Kill with God's forgiveness
The war strains faith and distorts the commandments, both in Kyiv and in Moscow. Father Lorenzo Zhivchik recognized yesterday in the cathedral of San Miguel, seat of the patriarchate of Ukraine, that "killing is not a sin when we kill to defend the homeland, to protect ourselves from evil." Kiril I, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, thinks the same from the dark side of the faith. He has blessed Putin's war and refused to condemn civilian deaths. He believes that the violence is necessary because “we are talking about the salvation of man”, that is, of the Ukrainians.
Between the two, Father Andrí Klushev, parish priest of San Nicolás, in Irpín, a city north of Kyiv with the wounds of the Russian occupation wide open, confessed that his faith has hung by a thread. “I don't know how many times I've yelled at God these last few weeks. He shouted at her full of anger and incomprehension, dejected to see how the Russian soldiers killed women, children and the elderly, right here, a stone's throw from this church”.
Fathers Andrí and Lorenzo admit that they cannot forgive the crimes of the Russian soldiers
Father Andrí officiates two or three funerals a day and does not think he will be able to forgive. “There are sins that cannot be forgiven. It is very difficult. Surely God will forgive the murderers of my parishioners, but I don't think he can."
Father Lorenzo faces the same dilemma. “At least fifty years must pass before we can speak of reconciliation. There can be no forgiveness without repentance and I don't think the Russians will admit their crimes."
Two enemies and the same God, another religious contradiction that does not surprise Father Andrí. “The Bible – he says – has served to justify all wars. The violent have always hidden behind the back of Jesus. Now Kiril does it.” "By justifying the horror - adds Father Lorenzo - Kiril does not serve Our Lord, but his opponent, the devil". “He cannot be a man of God – Andrí insists – the one who belongs to a diabolical world, the one who serves a power as abject as Putin's, which he orders to be killed for a nationalist messianism”.
Among the justifications for the war, Putin added a spiritual dimension as Kyiv is the cradle of the Slavic Orthodox Church. Kiril supports this narrative. It is a holy war to “free the brothers and sisters of Ukraine from their suffering”. Brother Andrí saw him on television blessing the Russian troops and understood that this act was more political than religious, that Kiril was no longer his father.
The Church of St. Nicholas in Irpin belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate. There are about 12,000 in Ukraine, many of them around Kyiv. Andrí and his parishioners, however, have asked to join the Ukrainian church, which in 2019 managed to split from Moscow. “Until now we had not thought about it. It was a formality. We not only believe in the same God, but we share the liturgy, but we can no longer continue under the tutelage of Kiril”. Little by little, the Moscow patriarchate is running out of parishes in the Ukraine. He has already lost half of those he had and Father Lorenzo affirms that every week dozens of requests arrive to change the patriarchy.
Orthodox Holy Week started last Sunday. They are the most important days of the religious calendar and this year the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus seems more complex than ever. Russians and Ukrainians think they are fighting against evil, but as Father Andrí says, "there is clearly an aggressor and a victim, the evil is on the side of Russia, not Ukraine." Still, he and Lorenzo pray for the Russian people. "We ask for mutual understanding and peace," says Lorenzo.
Lorenzo lives in San Miguel, protected by armed soldiers, and wonders what good can come of this evil. Andrí does the same in San Nicolás and his answers indicate the long way he still has to go. Lorenzo idealizes an eminently good, free and sovereign Ukraine. Andrí doesn't go that far. It would be enough for justice to break through, for Russian soldiers guilty of war crimes to sit down one day in front of their victims and acknowledge the atrocity of their acts. "That it is possible, only God knows."
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