In a sermon on Sunday Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill described the war as part of a struggle against "sin" and pressure from liberal foreigners.

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What “sins” can be so great that they justify an airstrike on a children’s hospital and maternity ward in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, leaving adults and children buried beneath rubble, killing three and wounding 17?

“Gay parades.”

This atrocious act, one of many that drew international condemnation and strengthened crippling sanctions against Russia, was committed just days after Kirill used “spiritual” terms to describe the conflict, according to Religion News Service:

We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance.

A longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kirill said in his sermon that the conflict was part of a struggle against “sin” and pressure from liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades” as the price of admission to their ranks.

He echoed Putin’s unfounded claims that Ukraine was engaged in the “extermination” of Russian loyalists in Donbas, the breakaway eastern region of Ukraine held since 2014 by two Russian-backed separatist groups.

Kirill focused virtually all of his talk about the war on Donbas — with no mention of Russia’s widespread invasion and its bombardment of civilian targets.

He claimed that a “world power” was in the process of imposing gay pride parades and “excess consumption” on countries determined to resist liberal Western values.

In reality, the invasion (as noted previously) is a determined bid by the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin to destroy the values of liberal, secular democracies in Europe and align them with their expansionist goals, including the imposition of restrictive religious practices.

The world is witnessing a new version of an old tale—the quest to re-create an imperial Christian state, a neo-medieval ‘Holy Roman Empire’—uniting political, economic and spiritual power into an entity to control the earthly and heavenly destiny of European peoples.

Diana Butler Bass, Religion News SErvice

Kirill had already refrained from criticizing the Russian invasion, alienating many in the Ukrainian Orthodox churches who had previously stayed loyal to the Moscow patriarch during a schism in their country.

Several of these former loyalists are now snubbing Kirill in their public prayers, with some demanding independence from the Moscow church even as their country’s political independence is imperiled.

RNS reports that Orthodox Christians in Ukraine have been outraged by the patriarch’s stance on the war, and numerous bishops in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have authorized their priests to exclude Kirill in their prayers during public worship services.

The Rev. Mykola Danilevich, who has served as a spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, confirmed on his Telegram account that:

Many of our priests have stopped commemorating the Moscow Patriarch for worship services. And the reason is obvious. The treacherous open invasion of Ukraine is a huge mistake of Russia. … People did not hear from the patriarch a clear assessment of this war and his call to stop this madness.

Clergy in at least two dioceses—Lviv and Volodymyr-Volynskaare—are calling for independence from the Moscow church.

A separate report says that more than 275 Russian Orthodox priests and deacons from around the world have signed an open letter expressing their opposition to the invasion.

The letter called for “the cessation of the fratricidal war” against Ukraine, insisted the “people of Ukraine should make their choice on their own” and lamented the “trial that our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected to.”

Many Ukrainian Orthodox Christians are shocked that Kirill “condemned evil in the broadest terms but said nothing about the war let alone its initiation by Russia,” said Catherine Wanner, a Pennsylvania State University professor of history, anthropology, and religious studies.

The Rev. Cyril Hovorun, professor of ecclesiology, international relations, and ecumenism at University College Stockholm, suggested that Kirill’s latest comments show him to be in a “golden cage.”

He said Kirill helped “supply the ideology” that Putin has used to justify Russian hegemony over the region, and in return, the church has received strong government support.

Even if he (Kirill) understands what is going on in Ukraine with the war, even if he wants to speak up and name things by their proper name, he can’t. He is a completely unfree figure that needs to follow faithfully the official narrative.

Archbishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA said Patriarch Kirill’s latest comments were “incomprehensible.”

Regardless of our beliefs and regardless of our stance on social and moral issues, you cannot use that as a propaganda tool to justify the Russian invasion and the slaughter of innocent people.

Many Orthodox and other religious conservatives, including in Ukraine, share Kirill’s stance on sexual ethics, said the Rev. John Burgess, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of ‘Holy Rus’: The Rebirth of Orthodoxy in the New Russia.

But Ukrainians and Ukrainian Orthodox are under attack, are suffering, are afraid for the future for the nation. None of that is reflected in the sermon. If rockets are falling on Kharkiv and Kyiv, and the patriarch starts talking about gay parades, it seems like something is odd here.

Burgess suggested that clerics who are currently distancing themselves from Kirill:

Could be Risking their very future. If President Putin and the Russians truly prevail in Ukraine, what will happen to these bishops? They’ll be removed, or they’ll have to go into the underground.

What effect will economic sanctions have on Russia? We know that the ruble has plummeted in value. The currency touched a record low of 110 to the dollar in Moscow at the beginning of March, hitting the living standards of ordinary Russians.

According to Al Jazeera, Western leaders know that sanctions will not immediately stop the war, but hope that they would inflict enough damage on the Russian economy to help de-escalate the conflict.

The Russian economy is going down the ice chute, and no one knows today when this downward spiral will end. It is safe to say that the economy will slow down sharply and the standard of living will fall, but it is premature to give any quantitative estimates today.

Sergey Aleksashenko
Former deputy minister of finance of Russia, via Al Jazeera

Meanwhile, it’s reported that Russia has retaliated against countries that have imposed economic sanctions on it by drawing up a list of “unfriendly” states. Today, without a trace of irony, Putin described the sanctions against Russia as “illegitimate.”

Russia’s list, issued on March 7, includes Taiwan, Ukraine, the US, EU countries, the UK, Canada, Montenegro, Switzerland, Albania, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, North Macedonia, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Micronesia, New Zealand, and Singapore.

Russian companies doing business with these countries will now be required to obtain special government authorization, Newsweek cited Russia as saying.

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Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....