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'A Kind of Messiah': How Putin and His Patriarch Use Russian Religion to Wage an Unholy 'Holy War'

04-13-2022
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Russian President Vladimir Putin bathes in icy water during an Epiphany celebration outside Moscow, Jan. 19, 2021. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin bathes in icy water during an Epiphany celebration outside Moscow, Jan. 19, 2021. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

ABOVE:  Religion News Service writer Jack Jenkins appeared on CBN News' Faith Nation to talk more about the alliance between Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

An unholy alliance is attempting to portray Vladimir Putin's military action in Ukraine as a holy war for Russia. As the bloody invasion of Ukraine rages on, we now know Putin is partnering with the Russian Orthodox Church to justify the campaign as a "holy war." 

The decade-long effort to wrap Putin's ideology for Russia into the theology of the Russian Orthodox Church culminated with the patriarch of the church in Russia issuing a statement praising military service and congratulating Putin.

It happened just hours before the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine. 

The story of "how one priest turned Putin's invasion into a holy war," is outlined in a recent article in The Rolling Stone. In that article, Religion News Service writer Jack Jenkins describes the partnership between Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, along with their effort to rationalize an unjust war. 

"This dates back around 10 years ago at the beginning of Putin's third term," Jenkins noted. "Patriarch Kirill began working in tandem with Putin and kind of having the Russian Orthodox Church operate as a form of soft power for Putin in the region. It helped him kind of influence different parts, particularly countries that were part of a former Soviet block." 

He continued, "What that meant, over time, is that Kirill started preaching an ideology, this idea of a Russian world, this sort of trans-national Russian sphere of civilization that included Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other parts of Eastern Europe. The idea where Moscow was the political center, Kyiv was the spiritual heart and Kirill was of course the chief religious leader. He preached this in various ways throughout the past 10 years." 

"By the time we fast forward to just a few weeks ago, right before the invasion, you had Putin saying that Ukraine is an inalienable part of what he referred to as our spiritual space in Russia," Jenkins explained. "This sort of idea that Kyiv and Ukraine belong to Russia in a sort of spiritual sense so Kirill has been lending credence to that from a very large pulpit for some time."

And while Vladimir Putin is widely known to have been a Soviet KGB agent, records from the cold war have revealed Patriarch Kirill was a KGB spy during Soviet times. 

Kirill has described Putin's leadership of Russia as a "religious miracle," while Putin critic, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, says Putin "sees for himself a prospect of being a kind of messiah, a person who unites the whole Russian-speaking world. "

Putin's Patriarch Delivers a Disturbing Sermon Embracing Russia's 'Holy War' 

Many in the West might have missed a key, revelatory moment in the conflict, but Religion Dispatches reports Patriarch Kirill just gave his "most dangerous speech yet" about two weeks ago. The sermon was delivered at the Cathedral of the Armed Forces, a building that symbolically and literally merges Russia's religious and military aspirations.

Writer Katherine Kelaidis calls Kirill a "warmongering patriarch," pointing out that he told the leaders of Russia's military that their invasion of Ukraine was righteous by falsely labeling Ukraine a fascist foe, just like the one Russia actually faced in World War II.

It gets deeper though. Kirill refuses to admit that Ukrainians even exist, arguing they're actually part of "Holy Russia." As CBN's Faithwire has reported, Putin and Kirill see Ukraine as part of Russia's "spiritual space" because the Russian Orthodox church was headquartered in Kyiv a few centuries ago. 
 
Kelaidis warns it's important for the West to try to understand the implications of what Kirill preached because it exposes a religious rationale behind Putin's agenda. She explains that Kirill's sermon "does no less than refuse to acknowledge the distinction between Russian and Ukrainian culture and identity, and it denies Ukraine's right to exist as a sovereign nation, both historically and in the present. Furthermore, it legitimizes the ongoing violence as necessary and even, perhaps one could argue, holy." 

Meanwhile, Kirill and Putin have both now publicly quoted the same Bible verse to justify the brutal actions taken against Ukrainian civilians by Russia's military, saying their soldiers should be praised for "laying down their lives for a friend."    

MORE  What Does Vladimir Putin Believe About God? Why Some Say He Thinks He's a 'Messianic Figure'

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