“Russian Orthodox Church is turning into a terrorist organization,” says Ukrainian theologian
Ukraine has always been a culturally rich country: between Orthodox Catholics linked to Moscow or independent, Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims, ecumenical dialogue remains a challenge and a necessity. Since the beginning of the war, however, the adversities are different. If, on the one hand, President Vladimir Putin does not hide his expansionist pretensions, on the other, Patriarch Cyril of Moscow acts as an ally of the Kremlin, even though thousands of Ukrainians are under his religious rule. In an interview with People’s Gazette Dzyubanskyy shared his impressions about the future of religious dialogue in the country, as well as its importance in uncertain times.
Considering the speeches of President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Cyril of Moscow, of the Russian Orthodox Church, we know that the war in Eastern Europe has a religious root. The biggest example is the references to the “common spiritual destiny” of Ukraine and Russia. Does this argument have any support among Ukrainians?
First of all, whatever Putin says and claims must be seriously scrutinized and questioned. Then, in relation to religion and Putin, it is clear that there is nothing authentically religious about his aspirations. Whatever their motives, they are certainly not motivated by religion. They are definitely fueled by religious sentiments and homilies from the Orthodox clergy who use religion – in this case the Russian Orthodox Church, but also the Muslim communities – as a tool for evil, as a weapon for terror.
For him, trusting the church and religions is a mere instrument to achieve goals. Cyril, the military patriarch, proved to be on the side of evil and terror. The Russian Orthodox Church is showing all the signs that it is turning into a terrorist organization, worse than any terrorist organization I have ever seen. Images of Russian clergy blessing the tanks, grenades and missiles are a sign that there is nothing sacred to them.
Concepts such as the sanctity of human life or the dignity of the person created in the image and likeness of God – which is the foundation of Christian anthropology – do not make sense to them. They just don’t relate to these concepts and values. See what they did to other human beings, to animals, to their own people. Pictures speak louder than words here.
We are all used to thinking of religion and culture as “soft power” tools, with soft power to influence people’s thinking and behavior. For Putin, religion and culture are seen as brute force, like weapons, tanks and missiles. I think the West should realize that religion and culture should not be seen as a secondary element. From dance performances to cartoons, from entertainers to religious leaders – we must be careful when addressing who, what and when.
As for the supposed “common spiritual destiny”, there is no doubt that it is pure fantasy, a wish that Putin and Cyril project into their quasi-imperialist endeavors. We share no constructive past or future with the terrorist and evil state. The past we shared with them was full of repressions, deaths, genocides and famines. No more.
There are reports that the different positions adopted by Patriarch Cyril of Moscow, in favor of Putin, and by Metropolitan Onufryi, of the Kiev Orthodox Church, in favor of Ukraine, could create an unprecedented division in the Orthodox Church. How does this affect religious relations in Ukraine?
The future of the Russian Orthodox Church is very bleak: in my opinion, this organization will be dissolved and anyone who ally with it will face consequences in a civilized world.
It could be said that there is a division, but I would say that this would be an organized growth within Christianity and a conversion to its true nature. Declaring any canonical estrangement and break with the Cyril/Putin church would mean finally recognizing that we need to get rid of the cancerous tumor in the body of Christ, which is the Church. The body of Christ is bleeding with the blood of thousands of innocent victims. In one of his recent statements, Metropolitan Epifaniy actually compared Cyril to the Antichrist. Cyril is a military patriarch, not a spiritual leader.
On the other hand, I notice that Ukrainians who are linked to the Russian Orthodox Church experience a kind of cognitive dissonance when they see their church approving attacks on their own children, their brothers. I think that, in this sense, dialogue will be an instrument, but not now. We need the Russian Orthodox Church to be recognized as an aggressor by the faithful, and for them to truly regret what is happening. Your actions must be consistent with your words.
Religion is a very important part of people’s identity and the experience of interreligious dialogue has much to contribute in bringing to the table values of peace, but also of justice and forgiveness. Peace without repentance, forgiveness, justice and conversion is not really possible. All these principles will have their place once the members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine have understood this.
In the West, there are conservative Christians who see Putin as the “true defender” of Christian values with courage enough to oppose the progressivism that dominates the United States and Europe. What is your view on the matter? Is it correct to characterize it like this?
Although the narrative of defending Christian values (and here we would also say Jews, Muslims and other religions) is very important, legitimate and necessary in our societies, the way in which this is done by Putin is not consistent with his way of life or with its ideology. You see, it’s not just the message that counts, but the messenger as well. What kind of credibility does he have? By what authority and means is he defending and promoting this narrative?
I know many atheists and people who claim no religious identity who are saints in what they do for humanity, compared to Putin or Cyril who brag about their Christian identity while sending missiles and rockets to kill the innocent. We need to talk about credibility and here once again we see Putin and Cyril simply using religion and the church as an instrument, as a weapon to radicalize and kill. Compared to some of the terrorist organizations, Putin’s clan is much more dangerous and evil.
So my response to conservative Christians in the West who try to cover up the autocrat hiding behind religion and church is simple: stop being naive. Considering what we’ve seen in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, and now what we’re witnessing in Ukraine, this so-called “defender of values” is actually pure evil.
Ukraine is one of the countries that has received the most Jews in recent years. On the other hand, it faces a problem with neo-Nazi groups like the Azov Battalion. Is antisemitism a challenge for interreligious dialogue?
In light of recent events and in recent years, it has become clear that behind any anti-Semitic and even Islamophobic instance in Ukraine, Russians have always played an instrumental role. In many cases, we have seen Jewish and Islamic leaders and thinkers deny that Ukraine is an anti-Semitic or Islamophobic country, to the point of claiming that the level of anti-Semitism in the country is one of the lowest in Europe! Claims that Ukraine is a Nazi country are easily debunked by the simple fact that over 70% of our population voted for a Jew – Volodymyr Zelenskyy – to become president!
Look at all the demonstrations that fought for dignity in the recent past: like no other period in history, we have seen religious authorities from Judaism and Islam together with Christian leaders – except those from the Russian Church, of course – who spoke and even prayed together for unity and peace.
As for the issue of anti-Semitism: there is no recipe, but I can give you some examples mainly from the history of the Catholic Church and its revolutionary document Nostra Aetate about how Jews should be treated: with respect and responsibility. The Catholic Church is clear: one cannot be a follower of Christ and at the same time anti-Semitic. Christianity has its roots in Judaism and is part of our identity.
Why is interfaith dialogue important during a war? How does Centro Libertas contribute to this dialogue, before and during the conflict?
During war it is difficult, if not impossible, to talk about dialogue and promote dialogue. This is obvious: amidst the bombs and missiles, the population is more concerned about their lives and safety. And yet, in this context, dialogue takes on a whole other meaning: it becomes one of the ways to find a ray of hope and express one’s humanity even in the most inhumane situations. This may seem paradoxical, but as a Christian and Catholic, I find strength in the words of the Bible: even in the darkest of times, God does not abandon his people.
For many years, both the Institute of Religion and Society and the Libertas Center have worked to spread dialogue, both ecumenical and interreligious. I am very confident that the seeds we have sown are being seen in all the humanitarian efforts we see from churches, parishes and religious communities, which are often among the first institutions to respond to humanitarian crises by providing food, shelter, spiritual and physical comfort. .
We recently saw the Mayor of Kiev appeal to religious leaders to come and visit Ukraine as a sign of solidarity and support. More than twenty religious leaders and authorities expressed their desire to do so. But think of that gesture of a mayor, a secular authority, a former athlete! All this leads us to believe in the power of spirituality and religion.
In addition, we have received many requests from other interfaith centers, organizations and associations. Just yesterday I was contacted by some monks from India who would like to create a prayer dedicated to Ukraine.
As for our current activities, in addition to providing humanitarian support and assistance, we will soon launch a training program for volunteers and people working with refugees and internally displaced people, for skills development and best practices. We are partnering with professional centers around the world, such as the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue in Rome. In addition, we are working on an interfaith rehabilitation program for victims of war. This will include pharmacological help, physical and spiritual assistance, as well as artistic and theatrical therapeutic practices.