Russia's President Vladimir Putin congratulates Patriarch Kirill of Moscow for presenting the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called in Moscow on Nov. 20, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
There have been conflicts in Europe since World War II, notably in the Balkans. But war involving large nations seemed to be a thing of the past, unthinkable and impossible.
The conventional wisdom is that democracies do not go to war against each other, and since most of Europe is democratic, war there is obsolete.
That premise appears to be true so far: the wars between, for example, France and England that take up so many pages of history books are probably extinct now that neither country is ruled by monarchs or autocrats even if in the United Kingdom a monarch reigns.
The problem, however, is that not all of Europe is democratic. We now see a war started by one of those non-democracies. Russia using military and cyber weapons and Western nations using economic weapons are engaging each other.
Many people had thought that the economic trappings seen in Moscow and other cities were a sign that even without democracy, Russia was tied to the West. One pundit quipped years ago that countries that eat McDonald’s hamburgers do not fight one another.
Now we see that economics and politics do not always go hand in hand and the hand that holds a Big Mac can also fire artillery while the burger chain has become part of the Western economic arsenal, ceasing operations in Russia.
"Eastern Christianity, mainly the Orthodox Church, seems to share with its Western sister an inability to prevent military violence and even an inclination to support it"
If economic ties cannot prevent war, what about religion, specifically Christianity?
Even a cursory glance at history shows that idea to be a “non-starter.” Western Christianity in both its Catholic and Reformation forms has often been a supporter when not a cause of war.
Eastern Christianity, mainly the Orthodox Church, seems to share with its Western sister an inability to prevent military violence and even an inclination to support it.
In Russia, the chief religious figure, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, has been a cheerleader for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s autocrat. Putin claims that Russia must confront and defeat the West, a threat that goes beyond Ukraine, which has been moving toward the West politically and socially.
Kirill seems to be especially incensed by gays. A headline in the Orthodox Times proclaims, “Patriarch of Moscow: Gay pride parades are to blame for the war in Ukraine.”
As we often see among Catholic clerics, celibacy seems to foster an obsession with other people’s sexuality; Kirill, like all Orthodox bishops, is celibate.
In any case, the patriarch has yet to criticize the assault on Ukraine that has become a war on civilians. For the patriarch, a tank parade is preferable to a gay parade.
He appears to have agreed with or at least acquiesced to the Russian government’s forbidding the use of such words as “attack,” “invasion” or “war” under threat of up to 15 years in prison. Will new editions of Tolstoy’s novel henceforth be called Special Military Operation and Peace?
And what of the West’s chief religious figure? Pope Francis asked that we spend Ash Wednesday in prayer and fasting for peace. Many did, but apparently Putin is not one of the demons subject to Mark 9:29.
"Francis seems to entertain a quixotic hope that he can imitate his namesake who famously went to talk with al-Malik al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade in 1219"
The pope has spoken against the war with its “rivers of blood” but has refrained from direct criticism of Putin or Russia. At least he uses the word “war” but he disembodies the reality.
There is no such thing as war in the abstract. War is people making decisions and doing things. Condemning war without pointing to the people who make the decisions and perpetrate the actions refuses to face the reality that sin is not an abstraction; it is a human act.
Francis seems to entertain a quixotic hope that he can imitate his namesake who famously went to talk with al-Malik al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade in 1219. St. Francis most likely intended to convert the Muslim leader to Christianity, but presumably hoped his effort would bring peace.
That effort is remembered and applauded. What is not often mentioned is that though the sultan was impressed by the saint, the effort failed. Muslims remained Muslim and the Crusade continued. One can argue that it was a spectacular failure, since the conflict Francis tried to defuse continues eight centuries later.
The latter-day Francis may hope to be an intermediary for peace, though Russia is unlikely to deal with the head of the Western Church.
Hand-wringing and tears at private prayer along with reticence in the face of injustice is a recipe for the increased marginalization of the Catholic Church on the world stage. Moderation in the face of vice is no virtue.
So, what is to be done? I don’t know. Neither do you.
Ukrainians have chosen to resist the invasion. Various nations have adopted sanctions intended to undercut Russia’s economy, though sanctions are unlikely to work in time to prevent the military fall of Ukraine.
All we can do is remember that the paramount symbol of reality is a cross, and trust and hope that a greater reality is equally real.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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