Patriarch Kirill and Russian Orthodoxy Deserve Respect Not Insults: An Open Letter to George Weigel*

St. Basil Cathedral

by Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster, James George Jatras, and Fr. Victor Potapov

I. Introduction

As longtime friendly colleagues in the pursuit of a faithful Christian public moral witness in America, we are profoundly saddened and shocked at your unfounded, insulting accusations against the moral integrity of the senior leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Ukrainian crisis erupted in February 2014.

The initial broadside appeared in your column in the Denver Catholic Register on March 18, 2014, when you dismissed Patriarch Kirill of Moscow as “duplicitous” and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev), chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, as “mendacious.” We take increased umbrage at the steady escalation of your Szechuan ad hominem prose since then:

  • “These [Ukrainian Greek Catholic] bishops, like other western Christians, have not been duped by the extraordinary campaign of lies that has issued from the Kremlin these past seven months, but…all of us who cherish the spiritual patrimony of Russian Orthodoxy…are deeply saddened when you and Metropolitan Hilarion, your chief ecumenical officer, amplify the falsehoods of President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov.” [June 17, 2014]
  • “Russian Orthodoxy’s leadership today functions as a Kremlin mouthpiece in matters Ukrainian, even as it lies about the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s role in the current crisis and betrays its ecumenical commitments in doing so…[February 17, 2015]
  • “Serious ecumenical theological dialogue is impossible with men who are acting in the world as agents of Russian state power. Pretending otherwise emboldens the Russian Orthodox leadership.” [August 4, 2015]

The condescending, hubristic tone of those comments is surpassed in offensiveness only by your resort to uncharitable epithets—liars, mouthpieces, and dupes—which hardly constitute a reasoned argument. It is well-nigh impossible in this “open letter” to defend Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion from your omniscient pretense to know their hearts and minds. However, we shall attempt here to set the record straight by accurately citing and explaining their public positions on the Ukrainian crisis.

II. Symphonia—Not  “Separation”—of Church & State

Far from a throwback to Soviet-era practices—as you have suggested, both in your own words and though uncritical quotation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s (UGCC) Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk (“Ukraine Rising,” National Review, Nov. 10, 2014), the close cooperation between Church and state in Russia today is more reminiscent of the pre-1917 symphonia, the Orthodox standard throughout our history since the time of Byzantine Emperor Theodosios I in the late fourth century. That organic instead of adversarial understanding of the sacerdotium and the imperium united, harmoniously albeit with some tension, in a single Christian commonwealth is obviously antithetical to the neo-Jeffersonian principle of strict “separation” of church and state, now political dogma in virtually all Western countries imbued with the notion of secular liberal democracy.

In the restored symbiosis in post-Soviet Russia it is hardly clear that the Church is the junior partner dutifully “amplifying” state policy. To the contrary, as Professor Nicolai N. Petro of the University of Rhode Island pointed out (“Russia’s Orthodox Soft Power,” Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, March 23, 2015), Kremlin policies “are popular precisely because they have the blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church.” Grounded in a religio-cultural vision of Russky mir—the “Russian World” descended from ancient Kievan Rus’ and embracing the people in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and perhaps Kazakhstan—the balance in the contemporary Russian neo-symphonia, as it were, depends on the respective priorities of Patriarch Kirill and the Putin government. As Petro astutely observed, Russky mir is, for the state, “a political or a cultural concept” by which the Russian Orthodox Church “can be a useful tool” for Russia’s domestic and international advancement. But Russky mir is, for the Church, “a religious concept” by which the national governments can be “tools” for the “second Christianization” of the historic lands of Kievan Rus.’

We would argue that, since AD 2000, the Russian neo-symphonia has begun to tip in favor of the Church, not the state, and praise God the Holy Trinity for that! The comprehensive document titled, Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, produced by the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate under the leadership of Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev)—whose moral character you have besmirched—is the gold standard of contemporary, yet very traditional, Orthodox social ethics. Other ecclesial initiatives have provided the main impetus for recent Russian laws—decried, alas, by Western liberals—to curb propagandizing and proselytizing of young Russians by “gay rights” advocates, reduce the enormity of abortions in post-Soviet Russia, and protect the sanctity of religious temples from unwanted intrusions by miscreant groups like “Pussy Riot.” In addition, the Russian Church has established a profound inter-confessional collaboration with U.S. evangelicals to promote strong families and traditional marriage between one man and one woman alone.

None of those accomplishments was possible throughout most of the twentieth century. As each of the co-authors of this open letter have acknowledged often in print, Russian Orthodoxy had to endure the godless Soviets for 74 years, including the shameless betrayal of faithful confessors and martyrs by Orthodox hierarchical collaborators with that regime. For you to compare that horrific era to the miraculous re-emergence and moral integrity of the Church since 1991 is shameless.

Whatever criticisms one might have of the symphonia model, blanket condemnation is hardly appropriate as we witness the trend in our own country, where Christianity is increasingly marginalized, moral vices are officially promoted as virtues, and abortion “rights” and homosexual “rights,” in particular, are now key components of U.S. foreign policy—a trend we are sure you deplore no less than we.

III. The Russian Church—a Rival, Not an “Enemy”

Patriarch Kirill, Metropolitan Hilarion, and other prelates of the Russian Orthodox Church have been consistent on two points with respect to Ukraine. First, they voice support for Russia’s policies. Second, they call for restraint in what they see as a deplorable, fratricidal conflict, which pits the Russky Mir against itself.

You need not accept their point of view. Perhaps based on your own religious heritage, you may prefer to believe that the UGCC is “a safe-deposit box of Ukrainian national culture and identity,” despite the mere 15%, at most, of Ukraine’s population who identify as Catholics (Latin or Eastern rite). Underlying the current conflict are some sharp as yet unanswered questions: What exactly is Ukraine (“Borderland”) and who are Ukrainians? Are they an aspiring part of (an increasingly godless and libertine) “Europe” defined in Brussels or an integral part of the Russky Mir? Who was on the “right” or “wrong” side of World War II? Ukrainians themselves are at odds on these questions, largely along regional and confessional lines.

When Ukraine became an independent republic in 1991, those questions lay dormant under a deceptively calm surface. But they remained a fatal weakness in the very fiber of the new state, along with an unbelievable level of oligarchic corruption. The unconstitutional unseating of the flawed but democratically elected government in February 2014 shattered what was already a fragile unity. That, not some mythical Russian aggression, has torn Ukraine apart.

Worse, the overturn of the legal government would not have succeeded without violence or the participation of extreme nationalist elements. You write that Ukraine “rose up against post-Communist corruption and stagnation,” and that Archbishop Shevchuk’s “Church played a central role in the Maidan Revolution of Dignity,’ its bishops and priests dodging Russian bullets to tend to those demonstrating nonviolently for freedom and justice.” However:

  • Surely you are aware of the leaked phone call between the EU’s Catherine Ashton and Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, indicating the true source of sniping on the Maidan.
  • Surely you know that “those demonstrating nonviolently” included members of violent radical groups like Right Sector, using spiked clubs, Molotov cocktails, and even guns against riot police to seize government buildings—behavior that, in Washington, would be put down immediately with deadly force.
  • Surely you know of the May 2014 massacre in Odessa of dozens of anti-Euromaidan demonstrators—or maybe that was just more nonviolent struggle for “freedom and justice”?
  • Surely you know of the new law criminalizing criticism of the wartime Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), sinister fascists guilty of participation in massacres of Jews and of slaughtering tens of thousands of Roman Catholic Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia. Perhaps that’s an example of the “Revolution of Dignity”?
  • Surely you know that only two days after the President Viktor Yanukovich fled from Kiev in February 2014 the Ukraine parliament repealed by an 86% majority a 2012 law ensuring, among other things, the official use of Russian as a second language in the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine, where the civil war has since proved most violent. Was that punitive, provocative measure indicative of Ukrainian “freedom and justice”?
  • Surely you know that the Ukrainian military’s Azov Brigade engaged in combat in the Donbass region includes self-proclaimed neo-Nazis, perhaps as much as 20% of the unit (according to USA Today, March 10, 2015), complete with swastikas, as well as the infamous “SS” runes and an inverted version of the Wolfsangel symbol used widely during World War II by Nazi German Waffen-SS divisions. Are German broadcaster ZDF and Norwegian broadcaster TV2, which filmed the latter, and NBC News (who reported the incidents online on September 9, 2014), also “dupes” and “mouthpieces” of the Kremlin?

Your trumpeting of a single Ukrainian national will may fit in well with a “good vs. evil” Manichaean narrative to depict the Ukraine conflict as one of West vs. East, democracy vs. tyranny, Ukraine vs. Russia, and, by implication, Catholic vs. Orthodox. It may be great fare for readers of the Denver Catholic Register, National Review, and other publications who may be unaware of past and present complexities. But it is not conducive to a peaceful and just resolution of the Ukraine crisis or averting an even broader conflict that would imperil Europe and the world, including the U.S. Nor is it an excuse to hurl verbal Molotov cocktails at honorable Christian pastors who happen to disagree with you.

*George Weigel is a distinguished lay Roman Catholic theologian and author of the magisterial Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II (Harper Perennial: 2004 [updated edition].

Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster, PhD, is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain (Colonel), author of four books on Orthodox social ethics, and rector of St. Herman of Alaska Russian Orthodox Church in Stafford, Virginia. James George Jatras, Esq., is Deputy Director of the American Institute in Ukraine, former foreign policy adviser to the U.S. Senate Republican leadership, and a Greek Orthodox layman. Mitred Archpriest Victor Potapov is the dean of St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, DC, and a retired Russian language broadcaster for the Voice of America.


  1. Weigel is anti-communist, right-wing, neo-fascist first, and catholic only for the convenience of tag lines and a friendly forum

    His Catholicism extends only to those areas where he can use it as a tool for pushing a right-wing agenda

    Taking him seriously is the biggest mistake one can make in dealing with him

  2. I am a great fan of the Orthodox Church and am profoundly greatful for its witness through the centuries. It has had a profound role in providing a Christian witness in often hostile parts of the world. I must say that I am disappointed by this article. It can not be gain said that Putin has co-opted the LEADERSHIP of the Russian church for his own propaganda purposes. In too many ways the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia has the obvious flaws of a state church: to close of an association with the government of the day. That is in no way an insult to the rank and file or ordinary parishoners of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia. I would hope that instead the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russian would hold the leadership to account rather than defending it. Accountability must be a part of any health church and it is time to hold the LEADERSHIP of the Orthodox Church in Russia to account for apologizing for Putin and his wicked program. I must say again how disappointed I am to have read this article. It is not only unhelpful but moving in the opposite direction of reform.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Accountable to whom and by what criteria? America and the foreign policy establishment that gave us Arab Spring and the overthrow of governments all through the Middle East? What do you think caused the grave humanitarian crisis in Europe today?

      Whatever one thinks of Putin, he managed to stop the US from bombing Syria. Russia, whether you like Putin or not, is becoming the defender of Christianity in the world. America has contributed to the suffering of Christians in the Middle East and turned its back on them in the humanitarian crisis. Syrian Christians are barred from entering the United States.

      • Nonsense. Why don’t we say, accountable to you, “Fr. Johannes Jacobse.” And we will use your criteria. I don’t know who you are or where you come from, but please stop blaming the United States for your problems.

        I really get a kick out of your joy that Putin stopped the U.S. from bombing Syria. I am dubious that Putin was a part of the calculation, although we all know that Putin considers Asad (a known butcher) to be an ally. Let’s pretend that you are right for the sake of argument. Are you actually telling us that we can thank Putin for protecting Syria? I don’t know where you head is, buried in sand or up another place, but hundreds of thousands of people have died in that country, and the rest are trying to get out. Thank you, Putin?

        Syrian Christians are barred from entering the U.S.? Well, we do have immigration laws (at least of paper) if that is what you mean. However, there is no bar from a Syrian applying for asylum, refugee status, or just plain coming to the U.S.

    • Our American culture (yes, I’m really an American and Roman Catholic as well) supports gay marriage and permits Planned Parenthood to sell infant organs yet we somehow find time to lecture Russians about morality. It’s revolting. I think Mr. Weigel is living in the 1980s. Russia is not Marxist and not trying to export a bankrupt ideology as it was during the Cold War. We, on the other hand, overthrew a democratically elected government to our shame.

  3. Dear Fr. Jacobse,

    Thank you for your kind reply. All church leaders of any church should be morally accountable before God and the rank and file members, according to well established and traditional criteria of personal conduct. If the pastor at my church gave propaganda support to a third world dictator he would be fired. I would reject the notion that the US “foreign policy establishment,” “gave us the Arab Spring.” The Arab Spring was the result of built up local grievances in many Arab countries that happened quite extrinsic to the US. The US “foreign policy establishment” did not welcome the Arab Spring and was a bystander until it was quite well along. One might say that the “grave crisis” in the Middle East goes back somewhat further than the Arab Spring. They Arab Spring is a symptom not a cause. It is a result of unaccountable governments going back to jive artists like Nasser, the first Assad and various other dictators supported by Russia.

    The Middle East also might not be such a disaster if the AK-47 was not so ubiquitous both there and throughout the Third World.. I can not think of a more potent symbol of untold suffering and evil in the modern world than the AK-47. I also reject the notion that Russia is a supporter of “Christian Values.”

    I think to make that claim it takes more than an anti-homosexual agenda, regardless of what one thinks on that particular issue. Putin’s support of the world’s worst dictators is hardly “supporting Christian Values.” The answer for both the church in Russia and for Russia is to reform and then reform some more. Putin and his followers are an obstacle to genuine and lasting reform. It pains me to see an ordained pastor apologize for Putin and his disastrous leadership.

    • My friend, you need to do a lot more reading before you make statements that are demonstrably false, as those you made regarding Mr Putin. I would respectfully suggest you go beyond the manipulative propaganda being put out by Washington and its kept media. The internet, of course, being the first place to go if you want to explore a wider variety of opinion.

      I would also say, as a Catholic, that Mr George Weigel does not speak for the Church. His Catholicism is for show only and his interminable writings are designed to get gullible Catholics to accept American plutocratic institutions and American imperialism.

  4. Symphonia might have had value as a way of thinking about the relationship between the Church and the Roman Empire as long as one could think of the Empire as the ecumene. When such a vision of the world was no longer possible, symphonia became simply part of the architecture of the idea of nationalist churches, entrapping the Church in an unhealthy relationship with the state. “Russkij Mir” is an example of nationalist sentiment in religious garb; it may be a “religious concept” for the Russian Church, but that does not make it Orthodox. The Russian Orthodox Church, as an institution, was sick under the Tsars, it was sick under the Soviets, and it is sick under Putin. Any vitality that it has, and it does have vitality, does not come from its institutional structures.

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell :

      The Russian Orthodox Church has at least survived for over a thousand years, despite suffering under a succession of bad rulers. That says something in favor of its institutional structures — something that cannot be said of any Protestant church. And there is, today, a good deal more vitality and fidelity in the Russian Orthodox Church than there is in the Roman Catholic Church.

  5. Fr. George Larin :

    Excellent response to an individual, who is, apparently, incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, the real world, and mass media propaganda, of which, BTW, Herr Goebles (were he alive today) would have been proud. It is, indeed, as you write, “SHAMELESS to compare what the Russian people endured for 74 years” as a direct result of being infected by force and gold with Marxism from the West – an ideology, which is, BTW, totally foreign to the 1,000-year old Christian history of Russia.

    I’d like to quote the following excerpts from an original copy of the November, 1914 issue of THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Vol. XXVI, No. 5 Washington, D.C., written by Editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor: “Russia is not a State; it is a world. In the blood of its people is written the impress of the Orient and of the Occident; of the tropic south and the frigid north; of Confucianism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity. Its range of climate gives the Palm Beach touch to its Crimea and the breadth of the north to its White Sea region. Its variety of resources makes it second only to the United States as the greatest food-producing country in the world; places it at the forefront among the nations as to mineral wealth, and gives it a greater timber supply than any other country. Its history borrows from Mongol-land, Lapland, Finland; from the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Okhotsk Sea. And its peoples have aspirations varying as widely as those of the Poles and the Mongols, as those of the Confucians and Jews, as those of the Lapps and the Tatars.” (p. 423)

    “Its 172,000,000 people are the most fecund on earth. During the forty years from 1872 to 1912 European Russia, notwithstanding her excessive death rate, doubled her population, and the larger ratio of that growth was toward the end, rather than toward the beginning of that period. Assuming that the same ratio will keep up, at the end of the present century Russia will have over six hundred million people – enough to offset the present population of all the continents except Asia.”

    “On all sides of them were enemies – Finns, Swedes, Lithuanians, Poles, and Tatars. European Russia is an enormous plain 2,000 miles long and about a thousand miles wide. The plain offered a splendid area for fighting, as there were no geographical fences to keep them out. If the Russians had not been one of the most prolific races the world has ever known, they would have been obliterated in those bitter years. Only a race of extraordinary vitality, of extraordinary tenacity could have survived what they suffered.” (p. 425-427)

    Napolion, who invaded Russia with Europe’s unprecedented-in-history army of over 600,000 men, desecrating and looting Moscow’s sacred cathedrals, costing the Russians untold misery and loss of life, is today regarded by Europeans as a great leader! But when the Tsar’s victorious troops occupied Paris after defeating the megalomaniac, they did not seek vengeance, nor occupy it, instead leaving the city and the people of France unharmed.

    Sadly, those who ignore history, are apt to repeat it to their peril.

  6. One last thing. The ultimate authority of the church is its moral authority. When the church looses its moral authority it faces collapse. One only need look at Ireland to see what happens when a church looses its moral authority. When Putin’s fall comes, and it will, the Orthodox Church in Russia may face serious damage and blow back from its partisan support of Putin. Patriarch Kirill may get state aid for the church. Patriarch Kirill may sit on the rostrum at state ceremonies. Patriarch Kirill may get his face all over Russian tv standing next to Putin. In the short term that may seem good. In in the long term it may prove disastrous for the Orthodox Church in Russia

    • There are a couple of things that you don’t seem to understand. First, Putin is wildly popular in Russia with polling numbers any American president would kill for. This is from both Russian and foreign polls. Over 80%. The significance of this is that what Putin is doing is just exactly what the Russian people believe he should be doing. Get rid of him and his successor would be in the same position, with a populace that would like him to act as Putin did. Levada, an NGO which recently had to register as a foreign agent, puts his popularity at 89%:

      Second, the relationship between church and state in Russia is nowhere as close as it was during the Byzantine and Imperial Russian periods. Yet that did not gut the moral authority of the Church. Neither will the MP’s relationship with the Russian government.

  7. Symphonia with the state is rather serpentine. From the outside in it is impossible to tell whether the Orthodox leadership is entwined by the snake or is entwining.

  8. Upon reading this article, it’s clear the author is either a ‘useful idiot’ parroting ridiculous Ukrainophobic Kremlin propaganda, or he’s just high as a kite.

  9. Orthodox Christian :

    It pains to see how Orthodox clergy defend a dictator and call him righteous. In the article and in the comments there is a clear attempt to paint only one side of Russian orthodox Church and modern Russian State – a righteous suffering side for the good of the world. Hail Kirill and hail Putin.
    The reality of corruption, both in the Church and in the state, is conveniently omitted. And yet, many of our Russian Orthodox theologians write and warn about the dangerous of the path that Russia and ROC chooses now. If you read Fr. Schmemmann and other Russian theologians, it becomes obvious clear that the tragedy of the Russian Orthodox Church during its may centuries of existence lays in its submission to the interest of the Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and, finally, modern Russian Federation. Despite the suffering and objections of untold number of martyrs in Russia, the ROC leadership always chose to be in bed with the state and become, de facto, an ideological arm of the state. The greatest tragedy of the ROC is that through the spiritual betrayal of its leaders, the church lost its objectivity. And right now Patriarch Kirill just simply reiterating the propaganda that comes from Kremlin, while conveniently omitting the corruption and kleptocracy of the Russian state and its leadership.

    • cynthia curran :

      Well, its no worst than having Justinian as a saint. Sure, he built the Hagia Sophia number 3 after a horrible riot that killed maybe 30,000. Putin is a sofie compared to that.

  10. Thank you for a public response to a crude propagandist.

  11. Fr. George Larin :

    Many years ago, as I was growing up in Shanghai, my blessed, wonderful Dad impressed upon me, that whenever people express their opinions in the public domain under an assumed name, it would be a waste of time – and foolish – to reply.

  12. I think there is some confusion being displayed by some on this thread. I may be able to shed some light.

    If you are against authoritarian governance, you will be against Russia and Putin (he has close to 90% popularity so it is not wrong to conflate the two). . .and you will also be against any number of American allies including virtually all of our Middle Eastern and North African allies. But this is a criticism from “Americanism,” not Orthodoxy.

    Orthodoxy has a long history of close cooperation between church and state. The decrees of Ecumenical councils for example, were read directly into Roman Imperial law. Our standard should not be whether Putin and Russia are acting in accord with the principles of the Enlightenment or Americanism or Western democracy. Perhaps they are not. So what? Western democracy is at present aggressively spreading a gospel including abortion, the normalization of homosexuality, easy divorce, promiscuity and the social pathoi which this creates including high crime rates, cycles of poverty, etc. It does so by forcing countries to accept these “human rights” in order to secure trade status with the US and EU. That this is a Gospel of Evil does not seem to sink in to American patriots of a certain variety.

    As to the relationship between the Russian Church and State, I defy anyone to indicate a closer cooperation or more mutually beneficial arrangement than was undertaken during the period of the Eastern Roman Empire or Imperial Russia (even discounting the period when Peter eliminated the Patriarchy). Russian Orthodoxy is not even the officially established religion of the RF. Buddhism, Islam and Judaism hold similar status but, of course, they do not receive as much support as Orthodoxy given their more limited number of adherents.

    Has Putin and/or the RF benefited from his relationship with the ROC? Probably. I see no problem with that. Orthodoxy has a thousand year history in Russia. By comparison, we in America do not have traditions, just habits.

    Putin has astronomical approval ratings which have little if anything to do with the ROC. Russia is simply resuming the traditional relationship between Church and State that it has always known. It is not our relationship of separation here in America. But our separation of church and state is 1) evil and 2) un-American. The Constitution forbids an “establishment of religion” by the federal government. This is a term of art, it had a specific meaning in law. It meant that Congress could not declare one Christian denomination to be the official religion of the United States, grant it exclusively government support and make public service contingent on being an adherent to that denomination.

    Congregationalism was the state religion of Massachusetts until 1833 for example. The First Amendment did not restrict the states from establishing a religion. This all began to change in the 1940’s due to anti-Catholic sentiment which read Thomas Jefferson’s sentiments from a letter to a Baptist church into our Constitution. Ironically, from at least 1922, the Soviet Union had “separation of church and state” written into their constitution. Contemporary Russians know exactly what that means and don’t want it.

    So, yes, traditional Orthodox cooperation between Church and State might very well make some Americans nervous. So be it.

    Yet the Russian Orthodox Church has been treated quite kindly by the Russian state. It has a sort of favored status in Russian society. It was financially assisted in the rebuilding of the churches, monasteries, etc. destroyed by the communists. It has a role in education, along with the other “traditional” faiths of citizens of the Russian Federation. There are chaplains in the Russian military.

    But let’s cut to the chase. Russia was right in its reactions to Saakashvili in Georgia and to the fascist spearhead and Western funded coup d’etat in the Ukraine. Saakashvili began to retake two breakaway provinces which had enjoyed de facto autonomy since the breakup of the Soviet Union by bombarding civilians. He also happened to kill 15 Russian peace keepers stationed there. Saakashvili is lucky that the US sent Condolezza Rice to Tblisi or he would be in prison today. Actually, Saakashvili is a wanted criminal in his own country but, contrary to all reason, he is now a Ukrainian citizen. Perhaps he can do for them what he did for Georgia.

    Russia was also right in its reaction to the Maidan coup. Yanukovych was a democratically elected president, if one is to believe OSCE anyway. He weighed his choices and walked away from a pre-accession deal with the EU. Now, in reality, his country was in such horrible shape that nothing could save it. Nonetheless, he decided instead to accept Russian assistance. This made perfect democratic sense considering the constituents who put him in power and upon whom he would rely for re-election were concentrated in the pro-Russian east.

    Now, by Victoria Nuland’s own admission, the US and Europe poured over $5 billion dollars into supporting the Maidan camp out. How else do you support so many people? Western leaders went so far as to appear there handing out treats and lemonade. We balk at bags of Chinese money entering our elections. Talk about corruption!

    Russia became alarmed when, after a deal had been made by the parties to hold early elections, the Maidan crowd, with fascist elements from Pravy Sektor and Svoboda at the head of the spear, violently drove Yanukovych out of the country, firing on his entourage and wounding some. Subsequently, the Ukrainian parliament, or what was left of it, could not muster the constitutionally required number of votes to impeach him.

    For Russia, the significance of this is that Ukraine was brought by a coup d’etat into an alliance which would be detrimental to Russian trade in the area and could result in Western weaponry deployed on its border. Russia would not have this. Thus its support of the resistance in the eastern regions. BTW, the industrial center of the Ukraine is in the east where factories produce parts for Russian military production. All of these facilities would have to be retooled if there were a breach with Russia, severely harming the one region of Ukraine which was most productive. Thus, Yanukovich’s staunchest support came from the eastern region.

    So that, in a nutshell, is the rest of the story. “Corruption” is a canard. It is everywhere. To the extent it threatens order and commerce it will be suppressed by the central government eventually. “Democracy” on the other hand is easier to get a hold on. In Russia, there are elections with multiple candidates. We can debate how free they are. Personally, I think Putin uses the media to influence public opinion to the extent that he doesn’t have to rely on election fraud, but I’m sure it occurs. The anti-Putin demonstrations have been fairly puny, and overblown in the Western press.

    Western democracies aggressively export the poisonous morality of progressive liberalism, with the support of the “stupid-enabling party”, i.e., the Republicans. And the amazing thing is that so-called “Christians” here actually support our foreign policy adventures which are geared to make the world look like Greenwich village.

    So believe what you want to about Patriarch Kirill and the ROC. However, they are being very tame by the standards of Orthodoxy over the ages.

    Original version of Soson Kirie:

    O Lord, save Thy people,
    And bless Thine inheritance.
    Grant victory to the Emperor
    Over the barbarians
    And by the power of Thy Cross
    Preserve Thy habitation.

  13. Nicholas Denysenko :

    I have read many of Weigel’s essays, and I often disagree with him because of his tendency to depict the crisis in Ukraine as a battle between the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The current situation is much more complex, and I have stated on many occasions that one can understand only by studying the unique history of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Alas, aside from the works of Bohdan Bociurkiw and some very good essay by Serhii Plokhy and Frank Sysyn, English-language scholarship on this topic is elusive. The lack of attention to the details leads to hasty conclusions, and I was disturbed by the depiction of the Ukrainian situation with the usual stereotypical cliches of fascism (which are ubiquitous in European countries and Russia, too) with no attempt to treat the problem of Orthodox religious identity.

    Thankfully, an authoritative voice has responded to this letter, Antoine Arjakovsky. He posted his response on his blog and I urge readers to examine it since the detail he provides adds persuasion to his argument. And for what it’s worth, it is quite irenic, the careful work of a scholar who loves the Church no less than than her clergy:

    • Hmmmm . . . I await the refutations of Arjakovsky from those who value the “Paris School” of Orthodox thought. He does quote Schmemann, after all.

    • Antoine Arjakovksy is not an authoritative orthodox theologian. He represents nobody except himself and should show some logic joining the Uniate church, since he recognises the council of Ferrare Florence. He is simply a uniate posing as an orthodox.

  14. Andrew Sorokowski :

    What I find striking in this discussion is the prevalence of binary thinking: of reducing everything to an “either/or” proposition. Allow me to suggest some “both/and” propositions:
    1. It is possible for a Russian Orthodox churchman to be a zealous pastor while making indefensible compromises with the state.
    2. It is possible to be a devoted Christian while criticizing the conduct of the Church.
    3. It is possible to denounce the Putin regime while loving Russia and her people.
    4. It is possible to criticize Russia’s behavior while also criticizing US and EU behavior.
    5. It is possible to disagree with Mr. Weigel’s neo-con politics while opposing liberalism and the Democrats (and the paleo-cons too).
    6. It is possible to decry Western moral decadence while condemning Putin’s cynical attempt to hold Russia up as a beacon of morality.
    What one may NOT do, however, is to uncritically accept the false Kremlin version of events in Ukraine, which unfortunately, the authors of this article have done. I say this with regret, as I greatly admire Fr. Webster’s recent article in “Touchstone” in defense of Christian marriage.
    Lest I be accused of not revealing my full identity, allow me to disclose that I write this as the ultimate “both/and”er, a (gasp) Uniate!

    • I’m not sure to what version of events you are referring. But it is beyond doubt that the West bankrolled the Maidan movement. Nuland bragged about this on video that can be accessed online [] (see below). It is also beyond doubt that Yanukovich was the legitimately elected president of Ukraine (as certified by the OSCE: “After the second round of the election international observers and the OSCE called the election transparent and honest.” –,_2010) and that he was ridden out of town on a rail by the most radical of the revolutionaries, after the more moderate Maidan folks had agreed to a settlement with the government that would have called early elections. Look at any newspaper account from late February, 2014 and you will see that this is true. It is also beyond doubt that he was never legally impeached according to the requirements of the Ukrainian constitution [“The action did not follow the impeachment process as specified by the Constitution of Ukraine (which would have involved formally charging the president with a crime, a review of the charge by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, and a three-fourths majority vote – i.e. at least 338 votes in favor – by the Rada)] – Read any story about the impeachment effort there (after Yanukovich was violently driven from office, his entourage was fired upon with automatic weapons) and you will see that they could not muster the votes necessary.

      A compromise deal was agreed to (after hours of negotiations led by the European Union mediators and foreign ministers Radosław Sikorski of Poland, Laurent Fabius of France and Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany) on 21 February. Officially called the Agreement on settlement of political crisis in Ukraine, but unofficially called the 21 February Agreement, the agreement was signed by both opposition leaders and the president after overnight negotiations. The deal agreed to: a restoration of the Constitution as it was between 2004 and 2010; constitutional reform to be completed by September; early presidential elections no later than December 2014; an investigation into the violence conducted under joint monitoring of the authorities, opposition, and the Council of Europe; a veto on imposing a state of emergency; amnesty for protesters arrested since 17 February; surrendering of public buildings occupied by protesters; the forfeiture of illegal weapons; “new electoral laws” to be passed and the formation of a new Central Election Commission. The three EU foreign ministers signed the document as witnesses; Russian mediator Vladimir Lukin did not sign the deal, as he had no mandate to sign an agreement on the crisis.

      Parliament voted unanimously, 386–0, to return to the 2004 constitution, and then 332–0 in a vote to suspend acting interior minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko. Another bill made changes to the Criminal Code, allowing for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko. 310 MPs voted in favour of the measure, including 54 from the Party of Regions and 32 Communists. A bill was introduced in parliament on the impeachment of president Yanukovych, filed by Mykola Rudkovsky. Parliament also adopted a resolution (late that evening) that ordered all Interior Ministry troops and police officers to return to their barracks.
      * * *
      In response to the deal, Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh rejected the agreement, stating “We have to state the obvious fact that the criminal regime had not yet realised either the gravity of its evil doing,” and said the agreement failed to address the arrest of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, Berkut commanders alleged to have been involved in the murder of civilians, removal of General Prosecutor and Defense Ministers, ban on the Party of Regions and Communist Party, and guarantees of safety for those involved in the opposition. He called for the ‘people’s revolution’ to continue until there is a full removal of power from authorities. Euromaidan leader Andriy Parubiy insisted that elections be held as soon as possible, and reiterated that one of the main demands of protesters has been the resignation of President Yanukovych. Automaidan also announced it would also not accept anything short of Yanukovych’s resignation.

      Vitali Klitschko apologised to the crowd on Maidan if he offended anyone by shaking hands with Yanukovych. Activists on Maidan responded to the deal by booing opposition leaders. Activist Volodymyr Parasiuk warned from the stage that if Yanukovych does not resign by 10:00 the next day, an armed coup would be staged. From the stage of Maidan Oleh Lyashko expressed his support to the demand that Yanukovych resign by 10:00, “Either he resigns, or we take him away.” Lyashko told Maidan. Outside of Kiev, it was later discovered that the summer home of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk was set on fire.” –

      It was a coup d’etat, pure and simple. I omitted the notes to the above excerpts, which are copious. Everything there is well documented if you care to look.

  15. Well done Misha! Excellent rebuttal and explanation of the millennium history of the ROC and its relationship with the (Tsarist) empire of Russia and now the current Federation of Russia. I would only add that the ROC was in no way a reckoning force for the first 90 years of the 20th Century except spiritually when millions of Orthodox Christian Martyrs shone forth at the hands of the Bolshevik and Communist “Empire”!

    • I would not underestimate that “spiritual reckoning force”. The ROC remembers its New Martyrs and the sick ideology which martyred them. That is one reason so many rank and file Russians are dimissive of Western progressivism. They’ve heard it all before, with teeth.

  16. Speaking as an Orthodox Christian who is not ethnically Russian, I find Weigel to be more plausible than either the Moscow Patriarchate or the writers of the article. Consider that the MP tells its priests to minister to the separatists and Russian military fighting in Ukraine while also telling them not to minister to combatants who are either members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (KP) or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It’s well within Church Tradition for new patriarchates to spring up. Yet the MP works tirelessly to prevent Kiev from finally having its own patriarch.

    Russia itself is a spiritual mess. Only about 5% of those who say they are Christian ever attend Church – and usually only for funerals or weddings. Christ is not taught. The primary method of birth control amoung Russian Orthodox is abortion. If the current demographic trends continue, Russian will be a predominately Muslim country in another 30 years. Game over for Christians in Russia.

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell :

      Funny how “Jeff Wyborski” claims to be an Orthodox Christian, but all of his postings online are either attacks on Orthodoxy or defenses of Catholicism.

    • cynthia curran :

      There is probably some truth to that on the secular state of Russia on Abortion. Russia is not the richest country and poor people probably resort to that..

    • Re: Jeff Petro’s comment “Members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile would side mostly with Weigel”. Do he mean the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia? I am English by descent, and British by culture, but I go to the largest ROCOR parish in North America here in Toronto, Canada: it is thriving, bursting at the seams with young families, with hundreds taking communion every Sunday. At a guess, I would say maybe one-third of the people who attend are Ukrainian. There is a large smattering of Macedonians, Serbians, Greeks, also some Romanians, Georgians, Egyptians, Syrians, and Anglo-Canadians like myself. I can vouchsafe that the vast majority of people here would have no truck whatsoever for George Weigel or his opinions. Their sympathies are entirely with the authors of this article.

  17. Recently. Patriarch Bartholomew has clearly criticized the Russian state church for reasons similar to those of Weigel.

    • Recall that Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople endorsed the Living Church in Russia (directed by the Cheka) since it had the support of the Soviet state and forbade Russian clerics in his territory from commemorating Patriarch Tikhon. He also called on the Serbian Church to abolish the Russian Church Abroad, then centered there. It was a dark time for Constantinople then, as now.

  18. Members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile would side mostly with Weigel. The Moscow Patriarchate is still essentially run by the KGB (although it’s now called the FSB). The MP celebrates the Divine Services quite beautifully but the Lord is crying at the actions of the clergy. Attend a parish in Moscow and listen to a sermon. Every priest preaches about the glories of Russia. Even the new catechism seems to think that being Russian is a prerequisite for being Christian. And they way the MP treats other Christians? Priests routinely spit on Protestants. They are not considered Christians. And even lower than the Protestants are the Uniates.

    • “Members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile would side mostly with Weigel.”

      I think this little sect has broken up into yet smaller sects since 2006. I wonder what you could get them all to agree on. I’m not sure how the MP could be run by the KGB, which no longer exists. And I’m not sure why the FSB would want to run the ROC since the Russian state is no longer atheistic. The filtering out of collaborationist clergy over the last couple of decades was enough to satisfy the Church Abroad who were/are fervent anti-communists.

      It is interesting that you can hear “the Lord” crying out at the MP’s actions. Suffice it to say most Russians do not. The rest is drivel.

    • cynthia curran :

      Its believable I have read such things myself.

  19. I have served this country my entire adult life, and have watched the Godless masses of zombified Americans betray the basic values that once made the USA the greatest “nation” that has ever existed. I have had to come to accept that those basic values are the vehicle that the zombies have used to destroy the USA. The noble values have paralyzed the last remnant of the moral forces, who are now forced to watch as the disease spreads into every corner of the nation…and then into their own families. The founders did understand that the new American values were dangerous in the wrong hands.

    “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams

    Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on the United States of America and its people.

    The lack of shock at the sight of Nazi ranks in the pro-Western Ukrainian militias is mind numbing to me. We have come a long way down from the generation that fought for their lives against Nazis, fascists and Godless communists across the globe. The West that has come to the rescue of the Ukrainian government is not the knight in shining armor that it was during the cold war. Modern Europe is a diseased harlot, and the United States is an animated gangrenous rotting corps. The EU and the USA are the modern Sodom and Gomorrah. When the either step up to the microphone and make demands upon Russia, all I can hear are the men of Sodom making demands upon Lot.

    Forgive me for rambling…

  20. Whoever Misha is, he should get a regular article in this publication.


  1. […] of the American Institute in Ukraine, explain, over the past fifteen years, “the Russian neo-symphonia has begun to tip in favor of the Church, not the […]

  2. […] of the American Institute in Ukraine, explain, over the past fifteen years, “the Russian neo-symphonia has begun to tip in favor of the Church, not the […]

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