Caught in the escalation, will Vladimir Putin dare to resort to nuclear strikes? If he yields to this ultimate dizziness, he will not fail to invoke Seraphim of Sarov, the Slavic Francis of Assisi whom Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow, consecrated as patron saint of the Russian atomic arsenal. A controversial feature? To caricature themselves, the two potentates do not need anyone. The pact that has bound them for twenty years has long had its share of kitsch, involuntarily comic devilry. The war in Ukraine reveals its Luciferian dimension.
On February 23, the eve of the invasion, from his palace in the Danilov Lavra, Kirill congratulates Putin on the occasion of the “Defender of the Fatherland” feast. On the 27th, in full offensive, in his homily to Christ the Saviour, Kirill castigates the “forces of evil” who want to prevent Putin from realizing “the unity of all Russia”. It is, for the Orthodox, the Sunday before Lent, known as the Last Judgment. The civil and liturgical calendars collide in the deadly ballet in which the last two heads of the Church and head of state to come from thehomo sovieticus.
This sacrilegious alliance is a legacy of the totalitarian era. In Russia, after 1989, only the Patriarchate and the KGB remain as institutions. But these are old acquaintances. Under Brezhnev, Metropolitan Nicodemus of Leningrad (died 1978), a child of persecution, traded international collaboration for domestic moderation. His disciples occupy the major seats of the Soviet Union, the vicariate of Moscow, the bishoprics of Minsk and Kiev. Among them, Kirill of Smolensk who took over the Department of External Affairs of the Russian Church, before conquering the patriarchal throne in 2009.
The rises of Kirill and Vladimir Putin have been parallel. The pontificate of one and the reign of the other will merge. To grow with the new tsar, the pontiff is not satisfied with blessing the politico-religious meccano of the Kremlin, he maximizes it: he is transformed into manager of minority confessions, into codifier of sacredness and mores, into chaplain of the organs and oligarchs, absolving the prevailing corruption while carving out a personal fortune.
Its crucial mission in the service of the imperial restoration, however, is played out abroad. The Patriarchate of Moscow is the only entity that still covers the territory of the former USSR. Kirill will endorse Putin’s diplomatic aggressiveness. He enacted the ideology of the “all-Russian world”, ensured docile hierarchies in Belarus and Ukraine, maintained ethnic dioceses from Estonia to Kazakhstan and united the refractory branches of emigration in the West if necessary by bribing. But to affirm his will to power, Kirill will break the Orthodox unity.
From 2016, confusing the ability to dominate and the power to harm, he began by refusing to participate in the great council convened by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Then investing the Holy Land, he seeks to exploit the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Embarking on the war in Syria, he tries to enslave the Patriarchate of Antioch. Accompanying the Wagner division in Africa, he endeavors to torpedo the Patriarchate of Alexandria. And when in 2019 the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, Primate of Orthodoxy, prophetically grants Ukraine the status of an independent Church, Kirill declares it “apostate” and enters into schism.
But this time it’s too much. Even Metropolitan Onufrij, his legate at the head of the faction that remained loyal to Big Brother in Ukraine, has just called for patriotic resistance. It was clear that, deprived of its notable Ukrainian base, the Moscow Patriarchate would be no more than one Orthodox Church among others. It is done. It is now up to Patriarch Bartholomeos and Pope Francis to act together so that the terrible conflict in Ukraine does not rekindle the murderous divisions of the past between Orthodox, Latin Catholics and Greek Catholics. The future of Europe is also at stake on this front. It is that of the lived Gospel.