Spiritual leader of worldwide Orthodox Church denounces invasion of Ukraine
The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians on Tuesday denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an “atrocious” act that is causing enormous suffering.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I didn’t mention Russia by name in comments made during a visit to Warsaw after meeting with Ukrainian refugees. Poland has accepted the largest number of people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
“It is simply impossible to imagine how much devastation this atrocious invasion has caused for the Ukrainian people and the entire world,” Bartholomew said at a news briefing. He added that solidarity with Ukrainians “is the only thing that can overcome evil and darkness in the world.”
Bartholomew, who is based in Istanbul, is considered “first among equals” among Orthodox patriarchs. Although he is the titular head of the Orthodox Church worldwide, other Orthodox leaders — including Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church — are able to wield more power from their base in countries with larger Orthodox populations.
Kirill is closely allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin and, instead of condemning the invasion, has hailed Russian soldiers as defenders of the fatherland and painted the war in spiritual terms, as a battle between good and evil — the latter being exemplified by the decadent West.
Ukraine’s population is mostly Orthodox Christian, but is divided between an independent church based in Kyiv and another one loyal to Kirill in Moscow.
Putin’s war relies on an ultranationalist ideology pushed by far-right Russian thinkers who see Ukrainian nationhood as a fiction.
Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church severed contact with Bartholomew after the Istanbul patriarch recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as independent of the Moscow patriarch in 2019.
Even though Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine in part as a defense of the Moscow-oriented Orthodox Church, leaders of both Ukrainian Orthodox factions are fiercely condemning the Russian invasion, as is Ukraine’s significant Catholic minority.
Bartholomew said it was hard to find words to describe the suffering of the Ukrainians he met in Poland and referred to Scripture instead, quoting the prophet Jeremiah: “If my head was a spring of water, and if my eyes were a fountain of tears, I would weep all day and night for the slaying of my people.”
Bartholomew also met with Roman Catholic Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, who went even further in his denunciation of Russia’s actions, which he said bore “the hallmarks of genocide.” Unlike Bartholomew, Gadecki mentioned Russia by name.
Moscow says it will scale back its offensive around the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv in part to give more impetus to peace talks.
Gądecki said Russia’s invasion has resulted in the deaths of “thousands of innocent people” including “hundreds of children, elderly people, women and men who had nothing to do with the hostilities.”
“Many of the aggressor’s actions bear the hallmarks of genocide,” Gadecki said.
The senior Polish cleric earlier this month urged Kirill to use his influence with Putin to demand an end to the war and for Russian soldiers to stand down — going further than Pope Francis in his public statements to date.
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