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Orthodox advocacy group, archbishop call for sanctions against Russian Orthodox clerics

Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Russian President Vladmir Putin (L) visits the Trinity Lavra monastery with Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, in Sergeiv Posad in the Moscow region July 18, 2014. |

The Orthodox Public Affairs Committee and a Ukrainian archbishop are calling for sanctions to be placed on the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, alleging that they are “complicit” in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

OPAC, which exists to “provide public advocacy for the global Orthodox Christian Church, and to promote, support, defend and champion Christian communities worldwide in the face of persecution, exclusion, and prejudice,” released a statement Monday condemning the response of the Russian Orthodox leadership to the invasion.

The statement comes nearly a month into the invasion, which has caused a massive humanitarian crisis in Eastern Europe as hundreds of civilians have been killed and more than 10 million have been displaced from their homes. 

“Patriarch Kirill, his possible successor, Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokomansk, who heads the Public Relations wing of the Moscow Patriarchate; the Department of External Church Relations (DECR), and the Rev. Nikolai Balashov, a priest of the DECR and long-time accomplice to Kirill, are all complicit in not only supporting the invasion of Ukraine, but also in perpetuating the lies of the government against their own people,” the OPAC statement reads.

The group, founded in 2020 and led by a former Trump White House official, contends that the Russian Orthodox leaders “have abandoned the Orthodox People of Ukraine, who make up 1/3 of their flock, and are as blameworthy for the deaths of innocent children and civilians as the soldiers acting on orders from the Kremlin.”

The committee said, “the idea that this invasion was for the benefit of the Ukrainian people would be laughable, if it were not matched by such horrific war crimes.”

“As OPAC, we cannot stand by and listen to the lies coming out of these so-called ‘shepherds’ of the Church of Russia, who are acting more like wolves in sheep’s clothing,” OPAC asserted.

“Like all the other oligarchs and government officials in Russia, these Clerics must be sanctioned now and be held accountable for their betrayal of the Orthodox Faith, and their complicity in this unjust and bloodcurdling war.”

OPAC’s call for sanctions against the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church comes more than three weeks after Patriarch Kirill referred to Ukrainians fighting back against Russian soldiers as “evil forces” who were fighting against “the unity of Russia and the Russian Church.”

OPAC was launched in November 2020 and led by George Gigicos, who served as the director of the White House Office of Presidential Advance under President Donald Trump. The organization was founded to “expose and combat the persecution of Christians around the globe" and says it advocates for all persecuted Christians. 

Archbishop Yevstratiy of Chernihiv and Nizhyn of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine also called on sanctions against Russian Orthodox Church leaders for their comments about the Russian invasion of Ukraine last week, The Orthodox Times reported.

Yevstratiy, who serves as a spokesperson for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, specifically called for sanctions against Patriarch Kirill, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Father Nikolaos Balasov and Metropolitan Tikhon Pskov and Porkhov.

“Four members of the Russian Orthodox Church are as guilty as Russian ministers, propogandists [sic], and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s oligarchs who have already been included in the list of sanctions,” he said.

Yevstratiy maintained that the Russian Orthodox Church officials “must be included in the international and Ukrainian sanctions list, as active members of the Kremlin regime, responsible for planning, executing and facilitating the war in Ukraine.”

Additionally, Yevstratiy characterized the aforementioned leaders as “the main supporters of the idea of the ‘Russian World,’ a neo-imperialist plan that created the ideological background of Russian aggression against Ukraine.” 

“All the above-mentioned individuals, due to their positions and the system that has been created in Russia between the state and the Church, undoubtedly maintain constant contact with the Russian special services, with government officials and with the presidential administration of the Russian Federation.”

Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991. The Eastern European country achieved independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and gave up its nuclear weapons after signing the Budapest Memorandum.

The 1994 agreement stipulated that Great Britain, Russia, and the United States would protect Ukraine if it was attacked by a hostile foreign power and vowed to respect its “territorial integrity or political independence.” 

While the memorandum includes assurances of protection, it doesn't carry the same weight as a legally binding treaty agreement and has no enforcement measures. 

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a series of sanctions that the U.S., along with a coalition of allied nations, would impose. The sanctions apply to “Russian elites” who have “personally gained from the Kremlin’s policies” and Russian banks. “Every asset they have in America will be frozen,” he vowed.

The calls for sanctions against the Russian Orthodox Church leaders come as Biden heads to Europe this week and will meet with NATO allies to discuss the international response to Russia’s actions.

The White House listed discussions about “efforts to support Ukraine and impose severe and unprecedented costs on Russia for its invasion” as part of the agenda for the president’s trip, which will include stops in Brussels, Belgium as well as Warsaw, Poland.

Biden's administration is gearing up to sanction hundreds of Russian lawmakers. The Wall Street Journal reports that an announcement could come Thursday. 

There has been a rift between the Russian Orthodox Church and the global Orthodox community in recent years.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, which holds authority over the world’s 300 million Orthodox believers, recognized the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as independent in 2019, meaning the Ukrainian Orthodox churches no longer fall under the jurisdiction of Moscow Patriarch Kirill. 

The Russian Orthodox Church voted months prior to cut ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople after a Ukrainian church was granted independence. 

Following the Ukrainian Orthodox Church being granted autocephaly, several churches under Moscow’s jurisdiction severed their ties with the Russian church, moves that “infuriated Russian nationalist sentiments,” according to James W. Carr, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

“The Russian government uses distortions of religious history to support its claim that Ukrainians have no independent ethno-religious identity or state tradition," Carr warned earlier this month in a statement voicing concern that the religious freedom of Ukrainian Orthodox believers is in "jeopardy."

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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