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What does it mean that the Russian Orthodox Church is calling Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a “holy war”

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image of russian priest in green robes adorned with crosses and black hat with soldiers behind him

The Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow ramped up the rhetoric over President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine when it adopted a document declaring it a  “holy war.” The declaration, approved during a March 27-28 meeting held under the leadership of Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarch Kirill, describes the attack on Ukraine as part of an existential struggle for the soul of Russia against globalism and the West, which it says has “fallen into satanism.”

Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, a Northeastern University assistant professor of religion and anthropology and an expert on the Russian Orthodox Church, answered questions from Northeastern Global News about why Kirill, a Putin ally, is framing Russia’s aggression in messianic terms—and what this means for the U.S.

Patriarch Kirill has said repeatedly that this is a metaphysical war and he has positioned Ukraine as a battlefield for the fight against Western modernity. He’s saying, “I’m going to bless the troops. I’m going to bless the tank and bombs and I’m going to declare that anyone who dies in the process of this war who is fighting for Russia will immediately go to heaven and have their sins forgiven”—which is not actually a doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church. There’s a long-running idea in mystical Russian theology that Russia is holding back the antichrist, and is doing that specifically through the prayers of the departed Czar Nicholas II, who was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. They believe Czar Nicholas II is in heaven, interceding on behalf of them, and through his intercessions Russia is successful in holding back the antichrist.

Read more at Northeastern Global News.

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