This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
By Deborah Netburn
Wearing crisp, olive-green robes and a towering, white head covering embroidered with the somber face of Jesus, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, addressed the faithful from an ornate 10,000-seat cathedral in Moscow.
For weeks, religious leaders around the globe had been begging the bearded patriarch to speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But in weekly sermons that air live on Russian TV, Kirill, 75, has done just the opposite, painting the war as an apocalyptic battle against evil forces that have sought to destroy the God-given unity of Holy Russia.
The day before Russians marched on Ukraine, he congratulated Russian soldiers as defenders of the fatherland and said they “cannot have any doubt that they have chosen a very correct path in their lives.” Less than two weeks after the invasion began, he described the conflict as having “metaphysical significance” and warned his flock that the price of admission to the happy world of Western consumption and freedom was as simple as it was terrible: to agree to hold gay pride parades.
“We are talking about something different and much more important than politics,” he said. “We are talking about human salvation.”
Last week, the patriarch said it was “God’s truth” that the people of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus share a common spiritual and national heritage and should be united as one people — a direct echo of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s defense of the war.
“Someone must pray for our united people,” Kirill said, holding a gilded staff symbolizing his role as spiritual shepherd of the more than 90 million members of his church. “Someone must defend God’s truth that we are really one people.”
The same day, Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of bombing an art school where more than 400 people had sought shelter.
In a country where more than 71% of people identify as Russian Orthodox, Kirill is a powerful religious and political figure who has consistently refused to acknowledge the destruction, dislocation and growing death toll of the war in his frequent public statements.