With a cross and a gun. Russian church at war
Russian military priest in Ukraine. Photo: Telegram channel Dukhovny Spetsnaz SVO
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church has played a key role in providing moral and spiritual legitimacy and support to Putin and his accomplices. Not only is Patriarch Kirill speaking warmly about the military aggression against the neighboring country, the Church is also sending many of its men to the war zone.
In his speech at this week’s conference organised by World Russian National Council, an organisation run by the Church, Vladimir Putin praised the clergy for its war engagement.
Putin underlined that he was “sincerely grateful” for the support provided by churchmen to the front and to families of killed soldiers.
“I know that there are many representatives of the World Russian National Council that now are in Donbas and Novorossiya among volunteers, in military units and with combat comrades that protect our brothers and sisters […],” he told the audience of about 6,000 people, most of them clergymen and church officials.
Putin reiterated several of his flagrant propaganda points and explained that the war was a necessary “battle for security and prosperity.”
“Our battle is for our sovereignty, for justice and, without any exaggeration, it has the character of a national-emancipatory effort, because we stand up for our people’s security and prosperity and our historical right to exist as Russia, as a strong, independent power and civilisation.”
He added that Russia is “fighting for its freedom and the freedom of the whole world” and that “today’s official ideology of western elites is rusophobia, racism and neo-nazism.”
The speech of the war leader was performed on video and was followed by big applause from the audience. In his subsequent address, Patriarch Kirill highlighted the key role of Orthodoxy in the so-called ‘Russian World’ (russky mir) and he praised the common understanding between church and state.
The Russian Church is well represented along the frontline, and Orthodox crosses, icons and religious symbols can be seen next to propaganda posters and military gear.
A big number of priests and church representatives are in the area to provide spiritual support and boost moral among soldiers.
According to Patriarch Kirill, up to 25 priests are at any given time working in the war zone. They serve in periods for 2-4 weeks at the time, he said in late 2022 in a meeting with military clergymen that had returned from duty.
In addition comes a significant number of none-staff laymen, he explained.
In that same meeting, the patriarch commemorated the loss of five priests that have been killed in the area. Among them was Aleksandr Tsyganov, a 35 year old man from St.Petersburg that served with the 76th Airborne Division in Pskov.
Tsyganov was himself a highly trained military that took part in exercises. When his airborne unit few years ago went to the North Pole, he himself jumped in parachute down to the white Arctic sheet. He was killed by a shell in November 2022. He had been several times on occupied Ukrainian land ever since 2014, his local diocese in Pskov informs.
In that same attack was killed also Mikhail Vasilev, a military priest from Moscow that reportedly had experiences from numerous conflict zones, among them Kosovo, Bosnia, Abkhazia, Kirghizia, the North Caucasus and Syria.
According to a list shared this October on several social media pages affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church, there are at least 108 priests and church representative now serving in Ukraine.
The list also includes the names of 24 clerics that have been killed and another three that are reported missing. The authors of the list also send prayers to twelve priests that are reported as injured.
Among the priests killed is Oleg Artyemov from St. Petersburg. He reportedly used to serve in a nuclear submarine based in the Pacific Fleet, a newspaper associated with the Church informed in March 2022.
Patriarch Kirill himself visited the Pacific Fleet in Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka, in September this year. In an address to the sailors, the church leader called the nuclear submarine fleet the “shield and sword of the Motherland.”
“In your arms is the most efficient, most dangerous and most terrible sword that can bring incurable injury to the enemy,” Kirill said.
Over the last years, the Russian Orthodox Church has significantly strengthened cooperation with the Russian Armed Forces. So-called military-political representatives are today actively promoting Orthodox values, patriotism and political correctness in all major military units in close interaction with the Church.
In 2009, the Church decided to start developing a military clergy and in 2013 the Church Holy Synod adopted regulations for military priesthood.
In the far northern Kola Peninsula, a significant number of military priests now work together with the Northern Fleet. Among them is Sergei Cherichenko, who is based in Sputnik, the base of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade.
Cherichenko has himself served a period in Ukraine. Ahead of his department to the war zone, the archpriest was awarded a medal for his efforts to “strengthen the battle brotherhood.”
A letter signed by Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu, praised the archpriest’s “great personal contribution to strengthen fighter comradeship and military cooperation.”
Cherichenko is known as a hardliner with extreme views on issues of Church and state development.
According to the priest, who is based only few kilometres from Norway and Finland, Russia’s stand-off with the West is all about values.
“A unique feature about church service on the northern boundaries of Russia is an emphasis on the strengthening of a spiritual forward position on the border to Europe in a strategically important neighbourhood to NATO,” he wrote in a social media comment.
Cherichenko was previously actively posting on social media. During his stay on occupied territories he underlined that Russia is “fighting against evil.”
“We are united by a common understanding that we are fighting against evil, where we, and only we, are the representatives of the light. Nobody forgets Mariupol, Kherson, how they eliminated children, raped, sold organs, how strange rituals of sacrifice remain in their falsified installations, how they have some kind of voodoo statues, how under their sweaters strange goats with evil eyes pop up,” he said in a video comment on Telegram.
“They have all sold their souls to the devil,” he underlined.