There’s no such thing as a holy war, despite what Patriarch Kirill declares. CNS photo/Courtesy of the Russian Orthodox Church, Department for External Church Relations

The heresy of declaring holy war

  • May 23, 2024

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church is espousing heresy. His views are heretical because he has enlisted God in a campaign of violence, declaring that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a holy war. 

Kirill is not the only proponent of heresy. All who declare that God stands on their side in some conflict also oppose the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whether that conflict be an armed skirmish or the Stanley Cup playoffs. But Kirill’s heresy is particularly loathsome, first, because he is a renowned Church leader and, second, because he has dragged the Russian Orthodox Church across the line which should separate the Church and politics. He says the Ukrainian people do not exist but are merely a subset of Russia. On that basis, he asserts that Russian foreign policy should reunify its people and stand against “the onslaught of globalism and the victory of the West, which has fallen into Satanism.”

In an article in the April 27 issue of the British Catholic magazine The Tablet, Myroslav Marynovych, president of the Institute for Religion and Society at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, points out Kirill’s heresy and calls for the Eastern and Western Church to oppose it just as it united against the numerous heresies of the first millennium.

There is no such thing as a holy war. The God we worship is the God who emptied Himself of His divinity to become human and, having become human, emptied Himself further to accept death on a cross. The God of Jesus Christ raised not a finger in defence against His accusers and against those who executed Him. He waged no war, holy or not.

God is love, and wherever love abides, God lives as well. On the night before His death, Jesus declared, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). 

Christian love is not a form of conquest but rather a relationship of unity between people and God, and among people themselves. We would rather give our own lives than take the life of another. Why? Because that is what Jesus did.

The centre of Christian living is the paschal mystery, the mystery of Christ’s death, Resurrection and Ascension to the Father. We often use the word “victory” to describe the Resurrection. But it is a victory that occurs only after the ultimate defeat, the abandonment and death of Christ on the Cross. If we want the victory, we must first accept abandonment and death.

St. Paul twice wrote to the Christians in Corinth challenging them to never boast, except of things that show their weakness. God shows His presence when we are at our weakest, when we are dependent on Him.

None of this is evident in Kirill’s pronouncement of a holy war, a war declared to establish total dominance of one nation over another. His understanding of God is that of a warrior who can be enlisted in the service of what one man or nation declares good and against whatever they declare to be evil. He forgets that God is present in the heart of every human person. We can never, without astounding arrogance, declare another person to be evil, no matter how deplorable the actions of that person. Instead, we ought to seek the Spirit living in that person’s heart and help them to rely ever more strongly on the gentle power of that Spirit.

We too ought to withdraw from any suggestion that God is an entity in the way that we are entities. God is a mystery beyond understanding and beyond our control. God is revealed through Jesus Christ, God’s Son and a man of non-violence even when others persecuted Him.

We may and ought to pray to God, including prayers of intercession urging that good may be done and evil overcome. But our prayers are not attempts to control God or cajole God to give us power and defeat our enemies. They are prayers of love, prayers rooted in our weakness and prayers which respect divine autonomy. They always include, at least implicitly, the petition “Thy will be done.” Our prayers also include, again implicitly, the desire that unity may triumph over strife.

God’s kingdom has no holy wars, no usurpation of God’s authority by mere mortals. Remember! That’s what got Adam in trouble in the first place. Christians ought to know their place in relation to God and to live out that relationship in love.

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