Orthodox and Evangelical leaders in Russia are speaking out against their country's invasion of Ukraine and calling for peace, and could face dire consequences.
Russian Orthodox priests and deacons sent out a letter late last week "with a call for reconciliation and an immediate ceasefire." As the Orthodox church prepares to enter the Lenten season, the letter uses the church calendar to remind world leaders that "the Last Judgment awaits every person. No earthly authority, no doctors, no guards will protect from this judgment."
So far, 84 priests and deacons have signed that letter. "We remind you that the Blood of Christ, shed by the Savior for the life of the world, will be received in the sacrament of Communion by those people who give murderous orders, not into life, but into eternal torment," the letter says.
The Orthodox leaders say they also mourn the loss of life, saying "We remind you that the life of every person is a priceless and unique gift of God, and therefore we wish the return of all soldiers - both Russian and Ukrainian - to their homes and families safe and sound."
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Over 400 evangelical leaders have now signed another open letter condemning the war.
According to Christianity Today, the signatories are mainly Baptists and Pentecostal pastors as well as other Christian leaders from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and other cities across Russia. The text had been made public on the website of a Protestant publishing house, but it is no longer at the same link.
“Our army is engaged in full-scale hostilities in another country, dropping bombs and missiles on the cities of our neighbour Ukraine”, says the letter, according to Evangelical Focus. “No political interest or cause can justify the death of innocent people. Old men, women and children die”.
Jeremiah 18:7-8 is quoted, and other references to the Bible are mentioned to oppose the war. “Holy Scripture urges us to ‘keep our hands off evil and seek the ways of peace’ and warns that ‘he who sows evil will reap it.’”
The letter ends with these words: “We need to repent for what we have done, first to God and then to the people of Ukraine. We need to reject lies and hatred. We call on the authorities of our country to stop this senseless bloodshed!”
Earlier, the Pentecostal and Baptist church unions in Russia had written to President Vladimir Putin asking to engage in peacemaking processes that could halt the armed conflict.
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Putin has cracked down on dissent within the country since the invasion began, including passing laws banning "fake news," punishable by up to 15 years in prison. As a result, many western news agencies and entertainment companies have stopped working in the country.
The government already restricted freedom of speech in the media and social media in an effort to silence internal opposition to the war.
Rumours about the imposition of martial law in Russia would have led to thousands of Russians leaving the country in the last few days.
Protests against the invasion of Ukraine have been seen on the streets in the main Russian cities since the invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February. More than 6,500 people have been detained so far.
Full letter from Evangelical leaders
(This translation into English may contain minor differences with the terms used in the original Russian letter)
“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned”. (Jer.18:7-8).
Our army is engaged in full-scale hostilities in another country, dropping bombs and missiles on the cities of our neighbour Ukraine. As believers, we assess what is happening as the grave sin of fratricide - the sin of Cain, who raised his hand against his brother Abel.
No political interest or cause can justify the death of innocent people. Old men, women and children die. Military personnel on both sides are killed, cities and infrastructure are destroyed. In addition to military targets, shells and bombs destroy hospitals, civilian buildings and homes. Numerous people have become refugees and war zones are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
In addition to the bloodshed, the invasion of sovereign Ukraine infringes on the freedom of self-determination of its citizens. Hate is being sown between our peoples, which will create a chasm of alienation and enmity for generations to come. War is destroying not only Ukraine, but also Russia - its people, its economy, its morality, its future.
Holy Scripture urges us to "keep our hands off evil and seek the ways of peace" and warns that "he who sows evil will reap it". If we really want to rely on spiritual values, it is crucial that we heed the words of Jesus Christ: "Put your sword in its sheath, for he who takes the sword by the sword shall also perish”. It is also said, "Judgment is not swiftly brought to bear upon corrupt deeds; therefore the heart of the sons of men dread not to do evil”. But the judgment of God is impartial and unavoidable.
Today is the moment when each of us must call things by their proper names. While we still have a chance to escape punishment from above and prevent the collapse of our country. We need to repent for what we have done, first to God and then to the people of Ukraine. We need to reject lies and hatred. We call on the authorities of our country to stop this senseless bloodshed!
Full letter from Orthodox leaders
We, the priests and deacons of the Russian Orthodox Church, each in our own name, appeal to everyone on whom the cessation of the fratricidal war in Ukraine depends, with a call for reconciliation and an immediate ceasefire.
We send this appeal after Sunday about the Last Judgment and on the eve of Forgiveness Sunday.
The Last Judgment awaits every person. No earthly authority, no doctors, no guards will protect from this judgment. Concerned about the salvation of every person who considers himself a child of the Russian Orthodox Church, we do not want him to appear at this judgment, bearing the heavy burden of mother's curses. We remind you that the Blood of Christ, shed by the Savior for the life of the world, will be received in the sacrament of Communion by those people who give murderous orders, not into life, but into eternal torment.
We mourn the trial that our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected to.
We remind you that the life of every person is a priceless and unique gift of God, and therefore we wish the return of all soldiers - both Russian and Ukrainian - to their homes and families safe and sound.
We bitterly think about the abyss that our children and grandchildren in Russia and Ukraine will have to overcome in order to once again begin to be friends with each other, respect and love each other.
We respect the God-given freedom of man, and we believe that the people of Ukraine should make their choice on their own, not at gunpoint, without pressure from the West or the East.
In anticipation of Forgiveness Sunday, we remind you that the gates of paradise are opened to anyone, even a seriously sinned person, if he asks for forgiveness from those whom he humiliated, insulted, despised, or from those who were killed by his hands or by his order. There is no other way but forgiveness and mutual reconciliation.
“The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground; and now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive the blood of your brother from your hand,” God said to Cain, who was envious of his younger brother. Woe to every person who realizes that these words are addressed to him personally.
No non-violent call for peace and an end to war should be forcibly suppressed and considered as a violation of the law, for such is the divine commandment: "Blessed are the peacemakers."
We call on all warring parties to dialogue, because there is no other alternative to violence. Only the ability to hear the other can give hope for a way out of the abyss into which our countries were thrown in just a few days.
Let yourself and all of us enter Great Lent in the spirit of faith, hope and love.
Stop the war.
With files from Evangelical Focus