jews horrified by Putin's 'Nazi' Rhetoric: https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukrainian-jews-under-putins-bombs-seethe-at-his-attempt-to-smear-ukraine-as-neo-nazi-11646251687

Let's save Ukrainian lives. The war in Ukraine could become a humanitarian crisis. Still, Americans can act to save lives. https://religionnews.com/2022/02/25/lets-save-ukrainian-lives/

An African take on the Ukrainian Crisis: https://mercatornet.com/african-take-ukraine-crisis/77892/

Organizations providing Aid: https://religionnews.com/2022/02/25/how-to-help-ukrainians-today-organizations-providing-aid/

Vacuous Prayers for Ukraine: U.S. church pronouncements about international affairs often are detached, anodyne, and sometimes surreal. Russia's attack on Ukraine is no exception. They come from Sojourners, the National Council of Churches, Anabaptists and Mainline Protestants, writes Mark Tooley.

Putin's wrath shows the danger in cozying up to 'Christian' autocrats: https://mercatornet.com/putins-wrath-shows-the-danger-in-cosying-up-to-christian-autocrats/77874/

Christians in Ukraine in the face of invasion: "Prayer is our weapon" Evangelicals in Kyiv call to trust in God and defend the country. Churches are offering shelter to refugees. Christian leaders in Moscow express their opposition to war. "Fear paralyses, prayer, trust in God, caring for your neighbor - gives strength". https://evangelicalfocus.com/europe/15597/christians-in-ukraine-under-invasion-prayer-is-our-best-weapon

Sarah Ingham: A real war puts the West's culture warriors in cruel perspective: https://www.conservativehome.com/thecolumnists/2022/03/sarah-ingham-a-real-war-puts-the-wests-culture-warriors-in-cruel-perspective.html

Isn't Putin Christian? What should Christians think about the Russian President: https://christianconcern.com/comment/isnt-putin-christian-what-should-christians-think-about-the-russian-president/

Ukraine War Relief: Revive Israel Tikkum: https://www.ritg.org/ukraine03

Hundreds of Russian Pastors Oppose War in Ukraine. Ukrainian evangelicals demand more Bonhoeffers, as Russian evangelicals debate whether public protest under Putin can achieve more than prayer. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news

Putin is after more than land -- he wants the religious soul of Ukraine. Make no mistake, Putin is seeking full capitulation from Ukraine -- both physical and spiritual. https://religionnews.com/2022/02/24/putin-is-after-more-than-land-he-wants-the-religious-soul-of-ukraine/

'Pray for Ukraine': Religious leaders call for peace and God's protection. In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, religious leaders prayed for peace and asked God to watch over civilians. https://religionnews.com/2022/02/24/pray-for-ukraine-religious-leaders-call-for-peace-and-ask-god-to-protect-civilians/

Incredible Compilation of Ukrainian Christians Turning to God, Praying Psalm 31 From Bomb Shelters Amid Deadly Uncertainty. https://www.faithwire.com/2022/03/03/incredible-compilation-of-ukrainian-christians-turning-to-god-praying-psalm-31-from-bomb-shelters-amid-deadly-uncertainty/

Anglican Mainstream's list of stories can be found here: https://anglicanmainstream.org/attack-on-ukraine/



Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top