According to a report by Release International based in the United Kingdom, Russian forces that have illegally occupied parts of Ukraine are shutting down non-Russian Orthodox churches and in some instance arresting their pastor, Premier Christian News report.
This includes the closure of a Grace Baptist Church in Melitopol on Sept 11, 2022, which was raided by armed Russian troops during its Sunday morning worship service that was being broadcast live.
Melitopol, located in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast region of East Ukraine, was occupied by Russian forces in late February.
The Russian soldiers entered as church members were singing a hymn. They ended the service, took down the names of all the attendees and arrested several of those leading the service.
The senior pastor, Mikhail Brisyn was ordered to leave the city within 48 hours.
Other churches were also raided and shut down in August including Melitopol Christian Church, which has a 1,000 seat auditorium and is the city’s largest church.
But the raid of a church in the small town of Chkalovo revealed what may be the motivating force behind these raids. Russian soldiers also entered the church during a service and tore down its cross but also told the congregation there was only one true Christian religion, Orthodoxy.
But this reference to Orthodoxy, only includes the Russian Orthodox Church, as Russian soldiers have also been raiding Ukrainian Orthodox churches, which were once aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).
The Ukraine Orthodox church became independent of the ROC in 2019, largely due to Russia’s illegal seizure of the Crimea in 2014.
The current leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, 75, has publicly supported Russian President Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine and criticized any who opposed the war.
Though he fell short of calling the invasion of Ukraine a Holy war, in a service held on September 28, 2012, Kirill stated that any Russian soldiers who died during the conflict will be immediately forgiven of all their sins.
Apparently, the objectives of this war are so sacred, these soldiers no longer need Christ to die for their sins.
During the same service, Kirill also supported Putin’s mobilization of 300,000+ Russian soldiers. The Patriarch added that it would aid ‘reconciliation,’ which may be a reference to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s decision to leave the ROC to which it has been subservient since 1689.
Oddly, Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, was actually the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church before the separation in 2019.
Then on Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday, Oct 7, 2022, Patriarch Kirill called Russians to two days of prayer for Putin for his health and long life. According to reports, Putin is suffering from severe health issues.
But Kirill didn’t stop there he went on to say that Putin has a mandate from God, the Daily Mail reported.
“God put you in power so that you could perform a service of special importance and of great responsibility for the fate of the country and the people entrusted in your care,” Kirill said.
However, Kirill’s close allegiance to Putin has been visible for years. In 2012, Putin had been President of Russia for 12 years and was seeking his third term, when Patriarch Kirill, who became head of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009, endorsed Putin’s campaign, by calling him as a ‘miracle of God.”
But some Christians outside Russia have a slightly different opinion of Putin, linking to him as Gog and Magog of Biblical end-times prophecy.
And even some priests within the Russian Orthodox Church have publicly opposed Russia’s invasion of their Ukraine brothers, but were quickly shut down by authorities.
Patriarch Kirill’s support of the invasion is causing a severe divide in the worldwide Orthodox church.
Many believe the Patriarch Kirill is being driven by a religious ideology called ‘Holy Rus’ or ‘Holy Russia,’ which looks upon Ukraine and Belarus as being part of Russia’s spiritual and political empire.
In a paper published on Public Orthodoxy, a site that provides scholarship on the Orthodox religion, it called ‘Holy Rus’ a heresy and described it this way:
The teaching states that there is a transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world. It holds that this “Russian world” has a common political centre (Moscow), a common spiritual centre (Kyiv as the “mother of all Rus’’), a common language (Russian), a common church (the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate), and a common patriarch (the Patriarch of Moscow), who works in ‘symphony’ with a common president/national leader (Putin) to govern this Russian world, as well as upholding a common distinctive spirituality, morality, and culture.
READ: Ukraine: Pro-Russian forces shutting down churches, arresting pastors