CRAWLEY INTER FAITH NETWORK.                                                               Wednesday 29 th June 2022
ORTHODOXY and The conflict between Russia and Ukraine

The evening began with introductions. Those present identified themselves with a brief note about the faith community they belong to. Steve began the proceedings by describing the context of this meeting : to understand something of the issues that underlie the political situation between Russia and Ukraine. Sadly politics is a major factor for the tension which affects many religious communities around the World and it is apparent that the hostilities taking place in that part of the World is linked with the history of the Christian Church. This account is the Crawley Inter Faith Network’s summary of the proceedings of the meeting.

Byzantine Coat of Arms

The broad picture is that the Orthodox Church is the Church in the East. If you think of the days of the Roman Empire, there was a Western component centred on Rome and an Eastern component centred on Byzantium, that is Constantinople, established by the Emperor Constantine in 330 C.E. Orthodoxy originated from the time of the Apostolic era and so effectively it sees itself as being the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, as does the Roman Catholic and many Protestant Reformation Churches.

A common reference is made these days to the conflict between social groups and the struggle for dominance of their values, beliefs, and practices or ‘Culture Wars’. It was a Culture War that marked the rift between the East and the West. From about the Sixth Century onwards, what we think of as Western Europe, including North Africa and places like contemporary Libya were part of the Latin sphere of interest. In the East the main language groups were Greek, Koine Greek and Syriac. These included Aramaic and many other variations, so that by the Seventh and Eighth Centuries, different perspectives and understandings of Christian doctrine had developed. The Council of Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church in 451 C.E. was called to deal with issues that had arisen essentially between the East and the West over the nature(s) of Christ as being Divine and / or Human which contributed to the parting of the ways. A previous controversy took place which necessitated the earlier Council of Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in 431 C.E. This was an attempt to reconcile the various different titles and descriptions for Mary the Mother of Jesus. Some considered ‘Theotokos’ -which is hard to translate; the nearest English equivalent is ‘God Bearer’. Others insisted that ‘Christokos’, ‘The Christ Bearer’ was sufficient. Agreement was never satisfactorily achieved and all the other differences formed the longstanding power struggle between the Christian Schools of Egypt , Syria , Rome and Constantinople. As a result some Eastern Christian Communities developed according to their national identities. Following Chalcedon there was a separation from the Greek cultural influence and hence the Coptic, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syrian, Armenian, Ethiopian and other Churches, grew in independence under the authority of their own leaders. They found great difficulty in understanding and accepting the definition of Chalcedon, regarding the belief that Christ is both God and Human at the same time. These Churches are not officially in Communion with other Eastern Churches called ‘Byzantine’ or Churches obedient to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Council of Chalcedon tended to promote the teaching of Clement of Alexandria, 150 – 215 C.E. who had attacked the Gnostic heresies, along with other teachings, that maintained that the Son of God had never really become fully Human. The findings of Chalcedon asserted that Jesus Christ is both God and Man and like Humans in all things but sin. This was strongly supported by The Pope in Rome or as the Orthodox Church refers to him as the ‘Patriarchate of Rome’. From this point onwards there is much evidence of the ways in which Western teaching influenced the understanding of this Theology. Its promulgation to the Western Church for example by St. Augustine 354 – 430 C.E. was not the same as in the Greek East. A further controversy which marked the differences between East and West, concerned teaching about the Trinity. If the Saviour ‘Christ’, is Divine, how does He relate to the Father (God) and The Holy Spirit. How should ‘The Spirit’ be understood?. It became common in the Roman Rite for Worship, to include a Credal definition that was formulated out of two Ecumenical councils : Nicaea 325 C.E. and Constantinople 381 C.E. In the section about the Holy Spirit, the Councils decided that The Spirit proceeds from the Father. By the 8 th Century however the Western Church had started to add the words: ‘The Spirit proceeds from the Father and The son’, or ‘Filioque’ in Latin. It became the Western Church’s way of reinforcing it’s definition of Jesus’ Divinity. The Orthodox Church on the other hand has always maintained that God the Father is the eternal origin and source of the Spirit, just as He is the source of the Son. Orthodoxy affirms that the manner of the Father’s possession and production of the Spirit and the Son differ according to the distinction between the Son being “born,” and the Spirit “proceeding.” There have been many attempts—by holy men inspired by God and with a genuine experience of His Trinitarian life, who explain the distinction between the procession of the Spirit and the begetting or generation of the Son. The difference between the two explanations lies in the distinction between the divine persons and actions of the Son and the Spirit in relation to the Father, and to each other and to the World. It is necessary to further note that all words and concepts about God and divinity, including those of “procession” and “generation” must give way before the mystical vision of the actual Divine Reality which they express. For about a hundred and forty years following Nicaea and Constantinople, the original wording of the Creed was maintained. But by 589 C.E. the Council of Toledo, Spain preferred the teaching of St. Augustine and gave equal status to The Father and The Son by indicating that The Holy Spirit proceeds from both and Rome accepted this premise. There were other differences too. The Western Churches started to use unleavened bread in the ‘Mass’, (The Celebration of the Last Supper celebrated in worship by Roman Catholics), whereas Orthodox Churches used leavened Bread in their worship or ‘Liturgy’. These and other significant arguments led to the formal separation of Rome and Constantinople in the 11 th Century C.E. The Pope insisted his rule was right and assumed universal jurisdiction over the entire Church in the way that he exercised it locally. The Eastern Churches refused to accept this. There were councils that rumbled on throughout the 14 th and 15 th Centuries C.E. e.g. The Ecumenical Council of Florence 1438 – 1445. These attempts at unification were not successful and in the modern era, attempts at reconciliation do continue.

The question, How does the Russian Church relate to the Ukrainian Church ? -requires some further local historical explanation. During the apostolic period, St. Peter, St. Paul and other missionary Apostles established local Communities. In time, Presbyters or Priests took over with Bishops set up to supervise them. The word Bishop is from the Greek – Episcopus which means to have oversight, like a superintendent. The Presbyter or Priest was the appointed elder, ordained to be pastor to his people. This development occurred during the sub-Apostolic period, following the eventual death of the Apostles, hence the emergence of a Church structure with Bishops and their Diocese, or area of responsibility, playing an important part. In cities throughout the Empire a Metropolitan was installed to lead the Church of the City or Metropolis. Thus the ‘Mother City’ was ruled by the President of the Christian Community, who would have a certain pre-eminence above all the Bishops of the area. Another development was the creation of Arch Dioceses where Arch Bishops exercised superior authority to the Bishops of the wider area. So evolved the notion of primacy. In the Orthodox communities the equivalent structure was identified through Patriarchates. A Patriarchate designates the office and jurisdiction of a Patriarch or Senior Church Leader, the Patriarchate being the nominated area of the Empire. So the Patriarchate of The West is based on Rome. The Bishop of Rome is the senior Primate or Pope for that area. In Alexandria the Patriarchate is not just for Egypt but the whole of Africa, otherwise known as the Pope of Alexandria. In the East a similar setup in Antioch (Modern Day Antakya in Syria). When merchants came to travel and trade around the Persian Gulf, inevitably they established Christian communities, all the way to the South of India. There is a need to serve the people of those communities with appropriate leadership. Hence was established the Pentarchy, the five original Patriarchates : 1. (The Patriarchate of) Constantinople 2.(The Patriarchate of)Jerusalem, 3. (The Patriarchate of) Alexandria 4.(The Patriarchate of) Rome and 5.(The Patriarchate of)Antioch. (There were Churches that did not quite fit into that pattern, for instance Cyprus is an example of an autocephalous Church, which was granted its independence early in its career). Essentially the original Patriarchates are the ‘Mothers and Fathers’ of developed Orthodoxy. After the 11th century C.E. Rome is considered a separate entity and goes about its own business.

In the Eastern Church there was a broadening of the territory of the old Roman Empire. These areas became missions which reached beyond the area of the Balkans. From Greece, through : Serbia, Yugoslavia, Romania to Bulgaria. Then; Ukraine, Russia, Slovakia, Hungary and further north to The Baltic States : Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. All these territories were not originally part of the Church’s sphere. They became the missionary thrust arising from the five original Patriarchates, and principally under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Specifically, the Churches of the Balkans : Ukraine and Russia were essentially originally seen as being assumed into the auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Later when the question of their independence arose, the Patriarch of Constantinople in conference with his Bishops was moved to decide who would take up the leadership of the various Churches in each area of these missionary fields and they were appointed. Until 1448 The Church of Russia had been a Diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, it separated itself to function independently, in 1589, Constantinople came to recognise Russia’s independence and led the Orthodox Church in declaring Russia to become a patriarchate, numbering Moscow’s Bishop as fifth in rank behind the ancient patriarchates.

A commemorative mug was displayed with an inscription that reads ‘One Thousand Years of the Baptism of Russia 988 – 1988’. In effect it demonstrates that the Russian Church has been 1000 years in existence, a thousand years of a Patriarchate. In Ukraine and Russia they had looked to Constantinople, to their senior Patriarch and this applies to other Churches in the Balkan regions. Nevertheless eventually it became clear that these Churches could have their own Patriarchate. For example; Serbia established a Patriarchate with a Patriarch and Romania the same. So Russia established its own Patriarchate with a Patriarch, but still recognised the primacy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. ‘At the First Council of Constantinople among the council’s Canons (Laws of the Church) was one giving the Bishop of Constantinople precedence of honour over all other bishops, except the Bishop of Rome, “because Constantinople is the New Rome.” ‘ There is a translation of the Liturgies into English dated 1909 which refers to : ‘The Divine Liturgy of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Graeco-Russian Church’. The Russian Church acknowledged it was a child of Constantinople, a protégé of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Peter I, Tsar of Russia (Peter ‘The Great’ ruled 1682–1725) ushered in an era in which the Russian Church government was fundamentally transformed. He made a visit to the West and viewed how the Reformation Churches in the West, particularly the Anglican Church in England and the Church in Switzerland, were operating in the name of the State. He understood that he could be in control of the Russian Church. So instead of being governed by a Patriarch or Metropolitan, The Church of Russia was put in the hands of a committee known as the Most Holy Governing Synod, composed both of bishops and lay bureaucrats, appointed by the Emperor. This continued for over a century and only ended on the eve of the Russian Revolution. In 1918 at the decision of the Synod of the Russian Church, the Patriarchate was reinstated. An important consideration concerning this venture was that Peter The Great undertook this with the agreement of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The developed Churches, in the wider missionary field, under The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, proceeded to a point when they felt they could become autonomous and so they elected their own primate. Mostly, by the 19 th Century, many of the Churches in the Baltic States; in Estonia, Latvia and beyond, were made independent. The Patriarch of Constantinople gave his blessing. This had already occurred in Ukraine / Russia, which by now considered itself and was regarded as autonomous. But there is a significant difference between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Partiarchate of Russia. The translation of the 1909 Liturgy bears the important clue, it was the ‘Graeco-Russian’ Church, but since the Second World War it has been referred to as the Moscow Patriarchate. The Patriarchate of Constantinople made concessions, to grant more freedom, but as the Father figure or originator infers, that does not go as far as granting freedoms to other Churches.

In the Communist Era, the Russian Church was persecuted throughout the Soviet Union and its treatment was severe. There was barely anything left of the Church following the Russian Revolution which spelled the end of the Romanov dynasty. During the Second world War, following the German Army’s show of generosity and boost to morale in opening the Churches of the Greek Catholics of Ukraine as it passed through the territory on its way toward Russia, with the collapse of the Nazi / Soviet Pact, Joseph Stalin wanted to open Russian Churches. The story is told that in 1943 with the Church administration in disarray, one Patriarch in prison and at least one murdered, there were only a few that could be of assistance. When Stalin summoned those who were left to the Kremlin to be interviewed, they might have been forgiven for imagining the worst. Stalin put his head around the door of his office and pointed, “You !, you ! and you ! elect a Patriarch. He closed the door and went out. They elected Patriarch Sergei , (served from 1943 until his death on May 15, 1944.) who had the unenviable task of leading the Russian Church in Stalin’s morale boosting programme of resistance to Hitler’s onslaught. That is the foundation of the modern Russian Church. Thus the Soviet mind set and the subsequent control of the Russian Church begins in that period. Hence the Church survived but only by supporting the Russian State. The present Patriarch, Kirill, (became Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church on 1 February 2009 to the present.) In his previous role, was the Head of the Department of External Church Relations. He is an experienced negotiator and convinced that the policy of the Russian Church should be the same as the policy of the Russian Government.

The example of what happened in Estonia shows how the Russian Church was determined to exercise a far reaching authority. Following the push back against the Germans, Russia gained territory in Eastern Europe through the Baltic States. In 1944 Winston Churchill met Joseph Stalin in Moscow to make a secret proposal to divide postwar Europe into Western and Soviet spheres of influence. The Russians moved into Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, which all became part and parcel of the Soviet Union. The Russian Church was in accord with this process. When they encountered an established independent Orthodox Church, they incorporated it into the Moscow Patriarchy and thus Estonia didn’t have a choice. In Ukraine the Orthodox Church was also assumed but some of the Greek Catholic Communities retained something of their autonomy by keeping faith with the Catholic tradition, but within the Russian Church. It is said, if you go to the Greek Catholic Churches of Western Ukraine and you see a picture of Patriarch Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow from the 1980s, the chances are there is a picture of the Roman Catholic Pope on the other side.

‘Perestroika’, a developed policy for reforming the economic and political system in Russia, actively promoted by Mikhail Gorbachev,(Head of state from 1988 until 1991) was realised through an awareness and participation in World markets and a greater freedom for Russians. This also applied to the Church, and consequently the Church in Estonia requested the return of its autonomy. The Patriarch of Constantinople was happy to support this request, but the Moscow Patriarchate was adamant that this would not be allowed. Even though the Patriarch Alexius II, Patriarch of Moscow at that time was from Estonia, but typically he was a Russian living in Estonia. In Ukraine there was a similar story, of people who were Russian but just happen to be living in Ukraine. This refusal of the Moscow Patriarch to bow to the Patriarch of Constantinople caused a rift.

The Ukrainian desire to live free of the Russian yoke is an obvious and sensitive issue. It should be acknowledged that the whole history of Ukraine is very complex in this respect. Earlier in its history it was part of a Greater Poland and influenced by Polish Catholicism. Along the way, Ukraine attempted to establish itself as an independent Church. Constantinople has endorsed this proposed development but Moscow resisted. There are dioceses and parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate throughout Ukraine but even more so in the Eastern part of the country.

A Pan-Orthodox Church Council in Crete was a synod of set representative bishops of the universally recognised autocephalous local churches of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Council sat from 19th to 26 th June 2016 but it was boycotted by the Russians and others who did not believe the Council was truly representative. They were mostly Churches supporting the Moscow Patriarchate. Overall there is considerable disarray in the Orthodox Church over the question of Ukraine. There are issues that go much further than the current contention and probably deeper which it is considered go as far as the Great Schism of the East and West in 1054.

One of the best things that has helped to bring the Orthodox Church together has been the Ecumenical Movement. It has meant that the Byzantine Orthodox Churches have been able to engage in dialogue with those Oriental Orthodox Churches that became disengaged over the centuries. Particularly the Coptic and Armenian Churches that were unable to accept the prevalent view of the Council of Chalcedon and this has been firmly supported by the Patriarch of Constantinople from 1910 onwards ahead of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact it has been a considerable help in a very difficult series of situations over a long time.

ISSUE: Steve

I was always of the opinion that the main difference between the Western Churches and the
and the various different Independent National Orthodox Churches, was that : The aim of Rome’s and subsequently other Western Churches, was to attempt something like Unity and given the prospects of such wide followings, that is a bit like ‘pie in the sky’. Whereas the National Churches in the Orthodox setup offers a more realistic opportunity to administer appropriate Pastoral Support according to more local needs.


The key issue is of ‘National Churches’. From the outside, the Orthodox Church looks like the Church of Greece, or the Church of Russia, or Finland and so on. The Council of Constantinople 1872 condemned ‘Phyletism’ (Phyletism or Ethnophyletism is the principle of nationalities applied to the ecclesiastical domain or the conflation between the Church and Nation. The term ‘ethnophyletism’ designates the idea that a local autocephalous Church should not be based not on local criteria, but on shared national or lingistic features. The word was used at the local Council held in Constantinople on 10 th September 1872 to qualify ’Phyletist nationalism’ which was condemned as a modern eccelisial heresy. ‘The Church should not be confused with the destiny of a single nation or single race) Phyletism emerged out of the context of the Ottoman Empire. So you have that period the Greeks refer to as ‘Tourkokratia’ – The rule of the Turks in the Balkans, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and beyond, they were all politically controlled by The Turkish Empire. (The Ottoman Empire ruled a large portion of the Middle East and Eastern Europe for over 600 years. It was first formed in 1299 and finally dissolved in 1923, becoming the country of Turkey.) The establishment of national freedom, is an important principle as you can see in Ukraine, where there are aticedants of an established Church, so the idea of the nation, goes hand in hand with the Church. Now what was condemned as Phyletism by the Council of the Orthodox Church in the 19 th Century, was that you cannot identify for instance : being a Bulgarian with being an Orthodox Christian. According to the early familiar teachings of the Apostle Paul, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. Galatians 3 : 28 Having said that, the Church struggles with the idea of the political situation and the Church, it is difficult because in Byzantium itself, going way back, the Greeks had a name for it they call it Symphonia (where Church and State Complement each other) the word, like our ‘Symphony’ means that the Church works together hand in hand with the State and that pattern you can see is not limited to the Orthodox Church, it occurs in the Roman Catholic Church where concordats were established – (agreed political relationships between the Church and the Ruler.) This influence works both ways, the laws of the Church or what you can and cannot do, originate from the Civil arena and come into the Church and by the same token, you get traffic the other way, where the Church’s belief influences the State. In a sense this is what is happening in the backdrop or context of the decision in the USA Supreme Court concerning abortion. Christians believe abortion is wrong, but can we or should we, make that the Law of the State. Not every citizen is Christian, we live in pluralist society and in earlier developments in history that was not the case. People shared their beliefs more openly, hence : ‘To be Orthodox is to be Bulgarian and to be Bulgarian is to be Orthodox’ If ever that was true, it certainly is not now. The relationship between the Church and the State is something which bedevils the Orthodox World. Attempting to maintain a Faith Community which is always in complete harmony with the State, is a problem not just in Christianity but in many other faiths around the World. In comparison, there are examples in the United Kingdom where Church and the State exist, in a sense, in a closer relationship.

ISSUE :Steve

Perhaps we might consider wider issues. In a recent radio programme a special piece was presented concerning the chaplains who serve Ukrainian Orthodox soldiers. These men were taking a rest from battle and the Chaplain was leading them in saying the Rosary, they were praying together. To a great many people the concept of War is where the objective is to kill the enemy. Should war be justified?


The Chotki in Orthodoxy is not quite the same as the Rosary. In Orthodox Churches the Chotki is a piece of rope with a hundred knots and at each knot the prayer says ‘Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ which is repeated. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between Orthodox and Catholics, but these soldiers were probably Greek Catholics.

In the question about the justification of War. It is different in the East because there is no concept of ‘Just War’. St Basil the Great in the Fourth Century recognised through the laws of the Church, that a soldier in war is supposed to be excommunicate or would not be admitted to Communion for a period of about five years. Here is the idea that the ultimate use of force is allowable in the Eastern teaching and understanding. You can see the building blocks or the foundation stones for the policy of Moscow Patriarch Kirill to say, this is how we justify our actions against people who threaten Russia. Our soldiers can go off to battle and do our bidding. Whether the same requirements are in place on the Ukrainian side, where soldiers are required to refrain from receiving communion…. it is a doubtful prospect. It is difficult to know whether the soldiers themselves would consider such restraint is warranted. It is an interesting pastoral situation, where you may encounter someone who has suffered combat stress or PTSD as a result of their experience on the battlefield. It was reported of an Orthodox prison inmate who had spent time in the Foreign Legion. He had enlisted in the Foreign Legion following his time in the British Army. He suffered PTSD and spoke of an episode ‘I beat the hell out of a steel door, but had no recollection about it,’ So in the pastoral context the question arises what is the best way to care for people ? Essentially it is important to appreciate, that in the teaching about Just War, there is a significant difference.

ISSUE : Iyad.

Thank you for your comprehensive and chronological explanation. I would like to understand a bit more about the development of the different Bibles and the languages they were written in. I am from Iraq, there have been Christians living in Iraq from the time of Jesus. Some actually speak Aramaic, which I believe was the language Jesus spoke. Some of the first Bibles were recorded in Greek, but what language was the Bible of the Egyptian Christians; of the Coptics of Alexandria ? or did it originate through word-of-mouth, just as the Qu’ran is memorised ? I’d be very interested thank you.

RESPONSE : It seems the earliest writings in the New Testament are from the letters of the Apostle Paul. He spoke and wrote in the Greek- Koine or Common Greek, sometimes called New Testament Greek. The Greek used in those parts of the New Testament. The language used for the four Gospels : Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is also mostly Greek and are written later than the first letters of St Paul. Certainly John’s Gospel is probably written towards the end of the First Century and in Koine. There was, a Gospel of St Matthew written in Aramaic. The thinking is that the Evangelist who wrote the Gospel of Matthew was from that Eastern part of the World in Syria or even Iraq and the evidence in the text indicates that Aramaic was the basic language. In 392 C.E., St. Jerome in writing about Matthew’s Gospel notes that there are copies of the original Gospel in its original language in the library of Caesarea. However, today, there are no known copies of an Aramaic version of the Matthew’s Gospel. It is fair to say that Greek was the primordial language of the Christian scriptures. Translations from Greek into Syriac – Aramaic, would have taken place at some fairly early stage. The Gospel in Aramaic was clearly translated from the original Greek. It is also important to remember that apart from the language of the written word used in Scripture, there are diverse opinions concerning those works that are traditionally accepted as revelation. The Scriptures including : The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible – The Tanakh (an acronym derived from the names of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible : Torah : Instruction or Law, also called the Pentateuch), Neviʾim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) is fairly accepted by most Christian communities. However, Apocryphal and Inter-testamental writings such as Tobit and Manasseh are contested. These and other significant differences of content are noted in various parts of the Christian World. The language that you have referred to is just as diverse. Coptic is the original dialect descended from an Ancient language, it is the original tongue of a group of people originating from Egypt that is heavily influenced by Hellenism. In Coptic, you find letters resembling the Greek alphabet, it could fool you because it looks so Greek. But most Copts speak Arabic which comes to Egypt with the rise of Islam in the Seventh Century. The Church of Ethiopia is really interesting. It is referred to it as a mission of the Coptic Church and it is true that the Copts did grant and autonomy to the Ethiopian Church in 1959. But it is possible that the foundations of the Ethiopian Church go way back to the Apostolic period. The language is Ge’ez (An ancient Ethiopian Semitic language. The language originates from what is now northern Ethiopia and Eritrea.) It is practically impenetrable. Coptic has bits of Greek, that can be interpreted but Ge’ez is difficult. Certainly in the Churches of the East such as Iraq, Assyria and Chaldea, Aramaic and Syriac is the basic language for Church worship and written Scripture. One of the difficulties which occurred following the Council of Chalcedon was in the use of the word which translates as ‘nature’. When Chalcedon considered two natures in Christ, Syriac and Aramaic found great difficulty because they do not have that word, which struggles to be understood. It was one of the problems that made it difficult to get agreement and part of the underlying reason why the Christian Church fractured in the way in which it did.


My question follows on from the previous subject of discussion. It is not really a question but it will be good to consider the response. With regard to Russia and Ukraine, a comment was made about a Priest on the battlefield. It is quite normal to have spiritual counsellors looking after men in battle and that in a war situation is not necessarily promoting War. Patriarch Kirill has very clearly and overtly indicated his support of war against Ukraine which is quite surprising. It was so overtly stated. Understanding the background is importantant, even if the intention of this religious leader is difficult to appreciate. If you look at Russia as a country and its history over the last 10 to 20 years, there is considerable intolerance towards minority religions. Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned, some Islamic groups are banned and there is a big problem with regard to tolerance and understanding. Some of that is at least due to a European anti minority religious group that goes by the acronym FECRIS (originated in 1994 and purports to serve as an umbrella organisation for associations which defend victims of cultic excesses in more than thirty countries. It originated in France) : European Federation of Centres against Sectarianism. It carries out research and builds dossiers on cults and sects. Within the Orthodox Church in Russia there are very outspoken people, like Professor Devorkin. I don’t know if people are aware of this person and the group he belongs to, who publicise against minority groups and allege that in Ukraine there are cults operating behind President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I include these details as they are what I consider to be an alarming factor to what has occurred with Russia prior to the current conflict. I just wanted to provide some input and would be interested in the response.


There is a whole history involving the control of religion in Russia. In the 17/18th Century, Peter the Great strove to control the Church. In Russia in the 17th Century there was a schism in the Church involving the ‘Old Believers,’ who were an element that refused to accept reforms from the Russian Church by the then Patriarch Nikon. (Seventh Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ of the Russian Orthodox Church, serving officially from 1652 to 1666.) The Old Believers established separate communities and Churches. They were persecuted by the Russian State. They migrated to Canada where you can still find traces of Old Believer Communities of different types. Some went back into Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. Control by the state was not just of Christians but of all the religions. Such limitations of freedom are certainly something that was a feature of the Soviet Union as was indeed controlling of any sphere involving : writers and artists, in fact everyone was controlled by the state with its appropriate union. Domination of religious communities meant you had to be registered by the state in order to meet certain criteria. The KGB or modern day FSB is the principal agency that carries out, usually covert surveillance and reports any subversive activity. Patriarch Pimen Moscow Patriarch in the 1970s was known to have a KGB code name which was something like : ‘The Songbird’. he would have been regularly interviewed by the KGB. As Perestroika brought more apparent freedom for the Church and State, the suspicion and restriction was supposed to have been removed. The Council of Religion was abolished and of course many people wanted to help the situation. They knew the difficulties religious groups had experienced, whether they were major groups as the Orthodox Church supposedly were, or minor groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was a new beginning for Russia. The trouble was that the Soviet generation just hadn’t gone away. It was a political fight back which brought Boris Yeltsin to power in the coup that failed.(1993) This created a pattern for Vladimir Putin. Movement in the direction of liberty and autonomy results in resistance or push back. So what happened in Russia, during the period of post Perestroika, in the early days of Vladimir Putin was to bring back the Council of Religion and back came the necessity to register as a genuine religion. If you registered and met the required criteria, like the Russian Orthodox Church, the organisation was given pride of place. The Russian Church somehow could not be challenged. There developed a pecking order. Some Churches were excluded and very soon it was back to the Soviet period and in many ways modern Russia became the Soviet Union Mark II. It begins to resemble what people of an older generation were familiar with, which foolishly were thought to have gone for ever. It was the roots of that mind set, of controlling religion, of excluding certain religions, of particularly those that are seen not to be native, not to be national, with origins in the West. That sort of approach penetrates deep into the territory of the Eastern Church.


Understanding the background to the political unrest and conflict of Russia and Ukraine does answer many issues but creates further questions. We have been able to make sense of some of them this evening.It does provoke the desire to read further into the details.

Ash Soni reminded the group of the forthcoming event on July 28 th 2022 19.30 hrs. It will provide a platform for the following religious communities : 1. Bramha Kumaris 2. Ismaeli Muslim 3. Zoroastrian community. who have been invited to talk about their respective faith Community and practice.

All were able to wish each other a pleasant evening.

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